Ep 83 How to make or find the best backgrounds for portrait shoots


In this MacGyver-style episode, Gina and Valerie discuss inexpensive and innovative ways to create a range of diverse backgrounds to use in your photo shoots. These ideas are particularly useful for portrait and lifestyle photography, but could also be used in other types of photography. From simple hacks, to fairy lights, wallpapers and Gobos, you’ll learn ways to transform your backgrounds in an instant.

#ginachallenge #checkoutmybackground

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Show notes

Listener Questions

Peter Foote:

“Those that do commercial fashion stuff. Do you charge per image, per hour, or just a half or full day rate?”

We answer in this week’s episode.


  • Charge by half day or full day
  • Catalogue per shot
  • Plus assistant
  • Plus studio hire
  • Plus files per shot (or per “look” or setup)
  • Plus retouching
  • Extras
  • Each extra hour $$ per hour
  • Each additional shot $$$ per shot
  • Retouching per $$$ per hour
  • Pre production/location scouting half rate
  • Travel to location half rate plus petrol

Matt Zahn:

“Question regarding group shots and cropping. One of the rules of thumb is to not crop at a joint. What do you do when you are shooting a larger group photo say more than 10 and the people are all of different heights?”

We answer in this week’s episode.


How to make or find the best backgrounds for portrait shoot


Groups of like objects


  • Wall of suitcases
  • Lots of pictures
  • Headlines
  • Lamps
  • Newspaper
  • Records
  • Curtains
  • Wallpaper
  • Beads
  • Strings of lights
  • Walls of flowers using chook wire



It’s just a fancy name for anything that’s between the light source and the background the creates shadows

Grid Spots and barn doors control light and are great for adding a splash of light to an otherwise bland background

Custom made
DIY using black card and a sharp knife

Also use

  • Windows
  • Trees
  • Central heating vent
  • Venetian blinds
  • Metal lanterns
  • Black cardboard

Gobo should be the same size as your flash head

Use Bokeh

  • Bright objects far in the distance
  • Focus as close to your model as possible
  • Shoot as wide open as possible

Use Texture

  • Bricks, warmth
  • Neutral colours

Instant colour using gels

  • Photography gels are colored acetate sheets
  • Create any colour using gels
  • Buy them or DIY using cellophane, or chocolate wrappers

Rosco filters

Use a grey wall so you can project light

Background needs to be 1 1/2 to 2 stops under your subject
Eg if your light reading on your model was f11 your background should be f5.61/2 or f 5.6

Look at this example from Guillaume Corgnet
“I used to YN Speedlights on the side, both a 1/2 power with gels on (Red/Blue)
Black cloth for a backdrop and since the camera was set a f11, 1/180s the background came out all black when flashes were off.

“Main light was AD360II at 1/4 power in a 80x80cm gridded sofbox
And to make it all work, heaps of smoke from a (500W) smoke machine ;-)”

colour gel background little kid dressed as Superman with colour gel background
Above image by Guillaume Corgnet

How I added artificial sunlight to a shot

before artificial sunlight

artificial sunlight added



  • Urban backgrounds
  • Smoke
  • Rose petals or autumn leaves – create movement
  • Shutter speed and flash
  • Green or blue screen
  • Pre-made backgrounds

#ginachallenge #checkoutmybackground


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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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