Drown out Ambient Light
Set your shutter speed to at least 1/250. For most indoor lighting, 1/250 will do the trick. However, you may have to shoot faster if the light is bright, or there is sunlight coming through windows. Most flashes will finish firing before your shutter closes, so you can use your shutter speed to control the ambient exposure without interfering too much with your flash exposure settings.
Here are the settings used for some of these photos:
Shutter Speed: 1/250
Set up External Flashes
On-camera flash will not work, because no matter what you do, it’s always going to be pointed directly at the background. The key to this trick is to keep the light off the background. Aim your flashes so that they point either parallel with the background, or angled slightly toward the camera position. In this example, I used flashes set close to the toy, creating light mostly from the sides.
Control the Light
If there’s unwanted light spill happening, get creative. If you’re using an umbrella, make sure you’re bouncing, and aim the umbrella carefully. If you’re using a softbox, make sure there’s a good lip that extends beyond the light panel to prevent light from going wherever it wants to. Setup flags, snoots, gobos, barndoors, whatever you need to block the light from going where it’s not wanted (the background).
Watch out for mirrors, white shirts, anything that might reflect light in the wrong direction.
Create Distance from the Background
It’s a lot easier to keep light off your background if your subject is several feet away from it.
Just Say NO to Photoshop!
It may be tempting when you’re just starting to play with this trick to get “almost there” and then fix the rest in Photoshop. It may seem like the “lazy” way. But believe me – when you do a shoot with 260 images, and you have to deliver a bunch of them to a client (say, for a product catalog), getting it right on camera is the easy way.
I used three flashes and a reflector for these shots. I actually took these photos in my kitchen. No black backdrop (too lazy), and no background editing in Photoshop. I used fast shutter speeds and careful light control to make the background appear black.