When it comes to choosing the right portrait backdrop, there are lots of options, Muslin is a closely woven cloth produced from corded cotton yarn. Many kinds of dyes can be applied to it and because of its light weight a muslin background can easily be compressed making it ideal for packing for location shoots. For a different style than the last time you used a particular background, a muslin backdrop can be draped using clips (like sold at Home Depot and Lowes) to provide a new look. Companies such as Silverlake Photo offer wrinkle-free fabric backdrops, called Colorsmacks, that can literally be smacked into place with sewn-in Velcro fasteners.
Because of their heavier weight canvas backdrops are best suited for permanent locations. They can be expensive but the surface lets the artist produce realistic looking backdrops. Canvas backgrounds must be kept rolled between uses or when transporting to avoid creasing. All these factors produce a background that’s expensive and more difficult to transport than muslin, yet many companies make canvas backdrops and the selection of available designs is impressive.
In Canvas backdrops, paint is hand brushed and colors tend to be intense. Less subjective is the fact that because the background is perfectly flat a canvas backdrop is consistent from one photograph to the next. This is especially important to shooters photographing corporate employees over time so the background always looks the same, no matter when it was made. Photographers committed to a traditional portraiture style feel canvas gives a more formal look but you can’t always tell by looking. The image at right uses a hand-painted Carbonite muslin background from Silverlake Photo.
A well-painted canvas backdrop will last many years if well cared for and while today, I’ve use muslin and Colorsmack backdrops for many years schlepped canvas backdrops and set them up in locations as diverse as a client’s living room or at convention centers.