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Choosing the right backdrop for your photography is a hard choice. There are so many options out there, and it's not always easy to tell which one will work best with your shooting style.
Muslin backdrops offer a lot more than other types of backdrops do. This cotton-based material helps you achieve amazing results that can't be replicated using other materials.
This blog post will give you all the info you need to make a smart decision about your next purchase. We'll cover how muslin compares to other materials in various conditions, as well as some tips on how to care for your backdrop once it arrives at your doorstep!
Bookmark our pillar article, What Makes A Good Photography Backdrop: The Ultimate Guide, if you haven't already. We cover everything you would need to know about other backdrop materials as well!
Muslin is a cotton fabric of plain weave. It's made in a variety of densities/weights. It was first developed in the early 17th century in Iraq (where it gets its name from).
So, What's A Muslin Backdrop?
Muslin backdrops are backgrounds created from a plain weave made of cotton. A lot of muslin images are captured using very bright and high contrast lights. The muslin material tends to absorb light to give photos a natural and low-contrast look.
They're a popular choice because it won't create the harsh shadows that other materials do. This material can be used in any setting, whether you want to use it outdoors or indoors with artificial light sources. It also comes in many different colors and patterns so finding something for your specific needs should not be difficult! You can paint and create your own as well!
Benefits Of Muslin Backdrops Over Others
Muslin Backdrops Are A Great Choice For Natural And Low Contrast Looks
A muslin backdrop is a timeless, classic, and natural choice for your photography. As it absorbs more light than it reflects, muslin backdrops are popular for photographers looking to create a mood or sense of intimacy. Muslin is also very easy to look after and take care of, which means you can use it again and again without worrying about quality deterioration.
They Can Be Used Indoors Or Outdoors, And In Any Lighting Setting
Now, you wouldn't want to use it in the rain or very damp conditions - but with as lightweight and durable muslin is, you'll be glad to know that muslin can be used indoors or outdoors and in any lighting situation.
This includes the background of a portrait session as well as creating an entire scene.
They Can Be Hand-Painted Backdrops
Unlike materials like microfiber, paper, and vinyl... muslin absorbs both paint and light - giving a unique look to your pictures. You can purchase them painted, or you can paint them yourself. You'll be left with a semi-matte finish.
Hand-painted backdrops offer so much character and timelessness compared to other 'normal' backdrops.
Muslin Backdrop Vs Vinyl
While muslin is not as durable and can often be more expensive than vinyl backdrops, muslin backdrops provide a natural look appealing to many people. Muslin is also easier to move around on stage and handlers. This makes muslin a contender for anyone looking for an easy-to-move backdrop.
A muslin backdrop can also effectively be lit by many different types of light fixtures such as battery lights, halogen lights or LED lights. Vinyl cannot be lit as easily in comparison because of its reflectiveness. Muslin has the advantage of being able to dimly glow with any type of light.
In conclusion - vinyl is much more durable, but muslin gives a better overall result.
How To Care For Muslin Backdrops
For one - if the backdrop gets too soiled or dirty, throw it in the washing machine. Cold water only, and delicate setting if your washer has it. Air dry only.
If you put it in the wash - it's essential to take it out as soon as it is done. The longer it sits in the wash - the harder it's going to be to get the wrinkles out.
To Remove Wrinkles
To get wrinkles out - you can either steam it while it's hanging or iron on low. If you choose to iron - place another piece of cloth between the iron and the backdrop. This will ensure you don't over iron or scorch the backdrop (or fade the dye/paint because it gets too hot).
You can store the backdrop in a few ways.
The best is to leave it hanging. It will collect a little dust over time - but this will ensure it doesn't produce any wrinkles. Now, most can't hang multiple backdrops, so there are a couple of other options.
The second best is to roll the backdrop over a cardboard tube. This will ensure that wrinkles aren't produced, and wrapping with 3 loose rubber bands (one in the middle, two on the ends) will ensure it won't roll apart.
The last and least favorite is folding it and putting it in a plastic bin/tote. While this does keep it out of the elements - you will have folds, creases, and wrinkles you'll have to deal with once you decide to use it again.
Sizing Your Backdrop
I have included a picture representing the average size of backdrops depending on your subject and how many of them you have. If you have any further questions regarding size, you can leave them in the comments below this article!
How To Hang A Muslin Fabric Backdrop
To hang it, you will need to measure the distance from the floor to the top of the backdrop. Then, measure out that amount on both sides and hammer in two hooks per side.
To hang it - place the muslin over one shoulder and then attach it to the hooks with two safety pins on either side. The muslin should not droop outside of these lines for an even look. Make sure there are a few inches of fabric draping over each side for adjusting later if needed.
Option 2 (image below):
You can always purchase a solid backdrop stand where you can either pin the backdrop onto the crossbar or send the bar through the loop (if your backdrop has it). Either way, it makes for a pretty easy setup compared to hooks - just not as permanent.
Where Can I Get The Best Muslin Backdrops
You have three great options here.
Option one - support local business. Search locally for a photography shop or artist that offers a background that works for you (both in color and size). If you can't find one locally... move to option 2.
Option two - B&H - Impact backgrounds. The impact is an excellent and trustworthy brand that offers camera-related products (both photo and video). While their products are considered expensive to beginners and/or intermediates... true professionals know what quality is and don't have a problem paying for something that will last them years. If option two doesn't work for you - our third option just might.
Option three - Silverlake photo accessories. Zara handpainted backdrops are some of the best on the market. While they're expensive... they will last you years if taken care of properly.
We hope this article has helped you understand the pros and cons of muslin backdrops and how to care for and use them properly.
If you haven't already, head over to our pillar article, What Makes a Good Photography Backdrop: The Ultimate Guide, while will further help those looking for backdrops but aren't too sure which one they should get. It has information on the top 10 backdrop materials as well as different themed backgrounds.
If you have any questions at all - please leave them below in the comments!
Generally speaking, paper/vinyl/microfiber is the most popular because of their versatility and low cost. But, this is a loaded question because it depends entirely on the look you're going for. Paper and vinyl are great and affordable but don't absorb light like canvas or muslin. That's just one example; there are countless comparisons between backdrops and their material.
Can you wash a muslin backdrop?
Yes, you can handwash muslin or use a washing machine with cold water. However, it's highly recommended to wash on a delicate washing cycle and air dry only. If your washing machine does not have delicate - hand washing is your best option.
What is a muslin background?
Muslin is a plain weave made out of cotton. A muslin background is that same plain weave cotton placed behind a subject to create a background. You can hand-paint or dye the fabric yourself or purchase it already dyed/painted in different colors.
Does muslin absorb light?
Yes! - and this is one of the main reasons that muslin is so popular. It absorbs light to the point that it can create low contrast images and give you that 'old era' or 'painterly' look. Very unique and one that you can't replicate with any other material.