We interrupt your regularly scheduled recipe-binge to bring you a food photography tutorial! Food backgrounds can be hella expensive, but for the last couple years, I only ever use my own painted backgrounds or the barn wood I rescued from an antique shop. The beauty of painting your own is that you can pull whatever colors and tones complement the food you make most often and your style of photography.
Because I most often do dark and dramatic food photography, I use my marbled black and charcoal board with tiny hints of white most often. But I recently wanted something just a smidge lighter with more marbling that would help with the softer, more romantic photos I sometimes take. (Let’s face it. My love affair with cookies has gone on longer than my marriage, so of course that photo shoot is going to be romantic. Cookie boudoir. Annnnd now officially the weirdest food photography post you’ve ever read. #winning)
- A wood board. I prefer 2 feet by 3 feet and about 3/8″ thick.
- One sheet of sandpaper – 120-150 grit.
- Spare rag or cloth for wiping down the board.
- A large, porous sponge.
- Sample pots of a variety of paint colors.
- Trash bags or drop cloth to protect your work surface.
Step 1. Sanding.
After you’ve covered your work surface to protect it from both sawdust and paint, use your sandpaper to really smooth out all edges and corners. I’m constantly hauling my backgrounds around or adjusting them while shooting. You don’t want any splinters ruining your day.
After you’ve sanded all edges, use a spare rag to wipe away all of the saw dust so that you have a nice clean surface to work with.
Step 2. Paint Palette.
You can do one solid color or a variety of colors for a more varied, marbled effect. Try to choose colors with the same underlying tone to ensure they look good together. (A trick for doing this is choosing colors from the same column or row as your first paint sample at the hardware store.)
Open up each of your paint pots and pour little puddles onto your background board. I usually make two puddles on the board in opposite corners, so I have enough paint to cover the whole thing. Make sure to pour each of your colors into each puddle, so that when you start blotting, you get a mixture of colors. But do NOT stir them together or premix them.
Step 3. Sponge.
Use your big sponge and dab straight down into the puddle, just once. Then start blotting all over the board. When your sponge is running out of paint to blot, then return to the puddle, dab, and continue blotting all over the board. Make sure to grab from both puddles and blot all over the entire board in order to make sure that you’re evenly mixing the variety of colors.
When you blot the board, blot straight down and up. Do not smear or wipe (unless you’re going for that look). By not wiping, you will get a lovely texture that captures well on camera.
And a note on marbling. The longer you keep blotting all over the board, the more the colors will mix and the less marbling you will see. So if you like the marbled look where each of your colors peaks through in full force at random, then make sure that you don’t spend too long blotting them out. Below, you can see the progression through each photo as I continued blotting. There is no right or wrong place to stop – just stop when you’ve got the color you were going for!
If one color comes out on top and you were actually hoping for more of a different color, wait for the board to dry and then pour small puddles of that color all over the board. Repeat the blotting process until it’s more what you had in mind. (It’s important to let the board dry. If you add more paint on top of wet paint, it’s going to continue to blend and you won’t get more of the added color you want.)