How To Care For Muslin Photography
A successful photography studio must be able to offer its clients a variety of backgrounds. Although seamless paper backdrops are very effective and commonly used in commercial studios, I prefer to use muslin backdrops in my studio.
Muslin backdrops are significantly more expensive than seamless paper and require more storage space and care. However, they provide interesting textures and more realistic backgrounds for more sophisticated studio work. Muslin backdrops vary from very simple, single color backgrounds to complicated, hand-painted works of art. Likewise, they range in price from $30 to upwards of $400 per backdrop. Thus, if you decide to invest in muslin backdrops, you certainly need to know how to care for them properly.
Here are a few tips I have found helpful in caring for muslin backdrops:
Washing - I have purchased a variety of muslins from various manufacturers. Some will indicate that muslins can be hand or machine-washed. Others vehemently instruct you NOT to wash them. I have found through experience that washing muslins will quickly degrade their quality and hasten your need to replace them. I would avoid washing muslins unless absolutely necessary.
Stains or Soil - If your muslin backdrop becomes stained or soiled, try to spot treat using a scrub brush and mild soap and warm water. NEVER use bleach or harsh, abrasive detergents. If the stain resists spot treatment, you may need to soak the area in a warm water and mild soap solution overnight. You can drape the backdrop over a tub, strategically placing the spot over the tub and placing a smooth but heavy object on the spot to hold it in the solution. If this course of action fails to remove the stain, you may have no choice but to use a more powerful detergent or, perhaps, OxyClean. Keep in mind, however, that you may damage the backdrop and have to incorporate the damaged area into your photo background, shift it out of your camera’s view, or simply place your subject(s) in front of the stain.
Creases and Folds – Your muslin backdrop will arrive heavily folded, as there is simply no other way to ship a heavy, bulky muslin backdrop. If you know you will not need to use the backdrop for several days, simply hang it on your backdrop support and allow gravity to work for you. If you cannot wait several days to use the backdrop or if the creases and folds are still visible, use a hand-held fabric steamer. I use a Conair compact fabric steamer (model GS4, est. retail $30.00) with great results. Follow the instructions included with the steamer and be careful not to rub the muslin with the steam head. In the absence of a fabric steamer, you can (if you are brave) allow your backdrop to lay outstretched on a clean, no-traffic portion of your yard overnight. The natural dew will help to remove most of the wrinkles and folds.
Ironing – JUST DON'T DO IT! Ironing your muslins will create noticeable, shiny hotspots in your backdrop and ruin the material.
Dust and Hair – Muslin backdrops, like everything else in your home or studio, will attract dust and hair. To remove dust, simply shake the muslin as you would any other linen. To remove clingy pet or human hair, use a large lint roller (est. retail $4.00). They work fantastic and won’t break the bank.
Storage – It’s best to roll your muslin backdrops into a ball when storing them. Natural wrinkles, not patterned folds and creases, can actually enhance your backdrop and create even more texture, which adds to the realism of your backdrops. Many photographers like working with wavy, naturally wrinkled backdrops. If your photo shoot is casual, then you can certainly get by with using one. If, however, you will be doing formal, more serious work, I would highly recommend removing as many of the wrinkles as you can before the shoot. I like to store my muslin backdrops, rolled in balls, in large plastic tubs. This helps to eliminate excessive dust from collecting on them and makes it easier and faster for me to simply shake and hang them when needed.
Muslin backdrops, when properly cared for, can last a number of years. They represent a significant investment in your photography business. I hope these tips will help you to better preserve the quality and integrity of your muslin backdrops.
© Balsman Photography, LLC.
Kim Balsman is the owner of Balsman Photography, LLC, a small, professional photography studio in Longmont, Colorado.
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