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10 alternatives to a white background

When it comes to still life and even portrait photography, the temptation to use a plain white (or even plain black) background is there. It is simple, effective and uncluttered. But what about looking at some alternatives? Below I look at 10 alternatives to a white background.

Doors

Doors aren’t just for keeping you out of a room. A great door, something with a little interest or age, can make an incredible background to your images. Timber doors, glass paneled doors, peeling paint, marks, scratches, aged by time and worn by human hands. Old windows and shutters can be incredible as well.

Material

Painters canvas, cotton, velvet in all different colors, shades and hues can be fabulous backgrounds too. Don’t be too tempted to flatten it out — keep it messy and scrunched up for added height and interest. Draped material over boxes, chairs and tables help to add flow and color to an otherwise simple image. Consider complementary colors or analogous color schemes for added interest. Blue and orange, red and green, different shades of blue, etc.

Acrylic & mirrored surfaces

You can use black or white acrylic and these can create a wonderful visual effect with reflections, but it comes in a myriad of colors — red, blue and more. What about mirrors? True you need to be careful to not get yourself or camera in the shot (unless that is the look you are going for), but a little experimentation you can get it all to work with the right angles.

Wallpaper

I am a big fan of wallpaper discards and have quite a collection, especially ones that resemble timber. They are lightweight and easily transportable, easy to store and work with. You can adhere them to thin ply boards or roll them up and weight them down when in use.

Timber

I love old timber, worn soft by hands, tables, floorboards and ew timber floors. Getting some timber flooring samples to make backboards can be really interesting, too. Even factory wooden timber pallets can make for an interesting background. These can be painted or left natural. Don’t forget for smaller objects and scene timber cutting boards.

Old fence palings

If you have a neighbor building a new timber fence, ask if you can have some of the old fences. These can make wonderful backdrops, left as is or pulled apart and made into smaller timber boards.

Paper or vinyl

Using wrapping paper can be wonderful for backgrounds, as can high resolution printed paper, such as Tyvek or even vinyl. You can purchase from a large range of available pre-printed vinyl backgrounds these days, or print your own images. I have a selection of both vinyl and Tyvek and they are wonderful. I have a collection of wallpaper samples, stucco or concrete walls, wood panelling and so much more which can be used to add interest.

Slate and stone

Slate tiles, slate pieces as well as slabs of stone and even concrete can make incredible backgrounds, albeit rather heavy and cumbersome, but there is nothing quite like a raw and rustic natural background. High resolution images printed on Tyvek or vinyl can be a way around that. But if you have access to stone floors and such it is wonderful to make use of that.

Shiplap or V-board

Painted shiplap or V-board (depending on where you live) is wonderful, painted in an array of colors and can add color and interest to still life images. Especially if painted with vintage colors like mint or mustard, pale blue, lime-washed or waxed can give a lovely soft feel.

Hand-painted artists canvas

These are so much fun to create! Grab a pre-stretched artists canvas and some paint from an art supply store and make your own background. It does not really require painting skills, just a sense of fun and adventure. Stick with a simple pallet of a few colors — perhaps a raw umber, moss green and yellow ochre — and randomly pick up each color on a brush and add to the canvas. Once you get bored with that canvas, you can repaint with different colors.

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