10 Affordable Everyday Food Photography Backgrounds

My thoughts on food photography, and what I’ve learned over the years–and my favorite 10 affordable everyday food photography backgrounds, all of which cost less than $25 dollars a piece. 

10 Affordable Everyday Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

We’re talking food photography today! And yes, I know what you’re thinking, “Did she really include a photograph of a paper bag up there?” Why yes, yes I did.

Somehow this post, which started as simple ‘share my favorite affordable food photography backgrounds’, morphed into a general food photography philosophy post. In other words, I’m about to get wordy. What else is new.

In case you’re curious, my current food photography equipment includes:

MY PHOTOGRAPHY PHILOSOPHY:

When it comes to food photography, I’m a big proponent of the ‘less is more’ and ‘you can do a lot with very little’ attitude–and that was my motivation behind today’s (unintentionally) lengthy post. I wanted to share how I’ve photographed lots of recipes over the years with very few and very inexpensive props and backgrounds. I didn’t want to just write about it, because I’m a visual person and figure some of you may be as well.

It is really easy to get caught up in the food photography rat race (as it relates to food blogging), so to speak, and constantly feel like you need more STUFF, whether that is a better camera lens, a fancier camera body, more props, expensive backgrounds, etc. Trust me, I’ve gotten sucked into that rabbit hole on numerous occasions.

Identical Camera Equipment - Before vs. After

Pretty sure this one of those “a picture speaks a thousands words” moments..

Great photography means different things to different people, and that’s OK. Like any art, it’s subjective. The definition of a great food photograph, for me, is one that does the following: a) showcases ingredients in an artistic way/has great composition, b) evokes some sort of feeling, memory, or story, c) makes me want to eat something immediately. 

In an ideal world, it does all three. [And to be clear, I certainly do not feel like my photographs meet that criteria often, if at all.]

With that said, food photography has gotten a lot easier for me over the years and my photography has improved significantly from where it started five years ago. Um, have you taken a look at my recipe archive? Prepare yourself, it’s scary.

THE IMPORTANCE (or lack thereof) OF “STUFF”:

Food photography discussions have a tendency, in my opinion, to put too much emphasis on stuff and while I do not consider myself an expert on photography at all, I guarantee that stuff does not a great photographer make.

Having “stuff” can certainly help and be a factor, but it is not necessary nor will it magically enable you to take good photographs. I think most people know that, but it’s worth mentioning.

Entry Level DSLR vs. Full-Frame Camera Photography Example

For the first four years of my blog’s life (up until last August), all of the photographs on this blog were taken with an entry-level Canon Rebel T1i and 50 mm/f 1.8 lens. All of them. For various reasons (which I’m happy to delve into in a separate post, if you are interested!), I upgraded my photography equipment last summer and now shoot with a Canon 6D EOS full-frame camera body and this 100 mm/ f 2.8 IS macro lens and this 50 mm/ f 1.4 lens.

It’s a dramatic difference in regards to lens quality and functionality–that I will not deny–but the photograph above shows two images (of similar subject matters) that were taken with very different photography equipment. Can you tell? I’m guessing no.

Regardless of which photo you like more–and in many ways, I prefer the photograph on the left–the defining difference between them cannot be attributed to camera equipment or camera equipment upgrades or lack thereof.

DOES NATURAL LIGHT MATTER?:

It is my personal belief (and I say this with some trepidation, because this might not be the most popular opinion) that people place a bit too much emphasis on the importance of natural light – and it can discourage people. It usually goes something like this–and I’m exaggerating, because I have a tendency to do that:

“Natural light is the answer to all of food photography problems, and as long as you access to lots and lots of it, you’re golden. If you don’t have access to natural light, you’re screwed.”

Artificial Light vs. Natural Light Food Photography

Um, FALSE. Don’t get me wrong, I love natural light. Personally, I prefer to work with natural light and that will probably never change. It requires less equipment, less space, and less fuss (or at least, in mind, it does). But you can take amazing food photographs with artificial light (Stephanie Le of the blog, I Am A Food Blog, is a perfect example of this!). If you don’t have the ability to take photographs during the day, it’s not a make or break deal. If you want to start a food blog and have no ability to take photographs during the day – don’t let that stop you.

Natural light is not the norm in the larger food photography world. It just is not realistic for the most part. It is incredibly inconsistent and is constantly changing. If you’ve ever taken a bunch of photographs of the same thing over a given length of time, you know that lighting changes, colors change, and you constantly have to adjust your settings and set-up to account for all of these changes.

The photographs above are side-by-side examples of natural light photography and artificial light photography, both of which I took at my previous job (where I did most of the in-house photography and could not use natural light). Truthfully, my experience with artificial lighting is extremely limited, but would you ever know that those photos were taken with different light sources? Probably not.

Food Photography Basics

I credit my improvement in food photography over the years to a bunch of things: 1) using my camera and practicing photography on a regular basis for the past five years, 2) learning how to properly use my camera and understanding ISO, shutter speed, and aperture 3) being resourceful/creative with a limited amount of stuff, 4) playing with composition, lighting, angles, and styles, 5) reading books, looking at many food magazines, and immersing myself in sources of inspiration, and 6learning the importance of post-processing.

Not necessarily in that order. In fact, post-processing is a huge part of it.

I’ve also asked questions and sought advice/help over the years if I can’t seem to figure something out. If you admire a photographer’s work, don’t hesitate to ask questions and reach out. More often than not, people are generous with their knowledge and don’t mind sharing, because at some point in their life or career, they’ve had to do the same thing.

MY FAVORITE {AFFORDABLE} FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY BACKGROUNDS: 

With that said (1,000+ words later), let’s discuss food photography backgrounds! Specifically, 10 affordable everyday food photography backdrops that I continue to use on a regular basis–and that I did not have to make myself or build from scratch. All of these options cost less than $25 dollars, and most of them are significantly cheaper than that.

Do I want more backgrounds? Absolutely. But I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve made these options work for me for so long. In many ways, it has forced me to be creative and try other things to add texture and dimension to photos (layering plates and bowls, adding linens, etc.).

You can make your own food photography backgrounds, but I have yet to do this. Even if I wanted to, I live in an apartment–which up until a few months ago–had no balcony, so my options to make my own backgrounds, that don’t involve asphyxiating Connor and I with paint and stain fumes along the way–were fairly non-existent.

To be helpful, I’ve included photos that I’ve taken on every single “background” that I’ve included in today’s list. I have a million more photos that I could share as examples (and trust me, once you see them, you will probably be able to point out other blog recipe posts where I’ve used the same background).  I’ve also included why I love it, as well as a few cons to using these.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Ikea Limmnon Table Top | Recipe: Spaghetti All’Amatriciana

1. IKEA LIMMNON TABLE TOP

This is my go-to white photography background. I cannot credit myself for this discovery. I reached out to Adrianna of A Cozy Kitchen (one of my favorite blogs) a few years ago, and asked her what she was using for her “white background” food photographs.

In the past, I had used white foam board, which as you probably can guess, was far from ideal for spillages and other “purposefully” messy photos (such as the photo above). I wanted something that was mostly matte–with very little shine–and that could be easily wiped up, and cleaned–she recommended this Ikea Limmnon Table Top!

It is literally just the top of a desk (thankfully, it is sold in parts) and is just over 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. This means it is slightly on the larger side and requires more space to store, but it’s relatively light in weight compared to most food photography boards (as it is made of particle and fiber board). The best part? They ship this item, which meant I didn’t have to drive an hour to my local IKEA store.

Note: It is not pure, pure bright white. It is more a muted white–which I don’t mind–but it can require a little boost of brightness/whiteness when post-processing.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Chicago Metallic Sheet Pan Recipe: Chunky Pea and Leek Soup with Poached Eggs

2. OLD SHEET PANS

This is another one of my absolute favorite food photography backdrops. By old, you really want sheet pans or cookie sheets that are distressed as much as possible. Sometimes you can find old sheet pans and cookie sheets at yard sales or Ebay. Truthfully, I don’t particularly feel like spending $30 dollars on a horrible quality sheet pan on Ebay (that I can use for no other purpose), but it is the easiest way to acquire this item.

My old sheet pan–shown above–was actually a Chicago Metallic Sheet Pan (my favorite brand of sheet pans, because they do not warp and are great quality), which just inevitably wore down with time and started taking on this appearance. I didn’t even try to discolor it or get it to look this way, it just sort of naturally took that path. [Thank you food prop gods.]

I find it endearing and still use this sheet pan to cook/bake on a regular basis (win-win for storage purposes). I love doing top-down ingredient shots (of roasted items) on this, because it has so much texture/character, and it also serves as a great photograph surface (see photo aboveor propped up as a background.

If you want more examples of awesome food photography that utilizes distressed sheet pans, check out Heather Christo’s blog.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Home Depot Floor Tiles | Recipe: Everything Bagel Breakfast Waffles

3. CERAMIC/PORCELAIN FLOOR TILES

Let’s talk about something that is heavy and relatively obnoxious to store, but that is a great, affordable option for food photography backgrounds! Floor tiles. Yep, single ceramic or porcelain floor tiles that I’ve bought from Home Depot. Jessica mentioned using these years and years ago, and I promptly took a visit to my local HD the next weekend.

They are so cheap ($2.00-$6.00/tile) and are wipeable. I can’t stress the value of things that are wipeable (god that sentence is weird) when taking food photographs. I have two floor tiles (one that is grey and one that is more tann-ish in color. I used to have these tiles that, in a pinch, resembled textured wood planks, but I gave those up in the move–not sure why!).

I use these on a regular basis, and highly recommend them for people that are looking for additional options, as they tend to have near matte finishes and are so cheap. You’d be amazed at some of the textures and finishes of floor tiles these days, and how flattering most of them can be for food photographs! The downside is that they are sold in various sizes (mine are 14-inches x 14-inches, and 20-inches x 20 inches), and sometimes the relatively small surface area to work with can be limiting for top-down photos, especially ones where you are trying to incorporate more white space or accommodating larger plates/bowls.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Craft or Construction Paper | Recipe: Olive Oil Stracciatella Ice Cream

4. CRAFT/CONSTRUCTION PAPER

I realize what you are thinking. Craft paper, really?! Yes. Craft paper or construction paper (in general) can be extremely helpful for food photography, because it is a super cheap way of adding color and texture to photographs.

I wanted something super playful and colorful for my recent olive oil stracciatella ice cream recipe (and don’t have backgrounds that can achieve either of those effects), and used both a pink and baby blue piece of craft paper (literally 12-inches x 12-inches) to set up that photo above.

Major, major downside? Generally, craft paper does not come in very large sizes–majorly limiting–and if you spill anything on it, you pretty much have to throw it out. You also need to clip it onto something (preferably a foam board) if you are using it as a background. BUT if you’re careful, you can get a lot of uses out of it!

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Paper Grocery Bags | Recipe: Creamy Leek and Pancetta Pappardelle

5. PAPER GROCERY BAGS

Hi, my name is Laura and I sometimes use the free grocery bags that I get from the grocery store as food photography backgrounds and surfaces. I’m not even joking. [Obviously, I do not use the side with the text.] Don’t knock it until you try it. I use scissors and open them up into flat paper bag sheets.

I love the natural color, which complements many ingredients very well, and when purposefully crumbled up and flattened out, it can add really interesting texture to photographs. Bonus? Cheap, disposable, and easy.

Alternatively, you can just lay them flat and layer them. Here is a great example from Ashlae of Oh Lady Cakes!

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Natural Parchment Paper | Recipe: Four Citrus Coconut Shorbread Bars

6. NATURAL PARCHMENT PAPER

You guys. I love natural parchment paper. I love it for many, many reasons (that have nothing to do with food photography), but it happens to be another favorite when I want to add texture/natural color to food photographs.

Similar to paper bags, you can crumple it up and lay it out flat, cut it into pieces (if you’re placing it below a cookie or baked good), and as long as you don’t destroy it, you can even reuse it most of the time.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Thin Plywood Sheet | Recipe: Grand Marnier Orange Bundt Cake

7. THIN PLYWOOD SHEETS

This post is starting to sound like a Home Depot commercial, but I also use, on occasion, thin plywood sheets from Home Depot! They are super light, cheap, and provide a relatively large surface with which to shoot photographs on. I try to find the ones that have as much wood or unique grains as possible. Generally, I find that you need to add other elements to the photographs (linens, etc.) to add texture, but they are a great alternative to expensive, heavy wooden backgrounds and can easily be propped up.

Remember that floral holiday DIY centerpiece that I created last year for the holidays? Confession: that was not my dining room table. That was actually a piece of plywood that I lay down on my apartment floor. Secret’s out.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Foam Boards | Recipe: Lemon Yogurt Pount Cake

8. FOAM BOARDS

Foam boards are must-have’s in regards to food photography. As I mentioned above, they can be used as surfaces (in a pinch, but not highly recommended), but they are amazing as in-the-distance backgrounds and for reflecting/blocking/directing light. I have at least three white foam boards, two black foam boards, and one blue/white foam board, which I used to create the background above.

I pick mine up at Michael’s, but you can even find them at grocery stores sometimes. Sarah of the awesome dessert-laden blog, The Sugar Hit, uses various paper/foam boards to add tons of color and character to her food photographs (I don’t actually know this for a fact, but I’m fairly sure that is what she is using).

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Kitchen Linens/Cloths | Recipe: Green-Lentil Coconut Soup with Indian Spices

9. KITCHEN LINENS/CLOTHS

I think this goes without being said, but kitchen linens and cloths are another favorite food photography background (or surface) that I use on a regular basis!

I prefer natural linen cloths that can easily lay flat, as they are the easiest ones to maneuver. Sometimes I’ll lay them out and place them on a surface as part of a photograph (the photo above) and other times, I’ll lay them out completely and use them as the only background.

I have a few extra bold ones, such as the pink/red one that I acquired at Blue Hill at Stone Barns store last summer, but my biggest tip is to find linens and cloths that are relatively neutral and can be used for as many applications as possible. Super bold linens are very memorable, which means you can use them less frequently (if that matters to you, of course). West Elm, Restoration Hardware, and Anthropologie have great ones, but I’ve even found great ones at Target on occasion.

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!

Wood Cutting Boards | Recipe: Asian Roasted Brussels Sprouts

10) WOODEN CUTTING BOARDS

Last, but not least. Wooden cutting boards. Probably in my top three of food photography backgrounds and surfaces. I don’t have many, but I use them constantly–in conjunction with many of the other items above–to add layering, texture, and warmth to my photographs.

Obviously, wooden cutting boards can vary in price. Cheap ones are out there, but they can also be extremely pricey. I try to find ones that have as much variance in grain as possible, and avoid any with yellow-ish tones, because they tend to clash with most foods.

One of my favorite cutting boards is a unique, olive cutting board that Connor’s parents brought me back from Italy, but the majority of my wooden cutting boards were between $10 and $25 a piece. You can find really nice ones on sale from West Elm, Crate & Barrel, and even Bed Bath & Beyond sometimes. Alternatively, you can buy cheap boards from craft stores and stain them yourself, which can also work extremely well!


Good lord, that was an insanely massive and long post. I really hope this was helpful in some way, and gave you some insight/examples of how I’ve incorporated extremely affordable items to mix up my food photography over the years!

I credit my limited amount of stuff with forcing me get more creative and play around more with lighting, angles, and composition, and hope this inspires you to do the same! Let me know if you have any questions or want me to discuss other food-photography related topics!

If you have additional questions about my photography and equipment, feel free to check out my FAQ page!

This post is not sponsored by anyone, but does contain a few Amazon affiliate links–thanks for your support!

10 Affordable Food Photography Backgrounds. All under $25 dollars a piece!