If you're a creator of any kind, chances are you've experienced being in a creative rut at some point in your journey to make cool stuff. As a photographer and cinematographer, nothing could be more true for me. Photographers by nature, I feel, have a "do it yourself" attitude. In talking with Photographer Nikki Smith, a DIY backdrop project could be just what you need to reignite that missing spark and add an additional element of creativity to your work.
With inspiration from the famously talented backdrop painter Sarah Oliphant, a minimal budget, and that DIY nature we photographers have, Smith set out to create her first backdrops. With some old canvas curtains found in the trash at the studio she manages, and some $3 sample paint cans from Home Depot, Smith got started. “It was always the unique character of Oliphant's backdrops that gave the images on the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair their depth,” said Smith. “I wanted to emulate that same feeling in my work, and I knew that one of the keys was to have a background that wasn't just a solid color.”
When choosing the colors for her first backdrops, she new she wanted a gray-blue because of its complimentary nature with all skin tones. While the yellow-green also lends itself well to portraits, Smith says that was a more experimental choice. For both of the backdrops seen in this portrait session, she uses three shades of each respective color, applied with a broad, three-inch brush, and the occasional damp sponge for blending imperfections.
Smith says when looking for tips on picking materials and the paint application process, she turned to resources like ilovehatephotography, and Philip Vukelich. Both provide materials lists and instructions on application and texturing techniques.
The session pictured in this article, along with the materials provided in the previously mentioned resources, are the perfect example of what's possible with some reasonably inexpensive, or even found materials. “Creating your own props or backdrops only adds to the quality of your work,” said Smith. “Whenever I'm having a hard time getting creative, a new project can help me push through an artistic rut and gives me a sense of accomplishment when I get to use what I've made. It's exciting to see my backdrops in my images and it reaffirms that if I have an idea, I can make it happen.”
You can expect a followup where I sit down with Smith a second time for a more process-driven, step-by-step article on creating backdrops her way. If you've made your own in the past, leave a comment below with some of your favorite materials or color pallettes.
Images used with permission of Nikki Smith.