Why a black background?

I had the following query from  Antonina Shesteryakova, following my blog and posting of the Pineapple step-by-step; Why did you use black background? Why it isn’t white as usually? Thanks, Gaynor! I liked your “step by step” very much!

That is a very interesting point and I am really glad that Antonina asked me this question. I have thought several times to write a blog on it as it comes up in every workshop I do.

This is the picture Antonina commented on.



But you might find this of interest too. It is a picture of Gorse. Quite a complicated plant, but with the dark background you can also see the hairs on the Sepals that protect the flower in bud.



So why do I take my preliminary photographs with a black background? Note, I don’t use these pictures to paint from but I do use them as reference. I always take a lot of photos to start with as I know I take a long time on each picture I do – even the small ones.

I take a picture of my setup, i.e. the plant as I am looking at it whilst I paint. Therefore, once my subject dies I can replace it with something similar and in a similar angle to my original. I used about 5 pineapples for my painting, but I had to bear in mind what my original pineapple looked like. If you see the segments, some have what looks like a double base and some use a single base. Some are more at an angle than others, not forgetting the difference in colour change over the pineapple. When I bought new pineapples I had to bear this in mind and then change the direction of the new pineapples for each segment I painted so that it more or less fitted my original drawing.

But as well as taking a picture of the plant in situ as I plan to paint it, I also take quite a lot of detail photographs in case there is any specific detail that I need from the original subject. With a flower, this is more interesting as you see with the Gorse. I took a lot of pictures of the flowers, but also of the thorny leaves, stem and connections. I’m afraid that I don’t have pictures of the gorse or pineapple with light backgrounds, but I do of an orchid. In fact, it was in taking pictures of this orchid that I realised how difficult it was to take  good detail photos with a white background.

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I am not a photographer and don’t intend to become expert in that area, so with my little automatic camera and simple reasoning skills, I realised that the camera automatically adjusts the white balance in relation to the lightness in the picture.  As you want to paint in good light, you will generally find that the background is very light and if you use a white sheet behind your subject, the light reflection is intensified. The subject, in a worst case scenario, can turn out as a silhouette .

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I took some photos of small courgettes from the garden last year, specifically to show the difference between taking pictures against a black or white background. Apart from the fact that the one against the black background isn’t in focus, I think that you can see what I mean.

So what background do I use when I paint from the subject? This is a different kettle of fish.

If I have a very pale or white flower, I obviously want to see what the edge looks like against a white background, so it is natural for me to paint from the subject in front of a white sheet of paper. For the pineapple I used both white and black. I wanted to see as much detail as I could going round the front of the pineapple – therefore left the black background, but when doing the light side and the side with the reflected light (shadow side), I needed to paint it as I saw it against the white background!

I hope that this very complicated subject is now a little bit clearer.



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