Tutorial! DIY Photography Backdrop

I have to be honest... I really thought painting a photography backdrop would be much more difficult and expensive. After reading several tutorials online, the folks giving the instructions made it sound really hard! But, I have to admit, I found it to be extremely easy. If I had to put my finger one why it was easy for me and difficult for them, I'd say it's because I am a painter by trade (ha!) and they are photographers... There's a comfort/confidence element there.

So here's what happened.

I got in touch with my local mom's group, offering a trade-for-service with a photographer... take some nice, pro-photos of my work, and in exchange I'll paint you a custom backdrop! ReneeK Photo took me up on my offer and took some truly beautiful photos of my work. In return, I painted her a backdrop as promised.. some "spring clouds."

Anyway, given that I thought painting the backdrop was pretty simple and easy, I thought I'd share my method here!

Supplies (purchased at Home Depot):

Est Total: $79-107

STEP 1: Prepare your workspace

Find a large, open floor space to work. Make sure the space is well ventilated... there shouldn't be a lot of fumes, but the more you can air out the space, the better.

Move furniture as needed. Your space needs to have a foot or two of space beyond the perimeter of your 6x9' canvas, so that you can walk around it.

Lay out your plastic dropcloth, securing it to the floor with painters tape.

STEP 2: Prepare your canvas

Spread out your canvas dropcloth on top of the plastic dropcloth. Starting on one short end, duct tape down two of the corners, tugging gently to keep the canvas flat, but not too taut. Add one more strip of duct tape to the middle of the edge between the two corners.

Repeat the above taping on the other short end of the canvas dropcloth, starting on the corners, and then the middle, tugging gently.

Tape down the long sides with 2 strips of about 12" of duct tape on each side.

Here's a picture of my cute baby "helping" out. You can see how I prepared the space. (Prior to taping down the canvas)

STEP 3: Prime the canvas

Pour some about half of your primer into the roller pan. Assemble the roller/cage/extension pole. Starting in one corner, and working your way left to right, top to bottom, roll the primer onto your canvas until the entire canvas is covered. Be sure to cover all the way to the edges... we'll deal with the spots covered by the tape later.

STEP 4: Twiddle your thumbs

Yeah... wait til the paint dries. Take a nap. Take a bath. Eat some lunch.

Do what you gotta do to pass the time.

STEP 5: Paint your masterpiece!

Use a separate brush for each color you're going to use. Again, work left to right, top to bottom. Since you're using latex/acrylics paints, which dry fairly quickly, you'll want to work in relatively small areas... It's unlikely you'll be able to work in large layers and be able to get any kind of blended effect. I worked in about a 2'x2' area at a time. I painted spring clouds using a base white, light blue (idk, like a sky blue?), and a turquoise-y blue (Agua Fresco, I think it was called, or possibly Mermaid Treasure)

To get this effect, I loaded up my brush with a color and basically moved my brush around in smallish-medium circles. Sometimes this is called a "scrubbing motion." Don't be gentle.... "scrubbing" will give you that nice transparent look. Allow some areas to have more paint than others... this gives dimension.

Then I would grab the next brush, load it up with color, and do circles next to the last spot, moving towards it until the brush starts to grab the paint from the other color. Using the same swirly motion, move around the perimeter of the other color, letting your brush continue to grab the paint.

Repeat with as many colors as you like until the canvas is filled.

STEP 6: Touch-ups!

Carefully pull off the duct tape. The canvas will be pretty heavy with paint, so it shouldn't move around if you're careful. You'll have some cute little bald spots with no paint on them. I didn't bother with primer, I just went in with my colors on a smaller brush. I'm not a pro photographer, but I'm pretty confident that these edges won't be in the shots, so it doesn't need to be perfect. Better to not be naked, though.

This is also a good time to sneak in and brighten up a few spots that maybe look too muddy, such as white areas that may have gotten over-blended.

STEP 7: Watch cat videos

And by that, I mean wait some more.

STEP 8: Roller 'er up

I used a 7' long PVC pipe to roll up my canvas for easy storage. You don't want to fold it, because it will crease.

Here's something surprising you may not know: You should roll it up painted side out.

I know what you're thinking...

"But Bri!!! The painting might get marred or dirty or dragged through the mud! We must roll it up paint side IN to protect it!"

The reason you want to roll your canvas painted side out, is that acrylic/latex paint likes to stretch, but it does NOT like to contract. Therefore, if you roll it outwards, the paint will stretch a bit, but it will spring back to where it belongs... if you roll it inwards, the paint can smoosh and crack, and nobody wants that.

STEP 9: Take some pho-tos!

As I mentioned at the top of this here blog, the purpose of this photo backdrop was to trade services with ReneeK Photo... So I don't have it anymore and can't take pictures of it. HOWEVER, she did send me this lovely sneak peek!

When you're done gawking at this gorgeous cat and its beautiful striking eyes, please take a moment to notice the nifty cloud background. This may be a good time to point out that, although you may instinctively think that you only need two colors to paint clouds, the third color (the turquoise) actually adds a really nice dimension to it, a sense that there's a lighting source somewhere.

I am very pleased how this came out, and I hope that my tutorial is helpful to someone somewhere... Writing it all out makes me realize how much I do on intuition, drawing from previous training and years of aggregate skills that I didn't realize I had been honing. Ha.

Enjoy, and let me know if you'd like to read any more tutorials! Maybe next time I'll remember to take more pictures along the way :)

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