Photographers, Leave a Wall Empty Wherever You Live

Photographers, Leave a Wall Empty Wherever You Live

I’ve lived in many places and every time, as much as I’ve wanted to set up a small studio, most apartments were not conducive to doing so, or I’ve had partners with so much junk that even a free wall was a luxury I couldn’t afford. I’ve finally had the occasion to leave one wall free for that mini portrait setup and I’m glad I did. It’s something every photographer should plan their furniture arrangements around.

I’ve previously written about turning your living room into a studio when there’s no other option, and while that’s a fine middle ground between what I’m writing about here and an actual studio, it’s still a lot of work to set up backdrop stands and lights to get everything looking just the way you want it.

Part of the empty-wall approach is accepting the imperfections. In my case, there’s a large window right next to the empty space on the wall. It looks great at certain times of the day and at certain angles, and lousy for other times of the day. Sometimes you’ll need to use a higher ISO than other times. If you wanted consistency, you’d set up an actual studio and lighting. But there’s something to be said for beautiful natural light, and so if it’s at all possible, find a nice wall near a window for the best results. For the photos above, there was enough light that even my phone (the photo on the left) was able to make a decent photo, and it took no time at all. Just a cooperative subject.

The other benefit of having a window nearby is that it gives you options. Natural light, when it’s decent, or flash for those other times the light is no good. I’m always a fan of small flashes, such as a Nikon SB-700 Speedlight or a Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT, both good choices for small spaces where you can bounce off a wall.

Wall color is also something that should factor into your decision for finding a free wall. A neutral color will give you more options in post and allow for easier use of bounce flash, however, a bold color can make a nice contrast, like this red behind me:

A bold color can make a statement, but is probably not a good choice to bounce a flash off of.

Either way, if there is damage on the wall, a fresh coat of paint can’t hurt so that you don’t have to clone out scratches and such.

Whatever you choose, be mindful of things like electrical outlets or phone jacks, which will generally preclude full-length portraits. My intended use for this blank wall is portraits of my kids, and so having them sit on a stool or stand is fine for my purposes. If I’m even doing something that resembles a school portrait (which is a realistic scenario in a pandemic). I can tape up the appropriate backdrop on the wall to get a different effect. I often use backgrounds from Lemondrop Backdrops, and the lighter materials the company uses can often be held on the wall with a little gaffer tape.

And finally, an easy-to-forget necessity is space. A blank wall won’t do much for you if it only allows you to shoot at 24mm, which will distort facial features. I’ve got enough room to play with that I can get to about 120mm and still make a headshot with some decent space around it.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

Log in or register to post comments

Maybe I'm strange, but I prefer those portraits that don't have a flat wall as background. I find walls too... too... too flat and repetitive maybe.

Then stick a backdrop on it :)

Excellent. I cleared a wall myself.

I also suggest putting a large grey Ikea blind behind the curtains. Whenever I want a plain background, I open the curtains, and roll down the blind. I used it on my profile picture.

Great idea Ramon