We’ve all seen those gorgeous Oliphant backdrops that you see Annie Leibovitz use but many photographers, including myself, don’t want to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on one. For quite some time now, I’ve been contemplating on painting my own backdrop. Really, how hard can it be? After spending the last few months watching Youtube videos and reading many articles, I decided I would give it a try.
The first thing I did was order a couple canvas drop cloths from Amazon. While doing some research, it seemed many of the ones from Home Depot and hardware stores had a seam down the centre and I didn’t want to have to edit that out every time I took a photo. Those would be perfect though if you want two smaller drops. I could be wrong but I’m also in a small town so I decided ordering online would be easiest. Once the drops came in, I headed to my local hardware store to get primer, paint and other supplies.
I already had most of what I needed but here is what you will need:
- 9×12 Seamless Canvas Drop Cloth – I went with an 8oz heavy weight
- Plastic Drop Cloths – to protect the floor from the paint
- Paint roller
- Paint roller refills
- Extension handle – (a threaded broom stick handle works great if you don’t have one)
- Paint tray
- Paint tray liners
- Painters tape
- Paint – (recommend 3 quarts of complimentary colors with the flattest finish you can get. Mine was Satin as that was the flattest they had available.)
Lay your plastic down and tape the edges with painters tape. Try to have the plastic taut because I found that a wrinkle in the plastic can leave a mark on the canvas when you are painting – hard to explain but you’ll know what I mean if it happens.
I ironed the canvas as best as I could to get the fold creases out. I’ve read contradicting info on whether or not this makes a difference but I would have hated ending up with those visible creases. One video I watched, the backdrop had the fold creases all over it and I didn’t look good at all.
Next, I laid the canvas drop on the plastic and I also taped down the edges to keep it in place with gaffer tape. This helped initially to keep the drop in place but after the primer dried, I felt like the drop shrunk a tad and the tape was no longer holding it in place.
Let The Backdrop Painting Begin – Day 1
First off, you’ll need to prime the canvas. You cannot skip this step otherwise you will be going through A LOT of paint. The primer will fill all the little holes in the material and give you a smooth base to paint onto.
You’ll need to water down the primer so it isn’t as thick. I used one part primer to two parts water (3 cups of primer to 6 cups of water). Be sure to mix it really well. If you have a 5 gallon pail, it would probably be easier to pour the entire gallon of primer in and add two gallons of water. I was doing small amounts at a time because I thought the primer would go a lot further but, I was wrong! This one drop drank up that entire watered-down gallon!
I painted the first coat and let it dry for about 2 hours and then did a second coat. I then let it dry overnight. If you have an extension handle, or even a broom that had the threaded handle to screw into the paint roller, this will save yourself from extra back pain!
* In hindsight, I wish I would have thought of tinting the primer with my base color – I will definitely be doing that next time as it will help start that base color.
On To The Color – Day 2
This part did not start off well…
When I bought the paint, I got two quarts of two shades of blue that I wanted to use. I started with the darker shade as the base color and I mixed it with water at a 2:1 ratio – this was NOT enough paint! :O I should have stuck to the 3:1 ratio I used for the primer and it would have been fine.
After this first and only coat of this color, I was not happy with the coverage. I let it dry for a bit and thought I’d try sponging on the lighter color hoping it would start to look better.
So, it went from bad to worse and I really had no idea what I was doing! lol
After much hunting, I bought a sponge from the household section at the hardware store. I really wanted a sea sponge but no store in town carried them. I ended up ripping chunks out of one side to try and create some texture.
This time, I mixed the lighter shade of blue with equal parts water and paint. I wanted it to be a bit thicker to help create some texture. I knew I wouldn’t need as much since I was now going to start creating a pattern. To start, I had too much paint on the sponge and I then I tried a swiping motion. I did not like where this was going. Ugh, I was getting really frustrated by this point so I watered the light blue to the 3:1 ratio like the primer, evened the color out and called it a night. It was time to go review some videos again and figure out how I was going to create the pattern I was hoping for.
Continued Painting – Day Three
So, back to the hardware store the next day for more paint. I got another quart of a darker color. I went one shade lighter than what I originally started with, and then I got an additional quart of a grey color. Hoping this would help with the mottled look I was going for.
Back to a 1:1 ratio of paint and water, I made sure to use less paint on the sponge and a very light hand. A wet sponge made a difference too. I started sponging with the darker color first and it worked out much better this time around!
I sponged the lighter color all over. Then I did another layer of sponging with the darker color around the outside. I alternated both hoping to create a slight vignette. Then I sponged the grey to lighten up the centre a bit more. Ironically, I ended up painting myself into the center of the drop! I ended up stepping on the painted spots with my socks while I sponged the middle – I actually like the stepped on pattern the best! lol I quickly tried walking all over the drop but too bad the rest of it was mostly dry by then!
Excuse the not so great, over exposed iPhone pics but this gives you an idea of what the centre looks like.
I’m very happy with how the backdrop turned out! Here is a photo of it in use.
This is no Oliphant but it didn’t turn out too bad!!! It was also harder than I thought it would be but well worth it. I now know what not to do so the next one will certainly be easier!
In the end, this took me several evenings to complete. Next time I’ll be doing it on a weekend when I have a full day to work on it.
In total, I spent about $150 CAD, including the wasted quart when I messed up the first color.
After transporting the drop to my studio and unrolling it, I noticed the primer from the other side started flaking off and white flakes ended up on the painted side. They do come off easily though. When I have a chance, I’m going to take a wire brush to loosen it all off. This should help to avoid this issue every time I roll it up. It is fairly heavy after all that paint so you’ll need a sturdy backdrop stand when you are ready to use it.
I’ve only used it once now for grad portraits but I’m looking forward to using it for some creative shoots. This weekend, I plan to paint a second backdrop and I’m going to attempt painting both sides.
I hope my experience helps you if you are wanting to paint your own backdrop. If you have questions, drop them in the comments and I will be sure to answer them for you!!!