How to make your own real wooden backdrop
For as long as I've been a studio photographer, I've been longing for a real wood distressed backdrop. I have plenty of vinyl wood-effect printed drops, click-together laminate boards coming out of my ears, but it's not the real thing.
Having a tiny home studio, space has always been an issue and has been the thing putting me off going for real wood in the past. How would I fix it to the wall? Where would I store it if I didn't? Would I have to build a platform for the floor? I want dark antique aged wood and also white shabby wood - how could I have both? ARGH! the questions went round and round in circles until one day it dawned on me - I could have double-sided wood!
In this post, I am going to show you exactly how I created my real wood reversible background and how you can too:
This backdrop is so easy to create and I can't get over how effective it looks! I hope you enjoy this tutorial:
STEP 1: SOURCE YOUR WOOD
I searched and searched for real antique wood but just couldn't find any I was happy with. Sure, it looked BEAUTIFUL but it was pricey and most importantly I didn't think it would be safe: Many lots of antique boards I checked out locally and on eBay were splintering, had hidden nails or were in poor condition.
I wasn't comfortable using those around newborns or children as I knew I'd have to spend a lot of time safeguarding the wood (sanding, removing nails, making sure the damp was treated... ) and I don't have time for that. Plus, they were so heavy!
So instead, I went for untreated pine boards from the local DIY store.
These are great as they are really lightweight and also untreated, meaning they can be easily stained. They are sanded and smoothed to size so there are no splinters. I measured my space and chose 7 tall (for the wall) and 7 shorter (for the floor).
I used 175cm lengths for the WALL and 120cm lengths for the FLOOR
Choose your width - I went for 20cm wide planks.
STEP 2: BUY YOUR DARK STAIN AND WHITE PAINT
For the dark stain, I used Coloron Wood dye in Jacobean Dark Oak. (£9.99) I was worried this may be a little red, but I think it's perfect. A couple of coats (plus some distressing) and it darkens up. You will need 2 of these (250ml)
For the white paint, I used plain old white matt emulsion.
*You could also use Rust-Oleum Chalky Furniture Paint. I have a chalk paint addiction. Annie Sloan would work equally as well. I have used this on top as an extra coat. I sealed with matte wax to make it lightly waterproof*
STEP 3: SET ASIDE 1.5 - 2 HOURS TO DISTRESS YOUR WOOD
The trick is to distress the wood in a natural way and create an antique, worn surface. This is also excellent for your staining, as the stain will appear a lot darker in the distressed areas.
I used a hammer to bash dents, a paint scraper to gouge out areas, a garden fork (I literally grabbed what was to hand in my garden) to pepper small holes and scratches, a screwdriver to make mini cuts... whatever you can lay your hands on.
I also made sure to hammer around the edges too so the wood, when lined up, looks even more aged.
#TIP: Watch out for tree-juice! Sap can leak out and it's mega sticky.
STEP 4: STAIN ONE SIDE DARK
Make sure you have some rubber gloves and an old rag to do this. Also, please work outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
Shake the stain LOTS and then open it. Pour a generous amount onto your rag and start to evenly & smoothly rub into the planks. Don't be shy - The more the better - you cannot over-do this part. Work it in well to the distressed areas. It dries very quickly, so by the time you've finished the last plank, your first will be dry and ready for a second coat if you feel the need for it (I did 2 coats for added darkness).
#TIP - add a little stain going around the back to the other side - this will leave some dark edges for your shabby white side tomorrow.
STEP 5: *The Next Day* PAINT THE OTHER SIDE WHITE
The next day, turn your boards over and paint them white with your white paint. I let some stain creep around the edges so I could shabby the wood up. This is entirely up to you - I like the shabby look. If you prefer a clean look, you want 2-3 coats of even white paint for a clean finish.
For a shabby finish, let the paint dry then lightly sand away at some corners/sides for a chic, retro antique feel.
Let it dry (4-6 hours, depending on the paint and the weather)
STEP 6: USING IN YOUR STUDIO
I have a long pole already attached to the wall in our studio, under the mounted backdrop system. This serves a double purpose - to store rolled backdrops neatly behind and also to clip the beanbag fabric on to when posing. Well, now it has a 3rd purpose - to hold my wooden backdrop safely in place!
*This lightweight metal pole is held safely in place with 2 very strong metal hooks drilled deep into the wall and sealed for extra measure. These were installed by a professional - please make sure your pole is safe if you go for the same setup. The wood is light weight, but can still fall forward if not sat safely behind a pole.
Here you can see a quick snap of the wood set up and then reversed, behind the wall pole:
I simply slide the tall wood planks up behind the pole, with the tops against the wall, but the bottoms jutting out further (about 15cm) so they are leaning back and not straight up against the wall.
This is an extra safety precaution as though the pole would protect them from falling, I also don't want them to try! So jut them back against the wall.
I use an excellent Non-Slip floor mat from IKEA £1.99 beneath the wood on the floor. On top of this, I place the floorboards. Even with me jumping and skidding they don't budge with the mat down. Win. Here it is below:
So now I can simply flip the boards over to go from White to Brown and back again!
If I want to store them away, I simply slide the floorboards up under the pole with the tall boards, as shown here:
*UPDATE: This post was originally from 2016 and this wood backdrop is still going strong - 4 years on and I use it most sessions!
Here are some SOC [Straight Out Of Camera] images of the backdrop in use:
So... That's it! Easy, beautiful and (most importantly) real and authentic. I hope this article helps inspire you to create something similar (please be safety conscious at all times including your DIY stage, how you install these in the studio environment and when posing babies & children on your new wood drop)
NEXT STEP - EDITING! Do you want to create stunning, consistent fine art edits in a fraction of the time? Click here to browse my award winning Photoshop Actions, Presets and Overlays for professional photographers at www.lsp-actions.com
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Chair is a posing pod by Little Prop
Blue Hydrangea flowers and bucket from the Range
White vintage-style enamel bowl by Newborn Baby Posing LTD
Dark Original Vintage Crate by Dutch Style Props
Basket stuffers - wet felt made by me