Friday, February 6, 2015

How to Build a Cyclorama Wall for Tight Quarters

Conservators take documentation photography seriously. It is important to take “Before Treatment”, “During Treatment”, and “After Treatment” photos for treatment reports so that all interested parties (both present and future) will be able to properly interpret the object. For clarity purposes, it’s advisable that before and after shots are taken with an uncluttered and neutral background.

One of the frustrating parts of having a small studio space is fulfilling the need for uncluttered photos without having to move things or reassemble anything every time you need to take a picture. In my current studio I’ve always had to move objects out of the way and then lay a white sheet on the floor in front of a blank white wall. Only then I could move the object onto the sheet. Though it was nice that it took up no floor room when not setup, the hassle of getting the sheet “just so” and wrinkle-free was getting old. And I didn’t like the final look anyway. What I really wanted was a seamless background but I didn’t want to mess around with fabric backdrops or backdrop paper.

In my mind I invented a permanent seamless photography wall. It was a great idea… I would figure out some way to build a permanent seamless arc from the wall down to the floor. It’d never be removed and would never need wrinkle fiddling. Genius! I trolled the internet to try and come up with ideas on how to achieve this only to find out that I re-invented a standard fixture for studio photographers. It’s called a “cyclorama”. Go figure.

All the “cyc wall” curves I saw online protruded from the wall 2 or 3 feet using 1/8” Masonite. In my 14’ x 17’ studio every square foot is precious so I decided to try to make a much tighter radius curve to minimize the footprint into my workspace. I was thinking one foot would be maximum but I doubted Masonite would bend into such an extreme radius without cracking now or in the future. A hardware store employee suggested I try Lexan. Once heated with a heat gun, you can easily bend it into whatever shape you want and it will stay put when cooled.

Back at the studio, I started by making the braces for the curve from ¾ plywood scraps. The curve was a 9” radius. Once I had these pieces cut I cut the Lexan and clamped it into the braces. From there it was a matter of heating the material so that it would remain in that shape after it was released from the form. The heat gun did a great job. I heated the Lexan until it was definitely too hot to touch but not melted at all. After half an hour of cooling, I released the clamps and voila!

I screwed the Lexan to the braces and then the braces to the wall and floor. In front of the curve I laid a sheet of 1/8” Masonite so I would have a nice smooth floor. Both the Masonite and the curve were sanded and primed with a neutral gray paint. (Benjamin Moore “Steel Wool” in Eggshell.) The next day I applied joint compound and taped the joints. It took at least 3 more applications of joint compound until I got an acceptably smooth transition. Sanded smooth, the wall was painted with two coats of the neutral gray paint.

I am reasonably happy with the results. I think it looks a lot classier than the sheet on the floor and will only require a periodic fresh coat of paint. I will lay a moving pad over the Masonite when not in use so that light objects (chairs, etc) can be placed on it. With that in mind, I am losing less than a foot (x 6’ length) of floor space. Because this setup requires no setup and looks a lot better, that’s a tradeoff I am willing to take.


  1. nice job

    What lens do you use? my shop is not much bigger and i have difficulty getting far enough away from the work.

    1. I have a 17-85mm. I'm probably at 35mm or so when my back is against the wall.