This DIY Food Photography Backgrounds – Part 1 tutorial is just what you need to create stunning backgrounds for food photography without burning a hole in your wallet!
Hey there! Welcome to this super LONG post. 😀 I’m going to take you through just about everything surrounding food photography backgrounds – from what you can use as the base of your scene, to a step-by-step tutorial for creating two beautiful backgrounds that are making their way into just about all the new photography on my Instagram feed! Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Food photography is all about layers – trays, plates, napkins, the food, flatware, garnishes. And to me, the most important layer is the base – the background. When I first started clicking photos of my baked goodies on my smartphone years ago, there was one thing I understood; that the background has to complement the food. So I would end up plating slices of cheesecake and cupcakes on white plates and placing them on top of the washing machine – the only all-white surface in the house! 😛
With time, I moved to ‘styling’ (read: randomly arranging) scenes on the floor tile, the underside of the table cloth (because it’s WHITE!) and on mum’s pretty patterned clothes. Remember this shot of these Mango Strawberry Tarts? 😛
Just over a year ago, I bought my first handmade food photography background. It cost more than I care to admit, but I was stuck with the idea that my food photography would never evolve if I didn’t have a proper background to style my scenes on. Thereafter I bought two more backgrounds. While they are indispensable to food photography, I knew I had to find an inexpensive alternative. I encourage you to use whatever you have around your household – linens, tiles, wooden coffee tables, crates, old baking trays, etc., – as backgrounds for your food photography. That said, if you’re looking to take your love of food styling and photography a step further by investing in Medium Density Fibreboard (MDF) Backgrounds, I’ve got your back! 🙂
In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how I created two dark photography backgrounds – the ‘Deep Blue Sea’ & the grimy ol’ ‘Rusty Baking Tray’. How much did it cost, you ask? Under USD 20 (approx. INR 1,300 and OMR 8) per background! 😀
Before you begin your little art project, let’s run through the set up:
- Choose a large, leveled surface to work on. I worked on my parents’ large dining table, but you could setup on the floor, in the yard or on a large desk. Cover your entire surface with old newspapers.
- Place your MDF board on your surface. I used a 2ft*3ft sized board, with a sanded surface on one side and a cream colour laminate on the other. You can use a board with or without a laminate, just make sure the surface is smooth.
- Fold up roughly cut strips of newspaper and tuck them under the board, close to the edges in order to create space between the underside of the board and the newspaper-covered surface beneath. You want to ensure that there is space to allow paint to drip off. If not, chances are excess paint may get smudged on the under side of the board, possibly ruining a blank canvas you may want to use to paint another background.
- Lay out your paint tools and keep them on hand before you begin.
Here’s what you need:
- Acrylic Paints in colours of your choice. For the ‘Deep Blue Sea’ board I used the shade Prussian Blue. For the ‘Rusty Baking Sheet’ background, I used a reddish brown – Burnt Amber; dark brown – Vandyke Brown; and a crisp Titanium White. I’ve read on several sites/blogs that wall paints in sample sizes work too; however, I have not had a chance to give them a try. If you do/have, please share feedback!
- To paint, you can use paint brushes of various sizes, foam rollers, foam paint brushes, dishwashing sponge, rags cut out from old towels, scrunched up paper… you get the drift.
- Rags! You’ll need lots of rags. If you’re like me, you’ll keep needing to wipe your hands because you forgot to wear gloves. Oh, and you’ll also need gloves. 😛
- Disposable thermocol plates to use as palettes to mix shades and dilute paints.
- A bowl/ filled with water.
- Lots of disposable spoons.
- Matte varnish for acrylic paints.
Background 1: Deep Blue Sea
This background was the easiest to create. I had it done in under 15 minutes! 😀
- To start off, empty roughly 3-4 tbsp of Prussian Blue acrylic paint into a disposable plate. Add 2 teaspoons of water and dilute the paint.
- Clean the board with a damp rag, and then wipe it down with a dry cloth until completely dry.
- I decided to paint on the laminated side of the board, so I didn’t use a base coat. However, if you wish, you can give the board a white base coat or a coat of primer.
- Dip a medium sized foam roller into the blue paint, then begin rolling it over the board in a criss-cross motion. The hole-y texture of the roller will have the board peeking through from underneath the paint.
- The idea is to create a sense of movement, much like the sea, so ensure that you don’t go over in the same spots too many times with the roller. You want the uneven mix of dark and light, and most importantly the base colour (in this case, cream) peeping through. Also, the criss-cross motion will make for interest angles and cuts.
- Keep rolling with as much paint as you prefer, to create the look you’re going for. Just remember that working with a roller is a bit tricky, in that, if rolled gently, the paint dispenses on to the board beautifully; but if pulled swiftly, it tends to take paint off.
- Once you’re happy with the look, leave the background out to dry overnight. The next morning, dilute some matte varnish with water and using a wide brush, paint a coat of it on to the background. Once the varnish dries, you can brush on another coat.
Full disclosure: Though this is my favourite background, it requires more care than the others. Because the coat of paint is so thin, it tends to come off here and there if something scrapes against it. This is possibly because I haven’t used primer, though I am not certain using it will eliminate this problem. So, I just make sure not to swiftly pull or push props around while I’m shooting. Instead, I gently lift them up off the board and change their spot. 😛
Background 2: Rusty Baking Tray
Admittedly, creating this textured background required a lot more time and paint. But the end result was absolutely worth it!
- Clean the board with a damp rag, and then wipe it down with a dry cloth until completely dry.
- Squeeze about a tablespoon each of the Vandyke Brown and Burnt Amber paints on to the board directly. Using a disposable spoon, add in a drop of white into a section of each paint and mix it until you get a shades resembling chocolate milkshake and mocha latte. Then squeeze out a dollop of white to the side. Dilute each shade with a few drops of water. Using a toothpick, swirl the different shades together until it looks like marble cake batter! (I know, I know, enough with the dessert references! 😛)
- Dip the scrubber side of a dish-washing sponge into the swirled paint, and dab it on to the board, pressing down with varying pressure to create a prickly wall-like texture.
- You will need to keep mixing different shades of brown with different quantities of white in your makeshift thermocol plate palette to create that burnt, rusty effect. When I was done covering the surface of the board, my background looked like this.
- However, it wasn’t dark and rusty enough for me, so I used a bit more Vandyke Brown as it is and some of it mixed with a bit of white. I then dipped the scrubber into both shades and used it to blot the paint over the existing coat, until I got a darker background.
- To finish the look, I dabbed Burnt Amber here and there to give it that really grimy, rusted look.
Full Disclosure: This board requires a lot of paint, but the texture that is created with the scrubber is stunning. Because of the amount of paint that is piled on, it takes a really long time to dry completely, up to a week! Post this, I tried to varnish it with some matte varnish, but I realized that while it dries up, the varnish ends up collecting in the crevices of the textured paint, creating an unflattering white film on it. So I’d suggest leaving the varnish out, use the background as is and ensure to wipe it down after each use (which should be done with all backgrounds anyway!)
Tips & Tricks
Before I began creating my own food photography backgrounds, I would think of it as a mammoth task. But painting your own backgrounds is not just easy and cost effective, but also therapeutic. No art teachers telling you to paint within the lines! Here are a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way…
- Prep yourself with a reference image. Look through the work of your favourite food photographers and decide on a colour palette for your background.
- MDF boards can be sourced from any carpentry and woodworks workshops.
- Paints, varnish, brushes, foam rollers and foam brushes are all easily available at art stores. Always buy LOTS of white paint.
- Like food photography, background creation too is a creative process. There is no one-way to create them. Let your imagination run wild and only stop painting when you feel like you’ve created exactly what you wanted.
- Don’t be afraid to HATE what you have created. If what you’ve painted is just not doing it for you, sit aside for 30 minutes, then go back to your background, paint over it with white paint and START OVER!
- While you are shooting, light falling on the background can change its colour and make it look different every time. Take this in your stride and use it wisely.
Here are the first images I clicked to showcase my new backgrounds…
Thank you so much for reading all the way to the end, and I really hope this DIY Food Photography Background tutorial was helpful to you. If you have any questions, requests or if you just want to say hi, please leave a comment below and I promise to address it. Also, please let me know if you’d like for me to post more such tutorials! Get painting! 😀
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