Get an Invisible Black Background to Your Portraits – Shooting Anywhere [VIDEO]


In this video Glyn Dewis demonstrates how he gets his ‘Invisible Black Background’ effect when taking a portrait. The technique will allow you to take a low key atmospheric portrait with a black background almost anywhere – even outdoors during the day!

To get the shot Glyn just uses his DSLR, a single Speedlight Flash, a cheap umbrella and a PocketWizard to trigger the flash (although you can do this with any method of triggering a remote flash that you have).

Want to see some more examples of what can be done with this effect – check out Glyn’s blog posts on the topic here and here.

Further Reading:

Check out our article on the same topic at How to Create Dark Moody Low-Key Portraits with Minimal Gear

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Dan McLean

    I bought a Yongnuo flash specifically to try this out, and it was more than powerful enough. More recently used it to take some smoke photographs as well applying the same principles…

  • Michael Owens

    Cheers mate, appreciate that – and image looks excellent. Very like for like from the tut! It’s an effective yet simple trick, one I aim to utilise often!

  • Hey I know you entered this a bit ago but here is one I did with a flash light. So it is possible. I put the flash light to the back and to the side.

  • IslandHopperz

    FYI – the two links above that say want to see more examples “here” and “here” are both BROKEN. They don’t take the user anywhere, so you might want to revisit and put up links that don’t end up on a blank page !

  • Ems Ramsay

    this one

  • Gibbs

    your iso is too high or your flash! lower it down more.

  • Emerson Novais Lopes

    Here’s my go at it, using natural direct sunlight and some further darkening and tweaking on Lightroom:

  • Ems Ramsay

    none of u said is high…

  • Aleksei Trofimov

    Thank you, very simple and very useful!

  • guest

    Nikon D3000. ISO 100. SHutter speed 1/250. F: 16, also tried higher. Took a pic of a beige wall inside. Got a pic of a beige wall. Any ideas as to what I’m doing wrong?

  • Jigsaw

    The irony of someone who claims she rather wants to rather read it but can’t be bothered to read what was written above and below the video. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Although in all fairness: the links to the blog entries are dead now, a year later.

  • Jomar Oco

    Don’t take a selfie.

  • Mike Vincent

    Brilliant tutorial.

  • Dhruva Kotagi

    OMG! I just love this tutorial

  • Vincent Gibbon

    Neat idea..

  • Tolu Oluwapojuwo

    Got this few months ago teaching some guys half face lighting. Flash at 90^ left of camera with no modifier. Comments welcome.

  • Toxxo
  • Dave

    Thank you!

  • Dave

    12 year old Canon Powershot

  • patti

    Can I do any special effects with my Nikon CoolPix L830? I’ve been practicing since the summer and I want to learn more until I can get a DSLR…..

  • Curtis
  • Charlie Barker
  • Charlie Barker
  • Marc Smedley

    Try doing this in a ‘small studio’ environment like some professional photographers claim to be doing, 4 feet away from a back wall. I guarantee it will not work. You need a good bit of distance between your subject and background to achieve anything close to an ‘invisible black background’

  • Sheri O’Reilly

    I’ve just tried this, but it doesn’t seem to work. I have the settings as follows. 1/200-F11-ISO 100- single speedlight, but my on board flash has to fire to trigger it,, that was set at 1/32.. Still getting loads of background in shots

Some Older Comments

  • Dave N June 29, 2013 04:34 pm

    In reponse to Allen a few posts above. The portrait isnโ€™t a double exposure. The initial black photo is only taken to make sure the settings are right, ie a completely dark picture. Then you use those same settings but add the flash โ€“ the background remains black

    thanks for that Karen, :)
    I too didnt understand what he was doing, that was the only bit not well explained.
    I wasnt sure if he was double exposing a single frame, combining 2 frames in camera or on puter


  • subhash dasgupta June 29, 2013 12:23 am

    nice and easy technique , well explained.

  • Dave June 26, 2013 06:16 pm

    What a fantastic tutorial - so simple yet so effective and watching it rather than reading it was awesome.
    Thanks heaps for teaching us all that you do

  • Allen June 26, 2013 01:13 am

    Thanks Karen for your very helpful explanation. It sorts out several confusions that existed in my mind.

    Also, I looked at the 2 picture links that you provided, and those are spectacular pictures - such creativity!

  • Karen June 24, 2013 01:28 am

    Well explained. I have used this technique (using a home made snoot instead of an umbrella which I don't own) for two very different photos today; a bowl of cherries indoors and a portrait of my dog in the garden.

    In reponse to Allen a few posts above. The portrait isn't a double exposure. The initial black photo is only taken to make sure the settings are right, ie a completely dark picture. Then you use those same settings but add the flash - the background remains black.

    Here's a link to my cherries

    and my dog portrait

    Neither are quite perfect but I'm happy for my first try. I had to use a smaller aperture for the dog portrait, f/20 I think as when I used f/16 the photo looked dark on the camera screen but when view on the pc the background was visible. The cherries I used f/11.

  • robin June 23, 2013 02:59 am

    Wish i had seen this yesterday .I was doing puppy potraits and only place to do them was outside. going to redo them and use this idea. thanks

  • Anne K. June 22, 2013 03:03 am

    Fabulous! And you explained it "right on"! Thanks!

  • Travis Smith June 22, 2013 02:26 am

    Great easy-to-listen-to video!

  • Carol June 21, 2013 10:45 pm

    Thank you , that was so clearly explained , I am going to give it a try .

  • Allen June 21, 2013 09:29 am

    1 Something that wasn't mentioned, but I am assuming: Is this portrait with an Invisible Black Background done by "double exposng" the picture? If so, I don't know if I can do that on my non-SLR camera.

    2 Are the settings for the fiinal picture of the person the same settings as for the background - ie 1/250, ISO 100, f/16 ?

    Also, I suppose the black picture used for the background could simply be done by putting the camera in a black bag and taking a picture - or a close-up of the black umbrella.

  • ArturoMM June 21, 2013 05:42 am

    Thank you Darren and Glyn Dewis.

    This is why I keep coming back to DPS.

  • Bob Wyatt June 21, 2013 03:34 am

    ROBIN- to do this at home you need to turn off anyoghts in the room and most prob have mot a real bright room. Pay attention to his discussion of ISO, aperture, and ss. You can not exceed to flash camera syjnch speed. You will also need a wireless trigger system to trip the off-camera flash. Set the shot up using the nearly collapsed reflecting umbrella- white prob best. Set the camera via the fastest ss that matches synch speed(usually 1/200 or 1/250) and adjust the sp and Iso(usually the lowest) and look for a totally dark frame. Add flash aimed towards face and adjust flash to get drsired lighting on subject as far as position and power. Yes the flash fires backwards into the umbrella with light reflected back out.

  • Stu June 21, 2013 03:01 am

    That was a very useful tutorial.

  • marius2die4 June 21, 2013 01:38 am

    Excellent tips! Tkx!

  • Ray June 21, 2013 01:24 am

    Clever approach, very well explained. I'll have to give that a try.

  • Jai Catalano June 20, 2013 07:51 pm

    That was very good and one of the best tutorials that was explained perfectly.

  • Sulli June 20, 2013 06:18 pm

    Definitely giving this a shot! Thankyou!

  • Chrystel June 20, 2013 01:58 pm

    Great tutorial, easily explained and a brilliant result. Thanks!

  • Lucia Strougo June 16, 2013 11:43 am

    I will try.

  • Mark June 15, 2013 09:56 pm

    Great tutorial, more of these please - a picture (moving) really does paint a thousand words. I've always had trouble with the black background look but this is an enlightenment.

  • Major Bokeh June 15, 2013 07:57 am

    Great tutorial. Easy to watch and I am totally going to try it!

  • Robin June 15, 2013 04:22 am

    Hi. Great Lesson. I am just wondering how to I do this at home. I have Canon T4i, 55-250mm, 50mm f1.8,18-55mm,40mm f2.8, 85mm f1.8 and 430 EXii speedlite. Do the home light need to be switched off and set the umbrella with the flash light facing inside the umbrella? I would love to take this kind of shot of my kids.
    Anyway thanks for the tips. Hope to hear from you.

  • Jim Donahue June 14, 2013 12:05 pm

    Great Lesson. I also use this to shoot flower portraits outside on sunny days.

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