Photography Backgrounds

Photography Backgrounds don’t have to be expensive to be great. As most things in photography, the simpler the better as you always want to keep the attention on your subject.

I have two favorite and often used backgrounds.

The First are a pair of black bed sheets that I soaked in vinegar to set the color. You want to look for basic cotton sheets without any shimmer or shine. I found four queen sized sheets at my local ‘Mart for under $10 each.

The Second is white muslin. I purchased 5 yards of 108” wide muslin on at an online fabric store for under $20.

If you want a colored background, purchase some muslin and some Ritz dye. Using one of several techniques such as those described here, you can create some very useful and fun backgrounds.

Painted BackgroundMis-match Paint can be your friend if you are looking to create a background for your studio. My favorite studio background now is one we made from purchasing the largest painter’s canvas that will work for our space and checking out the mis-match paint. You want to look for a paint that has warm tones that will compliment skin tones. If you purchase a can of paint, consider looking at a warm gray as it is very complimentary for many skin types and portraits. If you have some artistic talent (or know someone), you may consider looking online at some backgrounds that you like and try to imitate them. The keys to a successful background are 1) flat paint. Any other paint will reflect light. 2) gesso. Sealing the canvas will prevent you from purchasing tons of paint. 3) the proper paint equipment. Select a roller and brushes (if you are adding depth with other colors) that properly distributes the paint without soaking the canvas. 4) the proper work space. You’ll need a work space that is clean and where you can lay the canvas flat until it dries. After the canvas dries, it is best to store it hanging up and your second option is to store it rolled in a large cardboard tube. It is best to avoid folding it.

Insulation BoardInsulation Board is a versatile background. It can be used as an aluminum colored background on one side and then wall paper or fabric can be glued on the other side for two backgrounds in one. For a wider background, put two 4×8 sheets of insulation board together.

Hardware Store has a lot of materials that have texture and that makes unique and fun backgrounds. Think corrugated metal, wood veneers, and other lightweight materials that can be stored flat. Don’t forget to pick up some clamps- lots of clamps. You will find them invaluable in so many ways.

The Fabric Store is a playground for a photographer. Just wander around and let your creativity flow. If you choose a pattern, you will want your subject in a complimentary color with no pattern, so keep that in mind. If you choose a plain or simple fabric it may be more useful for more subjects. Every studio should also have several yards of white ripstop nylon. It can be used as both a background and as a light modifier. Finally, my friend, Jen Gentry has created a simple to build photographic background system that I recommend if you need a system that you can take to clients homes. The system, FlipIt requires a bit of assembly and a lot of creativity. It will also spark some ideas for other backgrounds you can create.


  1. We started out on a tight buget so I got Kingsize sheets out of my linen closet and some flat inter paint and mixed about 3 different huges of the same color and off I went everyone was very impressed with the way they came out and they photograph beautifully. I just used a 2in paint brush and blended the colors.
    It takes me about 2 hours to paint one.

  2. Just starting out and have been racking my brain for backgrounds. This helps alot. Things I did not even think of. Thank you!!! And I did not know about using the vinegar to set the color in sheets. Thank you again. I have a shoot coming up that we are using sheets for background and floor drop. Very helpful!

  3. I love do it yourself information! I’m always amazed at how anything that is made for photographers is priced about 10x over what it should be. Soft boxes can be made out of the right laundry basket for instance and it cost $10 instead of $90. How they can justify those prices is absolutely beyond me but I love people’s innovation to find a way to make it yourself!

  4. Just use one cup of vinegar in a 5 gallon bucket and then soak it overnight. Launder as usual in cold water and the vinegar smell goes away and the color is set.

    🙂 Enjoy Yourself and post some images you capture.

  5. The Local Dollar Store. Tablecloths, the backside of table cloths is usually a nice soft white, no sheen, table runners for adding strips of color, curtains, placemats, shower curtains, wrapping paper, tissue paper. The lawn and garden aisle, tarps, huge brown leaf bags, when cut open and spread out, they have nice textures from the folds. Hardware Stores, chains, Oops Paint, landscaper rolls. Always ask the clerk or manger for the returned items. Usually the have tears in the packing or holes, so theres huge price reductions. This is a great way to buy yard/lawn mulch also, the bags usually have small holes. Bring a roll of cheap tape with you or large trash bags and something to lay in the trunk to put it on. The bags get torn and they see for half the price. Not for photo shoots, obviously. Well, in reality they could be used also. If you had a subject laying in them. Yuck-o!I don’t know, I just have an eye for this kind of stuff. Whenever I shop, I look at things and ask myself “what could I use this for” besides what it’s advertised for. The Paint store, discontinued Pattern books, now we’re talking. Make crazy collages. Good gor uour eyes instead of lookin thru the lens all the time. So much more. I could make a blog of these items alone. If you really want to get creative with backgrounds, try this one for a super easy faux finish wall. It ends up like a leather texture when done. Buy a can of Oops Paint in your choice of color, buy 2 nice size packs of tissue paper. Prep and paint the wall, one 4ft section at a time. While the paint is wet, take one whole sheet of the tissue paper and rip into say 6 pieces. Now take the paper and lay it onto the wet painted wall. Then put your palm on the paper and slightly turn the paper any way you like, just so it crinkles a bit. About 3/4 turn. Do it various spots on the same sheet. Leave about 2″ in between sheets, now do the same with the next sheet. Once 3 shhets are on the wet paint wall. Get the paint brush, dip it really good into the paint 2″ in is fine, wipe all sides if he brush and do the same again with the brush. Only for the first use. Take the paint brush and blend the edges of the tissue paper into the paint. They dissolve into the paint. You can also take thin strips about 4inch pieces and crinkle them up in your fingers, now smudge them into the paint on the wall. Get creative here. Try different size pieces. Squish them sort of into a loose tint ball and then smudge it onto the wall, blend it almost flat. Experiment. Smooth it gently. Remember youre going for the leather
    can play with the paper as long as its wet. Don’t try peeling it off. Just use your palm to
    maneuver gently to the left or right. You want to creat tiny lines, jagged lines. Think of a soft leather with all it’s texture and lines that start and shift and zig zag slightly.. You can always use a scraper if you don’t like it. Then re paint the spot. Don’t worry about being perfect. Just space out your paper strips and keep bending slightly, try not to make them the same. When you’re satisfied, let it dry a good couple hours. If you make it soggy, it won’t dry that fast. you don’t want soggy. Thin, thin, thin. Once dry. Make sure its dry. See what you think. You can sand down ever so slightly any bumps you may feel are sticking up too much. Satisfied? Now get a fresh paint roller and paint over the wall that is tissued and now looks somewhat leathery. When dry in 24 hours, you should be very proud of yourself. Try it on a small piece of Sheetrock. Prime it first with primer. Tools needed. 1 Gallon for a 10 x 12 room. 2 packages white tissue paper. The larger the pack the better. Save what you don’t use for presents or not. One 4″ Angled Paint Brush. Spend the money you saved on the Paint Brush. The right tools make all the difference in the world, especially a good paint brush. Just not a $1.99 one, at least 5-6 bucks. A 9″ Roller, tray, DROP CLOTHS, blue painters tape. In case you have the shakes. Good luck. Wow, I really go off on tangents. I hope someone is impressed enough to try this. CREATE YOUR STUDIO! It’s not hard at all. It is somewhat messy because you have to use your palms. You can use thin latex or rubber gloves. I like the wet paint in my hand feel. Soap tales care of all of it. Don’t forget to clean that paintbrush. Just soak it overnight in dish soap, as long as you are using non oil paint. Use plain flat washable latex. The cheap stuff is fine due to the texturizing.
    Happy Holidays and I Wish Everyone The Most Prosperous Year Ever…. Peace….


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.