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
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
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.
Dressing your backdrop
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:
- Sheets or pillowcases
- Fabric remnants
- Wrapping paper
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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