DIY Food Photography Backgrounds
DIY Food Photography Backgrounds are easy to make with inexpensive materials and simple techniques. Less than $10 each!
Making your own backgrounds to use in your food photography is easy and inexpensive. I made these two boards for about $5 each and went for a dark and a lighter concrete type of style. Adjusting for cost variations and depending on what you already have on hand, these could be made for $10 each or less in most locales. When finished, they’re sturdy, beautiful, and with a matte finish are also easy to clean. Win-win!
Here’s the DIY Food Photography Background Video Tutorial!
If you’re reading this in an email and can’t see the video, please click through to the original post!
When I started food blogging, way back in 2009 at Raw on $10 a Day, I had a wooden table, a $250 Sony Cybershot camera (with a Carl Zeiss lens that was actually very good), and one white plate. I used that combination for about five years.
I always wondered if anyone noticed I used the same plate in almost every photo!
I believe a photographer with skills and a good eye can make great photos with any equipment and props. It’s all in how you look at things … However … Good photography and decent equipment work together to make the best images.
When I was offered a book contract and started writing Easy, Affordable, Raw, I felt I had to buy a ton of things before I could start … a new camera, lots of dishes, and I had to make some backgrounds! I made backgrounds with all sorts of different boards and they worked pretty well.
Now that I’m writing here at Planted365, though, I wanted to upgrade my backgrounds and add to my prop collection. I’m originally an artist, mostly a painter, so using some of those familiar materials and techniques seemed a natural way to go. It turned out to be even simpler and less expensive than I anticipated! Here’s how to do it!
Materials List for DIY Food Photography Backgrounds
Here’s a list of the materials I used in making my own boards. There are similar items available in art stores, such as modeling paste instead of joint compound. They’re usually more expensive, though, and these are the materials I’ve used for my fine art paintings and have been happy with them so far.
1/4″ birch plywood, cut to 24″ x 24″ or desired dimensions (best place to buy this is a local home center or lumber store … ask them to cut it if it’s not the right size)
joint compound, or
3″, 4″ and/or 6″ putty knife or a large palette knife
acrylic paints in black, gray, white, blue, and other neutral colors as well as cooler metallics
Mod Podge or matte medium to seal the finished board
extra fine sandpaper, optional
2″ or 3″ nylon paintbrush OR foam brushes
I started with 1/4″ birch plywood board in 24″ x 24″ sheets. They were on sale at the local Menard’s for $2.50 each and already cut to size. 2’x2′ is a pretty ideal size for food photography. Look locally for these at any home center or lumber yard. Many will have 2’x2′ sheets already cut just for craft and art projects. If they don’t ask them to cut it to size if you don’t want to do it at yourself.
There are other options. 1/4″ is a kind of heavy but it’s sturdy. 1/8″ hardboard or plywood might work but you’d have to be somewhat careful about bending it once it’s finished. I was happy with the 1/4″ plywood overall.
The first step is to add texture to the wood. Joint compound and spackling paste are two really inexpensive choices. I made one photography background board using joint compound and one using spackling paste. These materials are similar but not identical.
Joint compound is more water-soluble and smells better. Spackling paste is has just a little “rubbery” or acrylic feel to it, it doesn’t accept water paints quite as easily, and it smells stronger. In the end, though, I liked the one I did with spackling paste the best of the two.
The idea is to get a very thin but interesting and varied texture on the board.
I used a smaller 3″ putty knife and also a larger 6″ one. Don’t overwork it or try to get it smooth (we want texture!), but other than that there’s not much that can go wrong here. The putty knife will leave nooks and crannies behind that will be ideal places for the paint to pool. This is a good thing! The ideal texture is subtle valleys and scritches rather than huge or deep swirls. You don’t want too thick of a coat.
NO Blank Spaces!
Don’t leave any wood uncoated as the paint won’t apply evenly later. Yes, I learned that the hard way! Just a very light swipe is all you need. The bare wood will look different than the spackle or joint compound once the paint is on.
Let It Dry!
Let the spackle or joint compound covered board(s) dry for a good 2-4 hours or even overnight. When the boards are actually dry enough they won’t feel very cold any more. Once dry, wipe down gently to remove any loose bits! If there are lots of jagged bits the whole food photography board can be very lightly sanded but don’t overdo it or all the interesting stuff will be gone!
Inexpensive Paint Options for DIY Food Photography Backgrounds
Acrylic craft paints are a great inexpensive option for how to add color to your backgrounds!
I found these bottles of acrylic craft paint at a local Meijer for just $1.29 each. I got a metallic one as well for $1.99. All in all, very inexpensive. Less than $10 for all. Because thin washes work well here this project doesn’t use a lot of paint, either. I had most of it left when I finished.
Set out a few blobs of paint and some water. My own technique is to dip the paintbrush into the paint just a bit and then into the water and kind of slosh it all on the board together (or canvas, if that’s what I’m painting!). The joint compound will absorb more of the pigmented water than the spackle but use the same technique for either one. The color will settle in all the little nooks and crannies.
Several quite thin, transparent washes work better at creating texture and interest than one or two thick coats.
Layer the color until it’s what you want. You can also sand VERY lightly between coats to smooth any streaks, but again, don’t sand too much or the texture will disappear.
Add Metallic Paints With A Dry Brush
I used a few drops of metallic silver paint and instead of a thin watered down wash I used a dry brush technique. Just wipe your brush down so it’s fairly dry and dip the very tips of the brush into the paint. That’s the best technique. For the impatient, like myself, just add a few drops to the board and use a dry brush to spread a very light and feathered coat. The goal is a very thin, uneven coat that leaves the texture showing through or, even better, highlights it.
Add a Matte Finish for a Glare-Free Photography Background
A matte finish is absolutely essential for food photography backgrounds! The finished board must be sealed to prevent stains from food projects but it has to be not too shiny so there will be no glare or hot spots in your food photos!
I found these bottles of Mod Podge at the local dollar store for $1 each. Score! If you can’t find this in your dollar store any craft store will carry it as well as most Meier or Walmart type places. There’s an “ultra matte” finish in the DecoArt Paint line that I’m going to try next time.
My technique is to simply squirt some of the Mod Podge all over the board and then spread it around. It’s pretty thick. If it feels too thick just wet your brush a bit. A few thin coats probably would be ideal although I used one thick one and was happy with it. Once well-coated, allow them to dry thoroughly before using.
Voila! The boards are now beautiful and protected (I’ve already spilled something on one and it was fine!) and not too shiny. I love the way they look in photos already and have plans to make more! The photo above is a recipe pic from my other blog, Raw on $10 and I just love how the photos look and can’t wait to make more for here.
Hope you like this tutorial and find it helpful. It’s a bit different from my usual recipes but I wanted to share!
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Hello! I’m Lisa, a vegan artist, photographer, author, Vegan Life Coach Educator, and RYT 200 yoga teacher. I love showing others how simple and delicious a plant-based diet can be. I draw and paint, cook, write, take lots of pics, eat lots of chocolate, and practice gratitude daily.