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Spandex backdrops are a relatively new concept. They're not something that every photographer is aware of - and even fewer know how to use them.
Many photographers (and the general public) think that spandex is used just for form-fitting clothing… they couldn’t be any more wrong. While its uses are limited, you’d be surprised to see what you can create with them in terms of a backdrop. A detailed video is included at the end.
This article explains what spandex is, when and how it should be used, and ultimately where you can purchase it if you want to try it out yourself. By the end of the article, you'll have learned a thing or two - and be able to make a more informed decision on whether you want to try it or not.
Spandex is a completely synthetic fabric that's known for its elasticity. Believe it or not, the term "spandex" is not a brand name. Instead, this term refers to polyether-polyurea copolymer fabrics that have been made with different production processes. The terms spandex, Lycra, and elastane all mean and refer to the same thing.
So, Spandex Backdrops Are A 'Thing'?
Well, yes and no.
I'll let you know right off the bat - I have not used a spandex backdrop, personally. I have done extensive research on the subject and decided it wasn't for me. I am passing this research onto you. Who knows, it could be exactly what you're looking for.
When you think of a photography backdrop, what immediately comes to mind? Your subject is a few feet in front of it, and you take a photo. You usually use muslin, satin, paper, or vinyl... right?
Well, you can use spandex in the same way. There's nothing keeping you from doing this. Photography is an art form and some might find it incredibly cool and others may not. It's completely based on opinion.
But, generally speaking, spandex backdrops are used for event décor.
Why Is Spandex Usually Only Used For Event Décor?
This is going to require that you think outside the box for a second.
Take a look at the images below. These are the patterns that the largest spandex backdrop manufacturer offers. They specialize in them. *There are traditional spandex drapes/curtains on the market too - touching on that shortly*
Now, imagine for a second how your background would look in a portrait. Would you say it would look pretty cool? Not bad, at least right? I mean, it's a symmetrical pattern. You can play with the bokeh and depth to make it interesting. Sounds all well and good, yeah?
Think about that again for a second. What makes muslin, canvas, paper, and vinyl so popular and sought after by photographers?
With the patterns mentioned above, your background would be entirely too busy and distracting. It's something that would take your eyes off the subject - completely defeating the purpose of a portrait.
Now, I'm not saying this is an end-all-be-all to spandex backdrops for portraits. It's just something you should think about and keep in mind if you want to move forward with something like this.
Note: Again, There are traditional backdrops in spandex (spandex curtains) - we will touch on these here in just a few.
It's Used As Backdrops And Ceiling Decor
Its main use is event backdrops (think of wall decor or an actual indoor background) and ceiling decor. Patterns as such do look cool in events strung with fairy lights or inside trade show booths. It can give these environments a truly magnificent look. As seen in the video below, you can stack them, too, creating depth—very cool stuff.
Now, again, I'm not saying you can't use this for traditional portraits or weddings. Who knows, you could be the one that takes the industry by storm and makes spandex a 'norm.' It's quite possible. Just at the moment, very few photographers are using this material.
Indoor Or Outdoor Use (Benefits Of Spandex Compared To Other Materials)
Seeing as spandex is made for athletes (clothing) - backdrops are no different.
The benefits include:
waterproof (made to get wet)
Natural wicking material (dries very fast)
Stretches 2-5x its original size and returns without an issue (difficult to over stretch).
Great for corporate events, outdoor events, baby showers, trade shows, parties... and the list goes on...
Curtains come in multiple colors
Relatively inexpensive compared to what you get (and how long it will last).
VERY wrinkle resistant
Machine wash without any issues
Indoor Or Outdoor Use (Benefits Of Spandex Compared To Other Materials)
I didn't lead off with these in the first place because the patterns seen above take full advantage of spandex.
Meaning, when/if you order and receive a pattern above - you're able to stretch it and mount it to stands or a cage.
These 'normal' spandex drapes/curtains don't offer much more than any other drape, really. Yes, it allows it to get wet, it's fasting drying, and you can stretch fabric. But, seeing as the majority of us aren't out in the rain taking portraits - it's not something I would recommend getting.
The light of the backdrop will be very specular as well. Meaning, if flashed, the reflection could be harsh if not controlled and could lead to issues during the shoot.
You would be better off picking up microfiber, muslin, or velvet backdrop fabric. They act very similarly when hung/draped over something, absorbing light, making everything much more pleasing to the eye.
Disadvantages To Spandex As A Photography Backdrop
There are a couple of major disadvantages that I wanted to touch on really fast. Those include:
A reflective surface. When looking at spandex, you may think that it doesn't reflect that much light. Well, depending on the angle and how far it's stretched, it can be very reflective. This will only make your job harder as a photographer. Balancing exposure, at that point, becomes a real pain in the ass.
If you decide to get a pattern - you'll have to have a decent mounting contraption. The mounting process can take quite some time as well. So be prepared to 'work' to make this backdrop work. Check out the video at the end of this article.
How To Care For A Spandex Backdrop
This is probably the most simple of backdrops to take care of. If you notice stains or dirt - clean with soap/water. You can throw it in the wash as well. If you're purchasing quality spandex, you won't have to worry about damaging it.
Air-dry it (will take about 1/4 of the time it took to wash in the machine).
Fold up and put in an air-tight bin or bag. You don't have to worry about it wrinkling or getting creates. That's what makes spandex so great... the most wrinkle-resistant material on the planet (at least that's what I like to say!) - it's incredible against wrinkles.
Sizing Your Spandex Backdrop
We have included the graphic below to give you a better idea of the size of backdrop you may need.
Hanging Your Spandex Backdrop
As stated before - if you purchase the spandex by pattern (from eventdecordirect) - watch the video at the end of this video. It'll show the mounting process.
If you're getting the traditional drape - you can hang it from backdrop stands using the center rod and the rod sleeve provided on the backdrop itself. Super, super simple, really.
Which Spandex Backdrop For Photography Is The Best?
Again, this is based on my hours of research on this topic - but Eventdecordirect is the best for pattern-based spandex backdrops.
You can also find traditional drape/colored spandex through them as well.
They're a stand-up company that only sells top-quality products. Everything I've purchased through them has been great (which is how I stumbled across spandex as a backdrop).
You can purchase something very similar through Amazon - keep in mind - I have not tested or researched these backdrops on Amazon. So please, buy at your own discretion and take advantage of Amazon's return policy if you have to.
The Video - As Promised!
That'll Cover Everything!
Conclusion paragraph: In this blog post, we’ve talked about what a spandex backdrop is and how it can be used for various photography purposes. We also discussed some of the pros and cons of using these backdrops, along with tips on caring for them properly, so they last as long as possible. If you want more information or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments section below!