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White Background Portrait: How to Capture Portraits With a Pure White Background

Do you want to capture a white background portrait, but you’re just not sure how? Do you want to consistently produce photos like this:

Then this article is exactly what you need.

Because I’m going to explain the exact steps you can use to create stunning pure white backgrounds in your portrait photos.

And I’m going to show you how you can create a white background both indoors (in the studio) and outdoors.

Let’s get started.

Creating a White Background Portrait: The Basics

If you want to capture a portrait with a white background, you have to understand the fundamental truth of this kind of photography:

The background must be brighter than your main subject.

In other words, you need a (relatively) dark portrait subject, and a (relatively) bright background.

That way, you can set your camera’s exposure to give a bright portrait subject.

And this will boost the background even higher, because it was already bright.

Turning it a pure white.

Note that, in order to expose for a bright portrait subject, you’ll either need to do a lot of experimenting, or you’ll need to carefully meter off your subject.

If you decide to go the metering route, you’ll want to fill the frame with your subject, then take note of the camera’s recommended exposure settings.

(Shooting in Manual mode is best for this, because you can quickly dial in the recommended settings.)

And once you’ve taken your first shot, look at the camera LCD. Ask yourself: Is my subject nice and bright? Is the background pure white?

If one or both of these questions gets a “No,” then you’re going to need to boost your exposure. Try dropping your shutter speed or widening your aperture. If you’re set on the shutter speed and aperture you’re already using, then you can crank up the ISO, but be careful–higher ISOs will add noise to your images.

Now let’s look at a few practical scenarios where you might want to create a white background portrait:

How to Create a White Background Portrait Outdoors

Here’s the thing about creating white backgrounds when shooting outdoors, with only ambient light:

It’s tough to pull off.

Most things can’t really be turned into a pure white background without seriously overexposing–and this will make your portrait subject look terrible.

For instance, if you try to photograph a person in the shade with a tree in the sun behind them, you’ll end up creating a very, very overexposed image.

That said, it is possible to create white backgrounds when shooting outdoors.

You just have to use the sky.

Here’s what I mean:

First, position your subject so that all they have is the sky behind them.

This might mean taking your subject to a hill, or a field. It also might mean that you (the photographer) crouch down low, so as to remove everything else from the scene.

Then, if you expose for your portrait subject, you’ll get a pure white background–as long as the sky is sufficiently bright.

What counts as sufficiently bright?

I recommend creating this type of portrait on cloudy days, because a cloudy backdrop is very easy to make white.

(After all, it’s almost pure white all on its own!)

Cloudy backdrops work best toward the middle of the day, when the light is stronger.

You can also create a pure white background when the weather is clear, but I recommend you shoot late in the day–and that you position your subject in front of the sun.

This is because you want the brightest part of the sky in the background; after all, the brighter the background, the easier it is to blow out.

But make sure you don’t actually include the sun in your photo. The sun is just too powerful for modern cameras to handle, and it’ll either cause flare or blow out your photo completely.

So instead hide the sun behind your subject, or put it off to the side, just outside the frame.

How to Create a White Background Portrait With One Flash

If you want to create a white background while using flash, you’re in for a treat.

Because it’s really, really easy.

I’d recommend using two flashes for a white background portrait, but one can work–you just have to get creative.

Here’s what you do:

First, position your subject in front of something white: a white wall, a white curtain, some white poster board.

You can even use a white diffuser, though it has to be big enough to cover the area behind your subject.

Then take your flash, and place it behind your subject, pointing at the background.

(Note that you can modify the flash with a diffuser, but you don’t have to; it pays to experiment with different options.)

Take a test shot, and look at the background. Is it sufficiently blown out? If not, you’ll need to increase your flash power, or you’ll need to move the flash closer to the background.

Make the necessary changes. Then take another test shot.

If all goes well, you should get a beautiful, pure white background, though your subject will probably be a silhouette. But don’t panic, because that’s easy to fix.

All you need to do is take a reflector, and place it in front of your subject, opposite the flash.

Any neutral white material will do, though I recommend using a big white posterboard, because it’s cheap and easy to deal with.

Finally, take a photo while holding the reflector in place.

The light from the background will be bounced right back up into your subject’s face–giving you the perfect exposure for your white background portrait.

How to Create a White Background Portrait With Two Flashes

If you have two flashes to work with, producing a portrait with a white background is even easier.

You do everything that I’ve described above:

Position your subject in front of something white.

Put a flash behind your subject.

Take a test shot to make sure the background is looking good.

But then, instead of placing a reflector in front of your subject, use the flash.

Now, you do have a few options:

You can place the flash directly in front of your subject. Or you can place the flash slightly off to the side, at a 45-degree angle.

Both of these options look nice, so I recommended you try them out–and see which one gives you the look you’re going for.

Sound good?

Post-Processing a White Background for Stunning Results

Here’s one final tip for creating white background portraits:

You should be doing some careful post-processing.

It doesn’t have to take long–but it’s something you should do for every single one of your white background photos.

Here’s what you do:

Open up your photo in a post-processing program (Lightroom is my favorite, but ON1 Photo RAW, Capture One, or Luminar will work, as well).

Then carefully check the whole image.

Make sure that every part that’s supposed to be pure white is pure white.

If you come upon an area that’s not pure white, you can try to push up the whites via your exposure sliders.

If the whole background needed a bit more brightness, this should do the trick.

But if part of the background isn’t white because there was an object behind your subject, then I recommend getting out the Clone tool, and simply cloning in a white area where the darker spots appear.

That way, you’ll have a beautiful, white, non-distracting background.

And you’ll come away with a stunning portrait!

White Background Portrait: Conclusion

Now that you’ve finished this article, you should be able to confidently capture photos with white backgrounds and well-exposed subjects.

And you should be able to do this whether you’re shooting outside, indoors with one flash, or indoors with multiple flashes.

So find some portrait subjects and start shooting!

You’ll be impressed by the results.

How do you make a white background portrait?

To make a white background portrait, you should position your subject in front of something bright, such as a white backdrop lit by a flash, or the sky. When you have this juxtaposition–bright background, dark subject–you can expose for the person, and the background will be blown out.

What can I use as a white photo backdrop?

You can use anything! You can buy white backdrops, but you can also use white sheets, white walls, white doors, and even a bright sky. The options are endless!

How do you light a white background?

To light a white background, simply point your flash at it. You’ll generally want to position the flash off to the side so it stays out of the frame, though you can also consider putting it below and behind your subject (so that your subject blocks it from being captured on-camera). Another option is to keep the flash in the frame and clone it out later, but that’s just extra work–so I’d recommend going with one of the other options.

Can you make a white background portrait outside?

Yes, you can! Creating a white background portrait outside isn’t always as seamless as creating a white background portrait with flash, but it can be done. Get down low or position your subject above you, so that you’re shooting with the sky in the background. Then expose for your subject, and the background will be blown out into a pure white wash.

Where do you position the flash for a white background portrait?

I’d recommend putting the flash behind your subject, pointing at the light background–that way, the flash head is blocked by your subject and won’t appear on camera. Alternatively, you can put the flash off to the side (out of the frame). If you don’t mind some cloning working in Photoshop, you could just leave the flash in the frame, but why do more than you have to?

Do you need a flash for a white background in portrait photography?

No, absolutely not! You definitely don’t need a flash to get a beautiful white background portrait. Instead, you can use a bright area of the sky, or even a natural white background (such as a white wall) that the sun is shining on. However, a flash will make it easier to create white background portraits, so I do recommend using one whenever possible.

Author

  • Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.

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