To produce a custom backdrop. The first step is to take a photograph of the required location. This is simple enough, but it is probably the point in the process where the errors can occur. For this reason, all backdrop companies use the services of an experienced Scenic photographer who can offer advice during the shoot based upon their experience to achieve the best results.
The photographic process is usually referred to as” shooting a plate”, which takes us back to the days when all backings were shot in 8” x 10”format. The use of 6” X 4” positive colour film is probably more common. Using this method you can achieve a better depth of field, for instance detail in shady areas is a lot clearer.
Digital photography is becoming increasingly popular although using this method the file has to be re-interpolated to increase the resolution prior to printing. Rule of thumb is that the file size needs to be 10% of the finished size at a resolution of 300dpi Both offer significant improvements in ease of use compared to the bulky and slow 8” x10” cameras, but film versus digital debate still has a few more years to run.
When shooting the scene, always shoot more film of the scene than you really need, even if it means that you are shooting 360 degrees around and up to 90 degrees high. The needs of the production could change, and you must be prepared for that.
To ensure that enough image is captured, it is important to know the scale of the backing. There are two ways to calculate scale, one involving the ratio between distances on location and equivalent distances on set, and the other using the angles present at both places. It is usually a good idea to make both calculations as a form of self-checking. The placement of the horizon line within the image is so critical, and must take into account camera heights, platform heights, and any visual vanishing present in the image.
The time of day that the plate is shot is also significant. Again, the wise photographer will shoot a variety of lighting conditions in order to give the production the greatest number of choices possible. This may include shooting night plates both using the ambient light present at the location, and also using a lighting package often provided by the Cinematographer. Sometimes the perfect image for the backdrop will be the prettiest picture captured, but at other times it may be the most bland and nondescript, because that’s the image with the least number of visual cues that lock it into a single time of day. Often a romantic comedy will call for a bright sunny image, where a more moody piece would require a backing that is more grey and somber.
It is essential that when taking the photo for day and night scenes, the camera with its tripod be locked down in position until all photographs have been taken.
The use of low resolution digital files to create a quick, rough layout that can be inserted in a model of the stage set can be very useful for simulating the appearance of the finished backdrop prior to production.