12. Creating clean white backgrounds

A common question for many photographers is how to achieve clean white backgrounds. It sounds simple, yet so many struggle with getting the lighting correct. Instead, they often end up with an overexposed image or flare.

Here, Karl explains the equipment needed to achieve a clean white background and demonstrates, step-by-step, how to do this. He also explains how to tell whether the background is overexposed using RGB values.

In this photography class we cover the following:

  • Common problems when trying to create clean white backgrounds
  • Lighting setup and necessary modifiers
  • Positioning your lights
  • Considerations when working in small spaces
  • Measuring white values
  • Reducing flare
  • Key points to consider when introducing a key light

NOTE: This photography class is available with English subtitles.


  1. Hi
    I have watched your clips on your tube and have joined your courses, I just wanted to tell you that you are a brilliant teacher and i’m learning so much from you

  2. Some really useful tips here on an area that I’ve always found difficult. Not having a studio doesn’t help as I would imagine that once you do it performs a little like your own laboratory where you know your base values better. Anyway, great tips! I may find it in your library here somwhere but it would be useful to see this scenario with speedlights and in a smaller setting. Thanks guys

  3. Karl your teaching is really good and enjoying every minute.
    You mentioned that you are shooting straight into Lightroom tethered in this video but not sure how to do that efficiently. Could you give us some tips please and why do you prefer this to Capture One Pro?

    1. Hi Peter, I generally shoot medium format on a Hasselblad and use the proprietary software know as Phocus. In this course we decided to use only 35mm cameras, Lightroom and the more standard lighting modifiers so that the course would have a wider appeal and be more useful to those using similar equipment. Shooting tethered in LR is quite easy as you just need the right USB cable from your camera and then you choose ‘start tethered capture’ in LR. In fact its kind of a workaround as you still need to have a card in the camera as LR just imports it from the card. Capture One would be a better way to go if your camera is compatible.

  4. Hi Karl, I am just preparing myself and my gear for a consistent corporate head shot (and eventually three-quarter body) session; my plan is to use two speedlights for a PVC white background, each of them diffused by the same size 80-cm octobox centered towards the centre of the image.
    I’ll have only speedlights at hand, still don’t know what the light stand-to-background distance will be (it all depends on location), anyway I’ll put the two background lights just behind the model so as not to influence or flare against the other lights (I plan a 103-cm silver reflection umbrella on a boom arm at 45 degrees triedral angle, camera-right; a 90×60-cm softbox as a lateral fill light camera-left; a 90×60-cm silver reflector raised up to 70 cm from the floor as bottom fill light and maybe an additional hair light).
    My question is if I can attain the pure white background in the correct way, using two speedlights in softboxes as described above, and what in particular I should pay attention to, besides the aspects that I already absorbed and for which I am very grateful to you.

    1. Hi Bogdan I can’t see any reason why not, I would do a test shot first with just your background lights only though to see the power of the flashes is correct. I’d also use them in manual power mode and just adjust them accordingly.

  5. I suppose I can use this same setup for portraits/headshots also where I’m wanting a pure whit background isn’t it.
    Also thanks for that I have struggled with this same issue of getting a pure whit background you made it look very simple knowing what to do ……. Thanks.

  6. Hi Karl, I wonder if you show us in the future how to shoot against a softbox ( I mean using the softbox as your background. Thanks

  7. Can you tell me how to set a pure white background for whole body shoot? Some of the lookbook need a pure white background, from head to toe, also the floor pure white
    as well ! Thank you so much.

  8. Hi dear Karl
    In a small studio
    It’s very difficult to take a full-body shot with a white background
    The model is only 1.5 meters from the background
    The glare was terrific,I had used the mask,Still can’t solve the problem
    Whether the key is the distance between the model and the background?

  9. HI Karl,
    Just new to your site and loving the videos & tutorials!
    I often get asked to do family portraits on white backgrounds where there are sitting directly on the ground of the white background, any tips on how to get a clean white floor as well as the background? Thanks

    1. Hi Justin, you need a large softbox or para or big umbrella behind them above them high up angled at 45 degrees towards the camera and then gradually increase it’s power until the floor comes to the desired level.


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