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DIY wooden backdrop: part 1

I love the way a real, flawed, natural wood backdrop makes newborn and child photos feel. It’s a balance of beauty and rustic. The great thing about using boards, you can paint one side and leave the other side natural or stained. In this short tutorial, I will show you how I made mine.

First, I had to take my girly self to Lowes to pick out the boards, paint, roller, tape, sandpaper, and a roll of paper. When picking the wood, I had to take a few things into consideration. How much did I want to spend, how worn did I want the wood to look, did I want one with knots in it, and lastly how long and wide? I knew that I wanted some character in the wood but nothing as worn as pallet boards. A lot of the other types of wood were very smooth without any cracks, so I avoided those all together. I picked out a few that I like and narrowed it down from there.

I decided I wanted the backdrop/flooring to be 5′ wide. The bottom didn’t have to be so big so 5’X 5′ would be perfect. Then, I had to decide the hight of the backdrop. I really want to be able to photograph mommies and daddies with their babies and I have to be prepared for them to be up to 6’5″ tall. The obvious answer was to get 12′ boards and have Lowes cut them at 5′ and 7′. I used the 7′ ones for the back and the 5′ ones for the floor. The boards I chose are roughly 7″-8″ wide each, so to make a 5′ wide backdrop, I picked out 8 boards. The wood alone came out to $125. Here is a diagram of the boards I used:



Because each board had some kind of unwanted flaw on it, I knew I needed to pick up some sandpaper. I should have gotten a stronger one than I did because it hardly removed the stamps and scuff marks that I wanted to get rid of. Luckily, the paint I chose covered well and I didn’t have to worry much about it. (I’ll cover more on that later). When choosing the paint, I didn’t want stark white so I carefully went through many options and picked what I thought was light but warm enough for the look I was going for. The color’s name was Valspar “Night light”. It was a little bit peachy but creamy enough not to show too much color. I figured I would have to clean it often, so I chose a more durable paint. I also took into consideration the sheen of the paint and really didn’t want to have a reflective surface, so I went with the flat enamel. Choosing the right roller is also very important because you want a smooth finish. Don’t go cheap here or you’ll end up with shreds of roller on your boards, reviling bumps and lines everywhere. Why do I know this? Because I went cheap and ended up going back to the store to get a new one (ugh!).

So here’s what I started with:

Valspar night light
As you can see, I set it up first to see how it all laid together best, with the flawed side facing out to be painted. This is very important if you decide you would like to stain the opposite side. Because the flaws, such as stamps, stains, gouges, dirt, and scuffs can be painted over easily, you will want to paint it, instead of stain. In my next DIY post, I will show how I stained the other side, so stay tuned!

Once you have your layout figured out, it’s time to prep! Sand out sharp edges and imperfections the best you can! You don’t want your little subjects to get poked and prodded by splinters and sharp edges. After that, sweep up all dirt and debris the best you can. If you are able, close the door so “floaties” such as dust and hair don’t fall onto your freshly painted boards.

My daughter Emily, being my little helper for the day.


Now we’re ready to paint! I used 3 thin layers of paint on each board to be sure it had a very smooth finish. On the bottom floor boards, I decided not to fill in the cracks and knots completely. I liked the effect it would give off in the camera. On the back boards, I wanted a very clean, solid surface, so I filled in the flaws a bit more. I LOVED the boards with the cracks in them, so I purposefully laid those out in the middle. For now, I only painted the very tops of them and avoided the sides. Those are the next step!

DSC_0414After a while, I found that I didn’t need the paper covering the floor and started painting them laid out together, instead of one by one. Be careful of this technique, because they will stick together!

This is a photo I took when I was at the halfway point:

After a much needed break, I finished up the other half and gave it time to dry. I stacked them on the wall and began work on each individual board to paint the sides. If you aren’t doing anything to the other side and are only using the painted side, don’t worry too much about this step… just paint away! Because I don’t want white showing through the cracks when I use the other yet-to-be stained side, I only wanted to paint halfway down the side of the board. I laid out several boards at a time, and taped one side from end to end. I only needed to use one layer of paint because you weren’t really going to see it much anyway. After I was done with one set, I moved them out of the way and started on a new set. If you are very careful, you can use the same piece of tape on the other side, saving you from running out of tape. Make sure it is completely dry before flipping it and watch your toes! I’ve gotten a few boo boos from this project, to include busted toes and a brutal splinter.

Here is what it looked like during the tapping and painting process:

Oh how therapeutic tearing off a clean line of paint is… maybe that’s just me. Repeat the process 16 times on each side of the boards and then you’re done! If needed, do a few touchups of paint and start taking some sample photos.

DSC_0302 copy

Good luck with your backdrop and keep your eye out for when I stain the other side! I would also like to build a safety board along the top to prevent the vertical ones from ever falling. For now they are carefully and steadily set 6 inches away from the wall and leaning back. The weight of the floor boards keep them anchored. Be very careful when shooting with children if you are using them without a safety option. Please feel free to comment below with any questions!

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