Lesson 12 – Select the Right Background

Food Photography Backgrounds

Backgrounds backgrounds and more backgrounds

Last few days, we have been talking about photographic composition, storytelling and lighting.

Now we turn the discussion towards prop styling. 

In talking about props, one of the first props that comes to mind is the background. Today we will talk about selecting a background and types of backgrounds that are available.

Background has many characteristics. It has color, texture, pattern and reflectivity, to name a few.

Let's take an example with only one of these characteristic - Color. In the photo below, take a look at subject and arrangement. These four photos are very similar if not identical. One difference is the color of background.

Same everything, different background

Let's explore the subject of backgrounds a bit more. We'll talk about types of backgrounds and steps to select your background.

Types of Backgrounds

Several types of backgrounds can be used in your food photos. Often these backgrounds are available in your own home and you don’t need to buy any material. Here are some commonly used backgrounds:

  1. Paper
  2. Fabric
  3. Foam board
  4. Wooden boards
  5. Baking sheet
  6. Flooring material
  7. Stones

What else have you used for background in your food photograph? Tell us in the comments below.

Now that you know what all options are available, how do you select the right background for your next food photograph?

How to Select the Right Background

First and foremost, the purpose of background is to support the photograph. This means you need to decide few things about the background. Here are those things:

Background Color – Decide what color background do you want? After using that color, how does the story you want to tell through a photograph change?

Background Pattern – Is the background  free of distractions? Or are you planning to use a polka dot table cover that will act as a background? What will keep the focus on the story you want to tell?

Background Texture – Texture provides a unique character to the food photos. We all have seen photos with old decayed backgrounds. How does that make you feel?

Contradicts or Complements – Does the background overall support the story you wrote? or does it contradicts? If your story is about an fresh morning and a early morning breakfast, will choosing a dark grungy decayed background support that story?

So you get the idea.. Now about today’s assignment -

Today Assignment

Read the entire assignment before you pick up your camera.

Time estimated: 30-60 mins

Step 1 – Today again, select the subject. Ideally use the same food subject, you have been using last couple of days.

Step 2  – Set up the food subject as you like, if possible, like you set it up yesterday. What background did you use yesterday?

Step 3 – Before starting to take photo, wait. Take 10 mins to survey your home and note anything you find in your home. Share your list in the comments section below and tell us if you found something surprising.

Step 4 – Take a photograph with the same background you’ve been using.

Step 5 – Now change the background and take another photograph.

Step 6 - Repeat Step 5, until you are exhausted of options on background. (At least make an attempt to find four different backgrounds.)

Step 7 – Again, compare these photos just like you did yesterday. Recall your story and the specific elements we discussed earlier. Which one of these photos compares closely with your story? If none does, that’s okay too.

Step 8 – Upload the best photo/s on Lesson 12 Album on the new Facebook Group. If you are not a member of thefacebook group, you will not be able to view the album. Request access from the FB Group page.

  • I’m waiting to be added to the FB group (I just requested access earlier today) so I’ll add my lesson here. I shot this picture last night with my iPhone. The background is actually my driveway, and I chose it specifically because I thought the black background would make the white chips in the white espresso mug pop. In addition to using my driveway, I often shoot up against my house. It’s pink brick with varying tones and textures. I think it makes the picture a little unique and it allows me to shoot outside and get the natural light while not having the great outdoors in the background. Sometimes, I’ll shoot up against our black car for the same reason. In addition the background, I’ll swap out different textured placemats along with a wooden table. Inside, I’ll use a stone base or even the wooden floor. I really try to play around with this one a lot.

    • I love the contrast in this picture! Beautiful!

  • One of the backgrounds that I have used that wasn’t on the list is my orange tree…another one was actually a cooler I had, it had a nice bright top, and the picture didn’t turn out too bad 🙂

    Ok here is the best background alteration that I had available, which isn’t that great but does give it a little different feel. I’m kind of in the middle of changing out my old backgrounds at the moment…

  • Peter Block

    I had not focused on background all that much. I definitely have different fabrics and textures I use but simply used as part of my props. I generally shoot from a lower angle so this has opened my eyes. I shot this from a lower angle but did try the top down shots.

  • Catharina Linkenbach

    so, I had some fun trying out backgrounds, although the storytelling part didn’t come into it. I just stuck with the pomegranate to see what works and what doesn’t.I was really surprised because I usually go for muted tones, and to see the pink and blue pop was quite something…

    • Margaret Wendell

      Yes, I like the flowered background best. I think that the blue provides a good backdrop to the browns in the main dish.

    • Anna Zazdravnaya

      I like that geometric grey background. It complements the food. I think because the food is simple and the background is simple, they work together. I’ve noticed when looking on other photos, I see the background, and when I look at that grey one, I see the food.

  • I love coloured fabrics and have a collection of them for food photography but they can detract from the food. In this case however the flowery background is my favourite as it does give the feeling that the table is set for a casual meal with a pretty tablecloth

  • Sherry Saudi

    I would love to have different background to set under the food and props.

  • Ingunn Løvik

    I used grey and black wooden boards, white paper, a red and a cream colored table cloth.
    The different backgrounds change the photo completely. The black (which is the one i frequently use) works well for a marketing purpose, but the red and the cream colored table cloth surprised me by adding story to the photo.

  • Linda Joyce

    I’ve used tabletops, aprons (like a tablecloth), tea towels, black poster board,cutting board,a green, marble top table (till it broke),a metal coloured tray, a cheeseboard, etc… I just pick what I think will look good and fit the feel of the photograph I want to take.