DIY: Paneled Surfaces For Photography

June 21, 2013

Today I thought I’d show you a DIY that will take you about a day but will be worth the time and effort if you’re a photographer and/or stylist who wants to shoot more interesting photos from your studios. This DIY isn’t that detailed (sorry) but what I show and tell will hopefully give you enough help to go out and do it yourself. You guys are pretty clever so I’m going to assume that you won’t really need details for this project anyway.

DIY: Paneled Surfaces For Photography

(This is not a white floor or table – it’s simply a white paneled surface I created that is 97 cm x 97 cm –  Fooled ya!)

Okay, so you know how you drool over all of the pretty food photos and other pictures online? Have you ever looked at the details? Particularly the surfaces and backgrounds in the photo? Do you really think people have cement tables, white wooden tables, wooden floors painted glossy white, black walls, gray walls, paneled walls, etc? In some cases, maybe they are shooting with what they have in their home or at a location, but after awhile, any photographer or stylist gets bored with using the same props and wants to add new texture and life to their work. They usually do this through prop rentals and swapping things out – BUT ALSO through creating their own custom backgrounds and surfaces to trick the viewer into thinking they are looking at a table or floor or wall surface that really doesn’t exist. Smoke and mirrors, people. Smoke and mirrors. And I love it.

So I decided to create some of my own smoke and mirrors using wood from the home store. I wanted to create cool backgrounds and surfaces for my photography and styling work out of wood that I could store behind my big cabinet in my studio and pull out on the fly to shoot things on or in front of. I recently wrapped up a major ad campaign for Canon Europe and these would have come in handy for the styling work I did at home. But hey, better late than never.

I love the look of wood so I thought that it was time to hit the local Home Depot, which over here the German equivalent is Toom, only they have a bakery and serve Bratwurst – ha ha! But yeah, so I hit Toom with my husband and looked through the lumber dept. when he told me how he had all of this experience in the past with paneling walls and ceilings and I was like, “Wha???”, because we’ve be together for eons and I never knew he could panel rooms. Holding back until the perfect time, I guess… So I asked him to tell me more. Then he walk over to these like 2 meter high pieces of wood with slots in packages and said, “We can buy a pack of these, have that guy over there cut them for us in any size we want, and then we’ll go home and fit them together, paint, etc.” Then he suggested the right dimensions to the wood guy, he fired up his mega cutting machine, cut them, and in the end we ended up with two gorgeous surfaces that I can use at home for my projects. ALL FOR $10!

DIY: Paneled Surfaces For Photography

I was all shades of happy. Wood with slots for sliding together to create paneling (not MDF but using 100% wood)? Really? I don’t need to use a thousand nails? This is fantastic! Above you can see what the surface looked like after we fit them together (which was easy and took maybe 5 minutes), and then you can see how we used a piece of wood (x 2) across the back to keep them in place so they don’t slide around. Make sure your pieces of wood are the exact width of your surface so it’s supportive and also doesn’t wobble in use. That’s annoying. I still have to decide what I’ll do to the wood surface above, but to the second surface we put together, I painted it white with two coats of wooden exterior home paint that I had left over from another project – you can see it below. I always try to use up all of my leftover paint before I buy new pints and gallons.

DIY: Paneled Surfaces For Photography

See the shot taken above on the right side?  Okay so that is what a shot looks like BEFORE smoke and mirrors is applied. A stylist would put the surface in place and then the photographer would ensure to not show that the surface is really only part of the prop. So they’d crop the image or simply zoom in as I’ve done below.

DIY: Paneled Surfaces For Photography

This is how it looks AFTER smoke and mirrors, in other words how it would look best to fool the eye and also give you the chance to change up how the walls look where you’re shooting. Brilliant, right?

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little stylists’ DIY. If you have any questions that don’t involve power tools, please ask me in the comments section below. And now when you see any white paneling in my photos I’m busted, right!?

Lots of love and happy decorating!

(images: holly becker for decor8 – All props are my own: pillow from Caravan, vases from House Doctor and Rice, gray cabinet from HKLiving and the La Volière table lamp)


  • Reply mel June 21, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    Ah love it! Of course! I’m going to get myself to a hardware store Holly – thank you! Mel x

  • Reply Sarah - Emerald and May June 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Haha, this is a great trick! I do a similar thing with my cooking shots. There are some beautiful wooden chopping boards out there and I sneakily use them to look like my bench taking care to crop photos just right. Then, ta da, it looks like I have a lovely wooden bench top. My friends keep thinking I’ve had my kitchen re-done!

    This post kind of shows it off –

    Am already heading to the hardware store tomorrow, so am looking forward to creating some nifty little fake walls of my own! Thanks for the funny DIY!


  • Reply Tiffany Grant-Riley June 21, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    So great to see this post Holly-this has been on my list of things needed in my stylist’s arsenal for some time-particularly for my last shoot where I wanted a really moody grey surface on which to shoot against but was too scared to paint part of my (white) wall! So I’m off to B&Q this weekend to get my thinking cap on. Thank you!

  • Reply ishtar olivera June 21, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    hehe, you are so funny! ; )
    I loved that you showed us this, because even though I was aware of it in other blogs, etc, i love to see how they come up with it,.
    I would love for those blogs to show once in a while photos of the elements they use to make the photos look nicer and more interesting, like props, backgrounds etc.
    Some of them must have dozens of these! like Aran! just imagine! ; )
    Thank you for sharing Holly!!

    • Reply decor8 June 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      @Ishtar – Yup food stylists can have over 100 surfaces – it’s amazing!

  • Reply Samuel Sparrow June 21, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Great minds think alike – I actually use this technique for product shots on my site.


  • Reply Nancy June 21, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Love your new blog look! This is darling, and so often you need to do something just for the photos! Have a great weekend.
    xo Nancy

  • Reply DawnS June 21, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this tip! I’ve been wanting to style my prints on my etsy shop and this will be a perfect backdrop for the product photography.

  • Reply Sarah Fiorenza June 21, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    I really love this idea – I have been trying to think of new ways to photograph my jewellery, I love the idea of having several table top surfaces – I’m definitely going to try out your idea -thank you!

  • Reply emily June 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Genius! I am going to try this!

  • Reply Rachel Good June 21, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    This is such great advice! I have awful trouble trying to find good surfaces in my flat to take photos on, at the moment my best weapon is big rolls of white and brown kraft paper… But this is way better! Thanks for the tip :) x

  • Reply Sarah June 21, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Haha… have just recently been telling my husband I want to make one of these! Light isn’t great in house, except for the kids room, which they’re asleep in at the time I take photos, so one of these will be great. Seems I’m not the first to think of it, such a great idea :)

  • Reply Lisa June 21, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Brilliant! I’ve been looking for new backgrounds for my photos and this is so clever. Thanks!

  • Reply Ricardo M photography June 21, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I love the idea.

  • Reply Molly Watson June 22, 2013 at 4:47 am

    Oh, Toom! One of my favorite stores. Thanks for sharing this great tip. We are in the process of moving back to the U.S. from Germany so I am excited to get to building my very own prop backgrounds when I get to California, where we will be settling. We are on a stay over in Chicago now and it’s all I can do not to go running into Home Depot or the like to purchase a few DIY power tools and wood like this to occupy my time with projects!! It’s quite overwhelming being back in a big American city with variety at each glance. Can’t wait to try this project out!! ~Molly :)

  • Reply Tracy June 22, 2013 at 6:21 am

    So clever, so simple! Im cutting an old wardrobe door in half, and hinging it now! Thanks!

  • Reply Olga June 22, 2013 at 8:53 am

    It’s perfect for me. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Reply anita June 22, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Love your blog so far – even after just reading the first post! Like your blog design and everything!

  • Reply tiffany June 23, 2013 at 2:22 am

    this looks great.
    i’m currently in the process of decorating my new place now that everything has taken a more final spot in the rooms. picture hanging is one of my favorite tasks!
    and playing with geometry and pictures is just so much fun!

  • Reply Sharyn June 23, 2013 at 8:15 am

    This is an awesome idea! I will definitely try and source some wood panels at the hardware shop and try different colour schemes and textures to make my products pop! Thank you!

  • Reply Kristine June 23, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    I would probably hang it on the wall an inch lower so that you can push the furniture up to it to make the smoke and mirrors more seamless at that rear end of the furniture’s surface and the “wall”. You can use sticky-back gel spacers from the framing department to keep it from being slanted when you hang it.

    • Reply decor8 June 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm

      @Kristine – Yes of course, and I would, but I didn’t want to put holes in my wall just to take this photo for my blog. ;)

    • Reply decor8 June 23, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      @Kristine – PS Because the wood mounts run across the back on equal sides, the wood would lay flush against the wall – no need for gel spacers or anything to even it out – the beauty of this project too is that the wood mounts on the back also give you a place for the nails to hook onto.

  • Reply Stephanie June 23, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    First, let me tell you Holly, I adore your site and your style! I have been styling my own photos more and more and have also discovered this little trick. I have a background in art so I really enjoy the process of making my own backgrounds and textures. Thanks for another great bit of the good stuff!

  • Reply Erin | House of Earnest June 27, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    I have been buying the preglued panels from the hardware store and using. They’re perfect to experiment with different stains, tiling, etc!
    I really like the more paneled look of this one, though! I need to do it!

  • Reply Sharon July 3, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Fantastic post! I nearly skipped reading it, but so glad I didn’t! Who would have guessed! I am taking myself off to my local DIY store for some wood panelling!

  • Reply Hollie @ I'm Busy Procrastinating July 6, 2013 at 4:27 am

    Over the past few months I’ve been noticing more nad more how people style photos for food photography and product photography. I recently purchased a couple rolls of wrapping paper to use on a table top surface.

    I do a bit of furniture painting, and my workshop is in our unfinished basement. I’ve been looking for a fun patterned sheet ond discount that I can hang as a backdrop so I can go ahead and take my “after” photos down there. My greige walls don’t photograph all that well anyway, so maybe I should create a large-scale panel similar to yours that I could lean against the wall behind large projects like pieces of furniture.

    Thanks for sharing one of your styling secrets. Would love to read more!

  • Reply Stormcart November 6, 2014 at 4:16 am

    Nice idea :D little things make huge changes

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