A Portrait Studio at the Reception


Most catering halls are designed with photography in mind—they often have a choice of backgrounds in the form of fountains, sweeping stairways, polished brass and crystal-laden lighting fixtures that can really dress up group portraits. Many catering halls also feature picturesque outdoor locations such as gazebos, koi ponds, gardens and similar photo-friendly environments that make wedding photographs look elegant.

But sooner or later you may be hired to shoot a wedding being held in a local VFW hall or a restaurant that hasn’t been renovated since the Eisenhower administration, with faux wood paneling and greenish fluorescent lighting dimmed by five decades of cigarette smoke. And it will be raining outside. At times like these, you will long for a backdrop to dress up the environmental portraits you need to make. Be prepared. Take backdrops—and collapsible stands to support them—to the reception. In combination with your lighting kit, you’ve got a portable studio.

Backdrops can be as plain as seamless paper or as diverse as muslin, canvas, cotton, polyester, velour, velveteen and vinyl. They’re available in sizes up to 20-plus feet wide and in a choice of 70 or more color combinations. Some of the manufacturers of backdrops represented at B&H include Backdrop-Alley, Botero, Impact, Savage, Lastolite, Westcott, Studio Dynamics and Won Background.

If solid colors aren’t your cup of tea, there’s also a broad choice of painterly, mottled-color backdrops in neutral, warm and cool tones. We also stock an extensive selection of painted scenics and graphics, though it’s never a good idea to upstage the bride and groom.

In general, wedding photographers prefer to use muslin backdrops, which are available in solid as well as mottled colors—it’s a good idea to stick to neutral tones to avoid clashing with the wedding’s color theme. Another advantage of muslin is that unlike paper backdrops, which can be easily rendered useless by a misplaced dent in the surface, muslin backdrops can be folded and draped any number of ways to complement the visual dynamics of the portraits.

For smaller, "fast-and-dirty" portraits, there are a number of smaller collapsible backdrops available in a variety of colors and textures that are ideal for shooting individual and couples portraits on the fly.

B&H carries a generous selection of backdrop support stands designed to support even the largest backdrops, which can be quite heavy and bulky (don’t even think about gaffer-taping these backdrops to the wall). Backdrop support systems are available from a variety of companies including Impact, Savage, Photek, Tenba and Manfrotto, and most include dedicated travel cases for transporting these kits to your destination and back intact.

What sort of experiences have you had using portable backdrops at a wedding reception, when there was no alternative? If you have a favorite wedding backdrop tip or “war story” to share, please do so in the Comments section below. We’d like to hear from you.

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