Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tips & Tricks: Backgrounds/backdrops

I want to start a new feature here! It's for business owners, or anyone out there that thinks they want to start a business. 
When I started out with my store and selling clothes, I knew almost nothing about business. Heck, when I got going, I didn't even know I was starting a business! As I kept getting deeper and deeper into... well running a business, I kept wanting to improve and make it look more and more professional. I got serious about running my store, got a DBA, set up an accounting system, (all that fun business stuff) and now it really is a business! Wow that's weird to say? 
I've learnt so much in the last 2 years about business and how to make things work; not only from taking classes in business but most of it, from trial and error. I've spent countless nights staying up to the early morning, trying to learn and soak up all the information I could of ways to improve my store. It's a continuous process and something I really enjoy. There's nothing more thrilling than learning about something you love and figuring out better ways to do things. 
With the spirit of my blog, I want to start sharing with you my knowledge, the tips & tricks I've learned along the way. My business is a such huge part of my life so why not share it here? I've always been curious about how some people run their business and I hope this proves useful to someone! So this is my new feature, Tips and Tricks for business owners! 
We'll start off with the first thing people see when they check out my store. The pictures. It's all about the set-up, quality, and attractiveness of your pictures. One of the main factors of that is the background. Being a clothes seller, I have to have a pretty large one. One big enough for a person to fit but since I have limited studio space, that's about all. 
I started out taking pictures against a 3 foot wide space of plain white wall in my sister's old room. This was when we still lived at my dad's. 
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I used one of those stand up lights with three lightbulbs that could be moved to different spots. Horrible. 
Red Floral Blouse
Then, I commandeered my dad's nice camera and started taking pictures with natural light. Much better. 
Brown Vintage Floral Apron 
I wanted to spice things up and moved on to use a grey sheet as a backdrop. 
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And even, created a portable set with some pvc, a sheet, and lots of those metal clippy lights. The result was.... ok. But this was just for those times I wanted to do a big "photoshoot" with friends or what not. 
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Then, we moved out of my dad's and I got to use my old room as my new studio. This meant that I had a lot more space to work with, and a permanent space where I could set up a permanent backdrop. Brandon got me professional lighting and a backdrop stand one Christmas (yesss!). I also decided to invest in a camera for myself (with Brandon's help, thanks babe!) And with those, came much nicer pictures. For those interested, here are the lights I use. Now, I turn on the room light over head and use two of those studio lights (on the two front corners of my set-up), pointed directly at me. And I use these light bulbs from Home Depot. Nothing too fancy. I got a cute sheet, set up my backdrop stand, and used that for my background. It's... pretty. Right? 
listed on etsy
When I got tired of the floral, I decided to go for a cleaner look. The ideal set-up was white walls and wood floors. However, I didn't have either of those. So I had to improvise! I took a huge piece of plywood, painted it white, and leaned it up against my wall; that was my background. Then I got some more plywood, cut to a smaller size (to fit on the bottom) and stained it a grey-type wash. 
white skirt
I was happy with this for a pretty long time. But it only gave me about 4 feet of space to move around and I kind of wanted a more natural look for the floor. 
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Above, you can see how I just flipped over my floor board and stained it brown. But I still had the problem of limited space to move around. I always had to crop my pictures to remove unwanted "behind the scene" footage. And soon I longed for a wider set. 
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I finally decided to go with some wood paneling. I had to buy 2x12's because they were cheaper than 1x12's (weird, right?). I lined up 8 of them, attached them all to two 1x4's (as you can see in the picture) and painted them white. It was SO heavy when they were all attached. 
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Yes, ignore the fact that I look like I've just finished carrying 8 2x12x6 pieces of board. That's a lot of work, people! 
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I sure was glad when I was done!!! 
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It took some primer and a few layers of ceiling paint before I got to the whitest white possible. 
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Since the last floorboard was too small, I bought a piece of luan, cut it to length, and stained it the same dark brown as the last one. 
striped skir
Pretty huh? But eventually I got tired of the panels. I know, I'm so fickle. I still wanted that crisp, white background. 
I didn't want to completely trash my almost new set so I started thinking of ways that I could use it but still have what I wanted. 
In the end, I decided to use the back part as a floor and used the floor to make a sign for when I go to shows/fairs! Then all I needed was a crisp, white, wrinkle-free backdrop! This was the hard part. I researched paper backdrops (those expensive professional ones), using different fabrics, and even thought about just painting the wall (but there were plugs in view, ugh). After lots of deliberation, I decided to go with fabric. Something heavy.... canvas! But did I want it that color? No, so I painted it white! Spray paint? No, that was too messy and wouldn't look as good. So I hand painted it all with white ceiling paint (because that's what I had and it's super white). 
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So I bought some a canvas drop cloth from Home Depot. I sewed a casing so that I could hang it and then I steamed it  before painting, to get the creases out. 
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The paint weighed it down a lot and made it pretty straight but still not perfect (kind of wavy). So I set up some of these hooks (up above) to pull it from the side. However, this set-up (using my backdrop stand) made it so I couldn't use the backdrop stand whenever I needed. So back to the drawing board! I decided to get a long steel pole, screw some curtain rod brackets into the wall, and hang the canvas up there. So nice! 
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Can you see the boards behind there? I made this mistake of waiting to take them out AFTER I painted my canvas.... woops. 
Now my canvas was attached to the wall but still wasn't hanging as taught as I wanted it. So I went out and bought some white, wood trim and attached it to the bottom, very carefully, with tons and tons of hot glue.
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I cut down the boards so they would fit on the ground and put them in place!!! I still need to somehow attach them all together so they don't move around but it's pretty darn good right now. 
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The paint didn't COMPLETELY cover the canvas but I kinda like the rustic-ness the little patches add to it. 
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I love how clean and crisp it looks. Having this much white makes it so much easier to edit and now that my set is wide enough, I don't have to crop my pictures! I just adjust the colors to make them brighter/more accurate and I'm good to go! 
Oi, that was a lot of info. Sorry if it's an overload. I've had quite a bit of experience with DIY backdrops. I think the current one will be around for a while cause frankly, I'm too worn out on them to change it! This part can be quite tricky and it took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted and to be able to accomplish that cheaply without buying professional equipment. 
Are any of you in the biz? What do you use for a backdrop/background? 
Also, is there anything business related that you guys would like me to post about? Let me know! 
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*Speaking of business, my blogger friend Katia announced that she's opening up a shop! She makes these necklaces out of wood and they are amazingly cool. You should check them out: Kitty Snooks