I often get asked what I use for backdrops in the studio, and people are often quite surprised with what I use, so I thought I might write a post.
I thought I’d start here, as in some ways it is easier, due to a smaller area. I often shoot outside on the table on my deck area, lots of lovely natural light, sometimes a bit warm in summer, but in Winter it is nice and cozy with the cafe blinds down. I have a wonderfully horrible old work table I scored a while ago, that is usually the backdrop for my dark and moody shoots, along with a rig of two boards taped together to create a V shape, boards are painted in charcoal blackboard paint.
I also have vinyl squares, in marble, white and vintage wood that I use as backdrops, along with my studio window for back and side light. I also use things like white or black perspex for great reflections and have even shot on a mirror.
I have two main backdrops which hang from a rig mounted on the ceiling. These are 7m long and 3m wide, both are made from Muslin and I have a black and a White one. These give the look of a seamless backdrop and are also great for extracting images for composite pieces. These are great but do get dirty and you can sometimes see creases and folds – this can be good or bad, depending on the shot.
I will also shoot straight into the window for a dreamy, hazy backlight. I have smaller fabrics which I tend to hang from the ceiling on the backdrop rig. I have patterned images and white, red, gold, grey, green etc as plain colours. I of course also have a brick wall (that is a love-hate relationship). You can see it just to the left.
My latest favourite is my Polyboards…or painted polystyrene boards. These are approx 2200 x 1200mm (40mm thick) and I have them painted different colours. Currently only on one side, but I have two of each, so one side is pale grey/green (seen below, along with my old work table)
The other set is dark charcoal, but in some light looks dark navy. Oh, how I adore these boards. Between the flatness of these boards and my new lighting set up (same old lights, just new arrangement, using a LOT of natural light) I am adoring the look I am getting, very flattering.
I ordered these boards plain from a Melbourne Distributor and they cost about $30 each, the biggest problem was delivery and that cost about $150, as they are too big to fit in my car. Hiring a truck for the day would not have been that much cheaper and a lot of bothering to boot. Hopefully, I will not need to order more for a while. I used standard matte household paint and paint one side of each board to mark a V corner, ie: two boards grey/green and two sides Charcoal. I just used a roller brush, like you would use on a wall in your house, I found it took two coats, three may have been better or even a primer first, but I am doing these on the cheap, so it was just a couple of sample pots. The other sides are still currently white, I am thinking of painting one a vintage white and the other a light blue. Currently, the white also makes an awesome reflector. I then got some 2×4 wood and attached shelving brackets to hold the boards in a corner arrangement…works a treat.
Cheap as cheaps
There are plenty of things you can probably find around the house to use as well, a plain wall is a great start, regardless of colour. Bed sheets, this is what I used mostly to start with, black, white, dark blue and red. These are great and quite portable. Sheer curtains in front of a window soften and diffuse the light too. You can also pick up random offcuts of fabric, I have loads of these, they are usually about 1200mm wide, so maybe grab two for extra width, mine are usually about 2m long. You could also paint cardboard.
I have also recently bought a painters canvas drop sheet, I am yet to try painting it, but I did use it recently in a shoot. The neutral colour is great, but it did require a little photoshop to smooth out the folds. I do kind of like the way it hangs, so soft.
I think that is about all I can think of, it really is a matter of getting creative, I have built my stuff up over time, and have changed what I like to work with as well.
Very helpful and interesting, Julie. I am just starting to really concentrate on the backgrounds for my photos. I bought a light box, but find that the black backdrop isn’t dark enough and has wrinkles, even though I pressed it. Some shots with a wall as background end up with a solid black background, which I like. Trying to get a good handle on the lighting and settings that result in this. I like your painted boards a lot!
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Thanks Susan. Yes my fabric backdrops are the same. I love these new ones
For my still life stuff I got some big sheets of mdf cut up into 6 pieces – roughly 600*800 mm and you can paint both sides. They are not the lightest option but they are durable and you can do stuff like smear plaster on it for extra texture and interest. The big sheets cost me $25 including the fee to get them cut up.
Ive been experimenting with painting them and trying all sorts of colours but variations on black/grey/white or white/blue white/grey seem to be my preference.
You can get small sample pots of matte paint custom tinted at my local hardware store for $10 each and they are about 300ml. I got a big tin of black matte self priming exterior paint and I can roll that on as much as I like 🙂
Its a lot of fun making your own backdrops and adds that extra level of uniqueness to images which I appreciate.
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Agreed. Smaller sheets of polystyrene would do that job and be much lighter
I cant connect to WP to leave a logged in answer, so the anonymous response is me – Lensaddiction 🙂
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