Recently someone complimented me on the dark table I use for my photographs. Well, let me tell you a secret. That is not a table. It’s just a wooden plank. The small table under that plank is small, square, and painted with translucent varnish. It is useful but not very beautiful, at least not when used as a photography background. I thought about painting it differently but because I am lazy I got some wooden planks instead and painted them with dark brown acrylic paint. I needed two planks because the table I use for my pictures is placed in the corner of our living room, right next to the window. And the wall in the back is light orange. Great for the living room, but not so great for my pictures. Therefore I usually cover the wall with a second wooden plank. Lately I got a bit bored with these brown backgrounds. Thankfully there are many different methods and techniques to replace or change your photography backgrounds without spending a fortune.
For example you can buy some sheets of plywood at the home improvement store. These are cheap and the only thing you should keep in mind is their size. Mine are 59 x 42 cm (23.5 x 16.5 inches) and while these will not work with wide angle shots, they are large enough for an overhead shot with a 50mm lens. They are great with macro lenses and for close-up shots, too. If you need more space and think wide angle, then your plank or board should be larger.
I like to paint my wood with acrylic paint because it can be diluted with water. And afterwards your tools are easily cleaned with water, too. Since it is water-soluble, you can thin the paint, so that the texture of the wood will shine through easier if you want that. Another thing you can do is to use crackle paint. Crackle paint, also called crackle finish or crackle glue is a clear varnish or glue that you apply between two layers of paint (also acrylic). To see the effect properly your layers have to be in two different colours, one light and one dark or the other way round. The crackle paint will make the upper layer contract and crackle so that your surface will look like a very old piece of garden furniture. I love this great and inexpensive method for creating interesting backgrounds!
Another paint I only recently discovered is chalkboard paint, which comes in many different colours and is very versatile. Many people use it for walls to let their kids draw on. It’s great for decorating flower pots and boards, too. I decided to finally give my photography table a well deserved makeover by painting it with black chalkboard paint. With the help of a couple of sanding paper sheets I removed the old varnish first. Then I painted the table. After drying the surface still had some texture from the brush strokes and the matte colour is great for photography as it minimises reflections. Well, now I just have to tell F. that she has my permission to draw on the table.
I have been reluctant to use white backgrounds in the past because they tend to make food pictures very bright. I also think the light colour removes contrast. I prefer dark backgrounds and lots of shadow in my pictures. That works well during summer, when there is enough natural light available. But during winter the white backgrounds will probably be a bit more useful.
When choosing backgrounds you need to keep in mind that you will have to clean them a lot. Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to spill chocolate all over my surface or dump a scoop of ice cream on a table only to get a dramatic picture. But from time to time I spill food, too. Transparent and matte varnish is great for this kind of purpose. You can paint over the cracked surface to make it water-resistant and to keep the upper paint layer from peeling of. A surface painted with chalkboard paint is already water-resistant since you are supposed to clean the chalk off. But it’s matte and a bit coarse so it’s always best to clean it with a wet towel or rag.
Now that I wrote so much about the paint and my new backgrounds I almost forgot my recipe. Mini apple crisps! A friend gave us a giant box of organic apples from the Lake Constance area. They are small and tart and although I asked a couple of people about what to do with them, I mostly ate them as a plain snack until now. But these apples are so great for baking. This recipe makes four small servings. If you bake the crisps in canning jars, you can place a lid on them and simply store them in the fridge. They make a great breakfast or snack item. Or you can give them to your friends as a little pick-me-up. And don’t forget to tell them that there’s still enough room in the jar for a big scoop of vanilla ice cream!
Mini Apple Crisp In A Jar (Serves: 4) For the apple filling
- 4 very small apples (250-300 g)
- 50 g (1/4 cup) dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla
For the topping
- 5 tablespoons rolled oats
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla
- 1 pinch salt
- Preheat the oven to 200° (400°F). Have 4 small Weck jars (160 ml) or ramekins and a baking sheet ready.
- Core and finely dice the apples. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Divide between the jars.
- Combine all ingredients for the topping, mix well and divide between the jars as well.
- Place on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm or cold.