7 DIY Photo Backdrop Ideas Everyone Should Try

Your choice of backdrop can have a huge impact on the final look of your photos; this is why professional food, product, still life and portrait photographers often spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on backgrounds sold by photography stores.

But if you’re looking to dive into studio photography and don’t have a huge budget, fear not! Because with a little creativity and effort, you can create DIY photo backgrounds that will look just as good as the professional alternatives.

I use DIY backgrounds all the time in my own photos, and after years of experimentation, I know which background ideas work (and which ones are best avoided). In this article, I share all my favorites, including many options that will cost you less than $10.

Let’s do this!

1. The Painted Backdrop

Want a magazine quality backdrop? Then go for a painted canvas background, which looks amazing in still life photos, food shots and more.

Here’s a DIY painted canvas backdrop in action:

DIY Painted Canvas Photo Backdrop Idea

Beautiful, right? It offers harmonious texture and colors, plus it just feels refined. Professionals often buy expensive (and hand-painted) canvas backgrounds, but you can create your own for a fraction of the retail price.

Here’s how it works:

First, go at your local hardware store and purchase a canvas drop cloth. These are designed to protect the floor when painting interiors and shouldn’t cost you too much money.

Canvas drop cloths are usually quite large. If you want to shoot food or produce, you might consider cutting your fabric into four pieces; this way you can create four backgrounds using your single strip of fabric. (And if you paint on both sides of the canvas, you can create a huge eight backgrounds!)

While you’re at the hardware store, grab two or three paint samples for each backdrop. Similar tones tend to work well together (for example, a light blue and a dark blue). Note that the canvas absorbs a lot of the paint, so you may need to buy a primer or use more paint than expected.

When you get home, lay out the canvas in a spacious, well-ventilated room, then roll the paint onto the fabric using a small, good-quality roller. Move the roller in different directions to create lots of random texture.

If you want to add even more texture, use a large sea sponge or a crumpled up cloth. Dip it in the paint, then press it randomly onto the canvas.

If all goes well, you’ll end up with a natural texture that enhances – but doesn’t compete with! – your subject:

DIY Painted Canvas Photo Backdrop Idea

2. Ceramic tiles

Ceramic floor tiles are simple, they are beautiful, and they are truly, really cheap. If you’re on a budget and want a quick DIY photo backdrop solution, this is an exceptional option.

You should be able to find a nice selection of textured tiles at your local DIY store, and each should only cost a few dollars. These tiles are also easy to wipe down, which is a plus if you’re dealing with food or liquid products.

Just make sure the tiles you choose aren’t shiny – you don’t want to end up with reflections. And aim for more discreet and/or minimalist colors, such as gray, black, white or cool brown like taupe. (These will enhance and complement a wide variety of still life products and subjects.)

Note: Ceramic tiles, while great for small products and mini still life photos, are not ideal for larger products or extended configurations. The tiles themselves are small, and while you can spend time laying out the background in Photoshop, it’s much easier to use the correct background right off the bat. So if you have a broader topic, try one of the other options on this list.

DIY Ceramic Tile Photo Backdrop Idea

3. Painted wood decor

Do-it-yourself painted canvas backdrops (described above) are great, but they can be expensive, especially if you plan to experiment with lots of different colors and textures.

This is where painted wooden planks come in. They look as good as canvas, but you can get a lot more boards for a lot less money.

To create your own wooden backdrop, purchase thin sheets of plywood from a home improvement store. 2×3 foot pieces should fit most setups. Larger stores — like Home Depot — will cut larger pieces for you, so if you want to save a few bucks, consider buying a larger board and cutting it into a few potential backdrops.

You can buy paint samples at the hardware store or you can use craft paints. Just make sure all your paints and varnishes are matte; even some types of satin can cause unwanted shine in your images.

Once you have your materials, the fun begins: take three or four similar colors, then pour them together in the middle of the board. To input a large sea sponge and dab the paint all over to create a blended, marbled effect. Finish with a thin coat of matte, water-resistant sealer.

Once your boards are dry, test them! Try shooting a mix of vertical and flat still life scenes:

DIY Wooden Background Photo Backdrop Idea

4. Fabric

This DIY backdrop is especially great for still life photography, but you can also use it for food shots, product shots, and even portraits.

Note that you can use all kinds of fabrics, including linens, tablecloths, curtains, and even clothes. If you try to photograph with fabric and you like it, I encourage you to start collecting fabrics regularly. look at thrift stores, check out garage sales, and even do some research online.

You can use the fabric as an entire backdrop, as shown in the image below, or just to cover part of another backdrop. But if you decide to cover your entire surface with a cloth, place another layer of cloth underneath. This will plump it up and make the setup more appealing.

As I’ve pointed out in previous sections, when choosing your colors, stick to simple, non-obtrusive neutrals. Shades of blue also look great, especially in dark, moody images. Of course, you can also choose pastels or other bright colors depending on what you’re shooting and the desired result. Just make sure the background doesn’t distract the eye from the main subject!

DIY Photo Backdrop Idea Fabric

5. The vintage tray

Don’t throw away those old or vintage trays you have stored in your kitchen or basement – they make great DIY backgrounds for still lifes and food setups!

Depending on the tray material, it can introduce a beautiful patina that adds something special to your shots. In my experience, such trays look great up close and from a distance, and they can even be used as a storytelling element.

If you don’t have trays at home, that’s okay. You can often find vintage trays at an affordable price in thrift stores or antique shops! But be sure to choose carefully; you want to avoid reflective surfaces which will produce a lot of unwanted glare.

Check out the two images below, both of which feature a vintage tray. Although I backlit my subjects, the set doesn’t look too bright. It has a nice subtle texture:

DIY vintage tray photo backdrop idea

6. Colored paper

Colored or textured construction paper is pretty, inexpensive, and very easy to store. This is an ideal background if you are looking for simple, no-frills products or still life photos – and it also works great if you want to capture bright, punchy photos.

You can get large pieces of paper at your local craft supply store. Alternatively, you can search sites like Amazon for paper wrappers that offer a variety of colors.

For the image below, I used a large piece of yellow construction paper as a background. The result is simple, elegant and very modern:

DIY colored paper photo backdrop idea

To recreate this effect, be sure to move your paper away from your set. This will give you a blurry horizon line so your subject doesn’t seem “stuck” in the background.

7. The wooden cutting board

Here’s my latest DIY photo backdrop idea, and it works especially well in food images:

The wooden cutting board, which, depending on its size, can act as a backdrop or be used as a prop to add extra interest and tell a story.

DIY Cutting Board Photo Backdrop Idea

Be careful when buying boards with an orange tint. Since most foods have quite a warm tone, warm compositions can end up looking date.

Also, I found that the camera tended to exaggerate that orange tone. If I’m using a hot cutting board, I’m forced to lower the saturation of all my images, which isn’t ideal.

Instead, look for light pine boards (for brighter, airier shots) and deep espresso boards (for darker, darker shots). If you own a board but don’t like the color, you can always paint it however you like! For the image above, I painted my board white and textured it using fine sandpaper.

Note: If you are painting a picture, be sure to only use it for photography. It will certainly not be food!

DIY Photo Backdrop Ideas: Last Words

There are many ways to create stunning photographic backgrounds that don’t require tons of money and time.

So choose your favorite background ideas from this list and start creating! You might even have fun along the way.

Do you have any other DIY photography backdrop ideas? Share them in the comments section below!

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