Twice a month we revisit some of our reader favorite posts from throughout the history of Phototuts+. This tutorial was first published in May of 2010.
When focusing on a very specific subject, the last thing you want is a background full of distractions. Studio photography allows you to control every single aspect of the picture, and that's where a white background comes handy. A smooth white background and some carefully positioned lighting will really help achieve great results. Today we'll explain how to create your own!
What we want to build is simple: a crisp and smooth white surface, without any angles and bumps. It also needs to be cheap to build, very light and hopefully quick to put together. It will have some limitations of course, for example the size will only allow you to shoot small objects. But how big you make it is entirely up to you.
Step 1: Choose Materials, Plan Carefully
Now that we have a clear idea of what we want, we need to lay it down. This will serve as reference during the project and ensure we don't miss any details.
For this build I would recommend using timber as the frame material. It's cheap, light and your local DIY shop should have plenty of different sizes and thickness for you to choose from. Even better, you might be able to recycle some unused furniture. I had a shoe rack hanging around built with thin wooden bars. After taking it apart I ended up with 7 pieces, a bit longer than what I need, which was perfect.
The fixings for the frame will come from left-over Ikea screws and nails. Again I wanted to use as many recycled materials as possible but you can always get some screws, glue or nails for your favourite DIY shop. If you go for screws or nails, choose carefully: too long and they will hang out with a great risk of injuries. Too short and the fixations will not be strong enough.
For the white panel, I went to my local art shop and bought A1 size (594 mm x 841 mm), 1.5 mm thick, snow white cardboard. The extra thickness, compared to a normal paper sheet, will provide a more stable surface and will prevent the background from getting fold marks easily.
The tools you need will be pretty basic and depend on the fixation method you choose: screwdriver/hammer/brush (for the glue), a saw to cut the timber, meter/square, and a pencil. Before getting started, find a place with enough space and remember to protect the cardboard at all times!
Step 2: Measure and Cut
First we need to cut the timber to the right dimensions. Three pieces need to be the same length as the width of the cardboard, minus twice the thickness of the timber. This means that when they are put together, the width will be exactly the same as the width of the cardboard.
In my example, those three shorter bars are 580 mm long (my timber is 7mm thick, so 594 - (7*2) = 580mm).
Then we have the two longer parts forming the base, cut at 700 mm or roughly 3/4 of the cardboard length.
Finally the two bars forming the back of the frame, cut at 450mm long. The height really depends on the size of your cardboard and the curve you want, but I think a good ratio would be around half of the cardboard length. At this point you should also give all the bars a good rub with some sandpaper. That will provide a better finish, but more importantly get rid of the small splinters.
Step 3: Assemble Base
Position your four timbers, two long, two short, on the floor to get a good overview of the structure.
Fix the two short ones on one side and make sure the corners are square. Fix the other side at the free end of the short ones. Leave some space on one side of the structure, as shown in the picture below. This will be used later on to support the back of the frame.
To give you an idea of the dimensions in mine, the first bar is fixed at 25mm and the second one at 510mm on the long ones. Where you fix them will change the curve of cardboard.
To strengthen the frame you can also add small bars in the corners. Here I have added two in two opposite corners. Four would make it even stronger. You can use some of the cuts from earlier with a 45 degree angle at each ends.
Step 4: Assemble Back on Base
The back is based on three pieces of timber, two short, one long, fixed in the bottom corners of the base. It is important to get square corners when fixing the back to the base so make sure you double check that.
Step 5: Add Some Support
We could of course stop here, because the structure has got everything it needs to hold our cardboard. However, some additional support on the back will ensure it will stay in place for a while.
Again, using cuts from earlier, I made two bars with 45 degree angles at each end and fixed them to the back and the base like shown below. That should provide us with a strong frame on which we can fix the cardboard.
Step 6: Fix the Background
The last part is very easy - we just need to place the cardboard on the frame and hold it in place. For the cheap and easy option, use pins. Not pinned through the cardboard, they just serve as stops, hence we can remove the cardboard easily without damaging it. The fold in the cardboard gives it structure and hold it in place.
If everything goes according to plan you should have something that looks very similar to the following:
Here are a few test shots I took:
If you feel confident with your DIY skills here are a few ideas for improvements:
- Stronger frame: reinforce every corner to get a very rigid structure with sharp angles.
- Add lights: as I said at the beginning, good lighting is very important. You can fix some lights and reflectors on the top part of the frame. Even better, turn the frame into a cube by adding two sides to the structure.
- Folding: once completed, it is not the easiest thing to store and if it could be folded in half it would be great, wouldn't it?
- Bigger: of course here, size matters. To be able to shoot larger items you will need a bigger structure and a larger background.
That's it for the DIY! I hope many of you will give it a go. If you do, please do share the pictures of your finished background in the comments.
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