DIY Backgrounds for Still Life Photography

DIY backgrounds for still life are easy and fun to do. Recently I was thinking about doing some flat lay and still life photography. But instead of photography, I did some DIY backgrounds for still life photography. You can use a lot of stuff you have to hand – the floor, a table, but if you like variety and versatility, you will want more. Fortunately, they are easy to make at home, with minimal supplies, and without spending loads of money. I have listed several options for backgrounds and a step by step at the end to make your own MDF painted board.

Wallpaper

OK, you can’t make wallpaper at home, but it makes a great background, and you can buy them online. Google ‘wallpaper’, and check out eBay as well. If you have friends into still life, product, or food photography, you can go shares on a roll. eBay sellers also have sample pieces sized around 50cm x50cm for about $5 each. Be careful and avoid the self-adhesive ones, as most have a sheen to them, reflecting in your images.

DIY Backgrounds for Still Life Photography

I love the ones that look like wooden panels (on eBay, search for ‘wood optic wallpaper’). It will look like a real table through the camera without the cost or problem of having multiple tables. It’s not as durable as the boards – but it’s economical enough that I don’t feel guilty when I eventually throw it out. I have used one piece over and over. It’s been sprayed with glycerine, wiped down, splashed with coffee and water, and it’s still going strong.

perspex and wallpaper DIY backgrounds for still life
Wallpaper base, white perspex back
MDF Boards

MDF makes great DYI backgrounds. They are sturdy and can be painted in whatever colour takes your fancy. Then, when you have used and abused it to the point it’s no longer photogenic, you can repaint it for a new look.

DIY Backgrounds for Still Life Photography
Painted MDF – See Paint Your Own MDF Board at the end of the post
Tongue and Groove Flooring

I purchased one piece of tongue and groove 2400mm long and cut it into four equal parts of 60mm. One side has a groove down the centre to give it a narrower board look for wainscoting – I planned to do this side black and the other side in a limewash. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention and noticed when I had the first coat on that, I had one piece back to front, and there was no centre groove.

So, I ended up doing both sides black – one side has three coats, and one side has two for different depths of black. I used the ‘Black Japan’ stain and applied using a cloth. The Black japan gives a nice flat, non-reflective colour but still shows the timber grain through it. Although the four pieces are still separate, I didn’t bond them together as they are easier to pack up and lock back together when I want to use them.

tongue and groove flooring DIY backgrounds
Tongue and Groove
Perspex

Black perspex is excellent if you want a reflective base. It gives a brilliant reflection when used on still life or product photography. We even used them on a reptile shoot once. White perspex will still give you a slight reflection and works well for a minimal look. As the white one was scratched through poor storage, I added a 3D self-adhesive brick tile from eBay ($10) and put that on the back. (they are soft and scratch easily, when not in use, it’s best to put a towel or bubble wrap over them). You can also get imitation stone or subway tiles. I bought both black and white perspex 60×120 and bent them across the centre, so I have an L shape. This gives me a self-standing, background, and base in one. I can also clamp different wallpapers or fabric to the back to provide a different look.

white perspex with 3D tile on back
flowers against perspex background
white perspex
reptile on black perspex
Black Perspex
Foam Core Board

White Foam core board does double duty. You can use it as a backdrop or a reflector. The black is also handy – it’s light, stores away well and can be wiped clean quite easily.

Stretched Canvas

Stretched Canvas is lighter than the MDF and can be painted the same. They also have a lovely linen look to them. However, dollar for dollar, they are about double the price of MDF.

Plywood

Thin sheets of plywood can be cut down and stained in different wood colours to give you the looks of other timbers. For example, a 1200 x 600 x 12mm red oak sheet will set you back at about $30. but this will give you two 600×600 boards.. .or you can cut smaller to put on your backdrops, simulating different chopping boards. You will need to avoid shooting the side of the board, though, as you’ll be able to see the plywood layers.

Paint your own MDF Board

The beauty of the MDF boards is they are double-sided, and you can do each side a different colour giving you four backgrounds for your one sheet of MDF. For example, I did one side a med grey and the other side matt black.

Supplies

Apart from the cling wrap, everything came from Bunnings.

  • Selleys 420g Liquid Nails Fast Grab – $6.39
  • Caulking Gun – $4.35
  • Sheet of MDF 6mm x 1200 x 600 – $10.50
  • Paint – I used Dulux theatre black 1L $36.90 and Dulux White 250ml sample pot $7.98
  • Mini paint roller – I bought the mini paint partner 10pc kit for $8.45 but you can get two foam rollers for $4.35.
  • cling wrap
  • 75mm plastic paint scraper $1.29
  • sanding block $1.80

This made the total cost for four DIY backgrounds, $85, with most of that sum going on the black theatre paint. It would be a lot cheaper if you used craft paint ($10 for 500ml at bunnings). From the one-sheet, I got two doubled sided boards with four different looks, and I have the paint and rollers, etc., to do more for only the cost of a new sheet of MDF. It would also be a lot cheaper if you already have mini rollers or paint at home. You can often pick up ‘miss tints’ from Bunnings for a lower price. Next time, I plan to use sea sponges and craft paint in a mix of blue and theatre black.

Method

Cut the sheet into two equal pieces. This will give you 2 x 600 x 600. Give the edges a light sand.

Adding Texture

Set your liquid nails in the caulking gun and squirt over the board. Cover about 1/4 of the board at a time to give you time to work the liquid nails. Squirt it on and then spread it randomly with the paint scraper. You do not want a nice even coat. Mix it up in all different directions and leave the strokes showing. I did a heavy coat on one board and a light one on the other for two different looks. Allow to dry overnight.

DIY Backgrounds texture coat

Next morning give your boards a coat of white paint and allow them to dry for an hour or so

Painting

Once dry, take your black and white paint – pour some of each in the centre of the board and roll around, mixing it to grey as you go. It will blend and become grey as you roll but don’t make it a solid even colour – try and leave some of the black and paler bits showing if you can

painting your DIY Backgrounds for Still Life Photography

When you have covered the entire board place a piece of cling wrap on it and smoosh the cling wrap together to create wrinkles in the cling wrap. Then lift it off. It will lift the grey paint with it exposing white areas. Do it in 2-3 spots on the boards and then discard the cling wrap and allow the board to dry.

Finished DIY Background on flat lay
Finished MDF Board

Once the grey was dry, I painted the reverse side of my board in the theatre black, so I had a completely matt, non-light reflective board. This gave me a good selection of versatile DIY backgrounds for flat lay and still life photography.

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