Today I’m writing to you from grey, dreary Toronto. I don’t mind the dreary or the damp cold, I actually welcome the sweaters and lattes… I’m a fan of fall. And this lazy Monday is DIY day! I’m going to share with you, along with this recipe for pickled peppers: some quick steps for creating your own food photography background. This is something I’ve had in the back of my mind for ages, but I’ve been putting it off out of laziness. If you’re looking to take your food photography up a notch – definitely take on this mini project, it makes a world of difference for the quality of your images.
For today we’ll stick with just the dark stained wood background, and next time I’ll show you how to make a nice textured white wash version.
Dark Stained Wood Background – What you need:
4 wooden boards (pine) 1 in. thick, 5 or 6 in. across, and 3 ft long = $12
I purchased two 6 ft boards and had Home Depot cut them in half, for a total of 4 boards. Choose pine nut only because of price point, but becaue it absorbs stain nicely and has lots of wood grain character.
1 mini tin of wood stain = $8
I purchased the smallest tin of Minwax brand stain I could find, an oil based good quality product, in Walnut. A word to the wise when choosing your stain color for food photography: choose a color that is as neutral as possible. No matter how dark or light you want to go with your stain, do not choose a color with too much red or yellow tones, etc. A dark brown color with a more blackish grey color tone will serve you best and won’t compete with the colors in your food photos!
1 multi-use paint brush: make sure it’s oil-compatible, not just for latex! = $5-10
If you plan to use your brush again for future applications choose an animal hair brush and get some paint thinner to clean the oil stain from the brush for later. If your project is a one-time only gig: buy a cheaper synthetic brush or sponge-brush, and toss it afterwards.
1 shitty old rag = free, you probably have one lying around.
1 dose of patience = usually also free, but sometimes coffee helps = (coffee prices may vary).
Give your wood boards a quick wipe with a dry rag to remove any dust or debris. Lay them out on a surface you don’t mind getting dirty- either your garage floor, the driveway, or just some plastic sheeting if you’re working indoors (which I was).
Have your rag and brush handy, maybe your cup of coffee, and of course your tin of stain. Shake the stain well before opening to evenly distribute the particles inside, ensuring an even color tone. Pop the tin open and dip just the bottom 1/2 to 3/4 inch of your brush into the stain, allow the excess to drip off, and then brush liberally across the first board being sure to brush with the grain and not against it (lengthwise from end to end). If you’ve chosen a dark stain like mine (Walnut) you will notice it goes on quite dark covering up a lot of the nice wood grain. Don’t worry, this won’t be how the finished product will look, because….
Now you’re going to take your dry, clean, rag and pulling lengthwise across your board: wipe the excess stain off. You’ll notice the color change quite drastically and the wood grain will really pop out beautifully. Note that if you are staining wood for proper furniture, etc. you’ll want to follow the instructions on the stain label and leave it on the wood for more like 15 minutes before wiping off. I wiped it off straight away because I only wanted a light stain effect with lots of wood grain showing. Be sure to stain not only the tops of the wood boards but also the edges, this will make a big difference when it’s time to photograph, so don’t be tempted to skip them!
If you’re going to follow along next time with the white wash look on the other side of the boards (which I’ll post next week) then also stain the other side of these boards, and prop them up somewhere to dry for at least 8-10 hours.
I plan to white wash the opposite sides of the boards so that I have two different backgrounds in one set of boards. One side dark, one side white, but half the junk to find storage for afterwards! What we’ll do next time is paint white over top of the dark, and then sand lightly to show some dark areas coming through the white, giving it some texture. Now, in ‘real life’ you wouldn’t ever paint any kind of latex paint over oil stain because overtime the paint won’t adhere very well (water and oil don’t mix) and will start to flake or peel, but for this project I’m going to do it anyways because a little paint peel in food photography could add some fantastic texture if it does happen. For the purposes of this project we’ll be cheaters, but if you want you can purchase dark brown paint and use this as the base for the back side of the boards, and then coat it in white over top of that.
For now we just have the dark wood stain, and once it’s dry… VOILA! You have a nice rich looking photography background. Looks just like you’re photographing on top of a beautiful old table, even though you may be like me and just surrounded by Ikea!
For the Pickled Peppers: yields 1 small mason jar, hot and sweet!
half dozen fresh, small, banana peppers (the ones pictured were balcony-grown)
1-2 fresh, red chilis (also balcony-grown)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
1 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds or mustard seeds
1/2 tsp additional, dried chili flakes (optional)
1 small mason jar
-Toss all the ingredients except for the peppers into a small pot and bring to a simmer to dissolve and infuse.
-Cram the peppers into the mason jar, being sure they don’t stick out of the top, and pour the hot steeped liquid over top. Make sure the liquid covers the peppers.
-Twist on the lid, leave out at room temperature for at least 24 hours, then keep refrigerated for use.
-I won’t give you the nutrition label for this one, as a pepper in some vinegar doesn’t have much in the way of calorific value!