Welcome to part 2 of my eco-friendly food photography series!

Those of you seasoned food photographers will already know that apart from a camera, props and backdrops are food photography essentials. In the first part I shared my top 5 eco-friendly food photography props you can find at home. This post is all about backdrops.

Why backdrops?

In this post I’m going to share some of my favourite eco-friendly backdrops for your next food photography sesh.
Backdrops help set the scene for your main hero ingredient or dish. They can make the difference between making your food look like it’s in a rustic farmhouse or a super slick modern restaurant. 

If you’re a food photographer yourself you’ll know that the addiction is real. Instagram is full of gorgeous surfaces of aged stone, marble and farmhouse wood to name a few. You can even get realistic looking tiled backdrops! 
While I think it’s great to splurge on gorgeous backdrops now and again, often they’re made of vinyl or glossy paper, which isn’t the most ideal for the planet.

As part of being a sustainably-minded creative, we need to well, be creative, right?

I’ve pulled together a list of my favourite eco-friendly backdrops that you can find at home.  Most of these you can already find at home, so cost little to nothing – win!

1. Tablecloth or bedsheet

caramelised onion quiche with salad
1/15 | f/6.3 | 19mm | ISO 200

Using any large tablecloth or bedsheet makes a beautiful, subtle backdrop for food photography. Depending on the size of the scene you want to capture, you may not even need something that’s as big as a bedsheet. In the past I’ve used fabric that’s the size of a large tea towel (roughly 50 x 70cm) to cover the surface area of my composition. 

Depending on the fabric and the colour, it can create a variety of different moods to your photo. For example a light neutral linen gives a more casual vibe. Whereas a darker coloured fabric can add formality and drama. Look for fabrics that have an interesting yet subtle texture to keep the focus on the food. I’d advise steering clear of overly loud patterns for the same reason!

Another great thing about using fabric, is that it can be shaped and moulded in different ways. This is why I’d recommend picking a softer, lighter fabric. And the he trick is not to iron them! Yes, you heard that right, put that iron away! The natural wrinkles and creases in the fabric make the most beautiful backdrops. If you find the fabric is still too stiff to stay the way you want it, you can wash it or spray it with water, wrinkle it up a bit and let it dry.

I love using cloth in my food photography as it’s a great way to easily add texture and softness to a composition.  

2. Old wooden floorboards or scrap wooden surfaces

cherry yogurt parfait food photography
1/25 | f/3.6 | 35mm | ISO 160

You know those scrap bits of floorboard you have in your storage cupboard? Or that piece of wood that’s been sitting out in your garden for ages? Why not use them for a backdrop? 

Aged wood gives a lovely rich and rustic look to food photographs. And because every piece of wood is unique, you won’t have the problem of someone else having the same backdrop as you!

If you have pieces that are too small, you can try lining them up parallel to each other to create the illusion of a table surface (this is what I did in the photo above). 

Alternatively, you can look out for wood surfaces in your area – sometimes people leave pieces of wood to be picked up or recycled which make excellent surfaces. There are also reclamation yards that have a large selection of wood at an affordable price. 

when sourcing used wood, be mindful of nails, mould or unsanded areas (aka splinters!) especially if you plan on using the surfaces for a while. Here’s a great link of how to clean mould off wood. 

3. Newspaper or letters

Chocolate cake slice with handwritten letters
1/6 | f/7.1 | 49mm | ISO 100

Another great backdrop for food photography is newspapers or letters. Especially when they’re a bit crumpled and worn, they can add a beautiful layer of storytelling when used. Modern newspapers can have an edgy, urban vibe whereas more vintage looking newspapers bring a romantic atmosphere to your composition.

An important thing to bear in mind is to make sure the papers are matte to avoid getting too many reflections in your photos. Obviously don’t use your treasured letters and paraphernalia as they’ll likely get spilt and splattered on!

Also, be mindful of any words or images that might be distracting or inappropriate in your composition!

4. Used baking paper

Viennese topped mince pies
1/20 | f/3.6 | 35mm | ISO 160

This is one of my favourites for baked goods (surprise surprise!). Because you can cut it to pretty much any size, it’s perfect for food that you might not have the right vessel for. 

You can use baking paper fresh out of the roll, though I prefer shooting with it when it’s already been used (either for making the food you’re shooting or for anything else you’ve made previously). Or you can also scrunch it up to put on a plate underneath your food.

The used baking paper adds another hint at the context around your main subject. The little burn marks, drops of oil and crumbs soften the overall aesthetic too. 

5. Brown paper (usually in packaging) 

Nasi goreng flatlay food photography
1/200 | f/5.0 | 35mm | ISO 160

Next time you get a parcel, save some of that brown paper! 

Whether they’re used just flat as they are, or scrunched up a bit, brown paper is a lovely backdrop alternative. It’s matte and neutral, which lends well to food photography where you want the food to be the centre of attention. 
It also doesn’t need to be stored flat which makes it super convenient for if you have limited storage space. 

I love using it for fresh produce (brown paper bags) or to give an earthy, artisanal vibe to my food photography.

That’s a wrap!

So there you have it, my 5 favourite eco-friendly, wallet-friendly backdrops for food photography. I truly believe that in every thing we do, with a little creative thinking, we can make more conscious choices that help keep Mother Nature happy.

If you liked this, be you might enjoy my eco-friendly props list too!

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