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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 7 of 20

Backdrop Considerations for DIY

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

7. Backdrop Considerations for DIY

Lesson Info

Backdrop Considerations for DIY

This part of the class is really cool, because I'm going to show you how to build a neat backdrop for not very much money. This part of the class, I'm also gonna compare and contrast, so I'm gonna show some of the DIY detail stuff over here and then I'm gonna compare it to some professional equipment to show you what you're substituting. So, the first part here, I wanna talk about backdrops. I wanna put it into perspective, like how to control the look of your photograph and the look of your images. So, the studio that we have here at Creative Live, is a white back drop and I've talked in an earlier segment that if I had the ability to, in the room that I use in my house, I would actually paint the walls white. White gives you a ton of flexibility, okay? One of the reasons why I like white walls is because you can actually modify the color of the wall by using gels or by using different color reflectors or different color lights. Basically, the white wall, responds to the light that's ...

shined, shoned, whatever. I was an engineer, not an English major. Anyways, the wall responds to the light that's shined on it, okay? So, here, for example, let's say that I've got some gels and I can put a gel in front of my light. So, I've got a bunch of different lights we're gonna show off today, but I can just literally use gaffer tape and put that gel on the light like that, shine that up against the wall and now I've got a blue backdrop. Super flexible and very quick. Gels are very inexpensive as well. You can buy gels at most camera stores. You can buy these big gel packs. So, what about backdrop materials? Because not everyone in the world actually has a room that you can paint white. Well, the backdrop itself allows you to have full control over what the background is. You can buy background stands and that's what I have here. What I basically have here is a background stand that you can buy at any camera store or at Amazon or at Ebay or anything like that. Basically, it's two light stands and you have a bar that goes across the top and then you just move it up and down and your backdrop drapes over the back of that stand. Well, something like this, to get a high quality background stand, you're gonna pay a few hundred dollars, okay? This one is a medium quality one. I bought it, I don't even remember exactly where I bought it. I've had it for probably ten or 15 years now, but it's continued to work for me. It's reliable, it's consistent, it's all metal, it's not gonna break or fall apart. You can put sand bags on it, load it down with sand bags, you can work with it outside, but it's still, let's just say, 100, 150 bucks, something like that. What I wanna show you in a few minutes, though, is I'm gonna show you how to build one of these out of PVC. So, backdrop material though. Let's talk through some backdrop material. I've got one of my favorite backdrop materials here. This is called velour, okay, velour. You can find this at any fabric store or most fabric stores. It's got a matte surface. It's actually a nice little soft fabric and one of the things I like about velour is that it doesn't really wrinkle. You'll see if I pull this out here. Actually, in a little bit, I'm gonna photograph using this exact backdrop. But the wrinkles tend to fade, especially if you weight the velour. So, I'm gonna show you how to weight the bottom or the base with stick or a pole and that pulls out all of the wrinkles. So, velour is great. How big should your backdrop be? Well, that depends. Are you gonna be photographing just torsos and heads? In that case, your backdrop really only needs to be about five feet wide by, maybe, five feet tall. Do you wanna do full-length portraits? Well, if you wanna photograph someone who's six feet tall or even taller, then that backdrop has to at least go to the height of their head, but it actually needs to go much higher than that because you're probably not gonna shoot down on them. You're gonna be shooting kind of at a lower angle, so the backdrop really needs to extend up to, maybe eight feet high, or nine feet high. So, try to buy your backdrops, when you buy the fabrics, get 'em to be at least nine feet, and 12 feet actually is better. How much does this stuff cost? Okay, well, I went to my local fabric store here in the Northwest and I found this on sale. It was on sale and I think it cost me about five bucks a yard. So, I bought 3 1/2 or four yards of this and so you can see it costing, what, 20 bucks, something along those lines. So, $20 for a nice, inexpensive backdrop. Velour, so velour is one of my favorites. Alright, let's talk about some other options. So, fleece is a really great backdrop material and I have black fleece here and I also have white fleece there. And I bought these, they're four yards long, so that's 12 feet and the cool thing about a 12 foot long backdrop is that it can be pretty high behind the subject and it can actually roll forward and create kind of a seamless look, overall. This fleece was super inexpensive. I found it on sale. It was $2.50 a yard, so each of these fleece backdrops actually cost me ten dollars. Very inexpensive and, again, very few wrinkles. There are some wrinkles, but when you weight the bottom of it with a stick or a pole, the wrinkles basically go away. So, fleece is cool, folds up well. One of the downsides about the fleece is it picks up lots of lint and junk and over time, it tends to get a little bit dirty. Hopefully, you're not really taking it outside or on location. Alright, so there's fleece. Here's another backdrop material I wanna show, sheets. This is, maybe, again, one of the least expensive ways to do backdrops. These are king size bed sheets, not the fitted type. These are just the flat sheets, 'kay? Don't get fitted, 'cuz then you got that elastic around the edges and it make it kind of a funky look. So, these are just sheets. You can buy these sheets from any home goods store, basically, queen size, king size, bigger is better. The downside with sheets though is that they're only, basically, 6 1/2 or seven feet long, 'kay? So, you can't really do, like a seamless look. They can only be a straight backdrop. So you can typically only shoot, maybe from the thigh up or, if you do a full-length, then you have to do something with Photo Shop in the background to make it, kind of all blend together. What's the downside to sheets? Well, you can all see it. Look at those wrinkles. You fold up a sheet overnight and you've got wrinkles, so you're always ironing these things and they're kind of a pain in the rear end. So, sheets are inexpensive, they don't cost a whole lot, but I don't like 'em 'cuz they require so much effort to keep wrinkle-free. Alright, so that's another inexpensive way to do backdrops. Alright, here is the least expensive way that I have found. Okay, camping, camping's on my mind for some reason. So this is a survival blanket and I bought a pack of ten of these on Amazon. It cost me eight dollars for ten, so ten of these, they're 80 cents a piece and you can use 'em for all sorts of purposes. So, I'm gonna pull this out at the risk of messing up all the sound people. (crinkling) Alright, calm down. There we go! So, this can also be a backdrop and I'm actually gonna take a picture with this today, in the background and you'll see it becomes all shiny, sparkly and it creates almost like a Christmas effect or a shiny city in the backdrop, especially when you de-focus it. Maybe shoot a big aperture, like F two eight, then the background becomes all blurry and this will be all sparkly. So, these, you'll see, I'm actually gonna either clamp on, (crinkles) just clamp on to the stand and then take the picture. You can also just tape it onto the stand with gaffer tape. (crinkling) Alright, so what are we doing here? Why are we doing these inexpensive backdrops? What are we trying to simulate? Well, we're trying to simulate more expensive gear that you would actually buy from a camera store, camera supply store. So, one of those more expensive items is, are muslins, 'kay? So, these are muslins and a muslin is, basically, just a big, huge, piece of fabric. Now, I'm not gonna pull this all the way out. I just want you to see that this is really long. So, this muslin is actually 12 feet wide and it's 24 feet long. So, muslins are big. If you're gonna go big, then go big. So, what does a muslin allow you to do? Well, if it's 12 feet wide, you know 12 feet is huge, that allows your subject to move around a lot. It also allows you to shoot family portraits. You can fit in four or five people 'cuz you've got 12 feet width to work with. Why 24 feet long? Well, that allows me to move the top of the sheet, top of the muslin, ten feet high and still have 14 feet moving out towards the camera and it's a great way to do this, kinda seamless look for your photography. So, muslins are great, but they're not cheap. You know, I bought these from an online camera supplier. You guys all shop there, those online places and this muslin here probably cost me 100 to 150 bucks just for this one. I've got a darker one. I've got other muslins as well, so they aren't cheap, but they're good. And then the other thing that we're trying to simulate is seamless. Maybe you've heard of this term before, seamless backdrops. So, a lot of photographers who work in a traditional studio, will have one of these background stands permanently affixed to the wall. Basically, you've got these tubes going along the top, these pipes going along the top and we have, just different rolls of this, what's called seamless material. And, when we go to take the photo, we roll down the seamless, it's just paper, that's all it is. You roll down the seamless and then you weight it at the bottom and now you've got a nice seamless backdrop, in other words, there's no wrinkles, there's no seams, anything like that. So this seamless here, is 4 1/2 feet long. If you have a little room in your house and you're tryin' to use seamless, maybe this is the right length to get. I'm sorry, the right width to get, but if you have a little bit more space, I recommend, like ten foot or 12 foot seamless. That way, you can bring in a lot of people. The downside of seamless is it's paper and over time, it will degrade. You know, especially if your model comes in and she's wearing high heel shoes. Well, okay, you're seamless is single use. (chuckles) But, over time your seamless will get beat up and so, what you do is just cut it with scissors and then pull down a new set of seamless. So, that's what we're trying to simulate here with this background material and I can actually get very close to the look of the muslins or the seamless with just this stuff, especially the velour. I like velour the best overall.

Class Description

Getting started in photography and looking to go beyond natural light? Not every piece of equipment needs to hurt your wallet. Join Mike Hagen as he shows you how to create your own do it yourself home studio. He’ll show you to create a $10,000 DIY photography studio on a budget and how to utilize and still create quality looking images. 

 You’ll learn:

  • How to find and create grip equipment by shopping at your local hardware store 
  • How to create a tabletop studio in your home 
  • How to put together and light a portrait studio on a budget.
You don’t have to have your own studio space or purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment to build your portfolio of images. Join Mike as he gets you expanding your portfolio so you can gain the clients to eventually purchase the gear you want to own!

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

DIY Schematics

Lighting Diagrams

Product List for DIY Home Studio

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I was so glad to see Mike! He taught my first DSLR class (Nikon D70 - then Nikon D300). I love his presentation style. It is so clear and he takes care of showing details that get in the way of actually 'doing it'. And I like the way he emphasizes good manners when dealing with a model. Well done Mike!


I've watched this class a few times when it's been on-air and I realized I really need to just buy it. I find Mike so likable and engaging, and I love how he talks you through the shoot while experimenting. Sometimes the experts show you the perfect way to do it the first time but it leaves you not really able to troubleshoot when you are doing it yourself. I already own a lot of gear that his DIY equipment is emulating, but it's really artistically inspiring to see his creative approaches.


This course is fantastic! You don't need a lot of money to start a studio or go on location. Mike shows some great easy hacks anyone can use to create a studio and create professional photographs that will earn you the money to then purchase more pro equipment. I got some great ideas I'll be using on my next shoot!