The 5 types of food photography backdrops you should have in your collection

Are you in the process of building your photography surface collection? Actually, that's a rhetorical question because, as photographers, we are ALWAYS working to build a larger and more diverse prop and backdrop repertoire. Why? Because clients require different things. 

For example, my favorite photographic style (currently) is one with dramatic lighting and shadows coupled with a darker color palette. However, most of my clients want a light, clean look to their images. As much as my personal photographic style may be what attracts a client to me, it's not always what keeps them around. They want to know I can create work that fits THEIR brand-- not mine. Consequently, I need to have a range of photo backdrops to pick from to ensure I can meet their expectations. 

Here's another example: Have you ever photographed a cookbook?? For anyone who has, you know how many props and surfaces you need to have on hand. It's crazy! Art directors generally do not want to see the same surface repeated throughout a book. They want the images to be cohesive and look like they are part of the same "collection" (think Project Runway here) but they don't want them to look like they were all photographed in the same place. This can be a real challenge because you can't just have a couple backdrops on hand -- you need a LOT of options that all fall within the same style (ex: rustic, airy, colorful, etc.) It gets very complicated quickly.

Luckily, you don't need to start with tons of photo backdrops. In my opinion, there are 5 types of surfaces that are essential to have in your collection and, if you've got at least one of each, you are well on your way!

1. Something LIGHT

In my experience, "light & bright" is the most commonly requested style direction by clients. It makes sense. A light background can really draw attention to the hero of the image. Symbolically, lightness is also linked to a sense of freshness, health and happiness, which makes it an obvious choice for a lot of brands. The exact type of light backdrop is up to you-- it can be wood, stone, paint-- whatever speaks to you.

We have a whole collection of light backdrops but I definitely have my favorites, which are below. Keep in mind, these aren't white backgrounds-- they vary in terms of tone and brightness but I love them for the way they photograph. As always, your surfaces will look different depending on how you light them.

(All of these images are linked to the product)

2. Something DARK

Just like you need at least one backdrop that is light, you also need one that is dark. You can go in so many directions here- something with texture and multiple colors woven into the design or something solid and monochromatic. Metal, stone and dark wood are all great options.

As I've mentioned, how dark these look in your images will come down to how you light and style them. For example, our Luca surface is one I use ALL THE TIME and I typically light it in a way that makes it look dark and moody. In real life, it IS pretty dark, but if you shot it with bright, un-diffused light, it would read brighter and greener than it actually is, as shown here:

Below are my absolute favorite dark backdrops that I return to again and again. Check out how different the Luca surface looks in the first image compared to the one above. Like I said, it's all about the lighting!

3. Something CLASSIC

I realize "classic" is a subjective word but, in this instance, I am thinking of 2 of the most commonly used stones in kitchens: carrara marble and travertine. In the world of Poppy Bee Surfaces, those translate as our Simone backdrop and our Dorothy backdrop. Simone, like carrara marble, is cool toned with bluish-gray veining and Dorothy, like travertine, is light and warm. 

Both of these backdrops work beautifully to emulate kitchen counters and are perfect for shooting pastries and baked goods, chocolate and more.

4. Something COLORFUL

Using bold, bright color combined with hard light has become a popular look in product and food photography over the last few years. It's modern, fun and impactful. However, it's also not everyone's cup of tea. Having a colorful backdrop in your collection can mean a lot of different things: something bright, "loud" and solid-colored with almost no texture, like our Pure Color collection, or something softer that includes texture, like the surfaces included in our Old World Bundle.  Or maybe you want something in between, like our Jade or Nina surfaces.
The point is YOU get to decide what style of colorful backdrop works best for you. What's important is that you have an option that can brings a little something extra to a shoot-- that doesn't fade into the background as much as your neutral options but instead packs more of a punch.

Here are my go-tos:

5. Something WOOD

Wood is a MUST in any backdrop collection. It's warm and homey and it's essential to have a few go-to surfaces you can reach for when you need a tabletop vibe.

I'll be honest: there is one backdrop from our wood collection that I use over and over and over again, and that is our George surface. George is weathered, stained and old-looking and I LOVE it, as do my clients. It's modeled after an old French farmhouse table and it's beautiful in all it's imperfections.

Occasionally, I need a really light backdrop that still has the texture and warmth of wood and, in those situations, I reach for Ophelia.  And when I need something less rustic than George, I go for Franklin

Of course, there are a lot of other directions you can go in when you want a wood look-- these are just my favorites. It all comes down to your personal preferences.

Those are the 5 types of backdrops you need in your collection! However, if you really want to go the extra mile, read on...

Extra Credit: Something UNUSUAL

What do I mean by "unusual"? Something unique, that stands out, that you don't see everyday. Honestly, you won't reach for this backdrop very often because it's a statement piece and you don't often want to use a surface that will potentially detract from your subject. But occasionally you just need something extra for a shoot and that's where an unusual backdrop comes in. It can be just the thing to make your image that much more special. 

Here are my top 3:

I hope this helps you in your backdrop-collection-building journey. As always, always feel free to reach out with questions in the comments or just email us!

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