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.