Unless your muslin backdrop is kept hanging and is never moved, you’re going to have issues with wrinkles that have to be addressed. If you don’t have days (or more) to hang the backdrop and let gravity pull out the wrinkles, your options include ironing, steaming, blurring the background, or using paper instead.
Muslin backdrops are popular, and rightfully so. They are 100% cotton, lighter in weight than canvas, reusable, and perfect for creating artistic, professional portraits. Their light weight and reusability also lends to their portability—another definite plus. When you find yourself facing challenges with wrinkles that are likely to show through in your photographs, consider these methods for wrinkle removal.
First of all, if you want a quick fix for the wrinkles, the easiest way to get rid of wrinkles in your backdrop is to simply have the person you're shooting scoot far away from the background. This will really lessen how much the viewer notices the wrinkles.
Option #1: Ironing
When our clothes are wrinkled we usually reach for our trusty iron and knock out the problem in a minute or two. While it is definitely possible to remove wrinkles from your muslin backdrop with an iron, it’s not the best method for several reasons. Unless you’re using the smallest backdrops, the size of the fabric makes ironing them impractical. Imagine tediously wading through yards of fabric, carefully pressing out wrinkles, only to find the first section you ironed has all kinds of new problems from landing at the bottom of a large pile of material. Not only does the size of the backdrop make ironing counterproductive, but without extreme caution the iron will likely damage the muslin, creating glazed spots that shine in your pictures. No one wants to spend time carefully ironing only to discover new problems in your pictures as a result.
Option #2: Steaming
A steamer is a much better choice for removing wrinkles in muslin. Simply hang your muslin on your backdrop stand and let the steamer do the work. It seriously works like magic. After unexpectedly running out of my rolled paper backdrop on day two of a three day dance studio photo shoot, I found myself in a panic trying to get the wrinkles out of a large muslin backdrop with a borrowed steamer. The steamer quickly became my best friend! In less than half an hour I was able to erase the wrinkles just by waving the wand of the steamer in front of the muslin. There’s a reason this method is so popular—it works and it’s relatively quick and (so long as you’re careful) painless.
Option #3: Blurring the Background
So, what happens if you find yourself in a bind due to time constraints or lack of access to a steamer? It’s still possible to reduce the wrinkles in your muslin by blurring the background. Pulling your subject farther from the background, using a faster shutter speed and a wider aperture (lower f-stop) helps create a soft, blurred background, lessening the visibility of wrinkles. If these methods won’t work for your particular situation, you can also blur the background in editing. Lightroom offers a fairly simple method for softening focus or blurring certain areas by using the adjustment brush and manipulating the sliders to get the desired effect, and there’s always several ways to do anything (including blurring a background) in Photoshop. If you’d like a quick introduction to Photoshop check out this podcast from Improve Photography. If you’re interested in a more in-depth primer, here are three different Photoshop classes, too.
Option #4: Using Paper Instead
Of course, you can ditch the problem of wrinkles in your muslin backdrop entirely by ditching the muslin and using a paper backdrop instead. Paper backdrops don’t wrinkle or crease when handled properly, and smaller backdrops are easily portable when rolled. I bought this seamless paper and it totally solved the muslin issues I was having. However, one downside to paper when compared to muslin is that paper is more fragile and more consumable. A rolled paper backdrop can initially cost less than muslin, but will have to be replaced sooner. Another issue is in transporting larger backdrops. It’s much easier to move and quickly steam muslin than to move and maneuver giant rolls of paper.
Hands down, steaming the wrinkles from your muslin backdrop is the way to go. It works and it’s a relatively quick process. If you find yourself in a position where steaming won’t work, however, some of these other ideas, tips, and tricks can still help get the job done.