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Care and feeding of a Cyclorama (Part 2)

In the first part of our series on the Care and Feeding of a Cyclorama, we reviewed the basics of cycloramas - what they are, how they are built, and how they are maintained. Now on to the hard part: The etiquette of using a cyc wall.

The cyclorama in Studio A in all its glory!

Part of the joy of owning a studio is that you get to do things your way. You get to create the sets you like, use the lights you want, and in general have your way with every aspect of your studio. You also get to make a mess and not clean it up.

Our studio isn't like that.  At all.  Here you pick up after yourself. Or don't make a mess at all.

Our studio space is, for all essential purposes, a co-op studio. While we have about 50 members, about 30 use the studio on a regular basis. That is a lot of folks sharing our studio and all our gear.   

Using a cyclorama properly is important - to minimize the impact to your images and to images created by those that follow you.  

On to the etiquette of cyclorama use!

The First Rule of Cycloramas

We have a saying around here: "Walk on the cyc, get hit with a stick." While we say that jokingly, most folks would think that not walking in the cyclorama would be the first rule of cyclorama use, but it isn't. The first rule is far simpler:

Don't use the cyclorama.

What? Yup. You would be shocked at the number of folks that use the cyc wall when they are shooting head shots or three quarter shots. Why are you on the cyc? WHY?! We have a separate white wall set in the studio which would be more appropriate, easier to use, and carry less of a burden on the flow of your shoot. Hence the first rule: only use the cyc if your shot is full length. Simple enough, but easy to over look.

The Second Rule of Cycloramas

Don't walk on the cyc.

At first glance, it seems that we are suggesting levitation, but in truth we are speaking of a simple yet complex operation. You see, walking on the cyclorama in street shoes leave marks - and the whole purpose of cyclorama etiquette is to reduce such marks.

Shoes at the edge of the cyc just before I stepped on it to take a meter reading.

In short: you cannot walk from the floor of the studio on to the cyc floor. Think of the studio floor as a muddy rain filled front yard - you can't simply walk back into the house. you have to take off your shoes or clean them. And you have to do it each and every time you step onto the cyc. Every. Single Time.

How to follow the second rule

Most find this to be a complete pain. It is.  Here is an example of the procedure:

  • You set up your lights and have to step on the cyc floor to take a meter reading.  
  • Assuming you are wearing clean socks, you walk up to the edge of the cyc and slip off your shoes RIGHT AT THE EDGE without stepping on the white floor.  
  • You then step on the cyc, walk to the center, and take your meter reading.  
  • When you are done on the cyc, you then walk to the edge and without stepping on the studio floor, you slip into your shoes.   
  • You cannot step on to the studio floor in your stocking feet: you will just get your socks dirty and then track the dirt onto the cyc. Think of the muddy front yard example: stepping in the mud in your socks is just as bad as your muddy shoes.

It is likely that your subject will need to wear shoes (it is a full length shot, right?) then their shoes must be cleaned BEFORE walking on the cyc.  You simply clean the bottom of their shoes (we provide Windex and paper towels at the make up station) and leave them at the edge. They simply put their shoes on at the edge of the cyc.

In practice, this is tricky. And onerous. And a total pain with clients.

But this is the Way of the Cyclorama.

The Third Rule of Cycloramas

Don't walk on the curve.

Luckily, this rule is simple and easy to follow. The curve that is created between the floor and the back wall is constructed of simple 1/4" plywood. It serves its purpose, which is to provide a subtle visual transition from wall to floor. It isn't there to support weight. While it might hold a person, we don't want to test it. It is considered HORRIBLY RUDE to walk on the curve of a cyc wall.


Side view of the cyc. Notice the thin plywood. It won't support you!

It is our experience that photographer's really need to keep an eye on small children. They love that curve! And while their slight weight is extremely unlikely to cause damage, we urge caution.

The Fourth Rule of Cycloramas

Protect the cyclorama from the unknowing.

Most folks upon seeing a cyc wall for the first time want to check it out - because, lets be honest, it is kind of cool. Little kids will want to climb the curve, adults want to Instagram from the middle of it. As photographers we need to protect the cyclorama from those who aren't familiar with it.


 Chains and stanchions "protecting" the cyc from the uninformed.

 We protect our cyclorama from random walkers by surrounding it with white plastic chain on stanchions. Other studios us cones or signs, but we feel our way is a bit more obvious to new comers.

In our studio, the side chains are never lowered.  Lowering the chains on the sides of the cyc just makes it that much easier for those unfamiliar with cyc etiquette to walk blindly across it. Keep those side chains up!




A Review of the Rules:

  • Don't use the cyclorama. Do you need a full length shot?
  • Don't walk on the cyc. Take all precautions to avoid marking the floor.
  • Don't walk on the curve. Keep folks off the curve! 
  • Protect the cyclorama from the unknowing. Help those who don't know better.

This is the way of the cyclorama.

This is Part 2 of a two part series.  Part 1 is here.

We hope you find this helpful!

- Bud Thorpe for The Master Lighting Course.

Editor's Note: This article first appears in the SOPHA Blog on August 23, 2013.  It is reproduced here on our sister site because it is that darn useful!


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