Creating Backgrounds Part 1…

I have had a lot of questions about where I get my backgrounds that I shoot on. Well, today I will show you.

You can search for old pieces of furniture or old antique pieces of wood, but that can A. get very pricey and B. take a lot of time. Sometimes you can stumble upon an old pile of fence posts that are the perfect shade of gray, but that is leaving a lot up to chance. The very best way to ensure that you will have a great background for shooting on is to make one your self!

All you need is a variety of paint, wood, and time.

To start you will need some wood. A great place to get large square panels are at Lowes or Home Depot. Thy come in a variety of thicknesses and wood types. I generally go for the ones that have a few sheets sandwiched together. This will help prevent warping. You can sand the surface some if you want before painting. If you do, be sure to use a paper towel to remove all of the dust. Once you have your wood, you will need to decide what color paints you will be using. I used just your basic satin paint. I like to work with a variety of colors, so I purchase the smaller sample sizes. At around 3 dollars, they are a perfect ways to get a variety of colors. I use a foam roller to lay down my first color, then use inexpensive paint brushes for the remaining colors. Here is the first background.

For this first panel, I started by rolling the background white.

Once the white dried, I dry brushed the surface with a gray…

Dry brushing is where you only dip the very edges of you brush lightly in the paint and make sporadic paint strokes over the surface.

As the grey was drying, I took red paint, poured it into a cup of water and then mixed it up.ย ย  This diluted the paint and created a wash that would dry semi transparently. Experimenting with different amounts of paint and water will give different effects.

I painted the red wash over the panel..

before the wash dried, I used a white painting rag to wipe away the wash. Here is the final result.

The removing the red wash left behind shades of pink and red. Here is what the background looks like in use.

Now for background number 2. This time I started by staining the background first.

On top of the stain, I dry brushed grey and brown onto the panel.

There was no specific pattern that I was following, I just decided to go for a random effect.

Next came a very bright yellow.

Once the yellow was done, I decided that it was a little too much. I wanted to experiment by adding a blue glaze. Instead of mixing it with water and rubbing it off after painting, I painted the whole board in blue glaze.

and then let the glaze dry…

It still needed a little something else. I went back to my wood stain that I used to stain the very first layer with and smeared the stain all over the wood.

Here is the finished background in action.

For my final background, I started with a stain board that I dry brushed with white paint.

The white was nice, but it wasn’t quite complete. It needed a little age to it. For this I was going to use a stain that I diluted with water.

I used about a 50/50 water to stain ratio for this one. The type of stain you use and the amount of water will determine what the final look will be like. The more different combinations you try the more new looks you can discover so play around and try new stuff!

Here is what it looks like when the stain is half applied.

And here is the final background in action…

These are only 3 of the millions of different background combinations that you can make. The only way you will know what works for you will be to try and experiment. It is ok to mess up. It is only paint. If you try something you don’t like then just paint over it.

A few tips…

Be careful about making the background too busy, you don’t want to completely distract your viewer from the food.

Try color combinations that will compliment your food and prop choices.

Keep trying new things and experimenting! Try bold colors and see what happens.

After painting, you can also sand away potions of the top layers to reveal the bottom colors. One day I will bring you a backgrounds part 2 that shows that as well as other materials I use as my favorite backgrounds.

Just remember that by building layers of different colors you can create beautiful and interesting colors that will compliment your food photography nicely. Experiment, get messy, and have fun!


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    • says

      Its been a lot of fun! Lowe’s was having buy one get one free on pain samples that ended last night, so might have bought 14 more colors ! woops

  1. says

    WOW!!! This is such a useful post. Thanks so much taylor for doing such a wonderful job!!! The photograph of the blueberries is simply mond blowing :)

  2. says

    Hah – 14 colors :) Lots of options though, so that is fantastic. Thank you again for all of your tips. I love this site so much :)

  3. says

    this is such a great idea! thanks a lot! seems really simple, and more importantly, affordable. i’m working with a pretty old and tired camera, and it’s hard to find ways to add flair to my photos

  4. says

    Have been going through all your posts on photography today and believe me you come as a god send! Thanks for such informative and helpful photography posts. Really appreciate it!

  5. says

    So far, this is my favorite of the guides you have written on food photography. I love seeing the “behind the scenes” of food photography on other blogs, and your photos of you painting the boards are so interesting to me.

  6. says

    To find old wood: seek out firms that have stacks of old shipping pallets behind their building. Use a pry bar to disassemble the pallets. Protect your eyes.

    The thing I did not like about your using the 4×4 foot panels is they still look like plywood even after all the staining. IMHO what would look better are old wood planks that look like what a farmer in the 1800s might have used to build a table. For those rough planks I have been looking at rough-sawn wood fencing at Lowes, Home Depot and lumber yards. Last night at Home Depot six foot long rough-cut fence wood was only $1.42. I figure for that price, I could buy four then cut out the best four foot section of each. Then place the four boards together when I need to photograph food (all my work is on location). I plan to use stretchy (bungie) cords to keep the boards next to each other.

    The problem with the wood I saw last night at Home Depot was it was actually green which (I assume) means it is not cured or kiln dried. Yuk. I think I’ll go to Lowes or lumber yards in my area to seek out wood that’s not green.

    Once I find the 4 four foot boards I will sand them down a bit to remove the splinters but preserve their character. Then I want to do something to seal them like an 1800s farmer might have. Question: should I use wax, shellac, varnish, what?

    • says


      Sorry to keep you waiting, but it will probably be this summer before I have a chance to do another backgrounds post.
      – Taylor

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