DIY Backdrops: Dynamic Surfaces for Tabletop Photography | Tabitha Park | Skillshare

DIY Backdrops: Dynamic Surfaces for Tabletop Photography

Tabitha Park, Chocolate Photographer

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8 Lessons (26m)
    • 1. Intro

      1:36
    • 2. White Backdrops

      3:00
    • 3. Chalkboard

      3:13
    • 4. Tile

      2:09
    • 5. Grout Backsplash

      8:46
    • 6. Clamps and Brackets

      1:49
    • 7. Last Minute Tips

      4:23
    • 8. Outro

      0:49
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About This Class

Build your studio repertoire with beautiful, simple, dynamic backdrops. In this class I show a variety of background ideas at different price points.

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I cover:

  1. White Backdrops
  2. Chalkboard Looks
  3. Big Tile Surfaces
  4. Grouting a Backsplash Panel
  5. Shooting Tips!

This class is designed for food bloggers, artists, content creators, online merchants, or anyone looking to create a unique versatile backdrop (or several!) to add to their photo gear collection.

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Transcripts

1. Intro: Hi, I'm Tabitha. In this photography class, I'm going to show you how to create your own backdrops to improve your tabletop photography. This is great for anyone who wants to take better cleaner pictures of food or products or anything that you might be working on. The backdrops that I'll show in this class range from your clean, classic white look, all the way to chalkboards, tile, and then, I'm even going to show you how to grout a panel for a mock backsplash feel, so that you don't have to remodel your kitchen to get that look. You can just create your own portable, versatile backdrop for that. Everything I'm going to show you ranges from stuff you may already have to about $20, set and done. So I'm trying to keep it really affordable and attainable, and everything I show you here can be easily stored or transported. I'll show you the gear that I use to keep my backdrop sturdy, and how I shoot in my house to utilize the natural light, and kind of the disaster that you can expect when you're doing these kind of shoots. So, yeah, I'm really excited. The class project, I'll have you create one of backdrops I show here, and then photograph some items on it so we can see what you came up with. My name is Tabitha. I'm a lifestyle, family and baby photographer, a content creator for Instagram, and I also teach a bunch of classes here on Skillshare. If this is your first time seeing my face, just know you have a ton of other classes at my profile which can show you how to use your camera better, photograph food, people, the whole deal. If this is your 10th time seeing my face, welcome back, and let's get started. 2. White Backdrops: All right. So, for our white backdrop solutions, I just wanted to talk about the different types that I like to use, the first of which is white foam core board. White foam core I feel like is one of those really common photography tools that's like so cheap but so amazing. Foam core is rigid and it can be used as a reflector which is what I use it for most of the time, but it can also be used as a flat table top, it can be used like a wall background, it's super super cheap. You can by foam core at the Dollar Store. It is very affordable. If not at the Dollar Store, you can buy it at Walmart for about a $1.29 I think. It also comes in black which is awesome because if you need a plain black tabletop or you need to reduce shadows or block light, it is awesome for that. Again, it's super super cheap. The second thing I like to use is white poster board. Poster board usually has two sides: a shiny side and a matte side. If you've taken my white box class, you'll know that I do a lot of sheets on poster board inside my light box which just creates a diffused room for taking beautiful photos. So, white poster board is awesome and it's really cheap also. Then lastly, we have a role of white banner paper. I love banner paper because you can roll it out and use it just as plain white, you can spill stuff on it, you can splash like watercolor on it if you're photographing a project. It's a nice clean, really cheap background that you can use. Sometimes I even crinkle it up to get an extra cool texture and to catch light in different ways, you can fold it up, you can paint on it, you can do anything so, a roll of white paper is so so nice to have in your photography prop arsenal. This banner paper I got from Walmart in the office/craft section. You get 75 feet for $7.50 and I've put a link in the project section so you can see exactly what roll I bought. Next, I wanted to show you I found a role of off-white paper at IKEA, you get 98 feet for $5. It's got a little bit of a texture, it's more of like a construction paper type feel, but equally as nice especially if you want something that's not going to be as like bright insanely white but you know more off-white. Then lastly, this is my roll of tracing paper, you can get 60 feet of tracing paper on Amazon for about $5.27. I love tracing paper because it kind of gives a look of parchment paper but it's way more affordable and it doesn't have logos on it. So I use it for a lot of food type pictures it gives a transparent look but you can layer it and fold it and do all sorts of cool stuff with that, and so, I just love the look of tracing paper also. So these are my three paper rolls and how I like to use them 3. Chalkboard: In this next section, I want to talk about how I create different chalkboard backdrops at different price points. For most of my backdrops, I get the actual board from the hardware store. My chalkboard came from Home Depot or Lowe's here in the States. It comes as one giant piece and then I have them cut it in half for me. Here is one half of my chalkboard. The backside is brown so I usually just save this for a tile job or a painted backdrop. The front side, we're just going to start by applying a first layer of chalk. This box of chalk, it has 12 pieces. It costs me $0.99. I looked around at Walmart at the craft store and weirdly, I could not find any white chalk. This I found at my grocery store. To start off, we're going to apply a nice even layer of chalk to the whole entire board. I like to lay the chalk sideways and just draw till it's completely covered. After your whole entire board is covered in a pretty decent layer of chalk, you're going to take a paper towel or a tissue and just wipe away the excess dust. This is rubbing the chalk into the board and it's also revealing a lot of fingerprints along the edges. To get rid of those I apply water that will wipe off a lot of the fingerprints. And then, I also want to just cover the whole board with a wet paper towel because this picks up a lot of the extra chalk and it leaves the backdrop looking chalky but not overly white, if that makes sense. Here, it's drying and then it actually looks really, really good; but I'm going to apply one more layer of chalk just to finish it off. This is a really light layer and then I go through with my tissue just very, very gently touching the top of the surface to smear the chalk around. I feel like this adds a nice finishing touch. All in all, this cost me $11, but keep in mind I have two boards out of it and so I can use the other board for something else. For a little bit cheaper, you can buy a poster board and do pretty much the same method. Here, you see I have my $0.99 post board. I'm covering it in a layer of chalk. Then, once I get it all covered, same thing, I just rub with a paper towel or a tissue to smear the chalk around. I found that the poster board only needed one layer of chalk to look good. I really like the way this looks. If you want darker, you can buff it out and this will reveal the color of the poster board better, or if you end up with weird spots like this you can recover them with another layer of chalk, and it works pretty well as a chalkboard, adding or subtracting chalk as needed. Then, obviously, the more you touch it, the more it's going to show your fingerprints or get dirty. If you use it a lot you're going to find yourself adding more and taking away chalk all the time. I just wanted to show you, if you wanted to go for more like used chalkboard look or like what you would find in a preschool, you can touch your fingers all over it and it will give it a texture that way. The total cost for this chalkboard is $2, $1 for the poster board, $1 for the box of chalk. 4. Tile: Next, I'm going to show you big tiles that I like to use. I'll use them as tables. I don't use them as like a wall because I'm terrified of trying to lean them up because they're very heavy. But you can see I have a variety of different neutral-colored tiles here, and I photographed them in different ways to give us a subtle texture in the background, and these usually range anywhere from $2 to $8 depending on how nice of a tile it is, or how textured, or unique, or man-made it is. Usually, like the printed tiles are a little cheaper, and then the ones that are like actual precious stones or marble those are going to be a little more expensive. Next, you should remember to add little bumpers on the corners. You can use cork, foam, rubber, felt, whatever it takes. It'll help protect your table and your other tiles. Before you stick them on, you want to clean off your tiles because the hardware store is typically pretty dusty. You want to remove any debris that might prevent the adhesive from sticking, and then just go ahead and apply your little bumpers right on each of the four corners. You want to press down and hold it there just so that they're for sure firmly adhered in place. I like to check mine by tapping on them sideways to make sure they don't just like pop off. Then, once it feels pretty good, you can flip it over and start using it. With the tiles, it's important to notice the ones that are more textured have different looks with different angles of light. So, this is a backlight, and you can see the textures show. Then, the tile in the middle is my slate tile. If I get it wet, it gets nice and dark. It doesn't stay dark for very long. It dries pretty quickly, but this is a good way to get a little bit darker texture without having to buy a completely new piece of tile. These are just some tips and tricks that I like to use when I photograph my tile. I keep them in a stack. They're all very heavy, so I can only carry about two at a time. But the tile is an awesome way to get that tabletop look without having to invest in a brand new table. 5. Grout Backsplash: Lastly, I wanted to show you my backsplash solution. So, I went to the hardware store and I saw that they have the subway tiles, and I like to be different and so I didn't want to get a subway tile and make a subway tile one because I know that that's like more commonly photographed. But, by all means, make yourself a subway tile backsplash because that's what people love. They love that right now, but I wanted to be different. So I got little gray penny tiles instead because I am obsessed with penny tiles right now, and I figure I will actually use them and so my penny tile backsplash is what I will show you how to make right now. To make one just like mine, You'll need two 12 by 12 sheets of mosaic tile and a board to glue them to. I will be using liquid nails in a caulk gun and non-sanded grout. Hold on one sec. The difference between non-sanded grout and sanded grout is that sanded grout has sand in it and so it has a potential to scratch shinier surfaces. I was nervous about this so I went with non-sanded. I personally think that sanded grout looks better but both are going to work just fine for this project. To start out, you're going to want to get an idea of how your tiles fit together. The tiles come on a mesh, which is awesome because it helps keep all the little pieces together. Once I know about how they'll fit together, I can prepare my liquid nails by putting it in the caulk gun and getting ready to lay down my first stripe. Doing it this way where I'm holding the caulk gun in one hand and holding the mosaic in the other and trying to keep my cat from eating it was super hard. After I struggled with this for a little bit, I got smart and I got out a putty knife. So from here, what I like to do is lay down a nice big thick stripe of glue and then use the putty knife to scrape it into a nice even smooth layer. This worked so much better so I definitely recommend doing it this way. Once you've got enough to cover the whole first tile, you want to gently place it right on top and into place. The liquid nails are nice because it's not like an instant bond. So if it's a little off, you can adjust it to a point and then just make sure if you get any liquid nails on the surface of your tiles to wipe it off as soon as possible because you don't want it to dry. It would be really hard to remove. Before I press my first tile down I, like to set my second one in place just to make sure I'm not gluing it at a diagonal, and once I'm happy with that, I apply a last minute bit of glue to most of the edge tiles just to make sure that they're in securely. Then I apply even consistent pressure to the whole piece so that it's nice and flat and I know that there's glue on each piece. Then I can get ready to do the second tile so same method, putting glue stripes down, smearing it with my putty knife until it's nice and even and then laying my second piece in place. When I do my second piece, I want to make sure that the line in the center is not too thick or too thin. I don't want the tiles to touch but I don't want them to be too far apart either. I want it to look like one a continuous piece and once I like where it's at, I press it down and let it dry overnight. The next day you want to prepare your non-sanded grout. This one is super nice because it comes in a little tub, I can add water to the line, mix it up in its own container and go from there. So for this one, you mix it until it's smooth and then you wait 10 minutes for it to set up and then you give it one final stir. It should be like a really thin toothpaste consistency and then you can use that same putty knife to put the grout in between all of the tiles. If you've got a mosaic that's a lot less intense than mine, this part won't take as long but just make sure you're consistent applying enough grout between each and every space so that you don't get holes. Then once that's done, you want to wait for it to dry for about 10 to 20 minutes or until it feels like it's set up a little bit and then prepare a bucket of water. I didn't have a bucket so I just lined a cardboard box with plastic bags and filled it with water. So here you can see I'm making my sponge damp and I'm going to go ahead and try and remove that top layer of excess grout. Keep in mind this part does take some time so be patient, put on some good music and just get all that extra grout off. When I say all, I mean most because there's still going to be what's called a haze which is just a really thin layer of extra grout that's left over on the top and that's totally fine. Again once you do this part, you let it dry for about two hours and then you can use a cheesecloth or a paper towel to remove the excess haze which is just kind of the really, really thin dried layer of grout. This is before the tiles are fully dry but it's dry enough along the whole thing that you can remove the haze. So this part is where I noticed that my grout job didn't look very good so I spent a lot of time meticulously cleaning it up and making it good, filling holes and shining it up as best as possible. But the end result was so worth it. This turned out so nice and here is a couple of my favorite images that I took using it. All said and done, this board cost me $32.47 but keep in mind that is including the $10 it cost for the entire sheet of chalkboard even though for this particular backdrop I only used half. So if you subtract $5 from that cost, it would be $27.47 and then if you use subway tiles instead of penny tiles, you can save $6 that way taking your price down to $21.47 and this covers everything. It covers your caulk gun, your liquid nails, your putty knife, your grout, the whole thing. It can be a really affordable project, you just have to pay attention to what tiles you buy. If you can find a cheaper board than a chalkboard that's still as durable, you could go that route and save a couple bucks there. For my boards, my chalkboards and my tile boards, I just wanted to show you what I get. So this was once one piece. Let's see if I can hold this up for you. This was one giant chalkboard piece and I had them cut it in half for me at the hardware store which was Home Depot or Lowe's here in the States. This one board costs 9.99 and so I can get away with two dynamic backdrops for 10 bucks. This one I chalked up and then this one I did not but the backside of this one is where I ended up putting my penny tile backsplash. If I wanted I, can even put a tile situation up here also and then I would have two tile backdrops on one board. But just keep in mind if you're doing a lot of tiling on one board, it's going to get really heavy. This is actually quite heavy. This is two pieces of penny tile right next to each other. So probably I would stick one tile. I wouldn't do both sides but you could do the tile and the chalkboard and have one board that's a dynamic backdrop that you can use for shipping. Then let's say you don't have a ton of space or you're shooting things that are very small. You can also have them cut down to pieces that are even smaller. So this is actually a piece of white board. So they sell it as a dry erase board. This is pretty thin melamine. I did this one as a sample so I had this tile already. It kind of ended up looking like a bathroom floor so I probably won't use this one. Mostly it was just for practice but it's a good reference for about what size that you would get if you just wanted to purchase one individual piece of tile mosaic. As long as, like I said, you're photographing something small or if you want to keep things, maybe you want to get a variety so it's cheaper to go with a lot of little ones than a few bigger ones. This is also an option. Just keep in mind that these boards tend to work a little more because they're a lot thinner. So you can get a thicker board or if you can get it on a chalkboard piece and have them cut it down, you're going to have a lot more success with that. So yeah, hardware store adventures. I pretty much just store everything vertically and then when it's time to shoot, I just pull everything out and I keep my foam core and my poster board with this and it's just a whole circus. So, yeah, hopefully this was helpful. 6. Clamps and Brackets: Okay. Now, I want to show you different clamps and brackets that I use to help keep my backdrops sturdy. Here is my pilot tools. This is a 2-inch spring clamp and these are 1-inch spring clamps. I use the little guys to hold up foam core. So, here's my foam core board and I just clip them onto the bottom corners at an angle so that it holds the board up off of the table and that helps keep it sturdy, kind of like a tripod when I set it on the table, so that works out awesome. Then for the chalkboard backdrop because it's bigger and heavier, I need to use the bigger spring clamps and just using the spring clamps alone is not enough to keep the backdrop upright, even if I've got one on either end. So, what I've resorted to doing to keep it from tipping over is to utilize a metal bracket and so here you can see I've got my metal bracket, I stick it right on the back and that would help keep it from falling backwards, right, except it falls forward now, if falls forward too just stick another bracket on the front, just sandwiching your backdrop between the two and that should keep it nice and sturdy, you don't even need two brackets on the opposite end because this is plenty to keep your backdrop nice and strong. Here is a pullback from a recent shot I did. I'm actually using the mini clamps to hold up a black foam core to block light from above to get a really moody shot. I've got this white foam core balancing on the edge to help bring in a little bit of light and I have my tripod holding the front of the foam core up so that I can shoot handsfree. This is a little bit more complex than you might normally use for shooting your day-to-day stuff, but I just wanted to show you different ways that you can use your tools to be more creative. 7. Last Minute Tips: Just some last minute tips I wanted to throw out there. When you're photographing using natural light, you want to make sure that all the other lights in your house are turned off. You don't want to have to deal with mixed lighting. So, you want to have one light source which is your big bright window. If you have too much direct sunlight coming through and it's creating hot spots, you can either put up a sheet or big white curtain to help diffuse it, or you can use tracing paper. I found that if I'm shooting end of the day and I got this big beam of light coming in, and I've got an hour before sunset, what I like to do is set up right in that beam, and then hold up a tracing paper between the light and my subject. Then, the closer you hold it, the brighter it'll be because basically the whole piece of tracing paper lights up and that becomes your really soft beautiful light. So it blocks out the harsh light, and it bounces around all this light, and it creates beautiful soft, very diffuse shadows, but it's still really bright. A lot of times when you're shooting, and it's an overcast day, everything just looks really muted, and it doesn't have a lot of contrast. There's not very much in your highlights. But with this solution, it blocks out a lot of- Well, it doesn't. It blocks out a little of the light just enough to take the hot edge off of the photo, but it's still going to create these beautiful textures, this beautiful light quality. So, I definitely recommend that. Then just, I mean, keep your eyes open. You can use cookie sheets, or cutting boards, cheese boards. You can use just like panels of wood. There's so many different options that you can use for your backdrops. These are just a couple of simple ones. You can buy scrapbook paper. Tons of stuff. So, be adventurous, explore and see what you can find to create beautiful, unique clean images. I like to think I'm pretty transparent about the fact that my house isn't perfectly clean ever, and I just shoot around the chaos. So, here's some pullback shots of what my setups look like in the middle of working through a photo shoot like this. So, you can see I've got gear and piles of backdrops at arm's reach. There's a lot going on. My cat. She uses everywhere. So, it doesn't have to be perfect. You don't need to clean up everything around you to take a good picture. You just need a small space to work with. The beauty of photography is you're capturing a small snippet of life, not the whole thing. Cropping and taking in nice tight close pictures will help, so you don't have to deal with the mess in the background. Then, this picture. I just wanted to show you the original crop has the floor and the extra paint brushes that I wasn't using. But I know that my end goal for this photo was Instagram, and so it didn't matter if I got that stuff in the frame, because I knew I was just going to crop it square after. Same with this picture right here. You can see I've got my clamp holding up a reflector, and that's right in the shop. But my end goal is Instagram, and I knew I was going to crop it to a square, so I didn't worry about getting that out of the frame especially since at the time of day I was shooting there was such little light available that I needed my reflector this close for it to make an effect on my photo. So let's jump back really quick to the watercolor pictures. I know a lot of you want to take better pictures of your class projects or just the art that you're making. This is my ideal setup. I just roll up some banner paper out on the table by big bright diffused window, set it up, and then shoot from above. You can see I'm standing on my table as I shoot down so that I can get the whole image, and I even do a lot of close-ups also to get texture. I shoot a lot of backlight. So, if I'm not shooting straight down, I'm shooting so that the light is coming from behind my subject. I feel like this makes things kind of sparkle a little bit, and it's just a really beautiful quality of light. So, yeah. Those are just my last minute tips and tricks on how to work with what you have and be forgiving to yourself along the way. It doesn't need to be perfect, and if you get little things in the edges of your frames, hopefully, you can just crop them out. 8. Outro: That's it. Thanks so much for taking my class, I hope that you were able to get some inspiration and feel confident and comfortable making your own backdrops and photographing them also. If you want to see up-to-date next time I post a new content and you don't already follow me, make sure that you hit that little blue follow button and you'll get an email next time I post a new class. If you want to find me on Instagram, my handle is just tabithapark and I would love to see what you've been creating. So, don't forget to share your project or tag me in your work on Instagram, so that I can come take a look, and yeah, if you have any questions or need extra help, please reach out. I would love to help you work through any issues that you might be running into and answer any other questions about photography that you might have, so yeah, I'll see you next time.