Building My Own Background: Learn to Make a Diorama

One of the largest issues with toy photography, especially for those of us who shoot primarily in a studio, is finding suitable backgrounds. I recently tried to build my own background using foam and some craft paints.

This is the result.

I got this idea from a channel I stumbled across on YouTube called Black Magic Craft. The channel is primarily about building terrain pieces for tabletop gaming, like Dungeons & Dragons. Those games are at a much smaller scale then I need, but if toy photography has taught me anything it’s that scale is relative, so I thought I’d give it a go.

My first project was making a shiny, new busted-down stone wall.

Making the stone wall

I started by going to the hardware store and picking up some foam insulation. I then cut out a couple dozen 1/4″ by 1/2″ bricks using a carpenters square and an X-Acto knife. I then glued the bricks to a base made from the same foam, building a wall shape. I also glued sand to the ground for texture. The result looked like this:

Painting the background

Foam is nice, but hardly realistic, so the next step is to add some paint. I started by covering the entire model with a mix of Mod Podge and black paint. This gives a nice base of colour and adds some strength to the foam.

I painted the bricks dark grey, and used a lighter grey for highlights. I then added more glue to the ground, and covered it with an even layer of potting soil.

Finally, I finished it off with a nice coat of polyurethane spray to lock everything together.

This is what it looks like, with a Re-Ment pose skeleton figure for context.

The finished background
Closeup of the background
Closeup of the background

Putting the background to use

Backgrounds are not helpful unless they are used in a photo, so I went about creating one. I took an image of the skeleton lying against my shiny, new busted-down stone wall and composited it in front of a woodland scene I took a couple of years ago.

Overall, I am pleased with the result. Not bad for a couple dollars worth of foam and some paint, eh? I can’t wait to make some more!

[dave]

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4 Comments

  1. Fantastic work, the result is amazing! Thanks for sharing your process. I’ve only ever done cardboard dioramas in the past, or the occasional one with twigs as trees. Might try your idea of starting with the foam.

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