Home Depot Week: Backgrounds

This week we are working our way through the aisles of the Big Orange Store, but this stuff is not necessarily specific to Home Depot. Many of these things can be found at just about any big hardware store, and the idea is to think frugally and creatively when scrounging for lighting and photo gear.

I could spend all day wandering around a Home Depot or a Lowes store. So many possibilities: Hardware, lighting, backdrops, DIY supplies -- I get tingly just thinking about it.

Today, however, we are beginning in the paint aisle, looking for backdrops. HD has 'em in just about any size you want, only they call them drop cloths. These are washable canvas and they are dirt cheap.

How cheap? How 'bout under $10 for a 6x9-foot canvas?

More, including a link to a discussion on how to paint it and another way cool backdrop idea after the jump.

My photo "to-do" list is long, and growing. And one of the things on it is to paint a studio backdrop. I did one in college, and used it a lot. In fact, I got so much use out of it I had to pawn it off on another shooter, lest I become a 5'6" walking cliché of myself.

If you have the time and inclination, a roll-up painted backdrop is a no-brainer. $10 for canvas, $10 for paint and a coupla bucks for 2x2's at each end to form a roll-up structure. I'll be going into more detail on the process when I get a round tuit and make one, but no trip to Home Depot would be complete without passing by the bargain basement canvas backdrop aisle.

There is discussion on how to paint it here and more to be had if you do a little Googling. If you find a really good tutorial, throw us a bone in the comments.

Counter Culture

And here's another idea that's a little off the wall: What about counter-top laminate as a backdrop? I was looking at the selection in Big Orange and there were some very nice portrait backdrops if you think of those counters vertically.

They come in 4x8-foot sheets for about $50. I would mount them to a sheet of 1/2" MDF board and collect them, if I had a permanent studio space. Two holes drilled through at the top, and on one side, would make them very easy to temporarily mount via pegs in a wall.

Vertical for single portraits, and horizontal for group head-and-shoulders shots. (The 4x8' thing would be your limiting factor.)

Very durable, and pretty cheap. And the dark, shiny colors are great for those specular background shots.

And just to show you my sophisticated studio for shooting this kind of stuff, here's a setup shot:

My "light stand" came from the rag drawer, the soft box came from the printer (with a minimal amount of origami) and the flash is a 20-year-old SB-26. It was triggered using the slave mode from the on-board flash, which was gobo'd with my hand so it would not contribute to the lighting.


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Blogger matt said...

David -

I've been an avid reader for about 8 months now and I can't express how excited I am about this weeks segment. Just 2 days ago, I was walking through Lowe's and came across a clearance section of crazy shaped and colored glass lamp covers. I was very tempted to grab several of them and see what would come of it. It's really awesome how much you can do on the cheap with a home improvement store and a little imagination.


October 22, 2007 5:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another note on backgrounds, I'm planning a trip to my local home decorating store this week after realizing i can tear off enough wallpaper as a "sample" to make a perfect background for headshots and the likes.... and the choice is pretty impressive! Just have a good cover story lined up... just incase ;)


October 22, 2007 6:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible to tie dye this type of drop cloth?

October 22, 2007 7:33 AM  
Blogger Andy said...

... been using dropcloths for years as "muslins". They are very durable, can be blown out with speedlights for high key, dye well, paint well (!). Putting a big, heavy duty drop on the floor protects seamless paper where floors are uneven

Be careful. The bigger sizes have seams.

October 22, 2007 7:35 AM  
Anonymous Bill Giles said...

Another good source is eBay. I have picked up fabric remnants that make good backdrops. They range from shiny silk to upholstery.

October 22, 2007 8:32 AM  
Blogger wblj said...

I was wandering the aisles a week or so back doing exactly the same thing and came across a little display behind the windows section (almost as if it was abandoned by the loks of it) that has window films. I saw several the I thought might be cool so I picked up a flowery looking thing for $20. I also found a sheet of acrylic to stick the film to (I think around $8). These are 24x36, so, not likely big enough to be a full background. But, my thought was to have a flash shoot thru the film and then compose the frame with this as a part of it somewhere. They have stained glass looking film and flowers and other stuff. I tried a few shots with it and think it makes for something kinda cool.

October 22, 2007 9:15 AM  
Blogger Avlor said...

Super! This is totally up my alley! (BTW I use a 10' section of pvc and a few coat hooks to hang my sheet and "suede" curtain bgs.)

@Anon - love the wallpaper idea.

October 22, 2007 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Sharkey said...

After seeing your drop cloth shots on Flickr last week, I painted my own in the driveway yesterday (and am paying the price today with stiff muscles!). I used paint that was left over from projects around here, plus a couple colors from HD's "oops shelf."

Haven't used it in any shots yet, but I think it'll work great in a few weeks when I take photos at an animal rescue benefit event. Thanks for the idea!

October 22, 2007 11:00 AM  
Blogger GeoWulf said...

FYI - I always keep an eye out for clearance fabrics at the local WalMart. I've scored some interesting backdrops in 4x8 for under $3 on some days.

October 22, 2007 12:00 PM  
Anonymous Rob said...

In the UK I've been using dust covers as white backgrounds for a while. Though most come in a cream colour and rough woven they are usually sufficient to be used when you can bounce light off them.

Also if you're adventurous you can do tie dye with them!

They come in handy when your clients settee/recliner/furniture is a bit tatty.

October 22, 2007 12:01 PM  
Anonymous Madelien said...

Excellent ideas! I've thinking along the lines of getting a piece of vinyl to decorate my studio floor to make it more appealing. I'll probably go for a retro black&white tile pattern, to get a way from the same old seamless paper backdrop. As far as colours go, I still prefer to do that in PS, I fear. I do everything on white or grey seamless paper, and colour it in post-processing. Other plans involve 6x4 feet pieces of hardboard with retro wallpaper on it. But for that I will be needing my boyfriend's assistence (and car), and so far he has not been too keen on the idea of bringing large pieces of wood into the house...

By the way, isn't it funny how in that thread (from 2002), people are talking about getting the proofs back so they post examples? Boy, have we come a long way!

October 22, 2007 12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,

Just an edit - I'm pretty sure that sb-26 isn't 20 years old.


October 22, 2007 12:30 PM  
Anonymous John said...

If you have a local second hand store like Goodwill or Salvation Army, you can pick up some useful things very cheap. I've gotten some nice black velvet for covering an old posing table; an old kick drum cover for a small scrim; old sheets and blankets for back drops; etc.

October 22, 2007 12:54 PM  
Blogger Daron said...

I have a similar freebie macro background that fits in with this discussion-- I have a client who is an interior decorator and I snag her old samples. These give me various textures and colors to work with on small product shots.

October 22, 2007 1:36 PM  
Anonymous Terri Ann said...

This is fantastic! I was about to buy fabric from my local craft store for $30 that I would still have to dye, now for 1/3 the price I can get the job done! Can't wait to give it a shot later!

October 22, 2007 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Scotty said...

The Home Depot drop cloths take dye very well. I have dyed 2 12'x15' canvases so far. I used powdered dye by Rit, and it worked well. Just remember that the canvas is slightly brown, so you have to consider that with the colors you are dyeing. Browns and reds work well, but blues may take a couple of dye jobs to look right. I used 5 packages of dye to get the color dark enough. When you think it's deep enough to dye, add one or two more packs.

October 22, 2007 2:12 PM  
Blogger ixcski said...

Take a trip to a fabric store. You can often find some nice deals there. Nice muslin is $4.99 per yard in a 9 foot width. You can purchase as many yards as you want with no seams.

October 22, 2007 2:15 PM  
Blogger joshua said...

Here's a great link to how to tie-dye muslin backdrops... enjoy!


October 22, 2007 7:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For small portrait jobs such as those needed for a bulletin board or employee board, I have used the laminate sample chips (of the big 4X8 sheets mentioned in the article) that are about the size of a wallet size photo. I scan them into the computer, open them in Photoshop, blur as necessary to blend colors and then export the subject that I have extracted (PS Extraction tool) from an on-location shot with PS to the new background. Gives a nice look to a shot that was not done in a studio setting.

October 22, 2007 10:18 PM  
Blogger Daren said...

Hope the trip is going well. Inspired by the week's topic I hit the despot today and built a bit of kit for my "studio".

I'm calling it a compression pole, the device uses light spring pressure to hold a pole between your ceiling and the floor. This pole can hold up a backdrop or be used to mount other lightweight devices like flashes and reflectors. I wrote an instructable: http://www.instructables.com/id/Photo-studio-compression-pole-MK1/
...and should have video when Google lets it loose.

October 23, 2007 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great ideas here. One thing that I used to use in my crampt old apartment is roll up window shades. This blog inspired me to go out and pick a few up. My local Menards Home Improvement Store had some 6 ft x 6 ft shades, blue on one side, white on the other on closeout for $20. They also had the same size in hunter green/white. I didn't know anyone still made roll up window shades, but I am glad they do.

October 24, 2007 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Karen (Karooch from Scraps of Mind) said...

A very handy article. Thanks for all the cool tips. Gotta Stumble this one.

November 18, 2007 4:13 AM  
Blogger Steve Hebert said...

I just saw this for the first time. You are Brilliant.....

February 18, 2010 9:10 PM  

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