This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
Reflector. In addition to being equipped to handle the direct source of light, it is essential to have some further means of controlling the light in the shadows, and for this purpose it will be found necessary to prepare a screen which will throw, or rather reflect, the direct light into the shadows. For this purpose a frame 4 feet wide and 6 feet high should be made. See Illustration No. 3. Use strips of pine or any soft wood 2 1/2 inches wide, by 7/8 inches in thickness. Both sides and edges should be surfaced (planed). Cover the frame with white muslin, stretching it carefully to avoid wrinkles. Do this by placing the cloth on the floor and laying the frame on it; then beginning at the top, draw the cloth over the edge of the frame a trifle and drive a couple of tacks at the center. Do the same at the opposite end and then at the sides, being careful always to drive the first tacks in the exact center. Complete the tacking by working from the center out, and be sure that the cloth lies perfectly smooth between each tack. Do not attempt to unduly stretch the cloth; just draw it fairly tight from the center. When you have completed the tacking to the corners, it will be found that the cloth lies perfectly smooth. At the bottom of the frame should be fastened cross-pieces, and in these two pairs of small castors fitted, so that the screen may be moved about conveniently.
Backgrounds. Second only to the subject is the background, which should receive the greatest amount of consideration. It is extremely important that the sitter have the proper setting, and the background must help to carry out the ideas which you intend to convey in the individual. It is, of course, impossible to have a background for each subject, or each particular class of subjects photographed, and for this reason the plainer and simpler the grounds selected, the better.
81. It is not necessary to have a large variety of grounds. In fact, three or four should answer the requirements of the smaller studio. For bust and two-third figures, a plain black painted or felt ground, which, of course, will have a dull surface; a blue-white painted ground on a similar dull surface material, and then an intermediate graded ground of slate-color will give a very good assortment. The graded ground should be painted quite dark, but not black, at one end, gradually blending to a light gray at the other end. The dark end is placed nearest the light, thus aiding in supplying relief to the other end. Almost any desired effect may be secured by placing these grounds at various angles to the light.
82. It is an easy matter to construct your own background frame, making it of the needed size, in exactly the same manner as described for constructing the reflector. Care must be exercised, when stretching the background on this frame, to avoid wrinkles. Lay the background on the floor, face down, then place the frame on the ground, driving a tack in the center of the top and bottom, as well as in the center of each of the sides. Work from the center outward to the corners, placing the tacks about three inches apart, producing a perfectly even and smooth surface. Either felt or painted backgrounds may be secured from any photographic supply house, and some thus obtained may prove quite acceptable for certain classes of work.