I’d like to tell you a story. A story about someone who has a passion for food, food styling and food photography. Her story isn’t the greatest story on Earth, let alone the greatest story in the history of foodbloggers, but this is about her journey through the world of food photography and she’d really like to share it with you…
In a small town in Indiana, in February 2008, a mother was pottering about the house doing boring mother chores. It was Valentine’s Day. She thought she may try to celebrate this day in some way, if just only to brighten up her daily routine. She decided to make a cupcake recipe she had seen on The Martha Stewart Show. It was an egg-free, dairy-free chocolate cupcake recipe with vanilla frosting. It’d be perfect because then she wouldn’t worry about her daughter licking the bowl and eating raw eggs (although, note, she now encourages her daughter to eat raw egg-laced cake batter!).
She hadn’t baked in a while, but she summoned up all her baking knowledge from previous years and whipped up that batch of cupcakes. Her daughter helped and they had a great time, and bonus – the cupcakes were delicious.
Because she was so proud of her cupcakes, she decided to take a photo. She knew nothing about food styling (although she did have a good, sound knowledge of photography in general), but she had an idea that she’d like a plain white background; nothing fancy. She thought she wanted the focus to be on the cupcake with nothing else in the photo to distract the viewer’s attention from the cupcake. So she sat the cupcake in the middle of her speckled white table and snap! ! Photo taken (see above!). She uploaded it to Flickr.
Little did she know, that by baking those cupcakes and taking a styled photo of them (however poor quality that photo and styling was!), that she had began a love of baking and food photography that would last for years into the future.
She started a Blogspot blog in May of that year called The Cupcake Review; it started out as cupcakes only, but eventually she posted cookies, cakes, and some dinner recipes. Sometimes her cupcake photos would make it onto her then-favorite blog, Cupcakes Take the Cake, and she even won a couple of online cupcake competitions. In February 2009, as an early birthday present to herself, she moved her blog to its own domain, sweetestkitchen.com, which, as you can see, is still going strong to this day.
Searching google for baking recipes soon became one of this mother’s favorite things to do and she began baking more cupcakes, more cookies and more cakes. She would carefully bake everything and always choose the best-looking cupcake or cookie to photograph on her plain white background, which was simply a posterboard propped against the wall.
By the end of 2008, she was experimenting with color backgrounds, but still preferred the plain white posterboard backdrop and head-on shot.
It wasn’t until 2010, after a move to the other side of the world in Australia, that she became inspired (due to browsing other foodbloggers’ photos) to add a few props to her food photos. It started with adding a plate, or a tea towel, for example. But still those white backdrops and head-on shots continued.
While there is nothing wrong with a plain white background, as it can be quite striking and make a lovely minimalist photo, she began longing for a bit more. She saw other photos from her favorite foodbloggers, where the photos seemed to tell a story with beautiful vintage props and gorgeous food styled just perfectly, and she thought they looked great. But she lacked the funds to buy backgrounds or food props. She did the best she could (she was always her harshest critic) with what she had and produced some nice photos along the way.
After moving to a larger house in December 2011, she began using her new wooden IKEA table and beige wall for a backdrop. With her previous experience and a renewed dedication for food photography, her photos gradually began to improve. She made good use out of the lighting from the large patio window next to the table and drew upon the inspiration she had gathered from other food photos. More props made their way into her photos as she began to plan what she wanted the final photograph to look like.
Being a fan of cooking shows, she started watching MasterChef Australia, where she learned more about food styling and presentation. Food styling and presentation are important to making a good photo and this was something she desperately wanted to achieve. Throughout 2012, anyone following her Flickr stream would have noticed the dramatic change in the style of photos being uploaded. She was happy with them and proud to attach them to her blog posts.
With just a few items around the house, she found she could make interesting backdrops. She also gathered up food prop items here and there from second-hand shops, and anything she found from Target, Kmart, etc., that she could use in her photos.
2014/2015 seemed to be the year that foodbloggers began using worn and vintaged wood backdrops for their photos, and the top-down shots became quite popular. Towards the middle and end of 2015, she was frustrated with her same old background tricks and wooden IKEA table; she wanted something new. She wanted something like those rustic, worn wood backgrounds, but she didn’t have the know-how to make them for herself.
A follower of Sweetest Kitchen had suggested vinyl backdrops to her, but she scoffed at the idea, as surely you could tell they were fake. No, she didn’t want fake wood backdrops. Her blog fell into a hiatus and she didn’t update for months due to her frustrations.
Finally, she succumbed and purchased two vinyl backdrops from Swanky Prints. She fell in love with them and realized that only upon very close inspection could anyone tell that these were fake wood once they were photographed. She was extremely pleased with her purchase and began updating her blog once again.
Some time later, she was surprised to notice that there was finally a Swanky Prints reseller in Australia – Oz Backdrops and Props. Once she had saved up enough money, she purchased four more vinyl backdrops and the rest is pretty much history. She currently enjoys styling her photos almost more than baking these days, all thanks to these easy-to-use backdrops.
In case you haven’t already realized, the “she” in this story is me. I am proud of the journey I’ve traveled through food photography and styling and am happy with where I am today. My photos are not the best out there, by any means, but I am happy with them and enjoy sharing them with the foodblogging community. I love hearing that my photos have inspired others, as well, which is quite simply the best compliment.
…note the following photos are from my instagram feed…
These vinyl backdrops are amazing, by the way. Real wooden backdrops are heavy, hard to store, and probably hard to clean. Vinyl backdrops? Not heavy. Easy to store. A breeze to clean.
You can order them in basically any size (and just about any design imaginable!) and they’ll come to you rolled up neatly in a sturdy cardboard tube. When it’s time to photograph, lie your backdrop out flat upside down for a while and it’ll flatten out. Or, you can be like me with no time to spare… I just place 4 heavy-handled thin knives on the rolly-up edges. Then, style your photo and photograph away. Easy and fun!
Oh, they’re food safe, as well, so go ahead and scatter that cocoa powder all over it, and lie your cookies and fruit straight on the backdrop. They won’t stain* and it’s super easy clean-up – just wipe it away. *Note that a bit of matcha icing actually did very lightly stain my plain white backdrop, which left the palest shade of green smear, but it isn’t dark enough to notice in photos.
I’ve enjoyed my backdrops from Oz Backdrops and Props so much that I even put together my own light diffuser out of cardboard, tissue paper and glue, and often use a plain white foam board to bounce the light from my big patio window.
When you’re done taking photos, roll up your clean backdrops and store them in the tube they came in. Simple!
If you’ve been tossing up whether to get some vinyl backdrops, stop tossing and just buy some already!
If you’ve been lacking inspiration for your photos, just buy some of these vinyl backdrops and I can guarantee you’ll find inspiration!
To help you start your vinyl backdrop collection, the lovely people at Oz Backdrops and Props are offering followers of Sweetest Kitchen a special $10 postage discount by using the code SWEETEST at checkout! So head on over to the online shop, choose your favorite backdrops and don’t forget the code to save $10 on postage costs!
You can use these backdrops to photograph anything, you know. I often photograph new props, or books, or flowers, for example, on my backdrops. They really do add an entirely different look to your photos, adding more personality and more emotion.
So, what do you think? Would you ever use vinyl backdrops in your photos? Do you already use vinyl backdrops? Do you enjoy using them?
I was not asked by Swanky Prints or Oz Backdrops and Props to write a review of their products, nor have I received any compensation from them, either in the form of payment, or free or discounted products. The thoughts, opinions and experiences in this post are entirely my own; the purpose of my writing this post is only to inform, and possibly help, other photographers who may be in the same situation as me.