Essential Equipment - Backgrounds
There are several different types of background you can use for your home studio. A plain painted wall will do, but really you want something that can create a smooth curved corner or “cove” between wall and floor, to give the illusion of an infinitely distant background. The most professional option is a purpose-built paper roll background system, which consists of two upright stands, a crossbar and a wide roll of coloured heavy-duty paper, which can be rolled down to provide a background and floor covering. They are very easy to use, and a wide range of different colours are available, but they can get expensive. The industry standard Lastolite background support system costs around £140, and an 11m x 2.72m roll of background paper costs around £50, and they are a consumable commodity. The trailing end covering the floor will get scuffed and dirty, so it will need to be cut off and discarded periodically. An 11m roll is usually only enough for half a dozen sessions.
A cheaper alternative is a fabric background. Your local fabric shop may have some good sized end-of-roll cutoffs available cheap, so go and ask. Ideally you want something at least 3m wide and about 4-5m long, so that you've got enough to cover the background and part of the floor. There are many purpose-built fabric backgrounds such as the self-supporting ones manufactured by Lastolite. They are harder wearing than paper, and can be washed if they get too dirty.
As for background colours, start off with two, one white and one black. The former is good for high-key portraits, while the latter is better for total light control and low-key portraits. Coloured backgrounds are tricky because you have to consider what your subject will be wearing, and the tone of the finished photo. If you want to use coloured backgrounds it's beast to stick to pale pastel colours, particularly a light sky blue which goes well with most things. Patterned backgrounds are also problematic, for the same reasons. The most popular patterns are either a grey marble effect or white-on-blue clouds, both of which are unobtrusive enough for most portraits.