No Paris? No Problem! Using a Backdrop and Shallow DOF to Fake a Location Shoot


The photograph above seems fairly straight forward: pretty model photographed in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background. But that’s not actually the case at all. The photograph was actually taken in a basement in Ohio.

Taken by well-known, Ohio-based photographer Nick Fancher, he revealed on his blog just how he made it happen:

I used a website called The Rasterbator (weird name I know) that allows you to take any sized image from the web and print it out as large as you want. This image of Paris was grabbed from Google and printed out in four rows of eight 8×10” sheets.

I taped the image together on a sheet of foam core, lit it with one large light source and then lit the model with a gridded speedlite, several feet in front of the background. Since she was shot at f/2.8, the background goes soft and looks more real than a printout.


He goes on to call the photograph a “pretty fun experiment,” but we could see this coming in very handy on occasion. Sure, you like many of his readers might have been able to tell that something was off (and we certainly don’t suggest using fake backgrounds is better than actually being on location) but this is a trick you probably want up your sleeve if your budget is not always up to the tasks your creativity sets for it.

A big thank you to Nick for sending us the exclusive scoop. If you want to see more of his work or learn more about the man himself, check out this behind the scenes video we featured back in 2012 or head over to his website by clicking here.

Image credits: Photographs by Nick Fancher and used with permission.

  • Josh Fassbind

    How does he go about the rights for the Paris photo?

  • Peter Barker

    Image credits: Photographs by Nick Fancher and used with permission.

    (…apart from the copyright image stolen and used without permission, of course)

  • harumph

    I could be wrong, but isn’t this a weird grey area as far as copyright goes? It reminds of the time somebody won a Lomography contest by taking a double exposure of a pro photographer’s bus stop/billboard ad (one exposure was a closeup of a model’s face and the second was a flower). And it was a huge prize–a one week trip to Kenya. I don’t know if Lomo ever even officially addressed the controversy that arose from that, but a lot of people defended their decision on the grounds that photographing another person’s photograph was fair game as long as it was altered in some way.

    But as far as backdrops go, I know that people license images such as these for this very use. So it doesn’t seem cool to just grab random images off Google, especially if you’re then going to promote the final work everywhere.

  • hookstrapped

    It looks fake as hell

  • Jimmy Fartpants

    By purchasing a royalty free stock image.

  • bob cooley

    Depends on the stock company, but this type of use is often prohibited by the license. And in this case “This image of Paris was grabbed from Google” – which makes it a copyright violation :/

  • bob cooley

    Welcome to 1975.. :) Yeah, I’m being a little glib – but portrait and fashion shooters have been doing this forever, usually using environmental shots from their own libraries (photos the photographers took themselves), and not stealing them from other photographers’ whose work shows up on Google…

  • bob cooley

    It’s another case of people mistakenly thinking that just because they have added their photo to another that it has become a ‘transformative work’. Similar to Fair Use, its widely misunderstood, and often abused.

    Agreed – very uncool to grab images from Google for this purpose.

  • Nick Fancher

    I wanted to address everyone’s comments about the copyright for the Paris image. It was indeed grabbed from Google. From my research into image rights, this type of usage falls in a grey area. The shoot was done for fun and not for money. Also, the original image is so out of focus in the final image that it is unrecognizable.

  • bob cooley

    Yeah, it’s not bad, but it would help if the foreground (the model) wasn’t in color, and the background greyscale.. :P

  • harumph

    The grey area is not really a place you want to be. Especially if you’re using this to promote you work.

    I use this technique often (except I project images onto a blank screen, and lately I’ve been experimenting with using a large flatscreen tv as a backdrop), but it would never even occur to me to use somebody else’s photos to do this.

    The moment you find yourself on Google Images fishing for something to use, there should be alarm bells going off in your mind.

  • David Liang

    Right’s grey area aside it’s an interesting concept, kind of like an analog/physical composite.
    Might be fun to try if you’re out taking shots of a beach or park, then try and print it out indoors to see how that translates.

  • harumph

    You do realize that this is something that people have been doing since the dawn of studio photography, right?

  • badrobot

    It’s not a new technique. If you go to tourist spots, they take souvenir photos the same way with better outcome. :P

  • Eugene Chok

    you would think they never saw an old movie before too…

  • Joep Broos

    O man, Paris is so much more!

  • David Liang

    Why don’t you take your condescension and keep it to yourself. I OBVIOUSLY didn’t know that. Is it entirely possible to make room for people who don’t know what you do?

  • bob cooley

    It’s not really condescending on @harumph:disqus’s part… If you are going to be in the business, it helps to know some basic history about it..

  • Rob

    I haven’t heard mention of the Rasterbator in forever! It must have been about 10 years ago I first discovered it when it was a tool on some other site and only worked in B&W. AFAIK I was one of the first people to do color images with it (I manually split my images into 3 color channels, ran them each through the tool, then page-by-page put the 3 results back together). Awesome awesome tool!

  • Pat David

    Just to make a note, but just because it might have been searched for through Google, does not automatically make it a copyright violation. I use it all the time to look for images to reuse:

  • harumph

    Sorry, I really wasn’t trying to be snarky. But your profile says that you are a studio photographer, so the fact that you hadn’t heard about portrait backdrops until just now is bit baffling.

  • Kris Ilich

    since its appropriated, its his own image.

  • harumph

    lol wut? I’d love to see the “I stole it, so it’s mine” defense used in a court of law.

  • Mantis

    You do realize that starting a sentence with “You do realize” makes you sound like insufferable tool, right?

  • Mantis

    Good luck ever proving they stole your image.
    In this case, the Eiffel Tower is only one of the most photographed things in the world. In bokeh, like it is here, there’s no way to prove it’s yours.

  • bob cooley

    True enough, but most CC images still prohibit commercial use, or use without at very least attribution.

  • Pat David

    Actually, only one CC license prohibits commercial use. Most do, however, require attribution. There’s also public domain images as well.

  • bob cooley

    You couldn’t be more wrong about this”

    1. take (something) for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.

    Perhaps you re mistakenly referring to this being a derivative work, which its not – a derivative work typically has to be a translation of that work into another medium (a painting of a photo, a drawing of a sculpture, etc.) and must also vary from the original to where the second artist’s work must contain sufficient new expression over the original.

  • Kristin

    Considering the age of the Eiffel tower, it’s likely that this is a public domain image.

  • bob cooley

    Doubtful – I know my imagery; and if I say one of my images, even of an iconic landmark, the lighting, time of day, angle, incidentals (cloud formations, reflections, etc.) would be a clear indicator.

  • bob cooley

    You can never assume that an image is public domain – you have to have actual knowledge that it is public domain (and it most likely isn’t) – for use.

  • Kristin

    And you shouldn’t assume it’s copyrighted either.
    In this one case, the Eiffel Tower is over 100 years old.

    Safe to assume there are plenty of public domain images of it floating around and freely available.

  • DSLR Video Studio

    Thanks for sharing I know Rosco offer a similar service for Jumbo background/backdrops. This technique is use lot in tv and on film sets as well.

  • VSM Photo

    I used to have a bunch of rasterbated images in my old apartment.

  • David Liang

    I took it as condescending seeing as how there are many ways for him to say the same thing, that he chose those specific words infers a subtext.

  • David Liang

    And your response to being “baffled” by my not being aware of this technique, is to ask a rhetorical question? If you didn’t mean it that way I know that now, but I don’t see how it couldn’t have been anything but snarky.

  • harumph

    That sentence has now trapped you in an ouroboros of insufferable toolishness.

  • delayedflight

    The lights of the Eiffel Tower are copyrighted while the tower isn’t it’s hard to take night photo of the tower without the lights showing.

    Otherwise you’d have no issues with it.However using someone else’s photo could violate their copyright

  • João Sá E Sousa

    Still fake for a trained eye.

  • bob cooley

    You HAVE to assume it’s under copyright protection until you discover and prove otherwise. To use it ‘mistakenly’ without researching the copyright status of the image will not be a valid defense when you are charged with infringement.

    In most cases copyright is held for the life of the author, plus 50 or 70 years (depending on various factors) – However in most cases images created before 1923 can be assumed to be in the public domain – do you know how many photographers were around prior to 1923? Not many (especially compared to the number today) – and the majority of those do not end up on Google searches.

    It’s never ‘safe to assume’ when it comes to violating someone else’s intellectual property.

  • bob cooley

    Your defensiveness is really unnecessary. His comment didn’t seem snarky, and he’s said as much.

    You contradict yourself by extolling that technique, but have no prior knowledge of its use throughout the years as a basic staple in photography and cinematography.

    You don’t think your work has suffered, but having a working knowledge of basic technique and craft is what helps to make your craft better…

  • Danny Garside


  • Dani Riot

    “This image of Paris was grabbed from Google and printed out”

    So you mean stolen?

  • bob cooley

    Well actually, CC licencing (especially under the CC 4.0 model) allows for complete customization of your CC license, so not only one, but any combination of licensing attributes can prohibit commercial use; and the vast majority of CC licenses you see created prohibit commercial use – that’s kind of the point – a way to share your work for those who use it non-commercially, but to stop companies and individuals from using it for profit without your permission and/or attribution.

    Public domain images do exist, but most of them are prior to 1923 or come from the Library of Congress. – My prior point to the original thread was that you can’t assume that the image on Google will fall into any of these exceptions, you need to verify that this is the case before using them, as you have a high likelihood of infringing someone else’s intellectual property.

  • David Liang

    My defensiveness is my choice and is based on a natural reaction to his statements, who are you to tell me it’s unnecessary?
    How did I contradict myself? I liked the technique and said as much, but not knowing it prior I can not say if it would have or wouldn’t have improved my current work. That’s as honest a statement as I can make.

  • Kevin Geary

    With better outcome? That’s a pretty dick assessment of a nicely shot photo.

  • Kevin Geary

    The background is blue, not grey. That could be done in real life with white balance and a gelled flash. Comment null and void.

  • bob cooley

    No, the background is greyscale – see the BTS image below it. The image is later filtered in post for the blue tint – its still monochrome, and the difference between the monochrome background and the fully chromatic foreground makes it look artificial. But thanks for trolling.

  • bob cooley

    Nick, good of you to stop in and comment (not being flippant- its really good to see people who the article is about stop in), too many see any sort of criticism or challenge and immediately turn tail.

    This type of thing is great as an experiment / student work / learning and can be really valuable.

    You’ll see a range of people commenting, with the range being from congratulatory to hoping to help, to those who are just trolling. Avoid the trolls, and take the kudos, but its also good to take a little stock in those who are trying to give some guidance too.

    Copyright is a fairly straightforward area if you study it from the right sources (US Code Title 17 itself, the Copyright website, sites and advice from long-time pros and intellectual property attorneys) but the comment sections of these types of sites can really confuse the issues.

    3 suggestions, if I may:

    1) do a deep dive into the copyright materials at, wikipedia, the ASMP and sites like – lots of great info there.

    2) develop a good understanding of Fair Use and Public Domain, two concepts that get convoluted more than almost any other.

    3) Learn about Creative Commons (a modern copyright agreement platform that gives you more complete control of how your images can be used by others, but still gives you the protections of traditional Copyright law, tailored to suit your needs.

    The copyright stuff can seem a little dry, as its a lot of legal info – but it’s the tool we have that protects our work as artists and content creators. Its one of the most important and powerful tools in your kit if you are a full time pro or are looking to become one (or are even just a serious enthusiast).

    Take that all in the spirit it was given, as help and not criticism. Cheers!

  • Nick Fancher

    I appreciate all the info. I don’t like the grey area, personally, and if I do this again (especially for money) I will pay for the image I use. Again, it didn’t even cross my mind to pay for the background image since this was just for fun.