This is very important. This will show off, or disguise your product, depending on what you choose. It can also set the tone. Think about something fairly plain itself (so it won’t detract from your product), but is interesting enough not to look boring.
Be aware that some backgrounds work with a pad, some do not – you might have to use different backgrounds for different pads.
One of the main ways I see people photographing pads that I feel doesn’t show them off to their full potential, is by using fabric as a background. It seems an obvious choice – if you’re a pad maker, chances are you’ve got a fair bit lying around… and the pad is made from fabric, so it’s keeping with the theme….. but the problem is finding the right fabric.
Plain white fabric (as shown) seldom looks good. This is because it’s usually photographed indoors, which results in the “white” fabric looking grey, washed out and uninspiring. Black fabric can work sometimes, giving a striking effect that doesn’t detract from the product itself, but black can also look too dark or too bold – it really depends on what your product is. Highly patterned fabrics can be too “busy”, particularly if the pad you are photographing is also patterned.. but could be ok for a plain fabric pad.
If you’re going to go with fabrics, then take some sample shots and find the fabric that works best for your photos…. Also experiment with laying the fabric out smooth or scrunching it up. Sometimes a fabric will look better flat and another might look better scrunched. If the fabric is smooth, it needs to be SMOOTH! If you’re going for wrinkled on purpose then it needs to look obviously “scrunched” and works better if it’s a velour or minky fabric because the scrunched effect adds a bit of depth and it’s obvious it’s scrunched rather than just wrinkly un-ironed fabric. Fabric that looks like you’re too lazy to iron doesn’t make your product look good. Be aware of shiny fabrics reflecting the light, and textured fabrics looking too “scruffy”. Make sure the lighting is right, if you are taking it indoors, perhaps move it close to a window or open door for more natural light.
Some examples of how different fabrics can look:
Here are some more examples of different fabrics, so you can see how some work better than others
Making a Photo Board from a placemat
If your pads are smaller, you could try using a large placemat – as long as it’s large enough you don’t see the edges in the photo (or if they will blend seamlessly you could buy 4 and put them together to make one larger mat). Wood/bamboo or textured fabric ones can work well as they provide an interesting looking background that shouldn’t upstage your pads.
Bamboo placemats like the one in the photo are also handy because they can be rolled up and won’t wrinkle like fabric does. Once you crop the photo down to remove excess background all you’re left with is an interesting textured background. Just be aware of positioning the pad on placemats like these with obvious lines, so that your lines are nice and straight (or straight enough) in the photos.
It’s best to get a few different colours to use, so that you can change the background depending on the fabric you use. A dark placemat with a dark pad won’t show off your pads as well as if you use a lighter coloured mat with a dark pad (and vice versa)
Making a Photo Board from fabric covered boards
For larger pads you’ll need something bigger than a placemat to fit the pad in without showing it’s a placemat background. You can make a board from heavy cardboard (eg from packing boxes) or buy some thin wooden board from a hardware store. You can buy white coated MDF/Melamine boards which you might be able to use as is. Or you can get bare wood ones and cover them in fabric. You could use wrapping paper or something else, but paper can rip and you don’t want shiny paper or it can reflect the light. Fabric is also handy if you’re photographing outside as it grips the pads better and is less likely for them to blow off (and you can even pin the pads on underneath to keep them put if it’s really windy!)
Make sure your fabric is ironed well!!! then use bulldog clips to make sure it is stretched tight onto the board. That way you can take the fabric off later if you want to.
These can easily be stored ready to pull out whenever you need to take photos. They can also be taken around wherever you can get the best light, inside or outside, and provide a consistent background so your photos will all have the same sort of look.
I chose 3 different colours of the same fabric print for my boards, so I can use whichever colour board suits the print/colour of the pads I’m photographing – but they have the same pattern so it’s like my signature background. 2 of my boards are 3mm white MDF I bought as a single sheet and had the hardware store cut in half (so I can take the fabric off and have plain white board if I wanted) the other is a piece of thick cardboard I had lying around.
An option that is becoming more popular is to purchase photography backgrounds. These can be purchased from ebay for under $15 (Search for “photography backgrounds”) and come in a variety of different styles. They are designed to hang and take photos of people standing in front of them, but they can be cut down to a manageable size for pad photography. A lot of people go for a wood look pattern, but you can choose anything you think works well. The example here gives you both a wooden part and a wallpaper part that will give you 2 different options to photograph on. If you know a padmaker is using a particular background it might be advisable not to use the same one, so that you create your own signature background design.
These backgrounds generally come folded, so will have creases in them. The fabric they are made from is a sort of plasticky canvass, but it is possible to iron them with a low heat to remove the wrinkles. I’d suggest then either rolling them up or attaching them to cardboard/wooden boards (as with the fabric covered boards above) to prevent them wrinkling/creasing again. Some fabric stores will give you the left over fabric bolt tubes if you ask, and these are great for rolling these backdrops back onto.
Stuff lying around the house
Don’t forget about everyday stuff as a photographing background… If you’ve got an interesting basket or something, try using those things and see if they work as a background. Wood is a popular background, and these can look good but remember some people don’t like pads to be on floors because that can be considered unclean – and wooden tabletops, chopping boards and other wooden things can look the same as a wooden floor (also be beware of the camera flash!). So think about what the background may mean to customers…. quirky and interesting can be good, but “ratty old dishcloth” might not be the effect you’re after 😉
When photographing pads on grass and other outside things, I actually have a clear plastic pad shape I put under the pad so that none of the pad is actually touching the potentially dirty ground – although customers won’t know that and might be put off by the idea their pad has touched the ground.
And again, different things will work well for different pads. I think the balls look good with this particular pad – the sun is smiling, it’s a cute, happy and whimsical design, so balls work well… however if you had an elegant gold swirl pad, then a background of colourful balls is going to look completely out of place.
Some examples of how different stuff around the home can look:
(Coloured balls (outside) | Book inside (near window) | Wooden planks (outside)
Cropping is also important, it can transform “ugly concrete stairs” into “random speckled background”
Or “Ugly garden weeds” into “nice greenery”
With cropping though, I personally think the photos look nicer (more balanced) when there is some space left around the pad. I find if the image is cropped to make the edges of the image touch the pad, it makes the photo look cramped. Just my personal opinion of course, but I recommend leaving a bit of space around the pad.