If you have an attic, a closet, or even a junk drawer, I guarantee you can create a unique background for your close-up photos! My favorite thing about macro photography is that you can work on the tiniest sets; and tiny sets don’t need too much of any one material to fill your frame. You could create a stunning scene in a shoebox if you tried.
I’m sure you have a ton of odds and ends that would make excellent backgrounds in your macro photography, so get digging! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
1) Wrapping Paper
Even if you don’t have any wrapping paper lying around, it’s the cheapest backdrop you’re ever going to find. If you really are that broke, make sure you unwrap your birthday presents more carefully next year and save the paper!
An example of wallpaper used as a background. Photo by Louise Docker
2) Rainy Windows
If you're looking for an interesting abstract background, look no further than your windows when it’s raining. Your results will vary depending on what's outside, but try it out both day and night to see what you can do. If you don't like the view from your window, why not go for a drive? Park your windshield in front of a scene of your choice, turn off your wipers, and let the rain fall and distort the world.
3) Sequins and Other Sparkly Craft Supplies
If it’s shiny and tiny it’ll most likely make a beautiful background for your little subjects. I found these 1-inch Styrofoam balls covered in sequins, piled them into a pie dish, pointed some light at it, and I got this dreamy background! You could also use glitter or a pile of coins to get similar results.
“Making Wishes” Photo by Rebekah Nemethy
4) Computer Screen
Open up Photoshop and create an abstract work of art. You can use the shape tools to make simple patterns or just scribble all over your screen with various brushes. You could even use your old photos as backgrounds. If your computer screen isn’t big enough, there are many TVs around now that will allow you to display photos too.
5) Clothes and Linens
Dig into the furthest corners of your closet, open drawers you don’t usually open, and break out the beach towels. You’re on the look out for patterns and textures. I used the pattern on my favorite shirt for the background of this photo.
6) Christmas Lights
Don’t be so quick to box up the Christmas decorations this year. Out of focus lights make beautiful backgrounds similar to the sparkly craft items above. The only difference is that it’s probably easier to arrange lights that you can see instead of doing guesswork with reflective objects.
“Wedding” Photo by Scott Pakulski
7) Leaves and Petals
Let the world be your playground. Go outside and pluck some plant-life to create a new background for your macro set. In this photo I used one big leaf and popped a flash behind it for this stunning result. You could also try using a lot of various flower petals for a more colorful background.
Behind the scenes of “Calla Lily Bursts.” Photo by Rebekah Nemethy
“Calla Lily Bursts” Photo by Rebekah Nemethy
Gels are colored sheets of plastic that you use to tint your lights. Some photographers use them for balancing indoor light with flash, but they are also used to create colorful effects. Turn a plain white background any color you want or use on other backgrounds to change the mood of your photo. (For example: In the photos above I used a purple gel on the background behind the leaf and blue gels on the background of the dandelion seed photo.)
This is the only photo gear I will suggest you actually buy because it will give you many more creative lighting options and, unlike most photo gear, you won't have to take out a loan to buy a pack of gels. If you really don't want to spring for these you could always make your own with plastic wrap and permanent markers.
When you're looking for creative inspiration, don't overlook your kitchen. You can create simple patterns out of cereal or pieces of candy. Close-up photography can be quite deceiving; did you know that the snow in this scene is actually made of a mixture of powdered and granular sugar? Yup! I bet brown sugar would make a lovely beach scene too. Maybe you could use sage to make a moss-like surface. Open up your cabinets and go wild!
“Scrap Metal Tree in Powdered Sugar” Photo by Rebekah Nemethy
Everyone has a pile of old magazines somewhere, and if you don’t maybe you could get old magazines at a discounted rate or even free from your local convenience store. Full-page photos and ads are perfect for macro photography backgrounds. You could cut up a bunch of them and create an abstract mosaic or a pile of colorful confetti.
One last tip:
Make sure to experiment with your depth of field when using a new creative background. Try out different apertures and vary the distance from subject to background. The further away your subject is from your background the more out of focus it will be, and with macro photography it doesn’t take much distance to make objects in the background totally unrecognizable.
What kind of creative background ideas do you have? Feel free to share them in the comments below.