A backdrop is one of the simplest ways to change the feel of your portrait photography. Changing from a classic painter's drop cloth to bright colored velvet will quickly change the atmosphere from classic to trendy. For this reason, making your own backgrounds is a great way to experiment and find new styles.
Homemade backdrops can be as simple as purchasing a large remnant from a fabric store or as elaborate as sponge-painting your own muslin. The level of complexity depends on the goal of the photo shoot.
In this guide, we will give some hints to consider when purchasing material for backdrops and also provide hints for those that want to try to apply their own paint to create multi-color drops.
A quick and easy backdrop that most folks have access to is a standard bed sheet. If you want something a little more rugged, you can use muslin or canvas from an art or theatrical supply shop. Another material some folks have found useful is painter's drop cloths. You will have to iron these materials before using them in a shoot. For more of a rough look, you might want to store them in a bag or a box so they get wrinkled. Do not fold them for storage or you will need to iron them each time you use them. Also watch out for seams when you purchase sheets or drop cloths.
A trip to the local fabric store may turn up some very exciting remnants or material types. Often you can find wide rolls of crushed velvet or cotton swatches that are perfect for use as a backdrop. Check the fabric stores often as inventory and remnant bins change frequently.
There are several ways to create your own hand painted mottled backdrop. For some, painting with sponges and flat enamel paint is easiest. You can get the mottled look by using a large paint brush or a board covered with cloth to apply the paint.
Others have found success by using dye with cotton fabrics. To dye a background, roll it up and soak it in dye for 10 minutes or so, rinse it and re-soak. Continue until you have the color and shade you want.
To store your backgrounds, consider rolling them onto carpet tubing or PVC pipe and mounting the roll on a background stand or wall mounted dowel rod.