How To Make Custom Backdrops on a Budget!

Custom-made, hand-painted backdrops were all the rage a few years back. I personally could never justify the price of one, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to try it out.

In this video, Luke Cleland does what I did. Cleland takes the initiative and paints his own backdrop. I think that’s brilliant! As Cleland puts it, this is just that one extra custom touch to his photography that no one else has and that will carry his stamp, so to speak, in the images he authors using this backdrop.

There is no disillusion that this can probably go one of two ways. As Cleland states, you will either find out that you are a backdrop-painting prodigy, and this becomes your new calling, or you summon up old ghosts of school photos past with something incredibly tacky. Anyone remember those ugly blue backgrounds?

Cleland does cover all bases and shares some very key what-not-to-dos. I just know that at some point, I’m going to end up trying this myself and either end up thanking Cleland immensely for this wonderful idea, or I will mess up immensely. He does add that for him, this is still a work in progress; I might wait to see how it turns out.

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16 Comments
David T's picture

I also did this, you should get plastic sheets to cover literally everything, including the walls.
Paint gets everywhere.

Also there is pre-primed canvas for purchase (even on ebay and such), saves a lot of work.

Luke Cleland's picture

Haha yes, I definitely had paint all over my floors at first, but I ended up covering it. Great backdrops by the way!

Luke Cleland's picture

Thanks for the post Ali (loved how it was written)! I hope everyone becomes canvas painting prodigies!

Ali Choudhry's picture

Haha thanks mate. I try to make these reposts as entertaining as I can without giving much away so you YouTuber folks still get the views.

Tom Nelson's picture

Painted canvas has a tendency to crack. Do you have any advice on that? Multiple coats of paint might be a problem.

Ali Choudhry's picture

I think it's best to lean into the workings of what a thing is. So if it cracks, can you think of ways to creatively work with the cracks within the image rather than fighting them?

David T's picture

Never cracked for me and I roll them up like a poster.
I used normal wall paint tho (from home depot basically), not acrylic.

Patrick Hall's picture

I agree with what a lot of people are saying here, you can easily find a company that makes painted backdrops and save yourself a ton of time and money. I use Gravity a lot, actually have a few that just showed up on my doorstep for the next part of my backdrop / garage install video series. Gravity (and others) have so many options now that you can easily just pick out a very muted/low texture option and get something that will look great.

It was very cringe watching him paint on the canvas without plastic on his wood floors. Man I hope he owns that house and isn't renting or I'd be PISSED.

One tip if you do this is to take your two colors and in a small paint cup, mix a few varieties of the two colors so you have a few different shades (don't mess up your original two paints though). This way when you make your layers/clouds you can have some real variety instead of just different layers of two colors. If you watch the guys over at Gravity make theirs, I'm pretty sure they are adding thinner to their paint so it has more of a liquid consistency which allows more muted, watery, soft transitions. It also helps make the paint thinner as you want to use Acrylic paint and not oil or latex.

I asked Lee to paint two of our massive 9x 20' canvas back in Charleston and he said it was a total pain in the ass. Those two canvases were awful "olin mills" style backdrops but the canvas was huge and thick so I thought we should salvage them. They don't look great and even though he painted one white and another dark grey, they don't look consistent or artsy at all. He also had to buy so many gallons of paint because the canvas just soaks that stuff up.

Anyways, I'm always encouraging for people to do their own thing and be creative throughout the whole photography process but in this instance I think it's WAY better to just let someone else do the canvas and save yourself that hassle.

Ali Choudhry's picture

Am I the type to buy things? Absolutely!

Do I have a friend who will spends like four times as much to DIY with results that are not as good. Also absolutely. (And yes, it's me. I'm the friend.)

I think you're completely correct but this might also be one of those, sometimes it's fun to try to make it, situations.

Patrick Hall's picture

Ha I totally understand the DIY thing. I'm constantly trying to "save money, time and headache" by doing little house jobs instead of calling the plumber, electrician, and handyman. I've def learned a lot over the years but sometimes I know they would have done it faster and better (but more expense). Constantly learning and experimenting is the secret to longevity IMO.

Ali Choudhry's picture

That's it really! Hah!

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

This effect is so subtle it's not even worth the work.
I did a painted canvas myself, with 3 acrylic colors a sponge and IKEA tupplur blinds. Has way more character and the color doesn't fall off.
Make sure you put plastic dropcloth underneath unlike this guy.