Muslin Or Paper? When You Really Need To Know.

on May 05, 2015

Backdrops are great things. When you shoot people, products, or pets on a clean backdrop the visual concentration goes directly to the subject. This is why Irving Penn used them in many of his fashion shots and then extended the idea out into the wilds to shoot his mud men and other traveller's wonders.

Irv was an enthusiast all right, because I've seen shots of his studio in the wilds constructed of scaffolding and canvas. They are monumental things, but they ensure the separation of the subject and control of the light.

Closed to home, and generally not of mud men. we see many of our clients taking out backdrop stand kits as purchases or from the rental department. these kits are way easier to wrangle as they are essentially two big light stands and a cross bar. the cross bar breaks down into 4 sections for packing. The frame will support a 3 metre-wide backdrop and it will generally raise it 3 metres high. Not that this is a good idea - higher you go the more chance of tipping it over - especially if you are outside. Wind is a powerful agent when it hits a sail.

So - what do you use for a drop? You can essentially choose cloth or paper. Depending upon whether you are setting up on a flat hard floor - wood, concrete, or vinyl - or a softer or rougher surface like dirt or carpet, you can cover the base of the area with the backdrop. If you put a paper roll on a rough surface it will tear quickly and be an unsafe surface to walk on. In these cases, always choose cloth.

Note as well that even if you are always unrolling paper rolls like the Superior brand repeatedly onto a hard studio floor you will pick up dirt and eventually the edges of the paper will be come brittle and tear. Look upon paper rolls as expendable items.

Muslin also becomes dirty - particularly if it is a solid colour. People pose with dirty feet, or spill things on it, or pee on it. Fortunately you can throw most muslin drops into a washing machine and eventually clean them up. If the drop is a mottled type you can extend the intervals between cleaning for a long spotty time.

Transporting a backdrop to a location is also problematical if you are using a small vehicle. The rolls from Superior are 2.75 metres long and this is just on the edge of do-ability for some small cars. My Suzuki Swift won't take a full Superior 2.75 roll. The mottled muslin drops just crumple up into a duffle bag and can be thrown into the boot easily.

If you are in the habit of taking the long paper rolls out to locations and have a car - or better a ute - with a roof rack you can make a superb roll holder from a length of plastic PVC plumber's pipe with the threaded end caps - see you local Bunnings - and you can safely transport a paper roll through a hurricane.

Whichever route you decide to take, go for safety with the thing - tape down paper rolls with gaffer tape when subjects will walk over them, and stake or staple down muslin for the same reason. People can walk funny and lurch sideways at the least opportunity and sometimes the backdrops skid under them.

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