Food Photography backdrops

Hello again. Long time no see. I know…

This time I am back again with a post of the photography backdrops I have been painting. These are quite simple to make and I would list all the resources in terms of what is required and some tips on the best way to paint them.

For the surface I found 3 mm thick MDF boards are a good option, since they are thin, they are easy to handle and store and light weight too. You can stack several together and store them in the corner. I first bought a 16*24 inch size, this size is good in terms of portability and shooting smaller layouts. But my best recommended size for food backdrop is 24*32 inch size. This is more than sufficient for a large layout, giving a feel of a table and a meal spread shots also if required. If you specifically want a table like setting, then something larger than this may be good, but 24*32 served most of my purpose. Plus it is easier to isolate a smaller subset of the scene and click.

For the paint – Acrylic colors work well, but the most economical color I found was wall paint samplers which are available in 100s of customized color schemes. They are very easy to locate in any hardware store. In India Asian paints is a very popular brand but there will be equivalent brands everywhere. I will specify the exact colors I got to paint the below surface. These samples are available in 200 ml bottles. Additional having a 500 or 1 litre paint with basic black and white helps since, these are the base colors most of the surfaces will use.  I bought a 1 litre white emulsion exterior paint from Asian Paints and 1 litre of chalkboard black paint. I also experimented with some metallic paint and spray paints like Matte white, grey and black.

I have devoured the Asian paints color catalog and with careful planning and matching the color schemes I wanted to achieve, all the below surface were created using these sample paints.

See the Asian paints catalogue here.

6129 Pilgrim

X148 Pigeon Crest

X153 Amazon Moss

8779 Desert Dream

0315 Ivory

7248 Blue Charm

8433 Smoky Mountain

White and Black

For Wall filler paint – This is the secret ingredient which most of the food backdrops will not tell you that they have used this, but fillers also call white cement putty or wall filler provides the textures to the surface. If you see any textures, bumps in the backdrop a wall filler paint has been used. These are not waterproof so a top layer of paint or acrylic are used to essentially make them water resistant. They come both in powered form and paste form. I used both to create different effects.

I used a dry wall cement based putty from Birla

I used a wet based putty from Asian paints

For other equipment’s – You will need old brushes, sponges, palette knife, planer (good to have), old rags, mixing plates, mask, gloves, old newspaper, wood stain.

For the painting – Now let the painting begin. Remember to work in a relatively open area and an area which doesn’t mind being a little messy and you can leave your boards to dry overnight. I have a spare room, so opened the windows, spread lots of newspaper below and used a old table. Place one side of the MDF on the table, I used both the sides to create 2 surface. Use gloves and mask.

For textured surface  – Generously spread a layer of wet wall putty using a knife and spreading it with a planer. Use varying pressure to create textured and grooves. Revisit some dried areas and create more pattern. Allow to dry for 1/2 hour. Now this can be left to create a white surface – painted with white paint, but now you can create magic by spreading an array of colors mainly starting with greys and using varying color combinations to reach desired effect with sponge or rag. Finish with some splatter using spray paint or a old toothbrush. Let dry overnight, run through water next day to ensure that the surface removed all paints which is not water resistant. Reuse the board on the other side to paint.

For non textured gritty surface – I used a different technique to create a smoother surface using powdered filler paint. I generally pour a blob of paint and sprinkled the dry putty/filler and spread to kind of give it a concrete yet a smoother look with a rag or a sponge. The benefit of using this is it mixes the best qualities of the paint and filler. Filler makes the paint give a matt effect while the paint dries faster and becomes water resistant even though it’s been mixed with the filler. This was great for some of the textures below I used.

For textured and gritty surface – Now for this technique I really went wild. I used a mixture of wet and dry filler and pouring paints wherever I fancied, if it was too wet or shiny for me, I would sprinkle more of dry filler and randomly mix with paint. Also for some of the surface I used a wood stain to start off to make my surface easier and also finished with splotches of metallic colors.

Below’s a brief of each surface and how I created this –

1. Brown Galaxy – 24*32 ” MDF board

Colors used

Brown wood paint

Chalkboard blue paint

Black board chalk paint

ultramarine blue acrylic paint

For this brown rather rusty texture I like to call it brown galaxy. I started off with a walnut wood stain by Rustoleum, covering the entire surface. Then I had a old brown wood paint lying around, with a mixture of dry filler paint and brown color I covered the entire surface roughly. I let it dry for few minutes before using random mixes of black with a sponge and covered it with again with a sky paint blue chalk paint as you can see on the right side of the board. Well that was it. The last finishing touches was with ultramarine blue acrylic paint. Again using a rag, I have just added a hint of blue acrylic paint, prominent on the right upper corner.

Now this surface was all good, till I left it to dry overnight and the next day, something just came over me and I tried some random spray white paint, as in below. I am not sure if this enhanced the surface or spoiled it. But there will be cases where you may ruin a perfectly good board. It’s a learning, best is to always test a contrasting color scheme on a small patch and even better to photograph it before trying with the entire surface. Also the effect will be completely different under the camera, so try some clicks before you decide how it will look.

2. Plastered white – 24*32 ” Drawing board

This is one of my favorite surface and so far most used. This was quite simple to do. I did a mixture of wet wall filler paint and white emulsion paint and randomly spread it across to create a 3 dimensional texture. It looks like an outdoor portico wall. Wherever the paint was too wet or shiny, I just sprinkled the dry filler paint and ensured, that the paint dries within minutes. Any wet spot if still not dried may result in a glossy texture which is complete no no for photography. In the end, I very lightly used black, to create a small greyish effect at some places as you can see just below the cup and the tea box.

Also in different light same texture will behave very differently.

3. Plastered grey – 24*32 ” Drawing board

I have used the other side of a drawing board as the above plastered white surface and painted it with greyish blue color. This is very similar to the above technique, and this was my first trial using a filler paint, so there are some really bumpy surface. I tried a paper tissue as well to create a texture to spread the paint. As you can see, not a great idea, but with experiment you will work out the perfect texture which suits your requirement. The bumps are tissue papers. I used black, ultramarine blue and white in this surface.

Also different lighting and WB created a grey/bluish texture.

The below is a different board 16*24 inches with very similar technique as plastered grey, only difference was I used lots of wet filler paint hence the bumpy texture. And my brush had retained some of the green color from previous session, so there is a greenish tinge to the board.

4. Patchy vintage blue – 24*32″ MDF board

This is another of my favorite surface. Who doesn’t love a lovely blue background. I started directly painting with blue and light blue sampler paint and Prussian blue acrylic and then kept sprinkling dry filler paint and lifting the excess paint with a rag. The combination somehow was too dry and exposed the background surface which was rather interesting and gave it a worn out look. I then sparingly used black and white paint in places again using a combination of rag to lift excess paint. I did a simple click with a salad. Somehow I didn’t like the too worn out look. Hence the next day when it was completely dried off. I tried to fill in the entire surface with a slightly different shade of blue, but still left a portion of it as it is. It was difficult to blend in both the blues hence you can see some difference in the middle, but lifting most of the color does the trick, since the background is already blue. It just helped fill in the crevices as in the top right side. Final touch was a white acrylic splotch, this should not be overdone,  I dilute the acrylic a little and from a height sprinkle the paint, anything excess just gets wiped.

5. Chalkboard Black – 24*32 MDF board and wooden rack

This is another favorite, a black surface is essential. This was one of the simplest to create. I used same technique to do both the background of this wooden rack and a MDF board. I used the chalkboard black paint. First I dropped the black paint and quickly worked in mixing with the dry filler powder. This was relatively texture less. After covering the entire area, I sparingly have used a grey paint to create some grey texture and final white acrylic splotches like the above method.

6. Chalkboard deep blue- 24*32 ” MDF board
This is very similar to clalkboard black technique, instead of black I used a mix of dark Prussian blue and black. Final finish was with a thinned down sprinkle of white acrylic splatter.

7. Patchy Grey- 24*32 ” MDF board

Grey background are almost essential and you will see them in most photography shots. They are neutral and works well with almost any setup. So having a grey is an essential. I did both a patchy and plain grey as below. Patchy coloring technique is slightly more time consuming but will give such a grainy sandy texture. I first covered the entire surface with a weathered grey wood stain from Rustoleum. Then using sponge, I slowly started working in patchy combinations of grey, black and white. I have used blue very sparingly. There wasn’t much of filler involved in this surface hence this was almost flat. It takes patience to create a patchy texture but will not take much time. I finally have finished it with a spray paint of grey and black to create some random spots, as in the 3rd image below.

8. Plain Vintage Grey – 24*32 ” MDF board

This board was heavily inspired by this instagram picture. I got two bonus though thinner MDF board which came as a packaging material and I painted them as well. I have used dry filler paint and grey paint to cover the entire surface. Now this is the fun part, use a glass or a jar lid, while the paint is still wet, dip it sparingly in white paint and create glass stains as on the left. I even removed paints at some part by applying pressure to reveal the background, all giving a wonderful vintage background. Final touches was some splashes of blue paint.

9. Blue Galaxy – 24*32 ” MDF board

Similar to the brown galaxy layout, I first started with a mix of sky blue paint, chalkboard paint and dry filler paint. Spreading randomly and give it a patchy appearance. Final application was with black and darker blue splotches using a sponge. I finally sparingly dotted with white spray paint.

10. Sky blue patch – 24*32 ” MDF board

This is another board I created using similar to Grey patchy surface. I used a base color of white, Blue and some grey in the corner. More like using a stippling effect with a sponge, created patches around the whole surface. I have also used dry filler paint in between to give it a slight texture.

Below one is using same palette of colors but I didn’t do the stippling effect but rather washed out the colors to create a light blue smoother texture. Uses some grey color bottle caps to create paint stain.

Somehow this was not as per my liking and I revisited this surface with some pale blue patches witch looks much better now.

11. Dull White – 24*32 ” MDF board

I wanted to create white surface which is not overpowering yet has a worn out look. So the best way was to have some background revealed which will give it a a worn out look as if paint has been chipped off with use. To create this I used a white color and very sparingly mixed the ivory sampler, to dull down the white color. With dry filler paint, quickly worked on the surface. Using a rag and pressure lifted off the paint from areas which gives it a chipped effect. This surface I created on the packaging MDF board, as you can see the cross lines are reminiscent of packaging tape.

12. – Plastered white 24*32 ” MDF board

This is opposite of dull white. This was more of an accidental surface I created. Initially I had created a textured green surface but somehow I didn’t like the green when I clicked it. This had already got so bumpy with too many experimental colors that I covered it with a plain emulsion white paint. Removed some paints using a paint remover at random places, hence you can see some hint of green there.

13. – Desert sandstorm 24*32 ” MDF board

This is another of my favorite surface. I wanted to create something which is similar to a concreted which have like patches, spots and holes. I used this creamy Desert dream (Color 8779) sampler here as the base. First spreading out a layer of desert dream and dry filler paint. On top of this I have done a splitting method using some grey, more of cream, some pink even and black. The final finish was with some spots motion using black color and in the end I also used a paint brush to randomly splash some cream and grey lines as you can see somewhat in the middle.

14. – Asphalt 24*32 ” MDF board

This was first covered in wet putty wall paint and then I worked on top to cover with brown wood paint and final layer of grey.

15. – Rusty red 16*24 ” MDF board

It was time to try some bold colours and I have seen instances of especially Indian and Mexican food which goes well with red background. Hence had to do a red background. A plain red would be rather br boring, so I mixed in some acrylic red and brown emulsion paint and mixed in dry filler paint to keep creating this texture. Some places it is bumpy which actually gave it a rust like feel.

Creating backdrops really lets your creative lease out. I enjoyed doing each and every surface and I have used many of the food photography sites which I follow online, closely trying to match the color and then use them to do my own creations. Some ones come out perfect, some may need more work, but the beauty of creating your own backdrop is you have the freedom to repaint and try different colors and textures if something doesn’t suits you or you just get bored. I hope this post was some help to making your own surface.

Updated – Some more latest ones

Plastered Grey

Black hues

Sea Green

Sky blue

Patchy black

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