Last weekend, I felt like I was in a bit of a creative rut, so I picked up a few wooden boards to paint backgrounds on. I shared some pictures of them on Facebook and it got a little traction, with people asking how I made them, so today, I wanted to post something different – you’ve all seen my food, now get a little insight into the work that goes on behind-the-scenes! We’ll be doing a few DIY Food Photography backgrounds today!
Is it expensive?
Granted, there are a lot of tutorials out there (not nearly enough, though!) on the different, affordable objects you can use as backgrounds – in the beginning, I solely used about 5-6 colored sheets of craft paper as background (pic #1). Then I moved on to a wooden board that I recycled from old wooden furniture and painted to use as a background (pic #2 & #3). I also used placemats as background (pic #4), but again – all of this, although cheap, can get boring real quick!
Another problem was that the size of the placemats and craft paper limited the variety of angles or even how much I could fit into the shot!
So while these are great options for when you are just starting out (I was also shooting with a point-and-shoot at the time), as you grow into your role as a food blogger and photographer, you have to begin investing appropriately. We live in a world of visual media – the written word is, I’m sad to admit, fading away. Urgh, even just saying it out loud hurts.
With a good camera, you’ve just won half the battle. This was one of my first pictures on a DSLR, and while it’s not entirely a terrible picture, it still doesn’t have ‘much’. I shot this on my laminate kitchen floor, and it is just as unimpressive as I imagine it sounds.
Making your own backgrounds transfers a bit of artistic whimsy into your photo and gives you more room to add other props, allowing you to ‘paint’ a better visual. This blue background that I’ve been using is one of my absolute favourites – the white spots on the blue create a sort of fluidity, and depending on the angle of the shot, can introduce distance and even ‘speed’ into the picture, or look like rain when stood upright.
Now that I’ve outlined some of the reasons to make your own backgrounds, let’s get painting!
You will need:
- 1 Plywood sheet – The largest of my sheets are 48″x 24″ and the smallest 24″x 24″. If it’s not sanded and smooth when you buy, you will need sandpaper to smooth down the surfaces. Thickness doesn’t matter, but I get the thinnest of the lot (5mm). Easier to store and lighter to carry.
- Paints – I painted both sides of one board and one side of another board I already had. Colors used: black, white, grey, light blue and dark blue. Paint type: Sample. Check your local hardware store to see if they sell paint in sample sizes. Home Depot sells BEHR Premium Plus Color Samples (8 fl.oz / 237 ml) for about $3.48. You will use about 2-4 tbsp of each color for a project, so a single sample will last you several projects. Sheen: Matte. Always get matte paints for photography boards, otherwise you’ll see light bounce from the board itself, and it messes with shadows and colors.
- Paint brush – I use a 1″ chip brush, and it’s lasted me for about 9 projects, still going strong! Just remember to wash your brushes well and oil them a little to keep the brushes light and supple. Sound like too much work? Throw it out and replace after a couple of projects.
- Disposable plate – To use as a makeshift paint palette. I recycled a small Styrofoam plate I bought some herbs in.
- Drop Cloths – This can just be rags, newspapers or these plastic sheets that will ideally protect your work surface. Working with paint, you can get carried away, and unless you don’t mind a little paint dripping or splashing here and there, cover up a large area with drop cloths. I worked on my carpeted apartment floor, and my security deposit was at stake!
- Newspapers – The kind of paper that is absorbent works best. We’re going to use it to create textures on the board.
- Matte Varnish – To protect the paint, so you can spill on the board without damaging or staining it.
- A few books or magazines – No matter how careful you are, some paint can drip over the sides, and if the board it sitting directly on the drop cloth, the paint runs under and stains the other side. To prevent this, place a few magazines or books, at the bottom of the boards to slightly elevate it from the drop cloth. This way, the underside is protected from accidental smearing.
The total cost of making two backgrounds is $7.93 + cost of paints (which will last several projects) + tax. I used the white paint the most (on all three boards), and still used up less than 1/3rd of the sample sized bottle.
I estimate the cost of two boards to be under $15 !!! Which is a freakin’ steal, considering that craft papers and placemats have a limited lifetime, and there is only so much you can spill on it before it becomes unusable!
Project #1 – The Black Splash board
As crazy as this looks, it is the simplest to make. While it might be a little too ‘crazy’ for top-down shots, it creates a beautiful texture and color for front or angled shots. I absolutely adore the bokeh the paint splashes create – it almost seems to add a little ‘height’ and another dimension to the blur! And the black, white and grey makes the colors n the food pop-out – almost like selective color photography!
Step 1: Take a few teaspoons of paint and dilute with a few drops of water. Paint the entire board with the black paint.
Step 2: Dip the paint brush into the grey paint and let it drip onto the board. Move around the board, make splashing motions and don’t worry if big blobs of paint drip off. It all adds to the character of the final board. Cover up as much surface as seems sensible.
Step 3: Thoroughly wash and dry the brush, so that there are no more traces of grey paint. Dip the brush in white paint and repeat the same splashing motion, but don’t cover too much surface. Just about 1/3rd of the grey stokes. The white is only used to highlight the grey, nothing more.
Step 4: Dry the board completely for upto 8-10 hours. The big blobs of paint take longer to dry, and sometimes, it may look dry on the surface, but if you accidentally place heavy items on top, it could crush the paint. So let it dry overnight, and I wouldn’t pile or place anything heavy on this board for upto a week, just to be safe.
Step 5: Once the board is completely dry, add a coat of matte varnish with a clean, dry brush. Let dry completely and use.
Project # 2 – The Blue Smudge board
Looks like velvet, doesn’t it? I love this board for the top-down shots!
For this board, we are going to dilute the colors with white, separating the gradient change into three regions on the board. Mentally divide the board into thirds and work keeping that in mind. Be sure to blur out the transition gradually, so as to not end up with three, distinct color sections.
Step 1: Paint the board with light blue paint diluted with a little water. Let it dry completely.
Step 2: Take about 1 teaspoon of grey paint on the disposable tray. Do not dilute. Tear up a small piece of newspaper and scrunch it into a ball. Dip into the paint, then blot away the excess on another sheet of paper. Then press onto the blue board making small impressions to about 1/3rd of the board. Change newspaper balls whenever the impressions become rather bulky.
Step 3: Take about 1 teaspoon of dark blue paint on the disposable tray. Do not dilute. Repeat the blot and dab over the grey paint.
Step 4: Before starting on the next section, dilute the colors slightly with some white paint. The dark grey will become slightly-light gray and the dark blue becomes slightly-lighter blue(but darker than the base blue).
Step 5: Repeat the same dabbing process, grey first, then blue.
Step 6: For the last section, dilute the colors further more with white paint, the light grey is now almost-white and the blue is a shade lighter. You will also be dabbing white paint on this section.
Step 7: Do a final check and see if the gradient demarcation is standing out. If it is, take the appropriate color and do over. Make the transition look as smooth and natural as possible.
Step 8: Once the board is dry, add a coat of matte varnish with a clean, dry brush. Let dry completely and use.
Project #3 – The Raw Cement board
The technique used for this board is a combination of the techniques used on the black and blue boards. I love the raw, almost cement like quality of this board.
Step 1: Paint the board white, diluting it with a little water. Let it dry completely.
Step 2: Dip the brush into the grey paint and splash it on the white board. Before it dries completely, dab with a ball of newspaper to smudge the paint. Make sure that the white base color peeks through here and there.
Step 3: Dilute the grey with white paint, splash and dab.
Step 4: Once the board is completely dry, add a coat of matte varnish with a clean, dry brush. Let dry completely and use.
I hope I have inspired you enough to make your own backgrounds, and if you do make these, be sure to SHARE YOUR PHOTOS with me through Facebook, Instagram (@loveisinmytummy) or Twitter (@loveisinmytummy).
Non-blogger friends who have read this, maybe the next time you see a photo with these backgrounds, I hope you can appreciate the amount of work that goes into each picture!