How To Select A Cloth Background

In past articles, I have shown you what I love about wooden and stone food photography backgrounds. These backgrounds make great sturdy surfaces that you can use anywhere. However, their sturdiness comes with weight and rigidity that can make hauling them around quite the chore. If you are looking for a lightweight background with a wide range styles; cloth is the way to go. Let me show you why.

Cloth backgrounds come in a wide range of colors and materials. There are so many options, that you may have a hard time figuring out which to use. Here is a look at the range of check or gingham cloth backgrounds.


That is only one pattern! Feeling overwhelmed on where to begin in choosing your background? Here are a few tips to guide you.

First, think about the message that you are trying to communicate through your image. Is there a certain time period where a type of textile or pattern was prominent?

Is there a certain message that a specific pattern will help communicate?

When photographing The Southern Tailgating Cookbook, I used a lot of check and gingham to go a long with the outdoor picnic type theme. The colors were selected to reference certain team’s school colors. If there isn’t a specific pattern that would help emphasize your theme, think about the message that certain color combinations have.

If you are trying to pay homage to a nation that a dish is from, you could use color combinations found in that country’s flag. If there is a season that you are trying to emphasize, you could use colors that are reminiscent of that time of year.  For example, for spring, you could use pastel shades of yellow, purple, blue or green fabric.

If you don’t have a specific color in mind, use the color wheel as inspirations. Choose several prints and textures in your selected color range and experiment with them on set!

Are you ready to add cloth to your catalog of background options, but aren’t sure where to find it?

Make a trip to a fabric store in your area. The benefit to shopping for fabric in person is that you can feel and see how light reacts with the textile's surface. Also, you can purchase the exact amount you need and take it home right away. If you are working on the 2’x2 wooden backgrounds, a yard of fabric will be enough. If you are working on a longer shooting surface, you may need 2 yards.

If your local fabric store doesn’t have what you desire, try shopping online. I buy a lot of my fabric from Online Fabric They have thousands of fabrics to choose from and will ship them directly to your door. The prices are very competitive and I have been very happy with what I purchased from them.


Once the fabric arrives, I suggest hemming a border around the edges. This will prevent the textile from fraying and allow you to run it through the washing machine.

Fabric’s light weight and wide range of looks make it a great background to work with. When shooting, make sure that you have a hard surface to lay the fabric over. Also, wrinkling may occur during transportation. The solution is to have an iron or steamer available.

I hope you enjoy using fabric at your next shoot! For more food photography tips, tricks, and tutorials, check out photographing FOOD Issues 1-8.


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Phil Bayley's picture

For smaller pieces of fabric you can purchase 'fat quarters' at quilting stores.

Keegan Evans's picture

Great suggestions! Thanks for the post!