When doing cake smashes, we get a lot of theme requests that we'll likely only ever do once and then never again. I HATE buying expensive themed backdrops that won't get much use. So I've experimented over the years and come up with some cheap hacks and most cost around $20!
I have found that an easy hack is to buy fabric shower curtains. Keep in mind that this only works with the FABRIC ones. Plastic is going to reflect.
I prefer to buy the widest I can find. Shower curtains are usually a bit more sheer, so you'll need to put some fabric or something behind them to give them a solid look typically.
With this ice cream shower curtain I tacked it to my wall to make it look like wall paper, you can see it's sitting against my crown molding. Shower curtains have a rolled edge, that you can see in the bottom. If you put the backdrop to the ground and put a flooring over it, that would hide that issue. This cost only about $30.
Other good ones:
I have used this beach one.
This mermaid one is one of my favorites!
You can pickup the mermaid shower curtain I bought, here.
A good rainbow one would be good to have on hand,
I'm waiting for a good chance to use this circus theme one!
I can't find this one off hand on Amazon, but I once did a Finding Dory theme smash and used a shower curtain.
Tons of brick options.
There are several Harry Potter options and you can't beat that price!
There's quite a few Cocomelon options even
You could also use paper or wall as a backdrop and just add wall decals. I did that with a Peter Pan request once.
That decal kit was this one:
One thing to worry about with the wall decals is that they are typically glossy so they may glare in images. You'll want to try and feather your lighting to prevent some of that!
For this one, I cut the paper off when I was done and rolled and saved it, just in case I ever get that request again.
You'll also see wall tapestries on websites, these work great also. Although they are typically a little on the smaller side. Some of these you could also use as wraps or layers as they are softer and bend/flow easier than shower curtains.
I don't even remember where I bought this mermaid one from. I sometimes see tapestries in online clothing shops.
Need a princess castle?
Winnie the Pooh?
Have a space or astronaut theme coming up?
Among us is so popular right now:
This would be gorgeous for a llama or cactus type theme:
Keeping that same theme, this is a gorgeous slightly girly dessert scene:
I have this brick one, although I don't know if I've used it yet!
This colorful brick one is actually a good one I have used on occasion in studio. I tacked it to the wall with clear tacks.
This next one is a really pretty one with girly, floral, boho vibes:
There are tons of floral ones. This one JUST got added to my cart!
Is that Hogwarts?
If you're looking for wood look, I have this one, although I don't think I've used it yet!
In a pinch, you can also go to the craft store and pick up fabric. I usually get 2 yard increments. I find that the best kind of fabric for backdrops are the Home Decor type fabrics that Joanns sells on the rolls. They are heavy duty and more stiff typically.
These are two flamingo patterns I found in fabrics:
I've also used wrapping paper, school billboard paper and beach towels as backdrops. With any of these, you'll want to make sure they are NOT glossy.
This Stranger Things backdrop was a beach towel I found. I cannot find this anymore unfortunately!!
Craft stores, like Joann, carry school supplies and they often have rolls of paper that you could use. I just checked online and they have colors on there I haven't seen in store.
I've also had plush or fleece blankets printed with the scene I want. This can be a little more pricey than something already made, but cheaper than $100 typically.
Getting out wrinkles
With most backdrops I just iron them.
I have a steamer, but I hate it. If I'm unsure of a material, I'll put a towel below and above the item to sandwich it and protect it and then iron it. But I've yet to have any issues with fabric shower curtains and backdrops. I just set the iron on steam and start ironing them.
I got my iron from a department store and it's ok. This one is supposed to one of the best out there and it is pretty cheap too:
Although, searching Amazon, I found this steamer and you can lock it so you don't have to hold the steam button. It looks promising and is cheap.
TIP: With clothes, you can throw them in the dryer with a handful of ice on for 15 minute and the wrinkles will come out. If you have fabric drops and a dryer, might be worth a try!
**Keep in mind that actual printed backdrops may run when using steam. So, while I've found this safe for shower curtains, which are meant to be in "wet" zones, you may want to test some fabric before you steam iron a regular backdrop.
How to hang backdrops
There are several ways. Some people use magnetic paint on their wall and magnets to hold them up. You can use backdrop stands. Or, I often use good ole tacks in the wall.
To hold up paper backdrops, I use wall mounted stands and an electronic stand. When I bought mine, it was around $2k. I don't see that one listed anymore. But here's a cheaper alternative I found:
The electronic backdrop rollers are run with a remote and it is SOOO much faster and safer to work with. When I used to use a backdrop stand for my papers, I had it fall over a couple of times.
The next step down from an electronic wall stand would be a manual one.
I own two of them, one to hold 4 and one to hold 3. I always recommend to go with more than you think you need!
A tip about hanging wall mounted stands... you'll want to get them in the studs, but the likelyhood of getting a stud on both sides is not good. My very anal father in law, whom I love, installed mine. What he did was get a 2x4 from Home depot and put that across the wall, attaching THAT to the studs. Then attach the wall roller system to that to ensure it doesn't fall out of the wall or anything like that!
A basic backdrop stand is what most use. Go for a heavier duty one. You don't want it snapping or falling apart too easy.
When I first started out, I got one that held 3 107" paper rolls. It looked kind of like this:
I liked that it made it easier to switch out and have more options with a client. But I found it tipped easier.
I use a lot of the ones below now, but only for fabric. All my paper drops go on the wall mounted stands. I also use these for hanging stars and banners so that they don't touch the backdrop--helps add a bit of dimension and 3D to the image.
This is a kit with clamps, although I haven't bought this one before, so I don't know how heavy duty it is. It is has decent reviews though!
OR, if you want to hang the backdrop on the wall, like I often do, you can use clear tacks, like these:
I have several clamp sizes in studio.
If you're using a backdrop stand, I would HIGHLY recommend these clips. They velcro around the stand legs and then you clip them to your drop to help keep it snug and wrinkle free on the sides.
These I mainly use for my newborn stand and for holding backdrops to a stand.
About the author
Christy Whitehead is a newborn, family and headshot photographer in Northeast Florida. She is married and has two kids. Her home life often includes chickens, rats, cats, lizards and even a peacock.
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