When I started taking pictures, I spent a while looking for backdrops I could use in my kitchen, where I get great window light. I found lots of options, but most were fairly expensive (upwards of $100 each), and many would take too much space to store. I sometimes used blankets as inexpensive backdrops, but I really just wanted a flat surface in a couple of different colors that I could set up easily behind a child to take portraits with.
So I wandered Home Depot until I found the solution:
Sorry for the bad camera phone picture, but it’s a 4 ft x 4 ft piece of triply underlayment that’s fairly smooth on both sides, thin enough that it’s liftable, and (the best part) only $8. I bought two, wrangled them into the back of my minivan, and headed home.
I painted one side of one white, using paint I had left over from painting ceilings in my house. A flat white background is fantastic for getting photos like this one:
I painted another side blue, using an 8 oz sample size can of paint from Home Depot ($3 in any color you want). If you are going to use sample size paints I’d recommend priming the wood first to make sure the sample size amount of paint is enough to cover the entire surface. I used a really brilliant blue for a fun pop of color in pictures like this:
I like to pair the blue backdrop with a 4 ft piece of white trim at the bottom, to get a more professional look. Just use a clamp on each end of the trim to attach it to the bottom of the background.
A third side got painted grey:
And the fourth side got left alone for a natural wood look:
Using and storing these backdrops is pretty simple. When not in use they live in my garage. I slide them behind my rake/shovel/tool organizer and they hardly take up any space. When I want to use them I simply bring them into the kitchen and lean one against the backs of two chairs and position my subject in front of them.
I often use these backdrops in conjunction with my 4 ft x 6 ft bamboo floor mat, which I found on sale for less than $40 shipped from Natural Area Rugs.
The 4×4 backgrounds also make it easy to use a blanket as a background – just clamp the blanket or fabric at the top sides and bottom sides of the background board – if you pull fabric tight, you won’t have to worry about wrinkles showing up in your photo.
Obviously, since the backgrounds are only 4 ft tall, they don’t work for standing adults/older children or large groups. However, they work great for adult headshots:
Older kids who are seated:
Taking pictures of Halloween costumes:
And up to four kids at a time if everyone gets cozy:
I’ve even used them as a floor for newborn shots:
(This is the grey one with a fun color boost and vignette added in post processing.)
These backdrops are easy to use and inexpensive to create. Here’s a few tips in case you decide to make your own:
- Make sure to position your subject far enough in front of the backdrop that they aren’t casting a shadow on it. Most kids will plunk themselves down with their backs right up against the backdrop. Ask them to move forward at least a few feet for the best looking shot.
- These work best with window light – trying to use overhead lights with these just won’t give the same results (see my window light post for tips)
- When using the white backdrop especially, be careful with your white balance settings. Generally if you are using window light on a sunny day, the auto or sunny white balance setting will be great, but on an overcast day you may want to switch to the cloudy setting.
- If possible, clamp the backdrop board to the back of the chairs it’s leaning against to be sure it doesn’t fall on anyone.
I’ve used these over and over and I still think they’re a great solution for a small space and a tight budget.
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