Behind the Scenes - DIY surfaces and backgrounds

Disclaimer: Neither this post nor any products mentioned therein are affiliated with Young Living. Young Living does not endorse this post, and it was made solely for the benefit of DIY-ers interested in photography backdrops.

These last couple of weeks have been a fun mess at work.

I spent an entire weekend building some backdrops for a DIY photoshoot that we planned to put up on the Young Living blog. Home Depot became my second home for a few days (the garage was my first), as I traveled back and forth picking up supplies.

First on the agenda, I wanted to create an all-white setting. I achieved this in two parts, with a large white background, and white floorboards.  

White background: I wanted the background to look like an actual wall, so I figured that painting a surface with a flat white paint would be the best way to go. At Home Depot, I purchased a large 4 ft x 8 ft piece of birch. They have a few less expensive alternative, but I wasn't sure at the time if I wanted to stain it or not, and it has really beautiful grain.

As you can see, I had them cut the board into two parts, so I could use part of it as a smaller, solid surface.  Places that sell lumber will often cut them for you, and Home Depot is no exception, so keep that in mind when picking out your wood.

First things first, I sanded both pieces of wood on both sides with an electric sander. I have done quite a few furniture pieces sanding by hand to save money, but if I were to go back and do it again, I would pay extra to use an electric sander every time.

After sanding, I wiped off the excess sawdust with a damp cloth and let it dry.

Then, I laid it down across a few pieces of plywood to raise it from the tarp a little bit.  If you're a messy painter like myself, this helps to keep from painting the tarp itself and getting dirt all over your roller.

To paint it, I used a simple white flat paint + primer, and a small 4 inch paint roller with a foam head. These heads are usually marked for doors and cabinets and will help you to have an even coating, without bumps or texture.  Keep each layer of paint light, wiping off any excess paint on the roller before you put it down.  As a general rule, the lighter each layer of paint, the cleaner your surface will look in the end.

I did about 3 coat of paint, allowing it to dry according to the directions on the can between each coat.

All in all, the background was super easy, and probably only took me less than an hour total to do.

White surface: This piece was completely experimental. I made a few mistakes, and I will share with you what works and what doesn't.

First of all, I purchased 2 4-in wide pine boards from Home Depot, and cut them down into 4 pieces.  I can't remember the sizes exactly, but they were about 32in long each.  I also purchased two smaller pieces to place on the size in order to hold the piece together. Lastly, I purchased 1.25in long screws to hold the whole thing together.  There were two suggestions made by the worker that I would not suggest myself after a few headaches.  The first is that he told me to use drywall screws. My husband scratched his head at that one, he said that normal screws would have worked just fine, possibly better.  The second is that he suggested a composite wood as the runners on the side. It was extremely cheap at less than $2/piece, but I learned quickly that pine would have been the better option, because the other wood was so weak that it had a tendency to crack when we screwed it all together.

The first thing I did after taking them home, was to sand down each piece of wood and wipe off the excess sawdust with a damp cloth.

Then we laid them out flat next to each other, and put the runner pieces on the side.

Next, we picked a drill bit that was the same size as the shank of the screw (the width minus the thread on a screw). After drilling down 1.25 inches, we changed the head on the screw driver to a phillips, and screwed the screw into the hole.

[LOL insert: "What would you be if you were attached to another plane, wrapped helically around an axis?"   ....Screwed.  Thanks, Big Bang Theory for that one!]

Like I mentioned earlier, we were a bit unlucky with the type of wood suggested that we screwed into, but some wood glue fixed that right up.

While painting this piece, I learned another lesson about what NOT to do.  My goal was to get a white-wash effect, so that a little bit of the original grain would show through. So I bought a white wash stain. I did about 7 coats of it, but from the first to the last, the color did not change one bit. So I ended up with a yellowish surface.

After reading around for some better ideas, I saw one where you just add some water to acrylic flat paint to get a white wash effect. So I did this and painted over the stain.  I was worried that it wouldn't stick because the stain is oil based, and the white wash is water based, but it dried just fine for my purposes.

Gray surface: I searched near and far on Pinterest and the web to find a great tutorial for a grey stained textured surface, but I couldn't find one. So I made this up, and it worked extremely well.

I knew I wanted a bit more of a rustic look, and I wasn't in the mood to beat up a piece of wood to get that effect, so I searched around until I could find an old used pallet. I was able to track down one, but it was plenty enough for a photography surface.

First things first, we took it apart with a hammer.  I saw a few tutorials where people sawed their pallets apart, but I felt that would be a lot of extra effort. I can see why they did in the end, because we ended up throwing about half the pieces away that broke under my husbands brute force.  Not to discount how strong he is, but I think that the old weathered wood was just extremely weak in the first place. We didn't need all the pieces anyways, so it worked out well for me.

This is what we ended up with:

Honestly, the wood was already really beautiful, but I wanted a certain look, so I decided to stain it anyways.  I had to sand that bugger quite a bit to make sure it wouldn't tear my clothes apart while carrying it, or leave nasty splinters in my hands.  It took off quite a bit of the grain, but I wasn't too worried about that. Then I washed off the excess sawdust with a damp cloth.

Then, we screwed all the pieces together, same as the white surface instructions above.

I tried a bunch of combinations of stain on the back to get the look I wanted. I couldn't get it right, so I decided I was just going to go for it, and put the gray stain straight on the wood (In case you are wondering, I used Minwax Wood Finish in Classic Gray 271).

Here's an interesting fact that I learned about pallet wood: each side is different. One side had been processed and sanded down to be extremely smooth, and the other was extremely rough and grainy.  I had intermixed the sides, so some planks soaked up the gray stain like crazy, and others left it sitting on top like you would expect stain to do.

After a few minutes, I wiped off the excess stain that had not set in.  I wanted the second coat to be a little lighter, so I mixed it with the white-wash stain that I had purchased and did a light coat of it, wiping off the excess stain after a few minutes of setting.

I took a look at what I had done, and I decided it was too dark, so I took the acrylic white wash, and a white cloth, and pretty much buffed it to add a light layer of white to give it some texture.

This was the finished product:

I like how depending on the lighting, it can look like it is light gray, or dark slate gray.  This one was a total victory.

Yellow piece: The last piece was another fun experiment.  I had been told by a few friends that chalk paint was the best way to paint colorful furniture because you don't have to prep the piece at all with sanding or primer.  I shopped around, and I couldn't find a jar of it that cost less than $10. At Home Depot, they told me that it is actually super easy to make yourself.  It's just a recipe of 3 parts:

1 cup flat paint
1 tablespoon Plaster of Paris
1-2 tablespoons water

All you have to do is put in the plaster of paris, add the water, mix well until there are not chunks left (you can add a tiny bit of water if it isn't mixing completely), and then add in the cup of paint.  Mix it all together, and you have chalk paint.

I plan on doing a lot of different colors of painted chalk surfaces, so this turn out to be really great.  Those little sample sizes that they sell at Lowes and Home Depot come out to be about a cup of paint, so they are perfect for small projects.

I used my small piece of birch that I had already sanded, and painted it using a small white foam roller that is suggested to use for doors and cabinets.

Here are all of my final pieces:

Good luck with your own photography surfaces and backdrops! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.

If you are interested in seeing the final products in action, check out my blogpost on my Young Living DIY photoshoot:


Post a Comment




Email *

Message *

Graphic Design Portfolio

Meet The Photographer

My name is Jenessa. I am a full-time graphic designer, with a photography business on the side living in Utah County. As a photographer, I have experience doing:

• Weddings
• Engagments/Bridals
• Family
• Infants
• Commercial
• Portraits
• Product Photography

If you are interested in booking a session, please contact me at