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Here's the Background on Many a Good Shot

June 18, 1988|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

While some people stand behind their work, James Bright's work stands behind people.

Bright is the master of the canvas background, and his work is seen everywhere--in the portraits of high school grads, Presidents and rock stars. His artwork has appeared in literally millions of photographs.

The backdrops, which take from two to six hours to paint (although some can take several days to produce), have appeared behind Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope, Linda Ronstadt, Bruce Springsteen and Cheryl Tiegs, to name a few.

Bright, 51, primarily makes two different products--backgrounds and drapes--both of which are available in every imaginable color. A background is painted on a heavy canvas material and can be worked and reworked with different paints to achieve different depths, centers of interest and color patterns.

The pliable drape, made from a much thinner canvas, does not have the same detail as the stiffer painted background because its colors are made with permanent stains and dyes.

The use of each is also very different. If a drape wrinkles, it doesn't matter. The wrinkle isn't permanent, and it can later be used in a flexible fashion, so there's no problem with putting it in a suitcase and carting it to any location.

A background, however, is made on stiff canvas and is normally kept in a studio on large rollers or stands.

While his work is primarily designed for professionals, who will have eight to 10 backgrounds, Bright believes amateurs are missing a bet by not owning at least one. He suggests buying a background that works with natural light or a one-light setup. A good quality background that can be used for portraits or weddings costs between $100 and $150. A larger and more complex background may cost as much as $1,000.

They are available directly from Bright at his Hawthorne location or at Cal's Camera in Costa Mesa, Bright's only distributor in Orange County.

Bright always questions a new buyer, professional or amateur, about the kinds of photographs he or she will be taking. With that information, he can recommend which options--drape or background, color and design style--will work best.

"If they're shooting exclusively portraits for albums, weddings or of kids, then I would recommend a background with a vignette and a design so they can shoot with one light," Bright says.

"If they're planning to do fashion, glamour, advertising, executives and products, I would recommend a drape. It would be a little bigger and easier to get around to the different locations. Right now, fashion is very big on drapes."

Bright started by painting three backdrops for his own photo studio, and now, 20 years later, he's selling between 6,000 and 8,000 a year.

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