If you aren’t making a conscious decision about the colors, patterns, and textures you’re surrounding your subject with, you could be making decisions that will confuse your viewer.
There are many types of backgrounds you can use in your food photography. Some of my favorite materials are painted boards, cloth, and stone. Whatever you use, however, you’ll need to think about how the background impacts your subject. Below, I’ll show you the same subject in a series with different backgrounds, along with tips on how you can create many different looks with simple changes.
White Foreground and Background
In this example, the foreground is a white stone surface and the background is a wooden board that has been painted white. Notice how with the same color foreground and background, the two seem to blend together and don’t distract from the food. The foreground has some texture and dark pattern in it, which helps prevent the white “floating in air look.” (If you shoot on a solid white foreground and background, you’re at risk of creating a shot that looks like the food is floating in mid-air.) You’ll see this a lot with stock photography, but those shots are done intentionally, shot on a white seamless sweep. If you’re trying to create a stock shot that sets a clean, white mood, make sure there is some texture in there to prevent the “floating subject” sensation.
White Foreground and Dark Background
In this example, I switched out the white background for a dark stained wood one. With the darker background, you create a definite visible edge between the background and foreground. Depending on the mood and message you’re trying to create with your image, this may or may not work. For this cupcake scene with the white marble foreground, I think that the previous white background looked better.
White Foreground and Light Blue Background
For this example, I swapped out the stained wooden background for a light blue painted wood background. I chose blue because it is a complementary color to the orange frosting. The wood isn’t a completely smooth surface — it has some texture to it, and this texture is going to be more noticeable as you move to a smaller aperture diameter. Here is the image at a series of apertures. Notice how the background is blurred at first and transitions to where you can see the texture.
Showing texture in the background is a personal preference. Just keep in mind how defined you want that texture to be and adjust your aperture accordingly.
Using a cloth background will allow you to introduce patterns into your picture. Here, I selected an orange check that was a similar color to the icing.
With cloth, you can also extend the background into a sweep and cover both the background and foreground. This is great for product shots, or images where you know that you’ll need to add text into the background.
If you’re adding text, keep in mind that a patterned background may make it difficult to read. Ideal backgrounds for text are ones where there is some texture and predominantly one color. Lighter colored backgrounds work well with dark text and darker backgrounds work well with light-colored text. Many stock images have text added to them once they’re purchased, so leaving enough room around the image will allow for many different text uses.
When using cloth backgrounds, you should also always have an iron handy. Cloth can wrinkle and cause distracting lines (like the ones in the photo above). Ironing them before use can help prevent these distractions.
Different Background, Same Message
How would you shoot cookies cooling from the oven? Below is the same shot, but on six different backgrounds. In the first example, I placed the cookies on an aluminum baking sheet. Here is the final shot and a set shot:
In the next example, I placed the cookies on a pan lined with a silicone baking sheet. Instead of the bright shiny metal look, there’s a darker brown color.
In the third example, I removed the cookies from the baking sheet and placed them on a cooling rack. Under the cooling rack, I used brown wax paper that sat on top of a white table. The brown wax paper is translucent, so there is some white that comes through.
Next, I swapped the white table for black foam board. Notice how this subtle change affects the appearance of the background.
Wax paper also comes in white, so I placed the cooling rack on the white table with white wax paper.
In the last version, I placed the white wax paper on top of the black foam board.
With these minor changes, you can create images that look very different. When choosing a background for your food images, think about what colors, textures, and patterns it will add to the shot. If you’re unsure, play around and try different combinations.
Wood can be painted or stained to show a wide variety of combinations. Cloth backgrounds can be turned into a sweep and introduce beautiful patterns to your shot. You can also layer translucent materials on top of each other to create a unique look. There are a limitless number of different background combinations you can create — have fun experimenting!
And if you’re interested in more food art, check out the latest trends in graphic food photography!