A great way to take more interesting photos for up-close objects is to use a background that gives your objects character. I’m obsessed with the look of wooden backdrops for close-up photography. For my Etsy Shop I have used books, antique trays, quilts, and other larger objects as backgrounds and props for photos. But I’m loving the simplicity of just a wood surface as the backdrop to really feature a product.
I had previously taken a local class at Board & Brush where I learned some techniques to make a wood sign. (Side note: If you haven’t yet gone, you need to find a Board & Brush near you for a great night out crafting with girlfriends!) Some of the techniques I learned there helped me to create the wood backdrop that I wanted to use for photography. So I did a little research, sketched and measured what size I wanted, and took a trip to Home Depot for supplies.
Messy Disclaimer: This project can and will get messy, but if you are looking for some creative crafting and making something with your hands, this is a great project to dive in.
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Materials & Tools:
- 1×3-8ft common board: 3 boards cut into 30-inch pieces to end up with 9 pieces
- 1×3-8ft common board: 1 board cut into 22-inch pieces to end up with 4 pieces
- Sandpaper, coarse finish (I also used a 3M sanding block to hold the sand paper)
- Wood Stain (I used Varathane Fast Dry Wood Stain in Dark Walnut)
- Old T-shirt or other light cotton fabric
- Latex gloves
- Flat White Paint (I used Glidden Premium Interior Paint & Primer, but I would suggest to use any flat white paint in the sample size for a cheap option)
- Paint brushes (I used two different sizes – 2” long bristle, 4” short bristle)
- 1 ¼ inch wood screws (I used 18 screws for this project)
- Power drill
Time & Cost:
This project took me about 3-4 hours to complete and I finished it within a couple days, but it can be done in one evening. The cost of this project was about $35 to purchase the wood, sandpaper, wood stain, latex gloves, white paint, and screws.
Tips Before Starting:
TIP #1: Be sure to pick out boards that are flat and don’t have a bow or curve in them. You will want flat, straight boards. Sometimes they are not straight from sitting on the shelf for a long time or be a bad cut of wood. You can test this by closing one eye, setting one end of the board on the floor and lining up the other end with your eye that is open. Look down the longest side with the smallest width (thin, long side) to see if the board is bowed. You can also turn the board to the wide, long side to see if the board is curved. I would recommend viewing the board in both directions along the longest sides to be sure you are purchasing straight boards.
This video demonstrates how to check your boards at the 3:40 minute mark. Check it out to see a quick demo of how to look for bows and curves in your board.
TIP #2: If you don’t have a saw at home, be sure to have your boards cut at the hardware store when you purchase them. I bought mine at Home Depot and they cut the boards for me in the store for free.
TIP #3: The boards I used are called 1×3 boards. What I learned that a 1×3 board (and most other boards) are not the exact measurements of the name of the board. I would have expected the size of my boards to be 1-inch by 3-inches. However, it was actually ¾-inches by 2½-inches.
1) Pick the Board Layout
The first thing you should do is lay out your boards and choose which side you’ll want to display. I aligned the 9 boards that were cut to 30 inch pieces and marked the back with a number at the bottom to remember the order. Then I laid down the two brace boards to be sure that they fit across the span of the main boards. (This is where I realized that the main boards didn’t measure the exact size that I expected – see TIP #3)
2) Add Texture to the Boards
Up next is adding texture to your boards. (Bonus: This part will also provide you with stress relief therapy.) Get your hammer and start to beat up your boards. Use the front, side, and back of your hammer and give your boards some character. Don’t be afraid to go wild, you will soften up the marks in the next step if you get too aggressive 🙂
3) Sand and Smooth Hard Edges of the Boards
Next you will want to take a rough grade of sandpaper and smooth down the surfaces that will be treated later with stain and paint. Be sure to sand down the hard edges – sides, top, and bottom – and the entire front face. You won’t need to sand the back of the board where you marked the number since that won’t be stained or painted.
4) Clean the Boards
After you’ve sanded down your boards, wipe them down with a dry cotton cloth to remove the excess dust. Now the boards are ready to be stained.
5) Stain the Boards
Now let’s get to staining those boards. Be sure to wear gloves during this part or the stain will be hard to get off your hands. If you get stain on your hands, you can wash it off with an abrasive soap scrub like GoJo. To apply the stain to the board, I used old white t-shirts cut into small sections. (I keep a few of my husband’s old shirts on hand and use them as rags or for projects).
Shake the can to be sure the stain is mixed before opening it. You can either pour some into another small container or dip right into the can. I prefer to pour some into a separate container so that I don’t knock over an entire can of stain or paint.
Using a piece of the cotton shirt, I ball it up slightly and dip it into the stain. I squeeze it out lightly and start wiping it across the board. You want to get an even coat as you continue to apply the stain to the wood. As you go, you will learn the amount necessary to dip each time. You also don’t have to worry about putting too much on, because you will continually wipe the board back and forth. Use the cloth to wipe up the excess stain and even out the color. Be sure to stain the top, bottom, sides, and front side of the board. You won’t need to stain the back side of each board since they won’t be visible. This should be done for all 9 main boards and the 2 back brace boards as well.
6) Let Stain Dry on the Boards
Let the stain dry for 30 minutes to 1 hour before moving to the next step. If you’ve used a light coat, it may take less time to dry. But if you used a lot of stain, then you should wait until the board doesn’t feel tacky or look shiny. I used a fast dry stain, so they were dry in about 15 minutes.
7) Screw the Boards Together
After your boards are dry from the stain, you will screw them together before painting. This will help to keep your paint even across all the boards and you won’t have to wait for the paint to dry to screw the boards together.
I like to look at the boards all face up before I screw them together in case I want to change the order. If you do this, be sure to put them in the opposite order when you flip them over. So if you marked them in order from left to right as 1 through 9, you will put them in the opposite order when upside down from 9 to 1.
Also, my boards were not exactly even across the bottom and top, which is fine. You can add more character by pushing them slightly higher and lower for each board back and forth to create uneven edges.
After you’ve turned your boards upside down, then you will lay the one brace board upside down about 1/4 of the way down from the top and the other 1/4 of the way up from the bottom. Be sure to push all the boards together so they are flush with each other.
Starting with one brace board, you will use a drill to screw the brace board to the main board. Each brace board will have 9 screws. After you’ve completed one brace board, do the same with the other brace board. As you drill in each screw, be sure that the bottom of the base board and the back of the main board are also flush with each other. If they aren’t, undo your screw about halfway and hold the boards closer together and screw the boards back together.
8) Paint or Whitewash the Boards
Now your backdrop is really coming together and it’s time to paint, or whitewash, your board. You can leave your board with just the stain if you don’t want the whitewash look. Sometimes, a nice rich brown wood backdrop is beautiful depending on what you like to photograph.
For this project I wanted to continue with a white paint over the stain. I used a flat white paint and did a test on an extra piece of wood. I had seen on some blogs two different methods of painting boards. One way is to mix 1 part paint with 1 part water (see the left side of the photo below) and use that as a true whitewash. The other way was to do the “dry brush” with a small amount of paint for a lighter look (see the right side of the photo below). I tested both methods on some spare boards and compared the two. I preferred the look of the dry brush method.
To dry brush I put a small amount of paint in a tupperware and dipped my brush in at the ends. Before applying the paint, I wiped the brush on the edge of the cup multiple times so there was very little paint on the brush. I then lightly brushed the paint on each board. I made sure to get all of the edges. Because it’s a dry brush technique I had to dip my brush in the paint frequently, but that is normal. This coat of paint should be very light and intentionally uneven. It will dry within a few minutes after applying the coat.
I wanted to continue with more layers of paint, but also wanted a slight hue of tan. So I added more layers by alternating dry brushing white paint, then an extremely light coat of stain. When adding the layer of stain, I used only a small amount of stain, and immediately wiped off the excess with a dry cloth. This helped me achieve the look and color I wanted with each added layer.
After doing 4 coats, alternating dry brush paint and a light stain, I wanted to do one last coat. I mixed a small amount of stain and white paint together. I used the same dry brush technique and added some random solid brush lines to give it more of a rustic look.
And you’re done!
Let the board dry overnight to be sure it’s not tacky before setting anything on it. After all was said and done, I really loved the look and color that I had achieved from alternating the layers.
Staining and painting boards can seem like a lot of work, but the final result will be worth it! Don’t be afraid to test different methods as you paint the boards and always keep your scrap wood for practice! Each time you do this project, you can create a different look and even use different paint colors!
Let me know how the project turned out for you, have you tried something similar? What paint colors or stains did you try? Have you tried any other methods to create the backdrop? I’d leave to hear your experiences!
Until then, lead your best creative life today 🙂