I received an email from a visitor to this garden blog asking me how I achieve the black background in my houseplant photos. To be 100% honest I do own a high-end photo editing program that I could use to make my backgrounds darker or lighter and sometimes I do use it for that purpose. But most of the time I get my background as close to black as possible using only a piece of black cardboard and sunlight coming in through a window. Then, if I'm not satisfied enough with the results I'll darken the background in the photo editing program.
As an example I'll use this Monadenium from my succulent collection to show you how easy the process is and how it can be done without using any photo editing program or special lights. The first thing I do is check the weather forecast to see when the next sunny days will be. On those days I take whatever houseplant(s) I want to photograph to the brightest window in the house. I then take a piece of black cardboard and place it behind the houseplant or flower.
The result is ok, but it can be be improved upon and I don't even have to load the photo editing program. I go back to the plant in the window and then I reposition the piece of black cardboard so that is is about 45 degrees instead of 90 degrees in relation to the window and retake the picture. The reason for the reposition is because in the first photo the sunlight was hitting the black cardboard making it more gray than black. The other thing about the photo that bothered me is the shadow cast by the plant on the background and the deep shadows on the left side of the plant.
If you look at the photo above you'll see the cardboard is there but at an angle from the window so that sunlight doesn't directly hit it. I've also added a piece of white paper to the setup. The reason for the white paper is so that it reflects light back onto the plant. In the first image there are deep shadows on the left had side of the succulent that I wasn't happy with. By adding the piece of white paper I bounced light back onto left side of the plant and eliminated the shadows. This method should get you a dark enough background but if you find it isn't dark enough try moving the cardboard further back from the houseplant or so that it is thrown out of focus by the camera.
Trying to get a white background is also pretty easy and if anyone is interested I can do a post about it but basically you just do the reverse of what I've done here. Use a piece of white cardboard as your background, angle it towards the light source (window) and reflect more light onto the houseplant and background.
You can buy a piece of black cardboard from just about any office supply store but I like buying scraps from framing shops. Often the color selection is great and you can buy small or large pieces. Store your colored pieces out of direct sunlight to avoid fading.
You can use white paper, cardboard, mirrors or aluminum foil as a reflector. Employ friends or family members to stand there and reflect light back onto the houseplant or flower while you take pictures if you're photographing large plants or flowers.
In the spring and summer you can uses backgrounds in the garden too and get good photos of your plants, bugs and foliage.