Easy cheats for way cooler photos: DIY backdrops

How to make your own backdrop for photos via http://lifeblooming.com

I’m an alright photographer. My photos are good enough but I’m not about to win an award any time soon. My limited talent makes it absolutely essential that I remove anything that might further hinder my chances of getting a decent shot.

One of the biggest challenges I face is finding somewhere inside my house where I can take a photo without the evidence of 100+ years of domestic life.

Our wooden house was built in 1906. She’s decrepit, filled with the clutter of 4 kids and a husband with hoarder tendencies and I love her. However, she’s not the most photogenic of subjects. There is one small, poster-sized spot on one wall which is relatively clear of wrack, ruin and children’s scribbles.

We will renovate but unfortunately not with quite enough speed to insert a clean backdrop into any of my photos in the near future.

So I’ve resorted to creating my own backdrops. It’s simple, fun and an easy way to create the style you want in your photos. In this post I’ll show you how to create your own DIY Backdrops.

When real life isn’t photogenic

How to take better photos and create my own diy backdrop via http://lifeblooming.com

This is what I’m dealing with. A lounge with kiddy stickers on the walls, worn stained carpet, a table that little fingers have peeled the top from – the list of unmentionables is endless really. You can just spot in the right-hand photo the transition of 1960s carpet from cream to red to groovily patterned green.

What you’ll need for a basic backdrop

How to create your own DIY photography backdrop via http://lifeblooming.com

All you really need to start creating your own DIY backdrops are:

  • A moveable flat surface
  • Something to lean it on

I bought a plain painting canvas from a dollar shop. Given the extent of ick in my house I also bought a piece of white foamboard so I had the luxury of having one for the ‘stage’ and one for my ‘backdrop’.

It cost me less than $20 (NZ) for both items and you can see from the photos that they’re not little. I wanted them to be big enough to give me flexibility in using them in a wide variety of shoots but not so big I couldn’t shove them conveniently out of the way when I was finished.

If there’s no handy wall I lean my canvas against a couple of heavy books.

How to create your own DIY photography backdrop via http://lifeblooming.com

Dressing your backdrop

Gathering some materials to dress my photographic backdrop via http://lifeblooming.com

The beauty of using a canvas, foamboard or other mobile flat surface is that you can leave them plain or just as easily dress them. In the image above I’ve draped leftover fabric over the canvas but you can use absolutely anything you have in your house.

When I say leftover fabric I mean fabric bought for a cool looking handcrafted toy that I was totally inspired to make but never in fact, did. All my leftover fabric was borne from the same misguided urge to make the pretty stuff I see online but actually lack the motivation, time, energy and raw talent to make. Inspiration and ideas I have in spades. As well as piles of sad unused pieces of fabric and other crafty materials. And to be honest, cooking equipment. Same reason.

Simple ideas for dressing your background include:

  • Tablecloths
  • Sheets or pillowcases
  • Fabric remnants
  • Hessian
  • Wrapping paper
  • Newspaper
  • Clothes

Just take whatever the item is and tuck it over, under or around the board.

Using clothes as a backdrop

In the photos below I’ve used an old olive green cotton dress as my backdrop. I wanted the backdrop to recede so chose a darker shade of the object. The old dress just happened to be the right colour.

A home photo shoot and props via http://lifeblooming.com

The flax kete was woven by my mum-in-law. She weaves them, fills them with goodies and gives them to each of us at Christmas. My mum-in-law rocks.

A close up shot of a woven flax kete. Pacific Island culture and a diy photo shoot via http://lifeblooming.com

Hessian

Hessian is a great backdrop particularly for craft projects or retro items. In the images below I’ve used hessian behind the objects because it has a subtle mottled shade and texture which suits the handmade vibe of the objects themselves.

Using hessian as a diy backdrop in a photo shoot via http://lifeblooming.com

I went through a phase of crocheting woollen jar covers to use up some of the baby food jars we were collecting. My older daughter uses the jars as holders for her pens and pencils.

Crochet jar covers in retro colors via http://lifeblooming.com

Repurpose items

If you don’t have a canvas nearby and you need some photos for an urgent bloggy deadline, repurpose other items you have lying around the house.

In my case I have a wealth of crap littering the house and yard. Lucky, lucky me.

Vintage suitcases

Vintage suitcases and vintage children's books.  Preparing some props for a homemade photo shoot via http://lifeblooming.com

Here are a couple of the vintage suitcases we have. These two are particularly heavy. One is filled to the brim with old keepsakes, the other with tape cassettes. Yep, just in case someone were to break out a boombox and not have any tapes handy. We got you covered booyee.

Using vintage suitcases as a photographic prop via http://lifeblooming.com

That old, battered look plays really nicely against contrasting items – crystal, china tea sets and so on. The plywood luggage tag features a print by the artist Shane Hansen.

I actually repurposed the suitcases from their current repurposement as heater guards. Our groovy wall-mounted 1960s gas heater is pretty safe except when a 1 year old tries to pry open the front to stuff raisins, tissues and toy cars inside it.

Old vintage suitcases in a shabby 1960s setting via http://lifeblooming.com

Look at the sodding carpet. Did I mention we’ve yet to renovate? Could you tell? We’ve left the carpet on despite what it looks like to give the timber floorboards a little more protection than it would have without it. Spending money on re-carpeting it now would be wasteful with our upcoming renos. So in the meantime, this is what our hallway looks like. This is why I have a canvas backdrop people!

Vintage wooden crates

Keeping with the retro theme, vintage wooden crates always look great in photos. This is just more crap from under the house but I must admit, I am fond of these.

In the images below the boxes are paired with vintage children’s books which I’m a sometimes collector of.

Vintage wooden crates with printing on them.  Props for a photo shoot via http://lifeblooming.com

Vintage wooden crates and vintage children's books.  Preparing for a photo shoot as part of the Easy Cheats for Way Cooler Photos series at http://lifeblooming.com

Colorful vintage kids books and retro wooden crates.  Part of the prep for the Easy Cheats for Way Cooler Photos - DIY Backdrops post at http://lifeblooming.com

So there you have it – DIY backdrops are a great way to ensure the focus of your photo stays where it should – on the subject.

I hope you have fun creating your own photo shoot – lights, props, backdrops and all!

I’d love to hear any tips you have for making your own backdrop. Share your suggestions in the comment section below! x

Comments

  1. says

    Great Post!!! Gave me so many ideas for being a little more creative and inventive with backdrops rather than just settling for some very average and worn table space. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!!! And i especially love the crates and childrens books:)

    • Lisa says

      Hey Lizzy! Haha – you’ve seen the state of my house here – I have no choice! Plus I’m hoping by putting it on the internet some rich fella or felless will be so impressed by my mad blogging skills they’ll donate $100k or 3 to enable me to renovate the sh!t out of this raggedy nonsense. I’m considering starting a fundraising initiative.

  2. says

    Wow cool. I use white foams too but it never occurred to me to use fabric. Thanks 4 sharing. Hey if you ever feel like doing something photography related, let me know. I also love it and try to improve my photography skills.

    • Lisa says

      You’re welcome Jaya! Hey what a great idea! I’ll catch up with you about that later on today. I feel a collaboration comin’ on!

  3. says

    I love the vintage wood crates. Also white canvas = great idea. Need to get some. I use white card that always gets grubby after a couple of uses so I go buy more. Don’t know why I didn’t think of canvas. At least I could wipe that!

    • Lisa says

      Hi Nicola! Gotta love wipeable! Of the two, I actually find the foamboard’s a bit easier to wipe only because it’s slightly shiny but the con about that is how the light plays off it. The canvas is a lot softer in photos. I’ll have to stalk your blog to see if I can spot it!

  4. says

    Lisa, these pictures are FABULOUS!!! I’ve been using cereal boxes, lol. Since my camera took a crap, I’ve been using the free stock images online. You’ve really got an eye and your tips are very helpful for people like me who are a bit clueless.

    • Lisa says

      Hey Jennifer! Thanks!

      There’s nothing wrong with cereal boxes girl! I wrote a sister post in Blogher about free stuff – boxes are good (ALL good!) or even tipping a table or chair on its side and dropping a sheet on it. Must admit, it’s been tempting to drop sheets over my carpet, furniture, walls, random children, myself. Sigh. Roll on the renos! I’d better get my butt back to work soon.

    • Lisa says

      Gidday Laura! Thanks so much! Haha – it was like a revelation. You can see what my house is like so trying to find somewhere to take a pic was a nightmare!

  5. says

    That’s a great idea. I’m going to try that, my wife is an artist and has some canvases. Being all Techie, I have a green-screen and Light Box. The light box is great and they cost about $30. But they don’t have the texture and color you have with your easy cooler photos!
    Also I use a green screen and photoshop, depending on lighting this takes sometime to get it right. I’m going to do some shots with this technique. Might save me a ton of time. Thanks and great post!

    • Lisa says

      Hi Terry – thanks for visiting! I’m going to have to check out a light box now – do you have some of those pics on your website? I’ll have to browse some more but I got distracted by the articles – I’ve got a few open tabs waiting for me to read later!

      Seriously it takes me all of 3 mins to set up which includes getting the canvas and board, propping/lying them in place and chucking the object on top. I already know what sort of light I’m going to get in each room so I go where the type I want is. So 3 mins from start of set up to clicking is definitely going to save you time.

      To be honest though, I think half of the texture is technically dirt.

    • Lisa says

      Hey Christel! Cheers! Yeah, the crates are rockin’. Technically while they’re under my house they’re not mine but I’m working on it..

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