Hello Ladies & Gentlemen:

What a pleasure it is for me to receive your company this month. Winter is now on our doorstep and I would like you to make the best of it as opposed to already wishing for Spring! I know…….it can be as they say…..a hard pill to swallow at times. Attitude is everything and trust me because we will endure!  🙂

Before I introduce this months topic I would like to place this text description located below right up front for all of you to read. In this paragraph, I would not associate it in any way at all with inflated ego as some have in the past oddly enough. It is meant to deliver a message of continued support for “your benefit” meaning “I believe in you my readers”, which I have come to observe from many of the responses I receive from my columns. Good people such as yourselves, who extend sincere help to others shall continually walk with their heads held high …… always.

*Have you ever noticed Ladies & Gentlemen how often it is that the person situated in the back row gains momentum as opposed to those up front? Interpret the following paragraph with the utmost of continued optimism which is unquestionably what I wish for you today and on all future endeavours. Thank You Ladies & Gentlemen.

Winner’s Creed – “If you think you are beaten, you are; if you think you dare not, you don’t; if you’d like to win, but think you can’t, it’s almost a cinch you won’t. If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost; for out in the world we find Success begins with a person’s faith; it’s all in the state of mind. “Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster hand”; they go to the one who trusts in God and always thinks “I can”.   

Now…..lets visit this months blog and it is my hope you will enjoy it and apply my techniques to better yourself in photography 🙂  Jeff Ryan Photography/Ryan Studio Ottawa.

This month I would like to share with you excerpts from a conversation I had recently with a novice photographer named William just entering the trade.



His concern was the cost of practically everything in the photographic industry at this time including the cost of wide and long plain paper backdrops which he needed to access for a photo session he was attempting to set up. He wanted to photograph a group of people against a neutral toned background which would not compete visually with his clientele. After contacting photo outlets, he came to the conclusion that plain grey paper would suffice however he was beside himself at trying to understand the costs. These days ladies & gentlemen, a roll of paper suitable for the project he is addressing will measure typically 9 feet wide. These large rolls of paper are very long in length, generally 36 feet long so you can not only hang it on light stands and have it drape down to the floor behind your subject, but also cover a large area of the floor itself where the people would be standing. Photographers over many years have placed backdrop paper in this fashion and once their photo session is completed, they simply tear off the damaged area where people were standing and discard it. The next time they need to use the same roll of paper, they simply pull down a new fresh piece of undamaged paper and begin again.

Williams concern regarding the cost of these rolls of paper is justified. They are currently retailing for roughly $130-$155 per roll depending upon the retail outlet. When I began purchasing items of this nature, I was paying roughly $50 per roll. Yes, I realize that was back in the 1970’s-80’s but it does leave one questioning the validity of today’s price points.

He also indicated that ideally he would like to have the luxury of having different colours of paper which would diversify his selection of background imagery but realized with these up front costs that this thought is something he could not entertain.

***At this point I was delighted to be able to provide him with information which would make his photo session successful using only one roll of paper. Here is a tip which I hope will benefit all of you reading this article without having the need to purchase several rolls of paper and keep some extra money in your pocket.

I suggested to William that he should not in this instance purchase a roll of grey paper but rather, a roll of white paper. White paper is a most useful tool for a photographer because it’s level of brightness can be altered simply by extending it farther behind the people he wishes to photograph. Placing white paper a few feet behind your subjects will cause it to now become a pale shade of grey due to light fall off from your main light. Generally, your main light will be set up in a specific area and typically remain stationery during your session. Once you have taken a meter reading of this light and set this reading on your camera, your main subjects will be properly exposed but now you can vary the background brightness by moving it closer to the people or farther away to produce an even darker tone of grey.


*I have included in this blog a picture of a “swatch colour book” of gels by a company called Roscoe. I have been using these gels for many years and they are very efficient and predicable. For photographers who own studio lighting systems with modelling lights, these gels also work very well in regard to accommodating heat generated from your lights meaning, these gels will not melt or present a fire hazard to you or your clients. I have taped various coloured gels over my studio lights that contain a 250 watt modelling bulb for hours and have never experienced a problem with over heating. Gels of lower quality will have melt down characteristics which could become problematic regarding safety concerns.

The idea of altering the colour of your background when using these gels is a definite win for you. I typically use either an electronic flash with a rectangular head or a circular bare bulb unit aimed at my background. The bare bulb is my preference because it will create a very pleasing gradation of light from directly behind your subject to the outer edges of the backdrop. Let’s say for instance someone requires a head and shoulders portrait of themselves. This type of photo session indicates that you are not going to utilize much of the 9 foot wide background paper. By placing your background a few feet or more behind your subject, as mentioned previously, your main light will be affecting the background less and less, the farther it is placed behind your subject. Now you have the luxury of using either the “white light” from an auxiliary flash placed behind your subject or place a coloured gel over it to alter the colour of your backdrop. There are so many possibilities of colour you can introduce when using these gels…..practically endless opportunities present themselves to you. This above scenario works very well for one or two people but what if you want to include more people in your image?

One flash will not be able to cover the backdrop efficiently so this is when a second electronic flash will be beneficial. By placing 2 flash units behind your subjects, one on either side of your viewing area aimed at your backdrop at typically a 45 degree angle, you are now going to receive a wider, broader coverage of light as opposed to using just one flash unit. Two flash units will create less light fall off from one side of your image/backdrop paper to the other.

With the digital cameras of today containing a monitor screen on the back of them, you can very quickly determine if the coverage of light is equal or needs adjusting. Adjusting your flash units is a simple excersize in aiming them more at each other or away from each other or aiming them more towards your background.


When placing gels over your flash units you have to take into consideration the density of each of the colours you are going to access. Darker gels require a stronger burst of light from your flash as opposed to pale coloured gels. Power ratio control settings on either portable or studio flashes will for the most part take care of this concern. Simply stated, if the gel is absorbing too much light and producing little effect on your background, you would increase it’s power and vice versa if it appears to be too bright. Although not necessary, an electronic flash meter is an enormous tool to have in your tool kit! I have been using one of these light meters for 40 years and their level of predicability is remarkable. You would not even have to preview the back of your camera to ensure if your image has been well exposed when relying on the accuracy of these meters. Should you elect to make a purchase of a sophisticated flash meter, I would recommend a light meter that is primarily an “incident” meter. ***Many of these light meters also include a “reflective” light measuring attachment which should not be overlooked which is a companion to the incident attachment. These more sophisticated light meters also contain a “5 or 10 degree” reflective spot attachment making your readings very precise. (On a side note in case you are not aware of this; your in camera metering system is reflective, not incident). Having a hand held incident and reflective light meter that can access both methods of light measurement is very beneficial for you.

Always remember to explore the second hand marketplace for good quality used gear. This is smart buying! You will also be able to manage your financial position better without going into unfortunate levels of debt when starting out. (This suggestion should apply to all photographers amateur or professional!). Next month I will incldue a couple of images utilizing the effect of coloured gels showing how effective they can be in your own photography journey.

Someone recently asked me if I am aware of any other informative websites or blog posts as the ones I offer regarding educational material and I must say I am not. Perhaps simply getting onto google or your particular search engine and entering in the information you are seeking will address your concerns.

Thank you again for being here and I hope my advice will ultimately be to your benefit. 🙂

With My Good Wishes Extended Ladies & Gentlemen,

Jeff Ryan Photography/Ryan Studio Ottawa