Quite often I am asked where I get my backgrounds. Many of my surfaces are painted or stained wood. You don’t have to be a woodworker to do this. I’ll show you how easy it is. In this post I will show you how to distress wood with paint.
After I had my materials, this took me about an hour to do both the wood plank surface, and the wood “wall”. That’s not water in the background – that’s painted wood.
Materials needed for the distressed wood surface and background:
- wood surface – can be planks or a whole piece of wood (details below)
- wood “wall” background (details below)
- paint (details below) I’m using three colors- I use Behr paint, as it’s super thick and I do not use a primer. Get flat finish as you do not want reflections, and get interior paint. I always use latex paint as you only need water to clean up. In the photo above, there are three quarts – depending on the size of your background, you could see if you can get paint samples. Some paint stores do this. They are less expensive, as there’s much less paint.
- brush – I like the angled brushes with long handles that are 2.5 inches wide
- paint container (unless you want to paint right out of the can like I do). You have to paint as soon as you get home from the paint store or you’ll have to mix the paint again with a stir stick.
- sand paper – just for minor wood prep that takes a few minutes, coarse grit
- sanding block to hold sand paper
- small natural sponges or paint rags if you can’t find the sponges (for the distressed look)
I have a Home Depot very close to my studio (not a paid endorsement), so I can get everything at one store. I am sure that any home supply store that sells wood will have the same type of materials and be able to do some cutting for you – make sure the store can do wood cuts for you, call first.
How big will your background and surface need to be?
I first figure out how big of a surface I am going to need. If I am going to photograph a small set, like the Sangria above, then I won’t need much surface area when shooting with a 100mm lens. If I were shooting with a winder lens, like a 50mm lens then I would possibly make my surface a little wider. It all depends on how close you will be shooting your food.
So, for this wood background I know I am going to photograph at least three different recipes on it. Each one containing one dish or drink with a few props around it. Since I know I am shooting with a 100mm lens I am only going to need a surface about 2 feet wide and 3 feet deep as I am going to show a horizon line and have a wall behind it in some shots.
If I was not going to show a horizon line and just have a wood surface with several dishes on it, I would need at least a surface about 4 feet deep to cover my frame if I want to show other props in my image to tell a story. There’s nothing worse than running out of background, so be generous if you can when buying your materials if you don’t have a horizon line with a background.
For the background, or wall, I know that my camera angle is going to be at about a 45 degree angle pointing at the food so I don’t need a very tall wall and I really don’t need it to be very wide either because I am shooting vertically. My “wall” is 4 feet wide and 2 feet tall. I didn’t need this to be 4 feet wide. I found an inexpensive wood board that was already cut in this size so that’s what I got. This can also be used as a surface in the future too. My “wall” was $9.18.
You might be asking, how do I know all this before shooting? My camera angle and my format (horizontal or vertical). I always plan my shots ahead of time. In this case, I am shooting with food stylist Marcella Capasso so we emailed back and forth several times figuring out what recipes she would make and what our inspirations were going to be (these will be future blog posts with fun food styling tips). In most cases I usually pre-visualize each image in my head.
Back to the wood – depending on your store, you might have several pre-cut wood pieces to choose from, like you see below. You don’t need a nice finished one as you are going to paint it and chances are it will also be out of focus as a background element. You also don’t need a thick heavy piece.
So that was for my background, “wall”. Now for the surface, wood planks. There’s a couple of ways to do this. Here is my favorite. I actually use long wood flooring planks and have them cut down to the length I need at the store.
I bought two of the unfinished pine wood floor boards that were $7.12 each. They were 10 feet long and 5 inches wide. I had Home Depot cut these two planks down into three foot lengths. I had two scraps left over, which can now be used for testing paint.
Now you have your wall and your surface all cut down for you and ready for paint.
Since these are planks meant to be used as a wood floor, they have a “right” side and a “wrong” side. Here’s the funny thing. I always use the “wrong” side. This side is very rough and will show the wood texture through the paint. The “right” side is too smooth. Now, because we are using the “wrong” side, you need to just knock off the loose wood grain pieces that are going the wrong way or look messy with the sanding block.
Only sand for a couple minutes max – you don’t want to lose all that nice wood texture you have there, just get rid of the wood grains that are going 90 degrees the wrong way – this will make sense you see this in person.
My wood “wall” was very smooth so I didn’t need to sand it at all. Remember, these are going to be used in photographs so they don’t have to be perfectly smooth or perfectly painted because they are going to be mostly out of focus.
A few words about paint:
I paint a lot of surfaces for clients, so I have several of these paint fan decks from different paint companies. You can get one of these paint fan decks from the paint manufacturer. I will go through this before going to the store and look at these colors under my lighting conditions. The stores have weird fluorescent lights that are trying to emulate daylight, or mercury vapor lights which are also a wacky color. If you don’t want to buy a fan deck, you can look at the paint samples at the store by going outside. You have to look at them in the shade as that will closely match your natural light set up (I hope you are not shooting in direct light!).
Here are my three colors. As I am going for a distressed look, I am going to use three blue-teal colors that are in the same color family but each one is darker than the next. The darkest will be used on my wall. The medium shade will be painted on my planks and the lightest color will be used for the distressing part on top of the darker color.
I do not use a prime paint on these at all, and I only do one coat. I want that rough wood texture to come through. After I let these almost dry, I will get a natural sponge to lightly put the lighter color on top to make it look streaky. With the base color still being a bit wet, it makes it easier to blend in the lighter top color.
If you haven’t done this before, this is where your extra scrap planks will come in handy. Practice first on these, then do the full planks. It is just paint, so you can always paint over this if you don’t like your first result.
Now paint your background “wall. You can texture your wall as well with the lighter color on top.
And that’s it! It only took me an hour to make these two wood backgrounds.
Wash your brushes and sponges right away and get as much water out of them as you can by using a paper towel. This way they will last forever.
Now, if you just don’t have time for such things and you are in the LA area – you can just rent a surface from The Surface Library.
This was not a sponsored post. Home Depot and Behr Paints have no clue who I am 🙂
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