Your choice of backdrop can have a huge impact on the final look of your photos; it’s why professional food, product, still life, and portrait photographers often spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on backgrounds sold by photography shops.
But if you’re looking to dive into studio photography and you don’t have a huge budget, never fear! Because with a bit of creativity and effort, you can create DIY photo backdrops that’ll 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 the backdrop ideas that work (and the ones that are best avoided). In this article, I share all my favorites, including plenty of options that’ll cost you under $10.
Let’s do this!
1. The painted canvas backdrop
Want a magazine-quality backdrop? Then go for a painted canvas background, which looks amazing in still life photos, food photos, and so much more.
Here’s a DIY painted canvas backdrop in action:
Beautiful, right? It offers texture and harmonious colors, plus it just feels refined. Professionals often purchase expensive (and handpainted) canvas backdrops, but you can make your own for a fraction of the retail price.
Here’s how it works:
First, go to your local hardware store and buy a canvas drop cloth. These are designed to protect the floor when painting interiors and shouldn’t set you back too much money.
Canvas drop cloths are usually pretty large. If you want to shoot food or products, you might consider cutting your cloth into four pieces; that way, you can create four backgrounds using your single stretch of fabric. (And if you paint on both sides of the canvas, you can create a whopping 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 (e.g., a light blue and a dark blue). Note that the canvas soaks up a lot of the paint, so you may need to purchase primer or use more paint than expected.
Once you get home, spread out the canvas in a spacious, well-ventilated room, then layer the paint onto the fabric using a small, good-quality roller. Move the roller in different directions to create plenty of random texture.
If you want to add even more texture, use a large sea sponge or a scrunched-up rag. Dip it into the paint, then randomly press it onto the canvas.
If all goes well, you’ll end up with a natural texture that enhances – but doesn’t compete with! – your subject:
2. The ceramic flooring tile
Ceramic flooring tiles are simple, they’re beautiful, and they’re really, really cheap. If you’re on a budget and you want a quick DIY photo backdrop solution, they’re an outstanding option.
You should be able to find a nice selection of textured tiles at your local home improvement store, and each one should only cost a few dollars. These tiles are easily wipeable, too, which is a bonus if you’re dealing with food or liquid products.
Just make sure that the tiles you pick aren’t shiny – you don’t want to end up with glare. And aim for more muted and/or minimalistic colors, such as gray, black, white, or cool brown like taupe. (These will enhance and complement a wide variety of products and still life subjects.)
Note: Ceramic tiles, while perfect for small products and mini still-life photos, are not ideal for larger products or expansive setups. The tiles themselves are on the small side, and while you can spend time expanding the background in Photoshop, it’s far easier to use the correct background from the get-go. So if you do have a larger subject, try one of the other options on this list.
3. The painted wooden backdrop
DIY painted canvas backdrops (discussed above) are great, but they can be on the pricey side, especially if you plan to experiment with lots of different colors and textures.
That’s where painted wooden boards come in. They look just as good as canvas, yet you can grab far more boards for far less money.
To make your own wooden backdrop, buy thin plywood sheets at the home improvement store. Pieces of 2×3 feet should accommodate most setups. The bigger stores – like Home Depot – will cut up larger pieces for you, so if you want to save a few dollars, consider buying a larger board and getting it sliced into a few potential backdrops.
You can purchase paint samples from the hardware store, or you can use craft paints. Just make sure that all your paints and varnishes are matte; even some of the satin types 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. Grab a large sea sponge and dab the paint all over to create a blended, mottled effect. Finish with a thin coat of matte, water-resistant sealer.
Once your boards have dried, test them out! Try shooting a mix of vertical and flat-lay still life scenes:
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 sheets, tablecloths, drapes, and even clothing. If you try shooting with cloth and like it, I encourage you to start collecting fabrics on a regular basis; look in thrift shops, check out yard sales, and even search online.
You can use the fabric as the entire backdrop, as shown in the image below, or just to cover a portion of another backdrop. But if you do decide to cover your entire surface with a cloth, place another layer of fabric underneath. This will plump it up and make the setup look more attractive.
As I emphasized in previous sections, when choosing your colors, stick to simple, non-distracting neutrals. Shades of blue also look good, especially in dark and moody images. Of course, you can also choose pastels or other bright colors depending on what you’re shooting and your desired result. Just make sure that the background doesn’t draw the eye away from the main subject!
5. The vintage tray
Don’t throw away any old or vintage trays you have stored in your kitchen or basement – they make great DIY backdrops for still life and food setups!
Depending on the tray material, it may introduce a lovely patina that adds something special to your shots. In my experience, such trays look great close up or at a distance, and they can even be used as a storytelling element.
If you don’t have any trays at home, that’s okay. You can often find vintage trays for an affordable price at thrift or antique stores! But make sure you choose carefully; you want to avoid reflective surfaces that’ll produce lots of unwanted glare.
Check out the two images below, which both feature a vintage tray. Though I backlit my subjects, the tray doesn’t look overly shiny. It has a nice, subtle texture:
6. Colored paper
Colored or textured construction paper is pretty, cheap, and very easy to store. It’s an ideal background if you’re after simple, no-frills product or still life photos – and it also works great if you want to capture bright, punchy shots.
You can source large pieces of paper at your local craft supply store. Alternatively, you can look on sites like Amazon for packages of paper offering a variety of colors.
For the image below, I used a large piece of yellow construction paper as my background. The result is simple, elegant, and looks very modern:
To recreate this effect, make sure you move your paper away from your set. This will give you a blurry horizon line so your subject doesn’t look “stuck” to the background.
7. The wooden cutting board
Here’s my final DIY photo backdrop idea, and it works especially well in food images:
The wooden cutting board, which – depending on its size – can function as a nice backdrop or be used as a prop to add additional interest and tell a story.
Be careful about purchasing boards with an orange tinge. Since most food is quite warm in tone, compositions that are warm throughout can end up looking dated.
Also, I’ve found that the camera tends to exaggerate this orange tone. If I use a warm cutting board, I’m forced to decrease the saturation in all of my images, which isn’t ideal.
Instead, look for light pine boards (for brighter, airier shots) and deep espresso boards (for darker, moodier 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 do paint a board, make sure you only use it for photography. It definitely won’t be food-safe!
DIY photo backdrop ideas: final words
There are many different ways to create stunning photography backdrops that don’t require tons of money and time.
So pick your favorite background ideas from this list and start creating! You might even have fun along the way.
Do you have other DIY photography backdrop ideas? Share them in the comments section below!