Creating DIY photography backdrops

In this class, Karl Taylor Education’s Creative Director Tim Gaudion shows you how to make your own DIY photography backdrops similar to those you’ll have seen throughout our food photography classes.

This step-by-step tutorial is ideal for photographers wanting to add an element of unique creativity to their shots as it shows you how to get creative results and outlines important considerations when choosing a background.

Class objectives:

  • Demonstrate how to create a DIY photography background
  • Outline important considerations when creating/selecting a background for photography
  • Explain and demonstrate the tools needed to create a wooden backdrop for photography

What you’ll need:

  • Untreated wooden planks
  • Drill and screws
  • Blowtorch
  • Wood dye
  • Paint
  • Wax crayons
  • Acrylic paint
  • Water

NOTE: This class is available with English subtitles.


Backgrounds and backdrops are an important part of any image (whether you’re photographing food or fashion) and having the skills to create your own backgrounds opens a whole new world of possibility. Using simple tools and equipment, Tim guides you through the process, from start to finish, showing you how to create your own board, accentuate texture, add colour and enhance depth.

Step 1

Decide on what background you’d like to create.

DIY photography backdrop example

An example of a previous DIY backdrop for photography.

Step 2

Create a board.

DIY wooden board

Joining boards together.

Step 3

Age the wood.

DIY photography backdrop example

Ageing the wood uses a couple of techniques.

Step 4

Apply a base colour.

Painting DIY backdrop

Applying a base coat of paint.

Step 5

Apply final colour effects.

Painting photography backdrops.

Using different colours to add depth.

You can also create your own canvas backdrops for photography — Tim shows you how to do that in this class here.

If you have any questions about this class, please post in the comments section below.

Comments

  1. A pleasant good day to Tim and Karl,

    A store owner here in the Caribbean offered to do a ONE PASS of their blow torch for free on the wooden planks that I put together.
    My question is… can I get a similar result if I add some of the waxy crayon colours and watered down acrylic paints before they use the blow torch on the board ?

    Thanks again for these informative videos.

    1. Hi Kgiffard,

      Adding the wax crayon and the watered-down acrylic paint before doing any burning will not work.

      The initial burning of wood creates the worn aged look to the wood. When the blow torch is passed over the wood the first time the softer wood between the grain burns more than the grain. Next, you will see in the video I pass the wire brush over the surface to remove some of the burnt surface and leave the texture of the grain.

      The initial first pass of the blow torch takes the longest so getting this done for you will speed up the process. The blow touch I used is just a cheap one purchase from a hardware store for about $10 so you could get one just for doing the finishing touches to your boards.

      After the wire brushing, you could then add the wax crayon and the watered-down acrylic paint layers, and if you don’t have a way to blow torch the wood after the initial ONE PASS you could just rub the paint and crayons layers into the wood wire brush and scourer and keep building up layers of paint and wax crayon until you get the desired effect. The wax crayons will resist the acrylic paint creating interesting effects even without melting it with a blow torch.

      Hope this helps
      Tim

  2. If you were trying to achieve a honey brown wood finish affect that looks very aged. How would you take that burnt, wire brushed wood (so it looks that worn) but then give it a real light warm feel. I have done loads of wood working in the past, which offered the possibility of using some exotic woods in my images.. padauk (orange-reddish) for example. I’ve also used beach wood planks and logs (red cedar and hemlock) and planed them down and gotten some interesting props and surfaces. But I’m looking for something similar to an aged european oak (a little harder to find in my part of the world), which might have been used in a door or wine barrel… something with that kind of look.

    1. Hi Gary, The burning and wire brushing as you mentioned gives the aged worn look to the wood. The burning process darkens the wood. This can be lightened by removing more of the charred surface with a wirebrush. You can also use a lighter opaque wood stain or paint to lighten the wood and rub this back to allow the texture and some of the wood colors to show through and build up layers until you get the color/effect you require. The burning accentuates the grain and leaves this raised so it is easy to rub one color through to the under colors and create some great results while keeping the wood grain effect. I would experiment with offcuts first to see what works best.

      1. Thanks Tim.
        I’m looking for some old wood (for free) that has some nice grain and then I will give this another try. I appreciate the response.

  3. Hi Karl/Tim,

    Thanks for showing us the tips on how to make these boards, it really helped!

    Can I ask what type of wood are these wood planks please? I have been doing some boards myself on and off for the past year, and always used pine as this is what is available at my hardware store. But the planks are too “clean” and no matter how much I burn it and use the techniques Tim demonstrated, the textures of the wood doesn’t show through.

    Any tips as well on how to avoid the wood “curling” please? If I burn it too much, the wood “curls” and then it’s not easy to use as a flat surface.

    Thanks,
    Maxine

    1. Hi Maxine,

      The timber used is softwood (pine) rough sawn timber, that’s not been planed to make it smooth – it is normally the cheapest wood, most diy and wood supply shops sell this you could also try looking in the garden section as a lot of fencing timber is rough and not planed. You could also use the wood from pallets but these take a bit longer to first take apart.

      Thanks
      Tim

      1. Hi Tim, thank you for your reply and for the tip! The ones I usually use are the cheapest ones but I think they definitely planed it to make it smooth. Great I will try to find some fencing timber and/or wood pallets. Any advice on how to stop it from curling though? But I guess I will try the other types of wood first, as these may not need as much burning to get the textures, which will not make the planks curl.

  4. Thanks Tim, nice video.

    Also an option: You can sand down after every coating which will emphasis the grain in the wood.

  5. Excellent tips in the video. Thank you Tim. It’s time for your own creativity !,, Sweet.
    Can’t wait to try. :0)

  6. Hi Karl & Tim, Awesome tips in here! it seems this may be in the wrong category? It’s only showing up in the Food photography one. I knew I’d seen it and was trying to find it but took a while as was thinking would be in the equipment area since the painting canvas one was. Anyway just a thought 🙂

    1. Hi Henrik, there are lots of our product videos where we show painting MDF backgrounds. Just use emulsion and a roller it’s very easy.

  7. Hi! was the panel used on the fresh fish video also custom made by Tim? It has a stone-like finishing. Thanks

    1. Hi, no that was made by Anna’s suppliers in Moscow but we’ve also purchased grey slate stone and then enhanced it by spraying it black.

        1. Hi Diego, I’d spray grey slate with a light coat of matt black or chalkboard paint because I’ve found grey slate always looks to light and dirty in photos.

  8. Hello, thanks a lot for the video it was very useful and lots of great tips. I wonder If Tim doesn’t ever finish his backgrounds with some kind of product for water and other protection purposes, or you find that its not necessary? Thank you.

    1. Hi, no as far as I know he doesn’t, I think it all just contributes to the ‘wear and tear’ look to the surfaces in the long term.

  9. Hi Tim and Karl, thanks for this great video. It’s answered a lot of questions I had in relation to product shots for my one-man-band company.

  10. Thanks for this video, Tim.
    I think it is important to note that the quality of the finished photo is also reflected in the background and props.
    There was one detail I felt was missing… that of time scale.
    For this sort of exercise, time spent is important; too short and the job would not look right.
    How long would you have taken to create some of the larger backgrounds. 2, 3, 5 hours?
    Longer?

    Cheers

    1. Hi Ted, Thanks for your comments. Regarding the time taken to create these boards the burning of the wood (that gives it the aged look) takes the longest as you can only do a small area at a time, for the 2 ft square board in this class this stage took about 30 minutes. A larger board would take double the time and this is the stage that gives the texture so important to not rush it. When painting the boards the larger backgrounds don’t take much longer than the smaller backgrounds just the additional time it takes to paint the extra area. I normally allow 2-3hrs to make one of these panels but depending on how fast the paint dries you may need to wait for for one stage to dry before proceeding to the next step. The more time and care taken the better the end result, you can also repaint the same board to use in another shoot to get a different look. Cheers Tim

    2. Hi Ted, Tim’s away at the moment until the end of August but I will ask him to reply when he’s back, I think it was about 2-3 hours per board.

  11. A great demonstration! Excellent ideas. For me part of the fun is making/preparing the props and backdrops for a shoot. Is there a limited amount of times that you can repaint the surface, meaning a different look for a different shoot?

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