Ep 311: How to create a black background using daylight or flash


This excellent hack can transform your images in an instant. Creating a black background behind the subject in your shot can add drama, moodiness and a sense of theatricality to your image. You don’t even need a studio, you just need to know how to do it. That means you can create this black background anywhere whether you are photographing a person, a flower, a car – or anything in between. And you can do this without any backdrops of tricks, just smart use of exposure and lighting.

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Show Notes

Shout Out

Congratulations to GOLD MEMBER Kate Flowers who received THREE Highly Commendeds in the Capture Magazine’s Mono Awards!!

How to create a black background using daylight or flash

Images with black backgrounds are dramatic and moody and can help draw the viewer to the subject by eliminating unnecessary details. It’s one of my favourite styles of shooting because it has a minimalist and theatrical vibe. It looks like it would be complicated to create these images but it’s actually very easy to do.

ABOVE: Example of chiaroscuro style by Caravaggio.

The most well-known artists who used chiaroscuro include Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range of the human eye
Above: Early morning light has a smaller dynamic range and a DSLR can record detail in the sky, clouds and shadows
Above: Afternoon light has a high dynamic range and even at F22 the camera cannot capture any detail in the sun.


  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • One light source (natural or artificial)
  • Black background or dark setting to create black background


LEFT: Flower and background are both lit by the sun
RIGHT: Flower is in the sun and the background is in shade. The difference in light (in Fstops) is approx 3 stops.

ABOVE: The easiest way to create a black background is to use a black backdrop

Above; You can create a black backdrop by placing your model in a doorway on a bright sunny day. In this instance the light was 3+ stops brighter than the interior, giving a pure black background.


Above: In this image I’ve exposed for detail in the shadows and highlights.


Above: Exposing for just the highlights transforms this image, eliminates the boring details and adds mood and drama.

Artificial lighting

Above: In this test image, I’ve used a speedlight +Beauty dish very close to my subject to create moody lighting. I’ve added a black background but the light from my flash is also spilling on to my background.


Above: moving my subject so that he is a min of 6-10 feet from my background creates a richer black background because there is no longer any light spill on the background.

How to create a black background without a backdrop

Above: daylight image shot indoors

Above: daylight image, stopping down to eliminate ambient light


Above: low key image shot indoors


Above: low key image shot at 11am ISO 100, F11 11/200th sec + Speedlight


Above: low key image shot at 11am ISO 100, F11 11/200th sec + Speedlight


Above: low key image shot at 11am ISO 100, F11 11/200th sec + Speedlight

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About Gina

About Gina

Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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