The Best Backgrounds for Photographing Food

Painted wood
Painted wood. GettyImages/bminer/Moment

Stone, wood, paper, fabric, basically everything can be used as a surface for your food photos. You can make one yourself, find it in your neighbor’s backyard or buy a unique surface on Etsy or Ebay. Over time, I have found that there are a couple of options I cannot live without. Here is a list of my favorites:

Carrara Marble

A beautiful slab of Carrara marble, the size of a dinner table, is a dream for any food photographer.

This white marble looks elegant and its streaks of grays add depth and atmosphere to any image. On a practical note, it is heat-resistant, easy to clean and—if you mount it on a sheet of wood—very robust. Bonus: lugging it around will give you a great workout.

Old Cutting Boards

Yes, these rugged-looking boards that you can find at flea markets and estate sales are perfect for food photography. I collect them in all sizes, shapes, and colors. One can never have too many on set. They work well for how-to scenes, as background for ingredient shots, cheese, and charcuterie boards, and tartines. Even a withered piece of wood that you find on the curb can make an excellent wood board background. You might not want to actually eat from it (dog urine, bird droppings) but it probably looks amazing in a photograph.

Slate

I love working with dark uneven sheets of slate. In my collection are a couple of pieces that I layer to create a larger surface.

 This way each arrangement is different and adds personality to the photo. If you don’t want to show multiple sheets you can easily merge them using a photo editing tool. Slate is brittle and can break easily. It’s best to mount a larger piece onto a sheet of plywood.

Plasterboards

Plasterboards are easy to make, very affordable and each one will be unique.

Mix plaster with your favorite color pigments and use a scraper or large palette knife to apply a smooth layer to a sheet of unfinished plywood. For protection add a layer of matte polyurethane once the plaster has dried.

Chalkboard Board

Chalkboard is my go-to background and could I not live without it. Its deep matte black makes the food and props pop. When you rub and wipe a little chalk on it, you add depth and character to the image. And of course, writing on the chalkboard can add an element of whimsy to your image. Because the paint chips, over time, I re-paint a sheet of plywood with black chalkboard paint every couple of months.