When it comes to money I make sure to spare as much as possible for stuff that matters. Don’t get me wrong backdrops matter a lot. But in my humble opinion, there are so many choices for free or really cheap backdrops that there’s no need to go for expensive stuff. I’d much rather spend money on quality ingredients or a good photography lens than a backdrop because as you’ll see in this article, cheap backdrops are all around us. You’ll probably find at least five immediately after you finish reading this.
Let’s dive right into it! Where can you find all the cheap stuff I’m talking about? Here are some of the cheap backdrops I use…
1. Reclaimed Wood
We all love the texture of wood. It adds such a nice rustic character and warmth to a photo. I really only have two reclaimed wooden pieces that were used by my dad at his construction job, but I can tell you those are my two favorite pieces. Whenever I have a very homey dish I resort to a reclaimed wood because it adds a lovely story to my images.
The beauty of reclaimed wood is that it naturally has desaturated hues which are perfect for food photography. New wood often has a very orangey saturated colors not very fit for food photography.
Many times people want to get rid of the old wood and they’ll give it for free or a few bucks
These days you can get tiles that are HUGE! I’ve seen tiles measure 1x1m!!!
What is more, you can get tiles for really cheap. I paid 10€ (about 11$) for the tile below. It measures 60x60cm and I love working with it because it is very easy to clean, looks beautiful and it really isn’t that heavy.
One thing to look for when tile shopping is matte finnish. Luckily it’s the era of matte tiles so that’s not really a huge issue 🙂
3. Fabric Backdrops
I love how versatile fabric backdrops are. So many options here:
- table cloths
- tea towels
- bed linen
- old clothes
- fabric scraps
One thing to look for in a fabric that you use for food photography is texture. Some of the best options are linen, lace, wool or anything with thick weave or interesting texture or pattern.
Although fabric such as linen is not cheap per se, you can get smaller pieces such as teatowels or napkins for a very good price.
4. Old Metal Trays
If you were thinking of throwing out your old baking trays think again! They are one of the most beautiful and most inexpensive backdrops. The more scratched and stained the better 😀 I bet your grandma has a bunch of them just waiting to be photographed. Second-hand shops are perfect for buying metal trays. Look for vintage trays with scratches, patina, and textures that are not too shiny. One extra plus is that metal trays can be used from both sides and chances are the two sides look completely different. So you got two backdrops in one. WIN!
But here’s the trick. You can make any new baking tray look used. With a bit of experimenting, some baking and scratching you can make your own old metal tray. Stay tuned for a tutorial!
It doesn’t get cheaper than paper. Look around your house and try to find paper like:
- baking paper
- paper bags
- scrap paper
- wrapping paper
- old photographs
I love to crumple up baking paper or paper bags to add some texture oherwise they make look a little flat.
When using newspaper, old photographs or wrapping paper with a very distinctive pattern, make sure they are in line with the story you want to portray and don’t overshine our main subject.
6. Vinyl Backdrops
Even though I don’t use vinyl backdrops, I have a few good ones. My absolute favorite is my vinyl marble backdrop. Marble is SUPER expensive and not to mention it’s also very heavy.
When you’re buying vinyl make sure they are matte because they can cast strange reflections when shot from the side. I mostly use them for flatlays, because I like my backdrops to have some sort of texture and shooting from the side makes it quite obvious that the vinyl is flat. For marble that’s not really important as it is flat anyway. But I’m careful about using vinyl backdrops with motives that scream texture but are otherwise flat.
7. DIY Backdrop
Making your own food photography backdrop does take a little time, but you can have whatever you need in the size that you need. And it’s really cheap!
All you need is some plywood or some sort of similar wooden board, some paint, a brush or a sponge and maybe some tile grout for extra texture. If you’re interested in making your own backdrop but not sure how to start, keep an eye on an article in the near future. I’ve got you covered! But just to show you a few of mine that I made using different techniques.
UPDATE: To learn how to make your own DIY backdrop head over to my YouTube.
8. Food and Unusual Objects
I’m pretty sure that you can find some unusual objects around the house that would make perfect backdrops. Look for interesting colors, shapes, textures, patterns, anything that would make your food pop.
And food! Food is a great backdrop for food. When it makes sense. Think about the dish you’re shooting and if there are any ingredients that would look great placed under your subject. Some ideas are greens, sugar, flour, spices…
Now go off and find some cheap food photography backdrops
Hopefully, I’ve inspired you to look for new interesting backdrops that don’t cost a fortune. In the flood of perfect shots, we (including me!) tend to think ‘Oh, I don’t have enough backdrops or enough fancy props’ but the reality is that you can use what you’ve got already. When you’re feeling constrained and challenged the most beautiful things will come out.
When I’m writing this in May 2019 I own a total of two reclaimed wooden backdrops, two two-sided backdrops that I made myself, a tile, a small wooden backdrop that I made from new wood and colored it and three vinyl backdrops. This is not a lot, but I can get so so many different styling with them when I’m combining them with other cheap backdrops that I mentioned in this article. I also don’t have a ton of props, but I can manage. What’s gonna make you a good photographer is understanding the light, your subject, composition, styling the dish… not the props you own!