My wife makes cakes. For the longest time, she was taking pictures of them against a white wall, which did not have a lot of character. She asked for a rustic photo backdrop, which I was more than happy to make. This tutorial shows you how to make an easy DIY photo backdrop, and for a very low cost.
The background adds to the look of the cake, and gives it a more professional appearance in pictures. This is a huge upgrade over a white wall. Anyone who makes things to sell needs to have a nice photo backdrop.
My wife specifically asked for a stain color that was not very dark, but still somewhere in the middle brown range. This color is called Provincial, and it is made by Varathane.
For your photo backdrop, select a stain that you like, and feel free to use it for the project. The color you decide upon will have to do with your personal taste. It will also depend on what kind of items you will be photographing. If you are taking pictures of dark items, a lighter stain will work better. The opposite is true for lighter items. If you shoot for the middle like I did, then you have the best of both.
Rustic Photo Backdrop Construction and Shopping List
My backdrop has a pallet look. This is very popular, and has a nice rustic feel. You need one pallet for the back, which sits vertically, and one for the base which sits horizontally.
The dimensions of my backdrop are as follows:
The back measures 30 inches tall, and 35 inches wide, and the bottom measures 24 inches deep and 35 inches wide.
This size is plenty for even larger cakes, and will be great for just about anything of a similar size. If you are photographing something much larger, then scale your design to meet your needs. In this case, she is able to take pictures of her cakes without seeing past the backdrop. That’s the point. You want to make sure that the backdrop is large enough that you cannot see past it when you are taking pictures. If you can, then it needs to be bigger.
When you go shopping, pick up several pieces of 3-1/2 inch wide, 3/4 inch thick, and 6-8 feet long pieces of wood. Just add up the measurements of your project, and plan your cuts to figure out how much you need. For my size, it required 12 sticks.
Gluing the Backdrop Panels Together
Arrange the pieces on the bench, and flip them over until you can see the best faces. Play around with them until the best looking boards are facing up.
Then, flip them all over. Now, cut two more pieces from the same stock that are the same length as the width of the planks. For mine, this was 35 inches. These are used to secure the boards together, and give the project strength.
The boards are flipped with the good faces down. When you glue on the stretchers, they are going on the back side. Once you flip the piece back over, the good faces will be seen.
Square the boards first, and then glue the two new boards near the top and bottom of the photo backdrop. It really does not matter where you glue them. Just get them somewhere near the top and bottom. The easiest way to accomplish this is to spread glue on the new board, and brad nail it to the others. Repeat this building process for both plates.
Photo Backdrop Staining and Finishing
What I mean by that is you can stain Pine, and because of the differing densities and grain, it will absorb stain unevenly.
Apply your stain, and make sure to wipe it away really well on the knot free areas. Over the knots, grind it into the surface and wipe away the residual. This highlights the knots and defects, and makes them look like they were treated with a darker stain. It also helps to not sand the boards after you have them glued and nailed.
The more sanding that you do, the more evenly the stain will apply. If you want a very even look, then seal the board first with a light clear coat after sanding. This way, the stain will hit the surface as even as possible.
I believe that the beauty of this look is in the variation in color. You can really have a good time with the staining process. Depending on how you wipe it on and off, you can create a wide range of contrasts.
In particular, boards like the picture above that have knots near the edges create a nice look when they meet a clearer section of board next to them. This adds to the rustic look, and creates a nice looking photo backdrop.
Final Steps and Use of your Backdrop
Once the pieces have been stained, set them aside and allow them to dry. The Varathane stain that I use said it takes one hour to dry before it can be coated with a clear. It also said to use a polyurethane as the top coat.
In general, you want to follow the direction from the manufacturer on the different staining chemicals that you combine.
Coat the dried photo backdrop with a light spraying of clear polyurethane from an aerosol can. Allow it to dry for several hours, and then the pieces can be used. Make sure to give it ample drying time. Also, adjust the time to be longer in places where it is cold or has a higher humidity.
Hinging this unit is an option, and you can easily place two hinges at the outside ends. I like the idea of being able to slide the back piece left or right for a different camera angle, so I left the hinges off.
The only down side of hinges, is that you may need to use a photo editing program to remove them from your pictures. If you have Photoshop, or something like it, then this is an easy task. If you do not, then leave the hinges off.
Find a nice level place like a dining table, and push it against the wall. Place the back piece on the end of the table, and lean it against the wall. Then, place the bottom piece on the table, and butt it up to the bottom of the back piece.
This configuration hides the joint between them better, and you will not see any light coming through the bottom corner. After that, place items on the bottom plate of the photo backdrop, and start taking pictures.
You will be amazed at the difference when you take pictures with a photo backdrop. The look of your pictures becomes more uniform, and professional. Also, the appearance of the pictures on your website or business documents look better too. A nice backdrop provides the extra level of professionalism that is needed for a business, which is why everyone does it.
Also, a nice backdrop makes your products look better. If I were to take a picture of this cake on top of my trash can, the cake would be exactly the same, but the presentation would be totally different. The opposite is true as well. If I hired a professional studio to take pictures of this cake, it would look even better than it does now.
The difference is that for a few dollars you can get a similar look to a studio, without the studio price. This brings better photography within reach of the average small business owner, and will surely make your products shine.
If you have any questions on my Easy DIY Photo Backdrop Tutorial, please leave a comment and I will be glad to answer them. Also, please share my work with your friends on Pinterest! Happy building.
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