Testing Botero Background #023

After viewing the Strobist Lighting Seminar DVD Box Set, I was particularly intrigued by what photographer David Hobby was able to achieve using a cheap, simple collapsible muslin background created by Botero. I decided to buy Botero Background #023 (the same one in the DVD, apparently) and try to replicate the effects that Hobby created. So, I did a quick-and-dirty setup in my living room, got my roommate Matt to pose for 10 minutes, cranked up my f-stop to minimize ambient light, and fired away. Here are the photos that resulted.

In general, I’m extremely impressed that I was able to achieve this look in my living room, which, trust me, does not resemble a photo studio in the slightest. Here are a few of my notes:

  • I used two flashes: one flash aimed at Matt at a 45 degree angle to his left and above, fired through a Westcott 43″ umbrella on top of a light stand. The second flash is directly behind Matt, pointing at the wall, and was triggered via infared sensor.
  • The different colors were achieved by putting different colored gels on top of the background flash. It is amazing what a difference a $.50 piece of see-through plastic can create!
  • Unfortunately, the Botero background wrinkles extremely easily, exacerbated by the fact that it is collapsible. These wrinkles are also very, very obvious in photos where the background can clearly be seen. As a result, I had to shoot at high focal lengths (using my 70-200mm) in order to make depth-of-field more shallow to achieve the kind of bokeh that minimized these wrinkles. Unfortunately, I think I overshot it a little bit; there’s some image softness in a few of these photos and I think f4 would probably have been sufficient, given how close I was to Matt
  • On a related note, I bought the 5×7 Botero background for $65. Apparently they sell other, much larger sizes (a 10×12 and a collapsible 8×16). I think the 5×7 is a good combination of portability and big size, but I did find myself struggling on numerous occasions to crop out the edge of the background. In other words, this background is a bit small and will constrain your options, so if you are going to shoot with the 5×7 background, you need to use a 70-200mm lens (or higher).
  • It was surprisingly difficult to lean the background against anything that wasn’t a wall. Anything smaller would create an uneven shape, so just keep that in mind if you’re hoping to lean this thing on a chair or something.

Overall, I’m pleased with the purchase and am glad that with just a $65 item, I have another major asset I can add to my portfolio.