Introduction: Create a Perfectly Black Background in Photography

Picture of Create a Perfectly Black Background in Photography

Arranging objects, people, animals, and plants for a photograph can be quite difficult, especially if there's noise (e.g., clutter on the floor).  It's much easier to photograph an individual person or thing against a solid background and then add/subtract filler items for context.  In gardening photography, this is called a specimen shot where the only thing of interest is an individual plant, flower, or leaf, and this kind of photography can be its own separate category in a gardening photography competition.

White backgrounds show a lot of shadows and imperfections, and something white against something white doesn't really show a lot of detail.  However, something white against something black can really highlight the details that might have otherwise been missed, and it's dead easy to create a black background, too.

This Instructable shows how to create a black background in a photograph quickly and inexpensively, and while the examples involve plants, this method is not exclusive to gardening photography of specimens.  It can be easily used for photographing items, people, and animals.  Probably the best part of this method though is that there is very little editing needed.

To create a perfectly white background, please check out my latest Instructable and get tips on making subjects look shiny and wet!

Step 1: Materials for Outdoor Shots

Picture of Materials for Outdoor Shots

The most inexpensive and potentially the easiest way to create a black background is to photograph outdoors.

You will need a sunny day with long shadows and architectural shade (e.g., a building or a car).  If you do not have a dark surface, you will probably want something black to put on the ground such as a sheet of black poster board or black fabric.

Step 2: Positioning the Outdoor Shot

Picture of Positioning the Outdoor Shot

Place the item you're photographing in the sun but right on the border of shade.

Place any necessary black material underneath or behind the item in the shade.

Angle your camera to capture the item with the black, shaded background filling the frame.  This might take a few tries to get the angle and arrangement just so.

Once you have the shot, skip to Step 5.

Step 3: Materials for Indoor Shots

Picture of Materials for Indoor Shots

You might not be able to take the shot outdoors for one reason or another, and in this case, you might have to setup something inside.

You will need something black to hang in the background and a spotlight.

Here is how I arranged the setup for my shot:
I placed a chair on the table with a piece of black poster board taped to the back of the chair.  I attached a work light with a daylight bulb to a "stick in a can" and hung a piece of old bubble wrap over it to diffuse the light.  I kept the curtains open for extra light, and I used a tripod.

Step 4: Positioning for Indoor Shots

Picture of Positioning for Indoor Shots

Position the lamp so that it shines on the item but not on the background.  This might take a bit of fiddling to get the item and the lamp positioned just right.

Angle your camera to capture the item with the black background filling the frame.

Step 5: Editing in GIMP

Picture of Editing in GIMP

Crop the image as necessary.

Adjust color levels.  "Pick Black Point" will more than likely take care of any adjustments you need to make.

Resize if necessary.

Save As.



inscrewtabunny (author)2015-09-04

I am pulling my hair out trying to get a decent black background. I have spent more money on black velvet that inevitably gets dirty. My problem is that I am shoot items that don't stand up, they are laid down. I am a collector of oddities, glass eyeballs, for example, need to be laid flat. Also I live on an island that isn't very sunny. I need to work fast, the car might work once but I need something simple. Also it's rains here a lot. I wish I could find a lens the way they used to make them, fast, with a short focal distance. Any suggestion would help my poor thinning weave.

Have you considered silicone loops? They would hold round objects at any angle you like, and if paired with, say an acrylic tube or clear tube made from recycled plastic containers, you could change the elevation of the item.

super_me (author)inscrewtabunny2016-08-30


Here's an awesome tutorial that might help:

McCordall in general has some very nice tutorials for the non-pro's.

Curtis Nathan White,- (author)2016-09-18

Harder than it looks.
My camera always tries to focus on the background.
Not sure how to fix this.
Any pointers?

couponchief (author)2015-12-26

Thank you for this!

sabu.dawdy (author)2015-11-29

Today I will use this technique

ManigreevaS (author)2015-05-16

eddevine made it! (author)2014-10-28

Very nice

MohammedTaha made it! (author)2014-03-05

Photo by: Mohammed Taha

great photo Mohammed Taha !!

alcurb (author)2014-05-20

Thanks for the 'ible. I plan to use your technique. Seems fun to do. Added it to my collection.

Jan_Henrik (author)2014-05-07

Awesome!!! I have to try it!

tjesse made it! (author)2011-10-19


theaprilelaine (author)tjesse2014-03-07

That looks awesome!

Slader-75 (author)2013-03-29

Very interesting article! Thank you very much for having shared their knowledge. It will be very useful for anyone who has to deal with a camera. Here, too, there is interesting information as completely remove background with drawing without special programs and editors

Websprinter (author)2011-01-09

Great instructable AngryRedhead !

I'm a newbie photographer and only had luck getting black backgrounds shooting in the dark (no ambient light behind object) closeup with flash. The background just disappears.

I have some navy velvet I'm going to try with your method. Now where did I put that bubble wrap? ;)

BTW, ( if you're a newbie like me) Some really good instructions for "Pick Black Point" are on
Really basic photo editing with GIMP

Hi websprinter, I clicked on your link, and it says 'file not found' I will google gimp instructions.

jawasan (author)2012-11-09

Will definitely use this tip! Thanks

danmc91 (author)2012-02-11

Thanks so much for taking the time to share this. I love plants and photography and you've done an excellent job with both!

BootlegWarrior6 made it! (author)2011-03-24

Thanks for this great idea! Love it!

Very nice!!!

Thanks a lot! This technique is amazing!

timnitro (author)2011-02-02

what camera do you use

AngryRedhead (author)timnitro2011-02-04

I use a Canon Rebel XTi, and I used the Auto Landscape setting and a kit lens for the example photos.

Scarrmakerz (author)2011-01-28

ah GIMP..what a wonderful program...i like it better than Photoshop, only thing i miss is the magnet select

bongodrummer (author)2011-01-15

Ooo, that is a very nice set of photos. I will have to start thinking more about the shots I take for ibles.

Sometimes I quite like a load of mess in the background, just so people don't get the idea that things get made 'easily', or in a clean way (by me anyway) ;)
But most of the time I am twisting about in all sorts of wacky ways to try and cut out unnecessary fussiness. I think this should help a lot.
Thanks for the clear instructions.

I think mess helps to make things look more "real" which isn't a problem IMO if the author is confident enough to show mess and the mess doesn't interfere with being able to see what's going on.  It's a judgment call depending on the message you want to convey.  You can see some mess in the 3rd step.  For one, I couldn't have done it any other way unless I got creative, and I wanted it to look real with things that most people have.  I'm not sure everyone has a huge cabinet in their living room filled with homebrew, but maybe there's something else.  :-P

Thanks for the comment!  Even if you don't use this for Instructables, the method might be useful in other ways.

True true. Cabinet of homebrew a? Didn't actually notice that until you pointed it out. Impressive, when's the party? :-P
Thanks again for the ible, useful stuff.

killerjackalope (author)2011-01-11

Sometimes it's worth using curves instead of levels or using them afterwards, since moving levels together can wash out colour...

True, curves are generally better.  However, levels are easier, especially when it comes to "Pick Black Point" when the photo has a black background, and there aren't a lot of adjustments necessary anyway.  Using curves would be an upgrade to this method.

Aye though a simple two point curve can add some lovely tonal contrast.

Admittedly I use levels in tutorials too because they're easiest to explain.

crazyaboutbeads (author)2011-01-10

ahhh! thank you so much!! You helped me alot. Now to start!

RabidAlien (author)2011-01-10

It looks like you're using a CFL (twisty-bulb) in the light? It doesn't get too hot for the bubble-wrap, does it? My concern would be leaving the light on for multiple shots/setups and look back as the bubblewrap melts into a nice plasticy (just made that up!) puddle on the carpet. Great 'Ibble, BTW!

AngryRedhead (author)RabidAlien2011-01-10

I can't say that's ever been a problem.  The bubble wrap is loosely draped over the lamp rather than wrapped around the bulb inside the lamp.


RabidAlien (author)AngryRedhead2011-01-10

In my experience, any bulb tends to get hot, and will pass that heat along to the surrounding space. In an enclosed space like the lamp reflector, I was concerned about the heat building up to a dangerous level with the bubblewrap draped over...maybe if you left somespace at top/bottom for venting? Could also be that CFL's don't build up that much heat....I do more outdoor photography than studio, so I sold my studio lights years ago since I never used them and they were taking up precious space. :)

As far as the background goes, you can use pretty much anything, if you set the camera in macro-mode (better yet, pick up a macro lens, a 50-mm or 100-mm), the f-stop is usually low enough to provide a very narrow depth-of field, which will take any background and throw it out of focus. The further away the background is, the more out of focus it becomes, until it becomes a solid blur behind your subject. This way you won't have to worry about any imperfections on your background, they're pretty much invisible at this point anyway. Anything noticeable should be easy to GIMP/Photoshop out.

bim22054 (author)2011-01-09

Very nice results! You have a creative mind; keep up the Great work!

larsrc (author)2011-01-09

For a better black, use black velvet as your background, and put something between your light source and the background. It's easier to get the backgorund black if it's farther away, but that requires a larger background.

Groaker (author)larsrc2011-01-09

Yes, black velvet will provide a much deeper black than felt, especially the common synthetic felts. Synthetic felts are typically around $6/yd. A good velvet for backgrounds runs around $12.

Other fabrics can make great backgrounds, diffusers or reflectors at low prices. If you are looking for translucents make sure the weave will not result in a moire effect. That can be a real pain, especially with digital cameras.

AngryRedhead (author)larsrc2011-01-09

Very true!  That would be the upgrade to this method.

bertus52x11 (author)2011-01-05

Nice tips. I'm going to use them!

AngryRedhead (author)bertus52x112011-01-05

I'd love for you to share your results!

bertus52x11 (author)AngryRedhead2011-01-05

I'm still struggling with some of my photographs and always looking to learn (I remember we discussed this in the past).
Anyway, the idea of a black background with a chalk board appeals to me. I will try it in my next I'ble (coming) soon.

AngryRedhead (author)bertus52x112011-01-07

I'd still like to know your results (if you're willing to share) in case I need to add a troubleshooting step or more detail.

bertus52x11 (author)AngryRedhead2011-01-09

Thanks for your offer and I'm always willing to share. However, I'm struggling in general, not specifically in relation to you I'ble or a black back ground. So my troubles won't help you to clear any steps in this I'ble.
Could use some general pointers though...

kutlesss429 (author)2011-01-08

Hey what's the purpose of the bubble-wrap in front of the lamp? Diffuser?

AngryRedhead (author)kutlesss4292011-01-08


kutlesss429 (author)AngryRedhead2011-01-08

Haha, I didn't read the description ;) but that's actually really clever. Awesome.

CrLz (author)2011-01-06

Very nice. Thanks for teaching!

AngryRedhead (author)CrLz2011-01-07

Much appreciated!

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