Dyed and hand-painted muslins, unlimited digital backgrounds, children’s theme clothing, and towering columns—backdrops and prop can add visual interest and a distinctive flair to portraits. With so many brands and varieties in the marketplace, determining the right fit for your studio can be daunting. To put all these options into context, Studio Photography asked representatives from some of the top backdrop and prop manufacturers to tell us what product trends they have observed in the past 12 to 18 months and how they are addressing those shifts through their product lines. Here’s what our panel had to say.
Trends and Observations
With cost and originality driving many business decisions today, it’s no wonder product versatility is a high priority with photographers today. As Mark McClung, plant manager of Meese Orbitron Dunne Co. (www.PropDecor.com), in La Mirada, California, told us, “Versatility seems to be the key for our photography customers. When they buy props, they want to be sure they can reuse them again and again, rather than just on a single job or shoot.” Citing the popularity of their sets of numerals this year, McClung explains, “With a complete set, photographers have an ideal prop to shoot a child’s birthday party, Sweet 16, Bar/Bat-Mitzvah, retirement party, or anniversary celebration. Creating years from the numerals provides a fresh, fun date stamp for photographing proms, school pictures, and team sports pictures.”
Theresa Pastorcich, marketing director of Mobile, Alabama-based Knowledge Backgrounds (www.knowledge
backgrounds.com), told us, “Versatility is very important to photographers, so we continue to increase our selection of backgrounds and props. Our ever-expanding Abstract Master line offers extreme versatility in small and full-length backgrounds. Photographers want these backgrounds because they can shift and rotate them to achieve a variety of different looks.”
Dr. Henry Oles of Virtual Backgrounds (www.virtualback
grounds.net), in San Marcos, Texas, told us, “Photographers want variety, not five shots or even 60 shots that all look the same. Also, the public is becoming more sophisticated so they are looking for something new and exciting, not something they can do themselves with a digital camera.”
Several of our panel members mentioned the shift in color palette. The expanded background palette includes different shades and hues of popular colors, with muted or pastel shades and bright colors enjoying increased popularity, as well as the more traditional neutral tones.
As Angela Kendall, graphic designer/marketing of Savage Universal Corp. (www.savagepaper.com) explained, “Not only has the photography industry driven the need for more background colors, the creative market in general has demanded it.” Savage expanded its line of Widetone Seamless Background Paper from the original 48 colors to the current 71 colors. “The ever-growing collegiate and professional team sport markets have steadily driven the need for more variety of background colors, and corporate branding efforts are calling for more color in studio photography,” added Kendall. There’s been a parallel color shift internationally. “A desire for more vibrant colors like tulip pink, redwood, and turquoise is occurring in the Asian and South American markets, while European markets are moving toward a more conservative monochrome palette.”
Jennifer Snow, owner of Sky High Backgrounds (www.skyhighbackgrounds.com) of Fort Myers, Florida, adds, “The company’s muted Multicolors and single color backgrounds are experiencing a rise in popularity. A special toned-down background we created for Sandy Puc’s children’s shoots features a blended wave of browns, tans, and avocado. A brand-new hot pink background and contrasting gauze we created in response to a children’s dance instructor’s request—and which has since becoming popular with seniors too—typifies the growing popularity of a select number of vibrant colors.
Meese Orbitron’s McClung adds another viewpoint: “The most popular color is still white across our entire line of more than 100 products, although recent new colors, such as sandstone, blackstone, and granite are gaining ground.”
Digital background solutions are gaining in popularity because they provide versatility and flexibility. As Jim Tierney, CEO of Digital Anarchy (www.digitalanarchy.com), of San Francisco, California, told us, “We have seen a high level of interest from photographers who want to get away from traditional physical backdrops. Having moved to digital capture, they are looking for new ways to take advantage of a digital workflow. Many photographers are excited about the opportunity to use our Photoshop products, such as Backdrop Designer, which digitally generates patterns that look like muslin drapery.”
Digital solutions also bring time-saving automation. “In response to photographer requests, a new version of our flagship product, Primatte Chromakey, features better automation,” says Tierney. “A photographer dealing with 500 school kids on green screen, wants to batch process the photographs, not examine each mask individually. Once the original background is gone, the photographer can drop in any new background the client wants, from an image of Yankee Stadium to digital muslin.”
Adds Oles, of Virtual Backgrounds, “One new product that has grown out of digital technology is a blackscreen designed to show up in digital photographs and to provide an extra half-stop of protection against washing out the background in case the studio lights were misplaced.”
Kelly A. Mondora, vice president of Toledo, Ohio-based F.J. Westcott Company (www.fjwestcott.com), sees an increase in Chroma Key sales as proof that digital manipulation of images is on the rise. “Interestingly, it hasn’t affected our standard muslin background business. We have seen an increase in both.”