Quirky Oak Artisan Jewelry

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How to make a cheap photography backdrop for jewelry and fashion shoots

If you do your own product photography for your Etsy store and, like me, you’re not a photographer, then you’ve probably lived through some extremely annoying moments.

I’ve lost count of how much fabric I’ve trashed in despair after thinking it’d make a great photographic backdrop only to find it sucked.

Sucky photography backgrounds

Let me think…there was the browny-gold gauze, the grungy grey, the half-and-half. What was I thinking?

I eventually started developing backdrop envy. I was mildly jealous of people who had access to fabulous mossy stone walls, or grungy walls with textured, peely paint. What can I say? I live in Florida. Everything’s beige.

Here’s a description of what I wanted in a photography backdrop:

  • It must be portable. My house has bad light so I have to schlep my backdrop around outdoors.
  • It must be a neutral, versatile color. I don’t want to change backdrops to suit every piece of jewelry.
  • It must be a darkish color so my mannequin really pops.
  • It must be a warm color to bring out the warmer tones in my dark metals.
  • It must be compact. I have limited storage space and I need something I can slide under a bed or tuck behind a door.
  • It must be tough. I sometimes store it in the garage where it’s exposed to Florida’s heat and humidity.
  • It must be low maintenance. Fabric not paper. I want to make jewelry, not babysit fragile backgrounds.
  • It must have a soft drapey look. I want some background texture but not a distracting pattern.
  • It must be cheap. I’ve already wasted too much money on backdrops that didn’t work.


So, here’s what I came up with:

Photography backdrop idea

Draped photography background with mannequin

I chose chocolate brown for its warmth and richness, and I selected a ‘peachskin’ fabric because it has a soft velvety look and doesn’t crease very easily. If it gets a few creases in storage, I lay it on the carpet and iron it, but the creases normally occur in the middle and are obscured by the mannequin – so I ignore them.

I can achieve a soft or sharp background by adjusting the ‘background sharpness’ setting on my camera. If you don’t have that setting you can get a similar effect by moving the mannequin closer to the background for a sharp effect, or further away for a soft background.

Soft background

This image has a soft background.

Sharp background

This image has a sharper background.

Here’s what I purchased to create a photography backdrop that fulfilled my fairly demanding list of requirements:

  • Three yards of fabric (you could go for less – I wanted to have enough background for a full-body mannequin)
  • Two 1 x 6-inch planks, 8-feet long, already cut, from Lowe’s.
  • A bunch of drawing pins.
Portable photography background.

By moving the two planks closer together or futher apart, I can adjust the depth of the drapes. The image on the left is taken with the planks further apart, and a soft background setting on the camera. The one on the right has the planks close together and a sharp background setting on the camera.

After knocking out a light bulb or two as I carried my new backdrop through the house, I soon realized that 8 feet was way to long for my planks. So my neighbour Bill kindly cut them down to 6’6. Being a perfectionist, he shaped the tops into neat angles and sandpapered them to a smooth finish.

Planks for photographic background

The tops are neatly trimmed, and I use a blob of museum putty to anchor them in place when necessary.

To store the backdrop, I either lean it against a wall in the garage (where the humidity keeps the fabric crease-free), or I put the planks back-to-back and shove them under the bed.

Place the planks back to back and store them under a bed.

In this position I simply pile the fabric on top, still pinned to the planks. You can also wrap it round and round  one of the planks.

Pinning the fabric to the planks was easy. I lay them on the floor next to one another, about 4 feet apart, and pinned the fabric after visually estimating where I wanted my ‘folds’ to go. The folds are simply the fabric folded back on itself in a ‘Z’ shape.  Once you’ve done one side, do the other side. The folds don’t have to be in the exact same positions on both planks—in fact a slightly less symmetrical arrangement gives more natural looking results.

Z-shaped folds

Once you’re done pinning, lean the planks against a wall and position your mannequin (or whatever you’re shooting) in front of the backdrop. Check how the position of the folds looks through your camera and tweak them up or down if necessary. The pins come out of the wood pretty easily for repositioning.

You’re done. This photography backdrop is cheap and easy to make, and really durable. I’ve been dragging mine around the yard for 6 months now and it still looks as good as the day I made it.

Cheers, Caro
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