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Photography

Make, Find, and Improvise: Creative Backgrounds For Still Life and Macro Photographs

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This post is part of a series called Macro Photography.
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There’s a huge craze for adding textures to macro and still life photographs. Whilst there are a wealth of resources online, it’s always nice to create something yourself and get it ‘in shot’ so that you’re not having to add it in post-processing. With a little creativity you can create something quite nice for very little outlay. Here I’ll outline some of the cheapest and easiest and show you their results.

Glitter

Glitter, when out of focus, makes for great bokeh. This one is dead-simple to do: just sprinkle some glitter in the background of your set-up! When you focus on the item in the foreground you’ll get beautifully soft, diffuse, and sparkly highlights from the glitter.

Glitter Bokeh
Glitter makes wonderful bokeh and adds interest to any photo [photo: Marie Gardiner]

The base in this photo was some shiny corrugated card which helped reflect the glitter and light, creating a pleasing gradient of red to white. Lights have the same effect, so if you’re doing fairly close up stuff, try a string of fairy lights in the background, it works wonders.

Wallpaper

You don’t have to buy rolls of wallpaper to do this. Go into a wallpaper shop, find a few designs that you like and ask for samples. They should cut you off a square of a decent size which is perfect for macro and smaller still life shots.

Wallpaper Samples
Wallpaper samples are given freely in most stores

The possibilities are endless with this. There are endless patterns and colours of wallpaper available. It doesn’t have to be wallpaper either, wrapping paper also makes a suitable background and is available in much larger quantities for a smaller price.

Stick your paper to the wall using White-Tac (this tends to cause less marking and damage than Blu-Tac), as below.

Wallpaper set up
Set up your shot by sticking the wallpaper to a wall

Plain colours are great for adding tone to a picture and taking away any distracting marks that might be on walls.

Wallpaper background reult
Here you can see the result using a plain, textured piece of wallpaper [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Patterned designs can really add to an image, especially if it’s otherwise lacking colour.

Patterned background
The background here helps bring interest to the image and it's stark whites [photo: Marie Gardiner]

Small Textures, Big Effects

Looking for interesting textured surfaces to use for still life photos is a lot of fun. It’s surprising how many people pass up a funky textured background just because it looks dirty or grungy! When lookinf for found backgrounds, don't overlook the worn and weathered. Grunge can be a great look, especially if you contrast it with something quite sweet. The key with a textured background is to use the character of the background to emphasize qualities in the object you are photographing.

Walls

All kinds of found surfaces can make for a great, grungy textured background. Use outside walls of your home for rough brick and stone textures. Try sheds and outbuildings for a wooden look. For an indoor solution, try an old wooden table on its side. 

Hessian Bag

This one was a great find for me. I was looking for a background to suit a ‘bakery’ theme still life I wanted to do but couldn’t find anything suitable. I noticed a hessian shopping bag in one of our cupboards and a little light bulb appeared above my head! I cut it so the front and bottom were one long strip and it meant I could use it as a ‘floor’ and background for my scene. These bags are affordable to pick up from the supermarket and you can use them again and again. Depending on where you are, bags like this might be made of jute, hemp, or another rough and fibrous material.

Hessian bag background
This Hessian shopping bag was perfect for adding muted colour and texture to my idea [photo: Marie Gardiner]

The texture and colour fitted my theme perfectly and as you can see, I used a real slice of bread, too. You really can create a background from anything!

Backgrounds, Backgrounds, Everywhere

There are so many inexpensive ways to make really creative backgrounds. Freebies are great so don’t be afraid to ask for samples of things to use; bargain remnant boxes in craft shops and haberdashery stores are good to rummage in too. Glitter and fairy lights make great bokeh but so does dewy grass or cobwebs and those things are free. Some backgrounds take a little more patience to find and get right, but reap great rewards. Use items you already have, and don’t discount walls, tables, books or even food; although if you’re going to throw it around, I’d think twice about eating it afterwards!

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