Make a Distressed Wood Photo Backdrop

How to Make an Antiqued Wood Photo BackdropI love using textural backgrounds when taking styled photos of food, DIY projects, and other fun things I do as a blogger. A textured table adds so much interest to a simple setup, and when done right, won’t pull attention from the subject. But not all of us have gorgeous textured tables in our homes, and if you’re like me, you might get tired of shooting all of your photos on the same ol’ dining room table.

When I started blogging for A Beautiful Mess, I whipped up a textural white backdrop that I really enjoy using to photograph many of my projects, particularly the process shots. I love how the white bounces light so nicely, and I really enjoy the clean, airy feeling that a light background lends to a photo. The problem with white backgrounds though, is that they can easily make a photo feel cold and lack interest. I usually don’t want my photos to look like sterile catalog images, so I steer clear of using plain white foam board or poster board to style my photos. The background that I had been using has some texture to it, but I recently decided it would be nice to have an even more textural backdrop to inject extra warmth in my photos— particularly for the upcoming holiday season!

This textural photography backdrop is pretty easy to make, and if you’re a food blogger, DIY blogger, or photographer, it’s an invaluable prop to have! Check out how I made it below.

How to Make an Antiqued Wood Photo BackdropSupplies:
-planks of wood (I made my old one with pallet wood, and this one with 3 1″ x 6″ x 8′ cedar planks cut into 36″ lengths.)
-2 long planks of lightweight wood long enough to reach across the planks of wood (I had 1 1″ x 2″ x 8′ plank of pine cut in half for this.)
-wood stain (optional)
-petroleum jelly (not pictured)

-power drill
-drill bits and countersink bit (optional)
-paint brush
-metal spatula
-sandpaper in 80-120 grit (optional)
-paper towels or a rag (not pictured)

photo backdrop for food photographyThis project can be made according to whatever size you need. Food photographers could get by with a smaller board, but I needed a larger board for my projects. You can use less boards and make them longer instead of several shorter boards like I did, but I like this setup for shooting portrait-oriented shots (which I typically do). I’ll share more about orienting your subject on backdrops someday soon, and it might make more sense to you then! But basically, I like horizontal lines on my styling surfaces so there aren’t distracting angles/distortion in the vertical lines of the planks as they head towards the vanishing point. Horizontal lines on the board will make the vanishing point lines less obvious in a photo.

Step One: Lay out the wood planks beside each other, allowing for small gaps between each one. You should sand them first, then lay the stretchers across the planks, situating them at the edge of the planks. This will allow you to use both sides of the board as a backdrop in different colors.

How to Make a Wooden Photo BackdropStep Two: Connect the stretchers to the planks.

If you’re using wood screws, first drill pilot holes into the wood and use a countersink bit to recess the screws. Countersinking the screws will keep them from scratching whatever surface you place the backdrop on. That’s also why I recommend using soft wood for the stretchers.

If you’re using sheet metal screws, be careful not to screw them in too far. They can drill their own pilot holes, which means if you keep pushing, they will keep going through the wood and out the other side, becoming jammed into your stretchers in the process. Sheet metal screws are advantageous though, because they can be recessed without needing to use a countersink bit first.

how to distress paintStep Three: Stain or paint the wood in whatever color you’d like to show through the top coat of paint.

I wanted a rich wood color and a rough texture, so I used cedar planks, which are more rough sawn than the other wood at the store. (Reclaimed pallets are great for this project for that reason.) Cedar has a rich color to it, so the flip side of my backdrop will give my photos a wonderfully warm backdrop. I used natural stain on the cedar because, in my opinion, it doesn’t need a stain with any tint to it. Different types of wood display the same stain differently, so make sure you consider that when selecting stain.

How to distress paintNow that you’ve made the base of your backdrop, it’s time to distress it! This is a great technique for any wood project that you’d like to give the look of aged paint.

distressed paint techniqueStep Four: Wipe a generous amount of petroleum jelly on any part of the wood you’d like to be distressed. I focused on the area where the planks meet, and also randomly wiped some in streaks across the planks.

Step Five: Paint the board with two coats of paint or until no more wood tones show through. Do not use primer— you want the paint to come off easily in the next step.

distressed paint techniqueStep Six: After the paint has cured for at least a few hours, you can begin scraping it with a metal spatula to remove the paint. I focused on the areas where the planks meet (where I had put the petroleum jelly), and then lightly scraped across the surface of each plank. Paint would easily come off where I had put the jelly.

After scraping the wood, I sanded some spots across the planks with a rough sandpaper. I didn’t want to overdo it, but I did want to reveal some of the wood tones underneath without stripping off the paint completely with the spatula.

How to Make an Antiqued Wood Photo BackdropTake some pictures with your new backdrop, and if you’re not satisfied with the paint job, you can add more paint or take more away. It’s a very forgiving process! You may want to seal it with a matte polyurethane to avoid more peeling of the paint— but that’s up to you! I suggest not using a shiny sealer though, or you’ll get glare in your photos.

When you’re finished, why not flip over the backdrop and do a paint or stain treatment on the other side? I haven’t done the reverse side of mine yet, but I’m thinking I’ll do something with a really dark stain and black paint for some moodier photos.

How to Make an Antiqued Wood Photo BackdropNow that I’ve been using wood plank surfaces for my photos, I couldn’t imagine my blogging life without them! They’re definitely worth the bit of effort to create, and yes— they’re even worth the bit of storage they take up in my coat closet! What color would you paint your backdrop? –Mandi

P.S. The ingredients shown in the first picture go together to make my very favorite cocktail! Check out the recipe here at my personal blog.

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Stella and Valentine of the Signature Collection.

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