For the readers who are active in our Facebook community, I had a discussion question a few days ago regarding whether a blogger/writer should move forward with a review, if the manufacturer had requested that one not be published. The response on the Facebook group was essentially unanimous, and it lined up perfectly with what my conscience had been telling me. So before I move forward with the full review, I want to outline the details surrounding the manufacturers participation and then withdrawl from having their product reviewed.
In mid-December, 2017, I started seeing a lot of targeted ads for Gravity Backdrops. Their tag line was "buy hand painted backdrops for the price of renting." I sent them a message, and offered to do a review of the backdrops here on www.photographerscooperative.com. They responded very quickly, and they offered to send me three backdrops from their stock, and my only financial obligation was to cover 100 Euros shipping. I accepted, and things moved forward very well. I received the three backdrops in a very reasonable amount of time.
Gravity provided a breakdown of their pricing and sizing, as follows:
Information and Pricing from Gravity Backdrops
We are one of the world's leading manufacturers in producing backdrops for Photographers and Theatre productions. We have collaborated with many within the creative industry such as; photographers, designers, artists, stylists and architects to complete both simple and extremely complex projects. We have an extensive collection of backdrops in stock, but we also cater to custom orders for something more personal and unique to your project. We only use quality cotton canvas, painted with acrylic paints in the style reminiscent of Oliphant and Schmidii but at a third of the cost.
(NOTE - for US readers, as of the date of publication, the exchange rate is 1.23 USD per Euro. Exchange rates vary, of course.)
XS:1.2x2.4m (3.9ftx7.8ft) €250
Standard: 1.6m×2.5m (5.2ft×8.2ft) - €300 Mid: 1.9m×2.8m (6.2ft×9.2ft) - €350 Larger: 2.1m×2.8m (6.9ft×9.2ft) - €400
Large +: 2.8x3m (9.2ftx9.8ft) - €600 XLarge: 2.8mx4m (9.2ftx13ft) - €800 Double Sided (Painted both sides): Standard: €450 Mid: €500 Larger: €600 XLarge: €1000
Promotional Deals: We want to offer you a promotional deal on our backdrops, details below. 3x Standard Backdrops for the price of 2: €700 inc shipping. Usual price: €1050 inc inc shipping 3X Mid Backdrops + Free Shipping: €800 Usual price: €1200inc inc shipping 2x Larger Backdrops + Free Standard Backdrop + Free Shipping: €800 Usual price: €1350inc inc shipping 3x Larger Backdrops + Free Larger Backdrop + Free Shipping: €1200 Usual price: €2520inc 2x XLarge Backdrops + Free Shipping: €1600 / Usual price: €1800 inc shipping
4x XS €800 net price and free shipping
Usual price: €1150 inc shipping
I selected two backdrops from their assortment posted on their Facebook business page, and told them to pick a third one of their choice to send along for the review. I selected an ochre backdrop, a gray-green one, and the one that they chose was a different type of gray. The two that I chose were generally in very good condition. The third one, another version of Gray, though, had a defect that was a strip about 2 inches wide, where everything was puckered and slightly different color. On January 13th I sent them this photo of the problem, and asked what their customer service procedures would be in the case of a flaw like the one I received.
As you can see in the photo, there is a strip that extends up from the model's shoulder, about two inches wide, that is puckered and flawed.
They explained that it must have become extremely cold or damp under the airplane, causing the problem. Their suggestion was to take a wet paint roller, and try to roll out the imperfection. I did exactly that, but it didn't correct the flaw.
Through January and February, we traded a couple more emails, and at one point they could no longer find the photos I had sent of the problem, so they asked me to resend. Communication was sporadic (including a couple of weeks on my end with the flu,) but in late February, I tried to bring things to a resolution so that I could move forward and write the review. I pointed out that if there was a problem with a shipment, and their customer service was fantastic, that almost becomes MORE beneficial than one where everything went smoothly from the start. We all deal with companies who have poor customer service, and so when someone truly stands behind their products, that makes a huge difference!
Unfortunately, they took that as a 'threat' for a bad review. I reassured them that I was delighted with the other two backdrops, but that I just wanted to know how Gravity Backdrops stands behind their items that don't arrive in good shape. They pointed out that they have a lot of reviews of their backdrops, and that they don't need one more, so they asked that I not move forward with a review. That lead me to the question on the Facebook page about what to do if a company hand changed their mind. After that discussion, I decided simply to move forward with the review, and to honestly spell out the challenges associated with the one defective backdrop.
My one additional comment about the service problem is that from what I can tell, Gravity Backdrops is a very small operation, with just one or two people, and English is not their native language. A lot of things can be interpreted badly in an email, even when folks are all native in the same language. I think part of our communication difficulties was probably based on different native languages. Either way - I wasn't thrilled with the answers I got regarding a protocol to address a damaged product, and I will simply leave it at that.
My review - minus the wrinkle glitch
The look of a hand-painted backdrop is absolutely incredible. There is a richness and a professionalism from painted canvas backdrops that you simply don't get from less expensive or more "plain" backdrops. There is just something 'classic' and quite impressive when a portrait is created in front of such a rich looking backdrop. Here is a photo from the exact same session, using the Ochre backdrop. The ochre is hands-down my favorite coloring of the three I received, but that's also highly subjective and completely open to artistic preference.
For a stand, I was using a heavy-duty Savage Universal 12x12 Backdrop stand. As one would expect with a canvas covered with paint, these backdrops are considerably heavier than seamless paper, or most other backdrops that I have worked with in the past. The Savage stand handled them perfectly! I did stop at Lowes and pick up a few additional clamps, of a more heavy-duty nature, to hold the canvas solidly in place.
One thing that I noticed after a month or so, there were very small holes in the backdrop, and when I had it set up at home, where there was a window behind the backdrop, sunlight would shine through those holes and it would be visible. A damp paint roller over the effected area totally took care of the problem. They were just pinpoint sized holes, so they were also quite easy to fix with a clone tool, but in the interest of editing speed, I would rather fix the backdrop, than have to edit little spots of light out of each photo created.
From a shipping standpoint, these backdrops come from Eastern Europe, and the shipping took a few days, but nothing inappropriate. They arrived in a very heavy plastic tube, which was well sealed, and the canvases looked like they had been well protected. The canvases, other than the one flaw discussed above, were in outstanding condition.
They don't have any sort of mounting equipment on them, no 'hoops' or pass-through for a backdrop stand, so you are going to need to clamp these up. The clamps I mentioned from Lowe's do a very good job. I use their Irwin Quick-Grip 2-in-1 clamp. Any good, sturdy clamp would work, but I liked the silicone cover on this one, so it wouldn't damage the corners of the canvas. I got six of them, which may be a tiny bit of overkill - but not by much. Having a lot of clamps across the top makes it easy to spread the canvas evenly, and keep it hanging straight without any 'droopiness' along the top edge.
As you can see in the image to the left, there is definitely a 'gravitas' and sophistication associated with the look. I'm thrilled with the result, as was the client. This images was being used for a program for a conductor, and it definitely went wonderfully with the formality of a tuxedo and the 'classical' vibe.
Would I recommend Gravity Backdrops? Honestly, other than that flaw and the problem in service, I do think it's very well worth considering them as a backdrop manufacturer. I know there are many other hand-painted canvas backdrop manufacturers out there in the marketplace, and I don't have direct experience with any of them. But Gravity had a beautiful selection of colors, and their prices seemed very reasonable.
Mark Morris is a professional photographer in North Wales, PA, just outside of Philadelphia. In addition to wedding and portrait photography, he also specializes in performing arts photography. He lives with his amazing wife Alexis, and their sassy English Bulldog, Lily.