Wooden Texture for Food Photography

Back on my much neglected blog. This time I would not apologize but instead focus on writing.

This post is kind of a tutorial on how to do your own wooden texture for food photography. I have spend countless hours browsing pinterest, stock websites to find inspiration for textures and backgrounds for food photography.

I have scavenged neighborhood, markets, timber shops to look for that perfect wooden board and textures. Over the years since I started food photography, my photos have focussed on a lot of wooden surface and they are still my favourite. So I thought I will give a overview of the various wooden boards I have used, places I have sourced them from, paints I have used to give them distressed look and more.

So hope this post will inspire you to go and search for your own perfect wooden texture. Btw there is no end to finding the perfect background and some times it can lead to near insanity, so don’t obsess over them, like I do at times. I have still not found my perfect texture but I am happy with most of the ones I am currently using.


My first wooden textures when I started food photography in 2011

I was novice back then. This is almost my first composed food image shots which I took. There’s a lot which has changed since then. I was using more of a cloth background than a wooden or any other background.

Soon I realised the importance of using wooden surface for food photography. My very first wooden surface was my trusty polished dining table. I soon realized that it was too shiny for food photos. I still use it occasionally and with a different take on lighting, sometimes it can produce amazing shots.

Dining table surface back in 2011.

Same surface in 2013 and 2015. My technique perhaps has improved

Then, I started using this wooden table (below) and soon it became one of my favourite surfaces to shoot on. However, this was a borrowed table and I no longer have this.


Evolution of wooden surface in 2012 and use of various mediums

After I got hooked to shooting on wooden surface, I was always on a look out for the perfect wooden surface in any form, so I started looking for chopping boards, wooden boxes and crates. Wooden crates are rare to find in India and I picked couple of boxes with extremely poor wooden surface from street. This served me well for couple of years until weather conditions broke the box into pieces and it was no longer usable. Still this is one of my favourite surface I have ever used in my photos.


Painting Wooden surface

From 2013 onwards I started painting wooden surface. I experimented a lot with colors especially Cyan and White being my favourite. Colored textures I will keep it for another post. I would pick up a ply, any plywood infact, even the most inferior ones. Then coat them with a emulsion paint which was glossy and sand them out to give a matt and distressed finish. My favourites one are the cyan ones which I have painted over and over again. These boards look quite different now.

I also tried painting very cheap quality ply with white paint and distressed them by sanding

This is how the same ply looks now. I have painted it over and over again, and these underlying layers have given lot of character to once uninteresting polished glossy and very poor quality ply.

Day 226/365 - Making on Zucchini Cake

And this is the other side of the same ply, you can make out they are same pieces from the seam.

Day 9/365 - Coffee and Chocolate Cupcakes

Another interesting painted texture I tried was when I painted my wooden bed black which comfortably sits next to a large window with dry brush. It was already painted before by the carpenter, but had a dull uninteresting brick color. The black really added interest here.

Wooden square board

I cannot stress how much I love this wooden board, which has served me so well over the years. I spotted this trash of wooden pile of thrown away wooden pieces from my building. I went to the neighbor and didn’t even know him requesting to hand me any unused pieces. He was infact not very generous and didn’t want to impart with even one piece. After some pleading he said ok, go ahead and pick one piece. I picked this wooden square. It has served me so well over years, since it’s a small piece I usually use it on top of another texture more like a chopping board. Right from the first session I took with this board I was in love and still use this very generously in my sessions.

Then there were some surface like this, which I literally brought in my checked in luggage sacrificing all other valuables and clothes. Unfortunately in my excitement I painted it over with a unflattering glossy white paint and that was the end of this texture. It even got stolen later on.


Making my own wooden Surface

When I moved in my new home in 2014, I got an opportunity to get my own furniture made and thankfully landed with a carpenter who could make wooden tables exactly to my specifications. I wanted tables which would double up as a wooden photo surface as well as a working or kitchen desk. This was an ideal table, though design wise it was a disaster, I am still very happy with it as it acts both as my work desk and photography desk. I first painted it with a coat of primer did some sessions before painting it over with a light blue semi matte paint. This is also almost exactly the same height as my window which I specifically designed and is permanently placed next to a well lit south facing window.

Then I got another kitchen island made with a teak wooden board top. This was the most I had spent on getting a wooden furniture made which will also act as a photography surface. Unfortunately, the design was a disaster. The kitchen island was too big and too tall and could not be wheeled into my tiny kitchen. It still lies in the corner biting the dust and used for storing now.

The most I spent on this table was on the teak surface. I hunted several timber shops and finally found an expensive wood. Since it was so damn expensive, I wanted to protect it well and inundated it with layers of varnish, wood stain and finally it got an ugly brick glossy finish. I still am hoping someday that I will scrub and sand it till it gets it’s beautiful matte surface back.

The original surface

The unflattering glossy varnish finish. Wait till you see how it looks now.

The surface now, though it is not that bad, but still too brick to my taste, waiting to be sanded.


Current wooden surface

Though my obsession for looking for the perfect surface has significantly reduced, I now rely on good quality textures and try to paint them over if I get bored. I now have 6-7 ply boards in different sizes most ranging from 20″ X 24″ to 10″ X 12″ inches painted with different colors. I recently found that wall putty ( the paint used to prime the walls before painting the finish) gives it an excellent matt/cement like finish. Though it is not waterproof and I couldn’t bear another mishap with a varnish finish. So I do sessions where there will be no wet food spill overs.

I have painted some of my plys with a tinge of color and wall putty. Cyan and whites are my favourite.

These are some of the latest painted wooden plys I have painted

Day 213/365 - Red Chilli

Teak Plank

Because of my teak wood mishap, I was on a look out for another teak surface to take authentic wooden textured photos. I bought another board but much cheaper than the previous one. I got it glued and now use it exclusively for food photos and keep it aside as a plank. With my varnish and glossy finish mishaps I didn’t do anything to the surface.

This is one of my favourite pieces so far and is extremely versatile.

Recently though I painted one side of the board with a black, blue poster color and then added a wood stain.

The surface before painting with wood stain and black and blue poster color.

After a layer of walnut wood stain. This board should feature more in my upcoming photos and I will modify it/adjust the finish depending on the results.


Here’s some more pics of the above surface which I have kind of resanded and painted couple of times over last few months and this surface is turning out to be a workhorse. Some of my best food shots are on this surface.

Cheese platter

Day 152/365 - Matcha Latte

The other side of the plank

Day 17/365 - Pasta

Day 22/365 - Figs and Zucchini Pizza

Some worthy mentions

And finally there were some wooden surfaces which was available to me temporarily either from my hometown house or in restaurants. Some of the memorable ones are the green ones from my home in my native town. I hope I will click on these soon again when I am there next.

A temporary table which got dismantled and made into furniture.

These green surface below is from a wooden storage box which I have probably seen since my childhood. I remember that my mom made these huge wooden boxes for transporting items when we used to move from one city to another, in my father’s transferable job.She has a knack for wood even then and I seem to have inherited that. She painted them green probably 20 years back and the natural weathered effect suits so well for photography. There is too much history to these surface. I can’t shot more often on these as they are still in my hometown.

Day 80/365 - Homemade Bread

Day 79/365 - Abandoned  Brushes

Day 82/365 - Rajma Chawal

A shot of empty chai glasses from a road side dhaba, I wish I had this table. With repeated use by passengers this table had a beautiful worn out cyan look.

Faux wooden surface

There are also some faux wooden surface I have used, like in this beautiful chalkboard finished texture. This is actually a white sunmica which I painted over and scrubbed to get this finish. This is one of my most versatile surface. I often use it as a backdrop too.

So, my obsession with wooden surface has been profound over the years. Still I realise that it is more important to stick to few important textures and experiment with food and light. I am sure I will be on a look out for more textures in future but will look for quality products. I am still a novice when trying to create a good texture, there are so many examples of good surface like this one and this one. But my suggestion would be to select a couple of good textures and experiment with them a lot, maybe paint over, distress, if not happy again sand to begin with the original texture and experiment again. All this process will not only help in knowing the surface you like but also finding the way to make it work for your shots.

Hope I could be of some help in giving insight to using the most versatile of all the surfaces which is like match made in heaven for food photography. Also never forget composition and most important of all light in your food shots is as important as selecting the right texture.

I will see you soon with more updated and helpful posts.


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