Fun with Food,  Work with Me

DIY Food Photography Backdrops

I AM TAKING THE LEAP! I am going to attempt to create my own Food Photography Backdrops! EEK! And I am taking you all along for the ride with me – whether they turn out great, or terribly. I will share the results! I will explain my successes, challenges, and struggles – what went well and what was a disaster. Here goes nothing – Welcome to DIY Food Photography Backdrops!

For a while now I have been working on improving my photography. I switched over from using my iPhone to a real-big girl DSLR camera. I signed up for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Creative Cloud so that I could better edit my photos! AND I even purchased a new artificial light to help with taking photos at night, because lets be real – days are so short this time of year! And it is near impossible to get out of my full-time job on time to take photos in natural light!

All these steps have been great and I have absolutely noticed a difference in my photos! But of course now, all I can think of is – what’s next?

Which brings us to the purpose of this post – food photography backdrops. For some time now I have been wanting to expand my collection of food photography backdrops – through my research it seems like there are four real options in order to do this.

  1. Use household surfaces / items to expand your collection (e.g. counter tops, table linens, crumpled paper, an old sheet pan, a cutting board, etc.)
  2. Purchase professionally made backdrops – this can get expensive. Though they are STUNNING and therefore it is very tempting!
  3. Purchase professionally made vinyl backdrops – this is usually less expensive than option two, but still by no means cheap
  4. Create your own food photography backdrops

Household Surfaces / Items

The LARGE MAJORITY of my photos are taken using option 1. Using whatever I can think of to use around the house! My go to photo backdrop – my kitchen counter island. Why? It’s easy to clean – it’s beautiful – and it just always seems like a good idea! Less setup/cleanup equals more time for playing with Gatsby and Daisy.

I love the look of wood in photos so I like to throw in a few different cutting boards here and there to spice things up. The only problem is that cutting boards are a limited size – so unless you zoom in real close, you have to use the cutting board as a cutting board in the photo, rather than a full wood backdrop.

In my research, I’ve read about quite a few people who have just stumbled upon these amazing surfaces to use as backdrops. Like an old wood pallet being thrown out on the side of the road or a table at a yard sale or antique show. I love this idea. But this is not me. I stumble… over myself. Not upon hidden treasures.

Actually, let me correct myself – I see said pallet on side of the road and see trash, not the beautiful piece that could created from said trash with just a little love.

So if you have an eye for the good stuff – go hunting! There are SO many amazing used pieces of wood, stone, and fabric that will look beautiful.

Professionally-Made Food Photography Backdrops

There are some BEAUTIFUL backdrops out there that you can buy – they are made especially for photography and they seriously look stunning, but they come at the price of a pretty penny.

I would perhaps consider investing in one, except let’s be real – I don’t just want one. I want like FIVE! And I do not have the dollar dollar bills to invest in five backdrops.

Check out these stunning backdrops from – I mean come on.

How lovely is that? Or this!

These backdrops are truly unique and beautiful – but they also cost $165 each. So…

Vinyl Food Photography Backdrops

In order to get a little more variety, I did go ahead and purchase one vinyl backdrop from a shop on Etsy called Swanky Prints – I really do LOVE the backdrop I got and I have used it for some great photos – for example: all my Spaghetti Squash Pad Thai photos were taken on this vinyl backdrop!

Looks like real wood doesn’t it?? Kinda cool! Something AWESOME about this vinyl backdrop is that it is double-sided. So I get to use two different backdrops and only store one sheet of vinyl. Speaking of vinyl, storage is a cinch! Roll that baby up and you are good to go.

The downfall of vinyl – I have been afraid to put anything moist or oily on the vinyl because I don’t know how easy it is to clean / if it will stain. I have wiped it down with water to remove crumbs and it seems to be fine – but, a buttery brownie might be a whole different stain-ory (get it? Stain + story? That was pretty terrible I’ll admit).

Homemade Food Photography Backdrops

Since I do not have any professionally made backdrops, this brings us directly to our DIY portion of this blog post. I have seen ALL sorts of people talking about how EASY it is to make backdrops yourself – and how inexpensive it can be compared to purchasing. But really? I am nervous…

Nonetheless, I am giving it a shot – so lets go!

Step 1: Obtain a board

The type of board you obtain for your backdrop completely depends upon the type of backdrop you’d like to create. Are you painting? Are you going for an all natural wood look? Should that wood be finished?

I have never really made a special trip to obtain a board for this purpose – but I have spent my fair share of time searching through Target, Michael’s, and other supply stores for different types of boards – painted or unpainted – anything that could work! Through my searching, I have found quite a bit – but for the most part everything I have found is either too small or too expensive, especially considering I may want to paint said board.

So this past weekend – I did the UNTHINKABLE! I ventured to…


Home Depot and I have a love hate relationship. Every time I think about going to Home Depot I get nervous and sweaty because the store is so big and it always ends up taking me an hour to find what I need and I end up spending far more money than I planned to. BUT, once I am at Home Depot – I LOVE IT! There are so many fun things you never knew you needed!

So I went to Home Depot – woman on a mission. I headed straight for the wood aisle. OBVIOUSLY, I had no idea what I was doing which is why I immediately approached the nice man in an orange apron for help.

THE PROCESS WAS SO EASY! I told him I wanted a few inexpensive wood boards to be cut into 2′ x 2′ or 2′ x 3′ rectangles and then painted. He asked me what type of wood I would like – I replied with a blank stare. He recommended plywood.

Next he asked about quality – again, I replied with a blank stare. Who knew there were different qualities of plywood! Turns out, there are. And as one might expect, the higher quality plywood, the more expensive. But what makes a plywood board good quality?

Here is what I learned:

  • Size – size does not have anything to do with quality, however, it does affect price! Larger pieces of board will be more expensive.
  • Thickness – the thicker the board, the higher the quality. I wanted something thin so it would be light and easy to work with – but thick enough that it would lay flat.
  • Wood grain – Plywood is in fact a manufactured wood made from built-up layers of wood veneers which are bonded together to create a flat smooth sheet of wood. Higher quality plywood will look smooth and even – like a solid piece of wood. Lower quality plywood may look less like a solid piece of wood and have more notches. Depending on the type of background you plan to create, notches can be great or not so great. For example: if you plan to make a chalkboard – notches may be undesirable. However, if you plan to stain the wood for a natural look – notches may be great! I wanted a medium grain with some imperfections.
  • Type of wood – did you know, plywood is made from wood… which comes from TREES? I know – its crazy. Just like a piece of furniture made from mahogany would cost more than a piece of furniture made from pine, plywood made from certain trees is more expensive as well.

So what did I end up with for my food photography backdrops? After a few minutes of discussion with my buddy at Home Depot, I chose a two pieces of 2′ x 4′ cedar plywood with minimal notching and relatively smooth grain. The boards were about 1/4 inch thick and I asked for them to be cut (one piece was split into two 2′ x 2′ boards, the other into a 2′ x 3′ and 1′ x 3′).

How much did this all cost?

I know you are dying to know. Drum roll please…

Less than $20! Each board was about $9.50, they cut the boards for free, and that was that! AMAZING! 3 boards, plus one piece of scrap board for under $20. I was THRILLED!

Step Two: Pick a color, any color!

Since I now had three different boards to work with, I wanted to get a few different colors to play around with. I knew that I wanted to do one all-black chalkboard style board and one grey-toned board but the third – I had no idea, whatever happens would happen!

I happy to arrive early for my Saturday morning class at CorePower Yoga and noticed there was a Blick Art Supplies store across the street – I figured what the heck I’ll go take a peak.

OH EM GEE. If you have any slight form of OCD or LOVE for organization – go to Blick. It is BEAUTIFUL! Everything is organized so neatly and perfectly and colorfully UGH! I was in heaven. I wandered around for a while then made my way to the Acrylic paints because I know from my high school painting days that acrylic is cheap, fast drying and water-soluble. The paints were about $2-3 each which didn’t seem so bad! So I picked 4 colors and bought them – why not! Exciting.

Later that day, post yoga, I happened to be running errands when I noticed a Michael’s Store – AMAZING! I decided to run in and look around. One hour later, I finally made my way to the acrylic paint section and what do you know – they had acrylic paints for LESS THAN $1!!! So naturally, I bought 5 more. I also bought a black chalk paint, some sponge brushes, and a big sea sponge to celebrate.

Step Three: Let’s getting painting

I set up my make-shift studio in the backyard with some old circulars we had in our mailbox so that I wouldn’t get paint on our brick patio I placed the boards on top of them – then poured the paint directly on the boards and sponged away!

For the chalkboard backdrop, I used my sponge brush to create smooth long strokes and try and eliminate any texture in my painting. I poured the paint directly onto the board a little bit at a time in the areas where paint as needed, then just painted as I went. I used up the entire container of paint, so if you plan to paint anything larger then 2′ x 3′ be sure to get more than one small container of paint.

For the grey backdrop, I poured a white, light grey, dark grey, cream, and blue paint on first – as soon as I started sponging I hated it. The blue was more of a turquoise and not what I wanted.

Great news – I was able to add more paint and completely cover this up. I added black to the mix so the backdrop would be darker in color and continued to sponge, add paint, sponge, and add paint again until I was satisfied with the final product.

I left the boards out back to dry for about two hours just to be safe – and voile! My boards were complete and ready for use!

Step Four: Test out your handy work

So let’s see – how did they turn out? You tell me!

I was so amazed by how easy this process was – and fun! All said and done, I think I spent around $45 for three food photography backdrops that I absolutely love! And that includes spending a little bit extra on some of the paint that I had purchased at Blick.

I have cleaned the brushes/sponge and can use them again in the future – not to mention, I have loads of extra paint.

I wish I had committed to doing this sooner and already can’t wait to do it again!

So Really, What’s the Best Type of Food Photography Backdrop?

It totally depends on what you are looking for! A good photographer can make ANY type of backdrop look good – though this is a learned skill! Personally, I am not there yet!

If you have minimal storage space, vinyl food photography backdrops are a great option since they roll up nice and small! If you don’t want to spend a lot of money – making your own food photography backdrops can be fun, easy and very inexpensive. Or, if you are cheap and lazy – use your imagination! Get creative with those at-home goodies!

Now that I am more aware of food photography backdrops in photos, I cease to be amazed by how great they can look with simple at home objects. Old rusty pans, bed sheets, crumpled paper bags – you’d never know these were the objects being used behind the delicious food.

Its all about personal preference and style – how do you want your photos to look and feel? Clean and simple. Rustic. Natural. Modern. Again, this is something that I am still working on – but I am enjoying every minute of the process!

Tell Me About You!

Are you a food photographer? What is your favorite type of backdrop to photograph? Any aspects of backdrops you have loved? Hated? Please do share!




  • Karen

    Hi Haley, I’ve been admiring your photos all along thinking they were SO professional looking and beautiful! Never even thought about the backdrops! LOL. What material is your island countertop? It’s lovely—is it marble or quartz or ??? Also, an idea you hadn’t mentioned as a source of backdrops—how about borrowing cool stuff from friends? If I lived near you I would be happy to loan you stuff for your photos! Free and when done you just give it back! No ongoing storage required! Just an idea! Anyway, Good job and great problem solving —kudos!

    • Haley

      Hi Karen, aw thank you so much – that is so sweet!! I believe our counter tops are marble – which is beautiful! But we definitely have to be careful of staining since they are porous. Borrowing – what a great idea! I’ll definitely have to add that to the list! If only you lived closer, that would be great! Free and no storage required – brilliant. Guess I”ll have to start bugging my friends about borrowing all their cool stuff 🙂

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