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Styled Shoots
May 2023

Get Creative with Bold Photography Backdrops

6 min read

Studio portraits getting stale? Why not push yourself creatively with your photography backdrops? Here are four ideas for fun and bold backdrops that will make your studio portraits ANYTHING but boring.

Color Maximize Your Photography Backdrops

When I first dipped my toes into studio portraits, I was told “just get a Thunder Gray seamless paper backdrop – that’s all you need!” And while the tried-and-true Thunder Gray is very versatile, I find shades of gray to be QUITE the snoozefest after a while. So I started hitting that gray with a flash or two and some color gels! Now we’re talking!

Color gels are an easy way to liven up your backdrops – they work on any color backdrop you might have on hand, or you can just aim them at the wall and watch the magic happen.  The only downside is it does require you to have multiple speedlights or studio flash units to properly light your subject and the background.

If you’re working with only one or two lights, you’ll have a much easier time of just using a seamless paper backdrop in a fun color. Pink, yellow, and teal are some of my favorites. If you’re short on space and primarily photographing one person at a time, the small rolls of 53”x18’ paper will be great (and only about $20) – though you may need to expand the background in post-production depending on the look you’re going for.

You can mix and match paper backdrops to create new looks or event cut holes in the paper for a creative editorial style!

Draw or Paint Your Own Backdrop

The day I realized “Oh yeah, this is paper…I can draw on it!” was the day I finally unlocked a new level of creativity in my portraits.  

Portrait of girl with drawn backdrop

ShootProof ProTip: If you lack great hand drawing skills, just create a design in Canva or in Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator using free graphics or photos, get a projector, and project your design onto the backdrop paper. Then you just need to trace it! Using a BIG marker or paint brush will make this process easier, but I do recommend tracing with pencil first if you can. This is also a bit easier if you affix the paper directly to the wall so you have a hard surface to draw on.

Portrait of girl with splattered UV paint

I’ve skipped that step when creating portraits using UV paint and just hand splattered paint onto my black backdrop and that turned out pretty cool, too!  

If you want to create this effect on something that can be stored easily and used over and over again, try painting on a large canvas from any craft store.  For this self-portrait, I just scribbled pink paint on a 36×36 blank canvas, hung it on the wall, and shot my portrait wide open so that it would fall out of focus and look like a fun pink cloud!

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Fabric Backdrops

I LOVE hunting for fun fabric photography backdrops at my local fabric store.  Sure, you could spend hundreds of dollars on printed backdrops that are intended for photography (I’ve done that exactly one time and didn’t love the result) or you can get really creative with patterns and textures with a few yards of fabric intended for sewing projects.

Portrait of man with fabric backdrop

I try to stay away from fabrics that can’t be steamed or ironed and will usually buy two to four yards depending on my project. Typically I use thumbtacks and just tack the fabric directly to a wall, pulled as tight as possible to reduce dipping and wrinkles.

Another way to create a backdrop with fabric is to create a faux-wall by covering a sheet of 4×8 plywood or 4×8 foam board insulation from a hardware store with the fabric – then you can move it around your studio as needed and create fun, immersive backdrops!

Portrait of woman with fabric backdrop

Curtain Backdrops

Are you ever walking through Home Goods or Target and finding yourself admiring all the pretty curtains? But you know you don’t need them for your house? Buy them anyway! Because they can make excellent backdrops.

Portrait of couple with fabric backdropIf you already have a window with a curtain rod in your studio, you can throw your pretty curtains up there easily. If not, you can hang a curtain rod on a spare wall OR do what I do:  put them on your existing backdrop stand! Then you have a repositionable backdrop. The colors, textures, and functional applications are just endless!

Portrait of woman with glitter curtain backdrop

I hope these ideas give you inspiration to try out some new ways to add backdrops to your portrait studio! We’d love to see what you come up with, so be sure to tag @shootproof if you end up trying out any of these suggestions.

Written by Jesi Cason | Photos by Jesi Cason Photography


Styled Shoots
Apr 2021

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