Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Simple DIY Flower Backdrop

Photos of flowers are a great way for new shooters to learn about photography. They are beautiful to look at, they stay in one place without complaint and there is a sense of accomplishment when you get a print worthy of hanging on your wall.

Last week I shared five flower photography points to be aware of. You may read this and think the information is more common sense than useable tips but you would be surprised how easy it is to forget them. So rather than hash over the basics I thought I'd share a very simple, easy to make and easy to transport backdrop for your flower photos.

As I mentioned in the above post, some flowers look their best when they are isolated from their background. Typically a white or black background work best but other colors can be used depending on your needs. Obviously you would shoot light colors against black and vise versa. The image to the left was taken against a black background. I should have used a white one as they would have made the flowers stand out more but I was in a hurry and I only had my black card with me. Anyhow...

The set up is easy. You will need two large plastic spring loaded 'A' clamps, a sheet of white poster board and a sheet of black foam cored presentation board. I got mine at the local Wal-Mart. You can also find them at office and art supply stores (Staples, Michaels, A.C.Moore, Hobby House). The foam board comes 20" by 30" and is just under 1/4" thick. I found the clamps at Ocean State Job Lot but they can be had inexpensively at Odd Lots or any hardware store (Lowes, Home Depot, Ace).

To prepare the board glue the poster board to one side of the foam board. A spray adhesive is easiest. If you use liquid glue make sure you cover the board completely and smooth out the air bubbles. Let dry overnight.

The materials are inexpensive and, when dry, I cut the board into four sections of different sizes. The diagram here shows the typical way I cut the sheet. The resulting sizes are; one 1/2 sheet at 15"x20", one 1/4 sheet at 10"x15" and two 1/8 sheets at 7.5"x10" pieces. The 1/4 and 1/8 sheet sizes are the most common ones I use as they are easiest to carry. Of course you can cut any of these further as needed (or leave at full size). For example, if you don't need the half sheet size just cut it in half for two additional quarter sheets. They make a very convenient and usable size.

The nice thing about these sections of foam board is that they can be used for so much. Use one piece as a backdrop and a second as a light blocker. Simply hold the card over your flower like an umbrella to reduce glare. Use one card for background and the white side of another as a reflector to remove shadows. You can even use them to help block a breeze.

To use this set up take you half or quarter sheet and clamp two 'A' clamps at the bottom corners (see image at left). I clamp them at a slight angle downward so it creates rudimentary legs. The spread of the clamp handles plus their weight makes the foam board stand up behind your subject. Keep in mind that the larger the board the easier it is for a breeze to knock it over. The good thing is you can use rocks as weights on the clamps.

For best results you need to keep two things in mind. First, try to give some space between your subject and the background. This will help blur the texture of the card. Second, depending on the card's color, you will need to pay attention to the card's orientation. When you use the white side angle the board so light is hitting it fairly strongly. This will help turn the card white (remember your 18% gray theory). The opposite applies to the black card. Keeping it shaded helps reduce the grayness. For best results tilt the white card up to the sky and the black card down to the ground.


An alternative to gluing a white card to a black board is to purchase an all white foam core board and a can of matt black spray paint (or any color of your choosing). Paint one side of the white board for a two toned background card.

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