If you’re a backdrop junkie like me, you absolutely need to learn how to make your own food photography backdrops. It’s fun, easy, relaxing, and a real money-saver!
If you gave me $500 and told me, “Here, buy all the backdrops you want,” I’d have an absolute freaking field day. I own almost 10 surfaces, and I’m always on the hunt for more.
Gorgeous backdrops instantly elevate your food photography game. They add interest, make the food pop, and help set the mood. The only drawback? They can get pretty damn pricey.
From the time I started photography to now, I’ve spent $600+ on surfaces. That’s basically a new lens!
While I love all my backdrops (especially the stunning ones from Woodville Workshop), I’ve really been getting into making my own.
The first few I made were, to put it quite simply, ugly as sh*t, and since I don’t want you guys to overspend on materials/supplies, I’m sharing all the tips and tricks I learned while making my very own surfaces!
What size backdrop is best for food photography?
Bigger is better here. Of course, you don’t need your surface to be absolutely ginormous. Starting with a 54×72 cm (21″x28″) is a good idea, especially if you love to do flat lays and busy overhead scenes. The surface should be large enough to hold your subject, whatever props you’re using, and prevent you from having to do any extra cropping when you edit.
How do I make my own food photography backdrops?
The process is relatively simple and only requires a handful of materials. You will need:
- A plywood board
- Sanding sponge
- Jount compound + joint knife
- Matte acrylic paint
- Paintbrush/foam sponge brush
- Clear matte finishing spray paint
You can find the plywood, sanding sponge, joint compound/knife, and matte finishing spray at Home Depot. These materials will run you about maybe $20-30 in total. As for the paint and paint brush, check out your closest Michael’s. I always use Folk Art matte acrylic paint, as it’s cheap and good quality.
To make my surfaces, I took some tips from the incredible Joanie of the Bite Shot, and the very lovely Bea Lubas. I’ve found combining their methods finally helped me create a backdrop I was satisfied with.
Here is how to make your own surface:
- Sand the plywood with the sanding sponge. Then, apply a layer joint compound all over the board using the joint knife. There’s no need to be super precise, as the compound is just to add texture. Be sure not to have too much raised texture, as you’ll still need your subject to be flat on the backdrop. Allow the compound to dry for at least 12 hours.
- Now it’s time to paint! Dab small dollops of your colors onto the board, then use a sponge applicator (or brush, if you want) to pat/blend the colors. You can use stroking or stippling motions to get the effect you desire. Once this dries, spray the entire board with the clear matte spray paint.
There, you’re practically done!
Tips for making beautiful surfaces
Remember a few paragraphs ago when I said the first couple of backdrops I made were butt ugly? Here are my tips to help you avoid going through as much paint and plaster as I had to:
- Use colors in the same color family – Different shades of neutral colors like gray and cream blend together beautifully and harmoniously. For one of my boards, I used 4 different shades of gray, from light to dark, to create an interesting, gradient look. You can also experiment with muted shades of green, pink, brown, or blue.
- Get creative with motion – Don’t just do the same boring strokes! Try stippling, dabbing, or swirling the paints on the board.
- Layer, layer, layer – Want to create a surface with lots of depth? Then paint your board all over with the darkest color, then layer a mix of lighter colors over it.
- Only use matte paint – Avoid metallic and high gloss paints, as these can create lots of shiny, distracting reflections in your food photos.
- Don’t get discouraged if you “mess up” – So what happens if the don’t like the colors or look of your board? Let it dry, then paint over it again trying a new method! I painted one of my boards twice before finally being happy with the end result.