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Our New DIY Hand Painted Canvas Backdrop Shot 5 Ways!

nea hand painted canvas backdrop shot 5 different ways blog graphic





At FITB we believe that photographers are the bomb, so we hand painted a canvas backdrop so that we could tell our clients the story of how we made it. And do an awesome experiment where we have 5 different photographers shoot it. All in the name of photography education and always striving to be better. The backdrop creation challenge was a tough one. Many photographers have toyed with the idea of creative new backdrops and many legendary photographers have chosen painted canvases. It costed us about $230 to get the materials necessary and about 18 hours equally spread over 3 days to complete. Here’s why we did it, how, and the work of 5 awesome photographers who were among the first to shoot it.

So like many other photographers before me who have gone the custom DIY backdrop route, I hit the internet. I searched and scoured for all of the possible instructionals and tips that I could and finally concluded that a mixture of them all was the right choice for me. Here is a list of the materials we bought, mostly from the home improvement store Lowe’s and some art stuff from Texas Art Supply (plus a quick trip to the Dollar Store and Wal-Mart).

Specific Materials:

Two 5 gallon buckets
Dollar store paint holders
Paint rollers
Plastic drop cloth
12 x 15 ft. Canvas drop cloth (to paint)
Water based house paint in grey, blue, white and black.
2 gallons of Gesso primer
Paint sticks
Paint trays
Basting pins
Gorilla tape


Previously Owned and Helpful:

Industrial fan (For drying canvas)
Roller extension pole (Highly recommended)
Bluetooth speaker (For jams)


Special Thanks:

A special thanks goes out to Kari Noser, Jayne Maltbie, Grace Zuniga and Lisa Bridges for all of their pre-production and creative input on the project. You rock guys!

The Process


The material gathering was relatively easy. And all of the materials purchased were in my opinion absolutely necessary to getting this thing done cleanly and neatly. I got as much as I could from Lowe’s, dropped by The Dollar Store, ran into Wal-Mart, and then hit Texas Art Supply for some quality gesso (one of the most expensive parts, two gallons cost about $100). It was vegan, which is awesome since Gesso used to be made out of ground animal bones and teeth. Who knew? The next thing to do was find a location. As photographers we are constantly on the lookout for a location. Luckily I found one close to home, in our studio building.

Then comes the color palette. This is hands down the most important element. We chose a deep blue with a slight vignette (mix your base color with a bit of black). The backdrop didn’t exactly come out exactly as we hoped but hey, it was our first time and it did come out pretty awesome, as you’ll see. With the color strategy came challenges of application technique. I tussled with ideas and in the end, used the roller on the extension pole for most of it. Next time I will definitely be adding texture in multiple ways instead of just one.


The setup process was pretty arduous, for me anyways. It was 2.5 hours of taping plastic drop cloth to the floor in order to mess proof the room (think Dexter). And then gorilla taping the canvas to the floor and securing it well with the basting pins. Basting pins are oversized safety pins, and I got mine at Wal-Mart for 5 dollars. They really came in handy because when I worked on the canvas, it got wet. Since I was making watered down colors to wash over the canvas in order to get a certain look. This made the canvas shrink and stretch itself from the contact points. So securing the tape to teh canvas was clutch clutch. I used gorilla tape 12 inches long and basting pins, every other foot along the edge of the canvas.
After setup was done I readied my gesso, and put down two layers of primer on the canvas over the course of two days. I left the fan on ow in the back of the room to aid with the drying process. The canvas was soaked all the way through by the end of the day.

Then came paint mixing. I separated the base color into three quantities. One large for the base coat. And two smaller ones for a tint and shade of the base color. When my colors were mixed and ready to go I started to paint my canvas. I used a zig zag approach but should’ve painted from the center out. That would have given the backdrop a more organic presence I think. After the base coat came the texture addition. This was by far the hardest part. Even harder than the safety pins and gorilla tape. Painting while trying to stay aware of the entire state of the backdrop was intense. I put down water in the spots I’d paint so that if I needed to change the composition or color it wouldn’t be dry as fast. This helped out a lot in the end and is highly recommended.

After it dried, I unsecured it and separated it from the plastic underneath. I then found that the back of the canvas took this awesome marble-esque pattern to it. It looked so cool some of our 5 photographers even shot it that way! If I had to go back I would have covered it with something like matte medium or a protectant. But I wasn’t that smart on the first go round. If you can find a cost effective way to do so, please share! This would probably make it last longer under high foot traffic, and protect the paint surface from scratches or dings from rolling it up.

The Aftermath

After rolling it up carefully I set it in its new home. It has a square foot, 15 feet tall all to itself. I cleaned up the painting space and took out all of my garbage. That week we came up with the ultimate backdrop experiment. Do a shoot on it, and get our clients to do shoots on it too. And peep the awesome results! So that’s exactly what we did. I published an instagram story and had tremendous interest. The project was in full swing within just minutes of posting. It was awesome. Thanks to everyone who participated for your dedication and interest in Fill In The Blank Studio. Check out all of the work below and be sure to let us know what you think!

The Photographers

First up the client roster was Carl Fehres (http://www.carlfehres.com/). Carl is a professional photographer who pursues his love of photography through portraiture. He photographed a favorite collaborator, Katarina, with his Sony A7III and a polaroid land camera, as well as 120mm medium format film that has not yet been developed. The light source here was golden hour sunlight pouring through FITB’s awesome industrial windows. Here are the digital files and a polaroid scan!

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Next we had Chrissy Burdsall in the house (http://www.visualartistphotography.com/). Chrissy is a visual artist working mainly in the photographic medium. She prides herself on providing her clients a high end portrait photography experience including archival quality prints that will last a lifetime and beyond. Her process on this shoot was to recruit a model, wardrobe from a local shop, and a makeup artist and make it all happen! The light sources were natural window light plus a beauty dish for added polish.

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Batting 3rd was Katy Carmichael (https://www.katecarmichaelphotography.com/). Katy is a UH-Clear Lake student that loves photography. She is a budding photographer who has already made huge strides with the craft. After shooting her first client session she was hooked and hasn’t looked back since. Her process on this shoot was to maximize the ways that she could shoot our drop by utilizing the front and the back sides. The light source was natural light mostly plus our MUA daylight balanced ring light for a few shot on the backside for a little extra POP!

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4th up was Killy Photography (http://killyphotography.com/) Killy is a working commercial and editorial photographer who also works for MD Anderson as a digital archivist and photographer. Killy has honed in on his craft to create a unique style that he strives to bring to every project that he works on, from connecting to post-production. The process here was to create atmosphere and make the subject really stand out against the backdrop. The light sources were Elincrom D-Lites with various modifiers, flags, and reflectors.

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Last but not least on the roster was Suzy Fulton of Tricoast Photography (http://site.tricoastphoto.com/store/). Suzy is an extremely well travelled portrait photographer recognized nationally and internationally for her awesome work in countries across the globe. With such an eclectic understanding of photography and the world around her Suzy creates images for clients that really do speak from the heart and show her passion for the medium. This scene was created using studio strobes, a technique that Suzy has down to a science.

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The Possibilities

Photography presents us as image creators with endless possibilities. Seemingly endless places to go, people to see, and moments to photograph. The best provision of photography though, is introspection. One can view a photograph and feel changed and energized, more whole in a way or understanding something new. It’s something that motivates us all to become better in our own right and produce our visions with those raw feelings and oracular realizations at the forefront of our images. We here at Fill In The Blank Studio would like to thank everyone involved in this project who so humbly lent us their eyes, time, and images. We appreciate you all so much as well as the rest of our incredible clients.

If you have shot our backdrop and wish you were involved in our experiment, now is your chance! Submit your photos to hello@fitbstudio.com with CLIENT BACKDROP! in the subject line and I will add them to the post!


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Take care!