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Hello again and welcome back to Dishing It Up! (I’m imagining myself saying that in an over-the-top game show host type of voice…) The first two episodes have been pretty technical, so I thought we talk about something a little more fun today: backgrounds and surfaces.

I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of images of food on lovely, old, worn wood that probably was once the door to an Amish barn circa 1830. Alas, there are only so many ancient barn doors to go around and I haven’t found one yet, so I’ve had to make do with other backgrounds for my photography.

Wood & Metal

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I use these three backgrounds a lot in my photography. I tend towards darker backgrounds and these work really well. Below are examples of how they look in a finished product.

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These three images show backgrounds I use a lot. The granola was shot on a background I made by gluing together some inexpensive planks of wood from the hardware store. I stained the planks and then sanded them to give them that worn look. I also stained the other side a different color and gave it the same sanding treatment. Two backgrounds in one!

The soup is on a piece of wood I found in a flea market. It’s approximately 12″ x 30″ (I think. I haven’t actually measured.)  It’s not the fanciest piece of wood out there and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t graced the walls of any barns, but I love the texture it lends to photographs.

The salad is shot on an old, stained baking sheet. I found three of them that were all tarnished like that all bundled together in a flea market for $5. So don’t overlook or underestimate old beat up baking sheets, or even just sheets of metal. I have some really old pieces of a pie safe door, which are super cool. Metal can definitely make really interesting backgrounds.

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Sometimes I make something that would really work better on a light background. I’ve been coveting some blue backgrounds I’ve seen around, so decided to make some of my own. I acquired one 4 foot x 4 foot board from Lowes, some blue paint, sand paper and a brush. Oh, an a plastic backdrop. Otherwise I would have a very colorful deck.

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I really like how this one turned out. I wanted avoid the brush stroke look when painting this side of the board, so I did a base coat and then mixed up two shades of blue and dabbed them on to the board with the brush. I think the mottled effect looks really nice when blurred in the background. (also, the wood surface in this picture is the flip side of the board used in the granola image above!)

I’m going to put in a plug for making some of your own backgrounds. I find building and painting things rather cathartic. It’s a lot of fun experimenting to see what kind of effects you can get and there’s also a bit of the, “oh, where did I get that background? I made it.”

Fabric

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If you’re not feeling crafty or your backyard is still covered in snow, you could always bypass the wood and paint and just grab a 4′x5′ canvas painter’s drop cloth from the hardware store. The rough texture adds a lot to an image. Of course, it would probably also help if I bothered to actually iron out the wrinkles…

background-62If you like color and patterns, try the remnants bins at a fabric store. There’s usually something interesting and the fabric tends to be heavily discounted. Also, things like burlap and muslin are inexpensive and really useful.

Again, I should probably iron this fabric.

If you’re not feeling the fabric store, but have a lot of old clothing lying around, you could always sacrifice something you’re never going to wear again and cut it up to make a backdrop. Place mats and napkins can work for a close up shot. Gauze curtains are also pretty.

Paper

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If you’re looking for a super clean look, you can find big rolls of white paper that are great for getting rid of horizon lines. Just tape the end of the paper up on a wall or something, leaving enough curve that the horizon line just vanishes. Way cool.

You can do this on a smaller scale with a piece of plain printer paper or even parchment paper.

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Other paper backgrounds: I’ve heard of people using scrapbooking paper to create fun backgrounds. I’ve never done it, but I’ve seen pictures where it looks great. Newspaper, brown paper and butcher’s paper can all also look really nice.

Assorted Household Items

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There are a lot of ways to create interesting backgrounds without sourcing one of the fabled Amish doors. Other good backgrounds could be cutting boards, marble pastry boards (pictured above), actual tables, the ground, picnic blankets or blankets of any kind, foam core board, poster board, chalkboards…the possibilities are endless.

So what are your favorite things to use for backgrounds and shooting surfaces? Have you found anything really bizarre that is just excellent? I’d love to hear about it!

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