Here is a recent studio portrait of the writer Mark Billingham, shot against a white background .What I like about this style of shooting is that it really focuses on the person with no distractions, especially when in Black and White. For me the most important thing about a portrait shoot is the subject and not the photographer so I like to keep everything as simple as possible .
To get a clean white background you need to balance the light falling on the background with the light on the subject. If you only light the subject the background will generally become grey not white, so it has to be lit. To get a clean white background you need to overexpose it by one stop, anymore and you will get flare into the lens and the edges of the subject would be lost. This is where my most important piece of equipment is invaluable for an accurate exposure – my Sekonic 358 Flashmeter. You can meter the front and background light accurately to give a perfect result. It even has a built in pocket wizard to fire the flashes for easy use. Meters seem to be going out of favour these days with photographers using the LCD screen on the back of their camera to evaluate the scene. But I feel you can never have complete control of the lighting values without it, and I for one would be lost in its absence.
But the bottom line is this is only a starting point once you know the rules the fun can begin as you break them experiment and go in many interesting directions.
For this shoot the main light was an Elinchrom monoblock with a Deep Octa softbox attached, the monoblocks lighting the background had reflectors with flags attached to push the light on to the background and prevent any light spilling forward and falling on Mark . The camera was a Contax 645 with a Phase One IQ140 Digital Back and a Carl Zeiss 55mm lens. The image was shot Raw , converted to black and white and processed in Phase One Capture One Software.