How to Choose the Best Background Material for Your Photography? Should you choose paper, fabric, MDF, pop up etc.?

In this video professional photographer, Karl Taylor discusses the different types of backgrounds for both studio and on-location portrait, product and food photography

Backgrounds are important not just for shooting people but product and food as well and there are many types of backgrounds that you can use, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Taylor goes through 5 different types of background options in this video and shows examples on images he shot using these backgrounds:

  • Paper – this is probably the most common and well-known type of background. They typically come in two common roll lengths although there are others available and if you are shooting smaller objects you can use smaller sheets of paper as well both under your product and behind it. Paper, especially in large rolls tend to get heavy, it doesn’t work well with water and can’t be cleaned. For the size, though it is relatively inexpensive. You will need a background holder if you are using large rolls on a permanent basis and if you are using long rolls use a metal bar so the middle of the roll won’t sag. It is also a good idea to put a long bar/weight to hold the front of the roll so it won’t curl back. There are many manufacturers of paper rolls and they start from around $20 and go up to a few hundred dollars per large-high-quality roll.
  • Fabric – there are many types of fabrics that you can use for photographic backgrounds. The most common ones are muslin and canvas. Muslin is an inexpensive, medium-weight, woven cotton fabric, Canvas is a thick heavy material that is typically hand-painted on, it wrinkles less and lasts longer, But it can’t really be transported (if folded, it will show the folds, and unlike muslin, you can’t steam it out), plus it’s much heavier and a lot more expensive.
  • MDF – This is used typically under products/food but large pieces can be used behind models as well. MDF or Medium-density fibreboard is made by breaking down hardwood or softwood into wood fibers and combining it with wax and a resin binder to create a solid panel under pressure. They come in different thicknesses and are relatively inexpensive. They don’t tolerate water/liquids and will swell if too much moisture is present. You can use real wood as background but it is much heavier and typically a lot thicker and is also typically more expensive. You can, however, make wooden backgrounds by connecting several wood pieces and painting them.
  • Pop up – if you need a portable background solution a pop-up – just like a foldable diffuser is your best option. Depending on the size and quality you can find these collapsible backgrounds anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred dollars.
  • Infinity coves (cycloramas) – This one is more or less the opposite of a pop-up – it is designed more or less only for studio work, is extremely expensive to build (thousands of dollars and upwards) but it gives the feeling of unlimited space. A cyclorama wall or cyc wall is used as a background that is evenly lit and can also be used for green screen work as well. It is meant to be used when a full-body shot is needed without seeing the floor/edge.

We have plans to do our own take on backgrounds later this year, mainly since we have a lot of less conventional background types that we use for product and food photography.

You can check out more of Karl Taylor’s video we posted in the past here on LensVid. We have covered composition and compositional rules like the rule of thirds many times in the past and you can find several videos on this topic – here.