Commentary # 36: October 2009
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Diamond Cloth, Triplets, and the Birthday Cake

October 2009

- by Craig Wassel

This month I am taking a little hiatus from pure commentary. Those familiar with my photography ramblings here know that I rarely talk about equipment or brands. I don't really have allegiances, and the only thing about gear that really interests me is what I can do with it and what it can do for me. Every now and then, though, I will detour from that and recommend something I find particularly worth owning. When I do so, also know there is never any quid pro quo involved, and that I am not a link affiliate of any manufacturer or photographic supply house. My photography income comes from just one source: work.

With that out of the way, on with the story of "Diamond Cloth, Triplets, and the Birthday Cake".

I do alot of location portrait work with children. I love photographing them, and I love the fluidity of onsite shoots. Actually, I don't even mind planning, packing, and hauling all the gear for a shoot. I love almost all of it - almost. The one part that I truly dislike, though, is steaming wrinkles out of solid colored backdrops. Steaming is a killer for setup times. As portrait photographers learn early, you have to have a GOOD steamer, which means another bulky piece of gear to haul. Simply put, wrinkled backdrops and steamers are a PITA. Figure it out - it's an acronym :-).

Solid white and solid black backdrops are among the most used in my inventory. Both of mine were (note the past tense) standard cotton muslin, and susceptible to the wrinkle monster. My black one was 12 feet long, and I often wished that it were 20 feet long for more draping options. My white one was 20 feet long. I often wished it weren't, because the longer the backdrop the tougher it is to fold it in a way that minimizes wrinkles.

For several months, I had been looking with curiosity at "Diamond Cloth" backdrops from Backdrop Outlet (link) that promise to be wrinkle resistant. I often have the fault of being cheap to the point of wasting time and money, and I procrastinated on trying one. If I didn't already own the standard solid colors, I would not have waited so long. I finally reached the point where I was so very tired of steaming onsite, so I called them up to order. I am usually a skeptic, so I asked if the Diamond Cloth was really so wrinkle resistant. The staffer assured me that once you have the initial wrinkles out from packing, you don't even need to fold them. He said, "just bundle it up and throw it in your backdrop tote. They will actually wrinkle more if you do fold them". Well, I thought if this were really true, having all 20 foot backdrops would not come with the horrible folding/steaming burden of muslin.

I anxiously unpacked the Diamond Cloth backdrops as soon as they arrived. Just as promised, the wrinkles from packing steamed right out. Not only that, but the white backdrop was pure, pure white, and the black one was the deepest black I have ever seen in a backdrop. I loosely bundled them up and put them in my tote bags until my next shoot, which was with one year old triplets. When the day came and I was onsite for the shoot, I took the white one out. I put it up on the rail, and gaffered it with my clamps. There were no wrinkles. Wow, I was getting happier by the minute as I thought about all the time and aggravation this will save in the future. We started the shoot, and everything was going great. The kids were cute and happy, the backdrop was heavenly white and wrinkle free, and the strobe heads were popping away.

Then it happened. I did something very short sighted (okay, stupid).

For the last set, I brought out a birthday cake I bought for the triplets: A birthday cake with rich, brown cake and chocolate. A birthday cake with deep orange and red edge icing. Yes, they got it all over themselves just as planned. Yes, the mom did agree ahead of time to try this as the last set. Yes, the kids loved it. Yes, the shots were successful. There was just one problem: they also spread it all over the new white Diamond Cloth, and ground it in. I was upset, but only with myself for not thinking to lay down my clear plexi or a white sheet. I just kept wearing a smile as I thought, "well, if it's brand new and ruined, it's my fault for not thinking ahead".

The mom just loved watching her little triplets dive into that cake in front of camera. Then she looked at me and asked, "all of that will come out, right?". I answered like a hero who just received his medal: "Oh, sure. Don't worry about it". I packed up and loaded the car, and called my wife as soon as I was on my way home. I said, "I think I just did something REALLY stupid". Being the mother of my son and twin daughters, she had some really good advice. When I got home, I skipped the usual unpacking of the car, grabbed just the backdrop, and headed for the bathtub. Armed with a tub of cold water, regular laundry detergent, a scrub brush, and a bottle of Oxi-Clean, I starting cleaning with little hope of success.

Two things happened. The first brought some humor to what was sure to be ultimately a futile effort. Like in "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back", the water in the bathtub turned pink as I scrubbed away. But second, right before my very eyes, the stains washed right out. I kept pulling different sections of the 20 feet of backdrop out of the water expecting to find something I missed or something that was not coming out, but I found nothing. Wow. I took it down to the washing machine for a gentle cycle rinse and spin, then put it in the dryer. When it came out, it was still un-wrinkled, it was still bright white, and not one stain was left.

I'll say it again: Wow.

I immediately put my old solid colored muslin backdrops on eBay, not caring if I got as little as 5 dollars each for them. Time is money, and I just found something that saves a ton of time. Whether you shoot film or digital and regardless of name on your gear, wrinkles are a hassle. If you use solid color backdrops, you might want to give Diamond Cloth a try. Maybe it will save you time and money, too.

“ . . . Photography to me is catching a moment which is passing, and which is true . . . ”

~ Jacques-Henri Lartigue ~

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" . . . The mom just loved watching her little triplets dive into that cake in front of camera. Then she looked at me and said, 'all of that will come out, right?'. I answered like a hero who just received his medal: 'Oh, sure. Don't worry about it'. I packed up and loaded the car, and called my wife as soon as I was on my way home. I said, "I think I just did something REALLY stupid . . . "

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