We wanted to make something different. Something people hadn't seen before. I couldn't rely on finding an existing setting that would serve our needs and the colors we were envisioning. A seamless paper backdrop wouldn't have the same effect we were going for.
So I had to build a set. With pretty much zero construction knowledge. I improvised. With lots of help from my family, of course.
This project required a huge amount of time, physical labor, and money. Mostly time and physical labor, but materials do cost quite a bit, especially when you mess up and have to buy more. So I'm going to tell you how I did this in hopes that it will save you time, labor, and money!
Disclaimer: I don't claim that this is a 100% stable, fall-proof set-up. On a windy day, I would always have 1-2 people just be in charge of holding the frame and making sure it doesn't fall down.
What you'll need:
I got most of this at Home Depot! (Paint was from Ace Hardware.)
For the frame:
-Two 4-foot by 8-foot pieces of wood, thick enough to mount a hinge (1/2"-3/4" should do). We used particle board ($14/each), but plywood would be sturdier and would allow you to make a double-sided set (see my note at the bottom of this post). It's just more expensive.
-One 4-foot by 4-foot piece of wood at least 1/2" thick. This will act as the floor. Since I had 4 colors, we had the guy at Home Depot cut one 4'x8' particleboard in half so that we had two square floors that could be painted on each side (4 different colored floors total).
-Three hinges and enough bolts/nuts for every hole (we used three piano hinges and 3-5 bolts & nuts per hole). Make sure the bolts fit the hole of your hinge and your drill bit, and obviously that the nuts are the right size for the bolts. Also make sure your bolt is longer than the width of your particleboard - otherwise you won't be able to screw on the nut properly.
-A drill + appropriately sized drill bit
-Screwdriver that matches the head of your bolts
-Ideally a furniture dolly or something with wheels that allows you to move the super heavy frame (we didn't have this!)
For the colorful overlays:
-Two 4-foot by 8-foot pieces of eucaboard ($9/each) - or other lightweight board that won't warp or wrinkle - PER COLOR. If you want 4 colors, you'll need 8 boards. Keep reading to discover why I don't recommend painting both sides of eucaboard.
-2 quarts (per color) interior flat paint of your choice - we chose the cheapest quarts available (Clark & Kensington) for $12.99/quart.
-4 industrial clamps like these
Step 1: Drill holes into your frame boards.
Take one 4'x8' particleboard and hold the hinge to the edge of the board. Use a pencil to mark the holes on the hinge. Be sure to hold the hinge steadily so it doesn't move while you're drawing the marks. You'll then take your drill and drill into the pencil marks, going all the way through the board.
Step 2: Attach the hinges.
One by one, place each hinge over the holes you just drilled and insert the bolts through holes. Again, make sure your bolts are long enough so that you'll be able to screw on the nut on the back. For example, if your particleboard is 3/4" thick, you'll probably want 1" long bolts. Add a nut to each bolt so that the hinge is firmly attached to the first piece of particleboard. Use a wrench and a screwdriver to tighten them.
Once three hinges are attached to the first board, lay it down and stand the other board up next to it on the long edge (see the left side of the illustration below). You could also measure out the distance between the three hinges before you put them on the first board, and transfer those distances to the second board, but I don't have patience for measuring things, so we opted for this method. It also is more reliable than measurements, because you can see that the boards are together in the right configuration. Once you've drilled the holes in the right places on the second board, stand the boards up (this will require quite a bit of strength - a lot of weight is hovering 8 feet in the air!) – as seen in the right side of the illustration below. Now you'll repeat the bolt insertion process on the second board. Make sure the boards are flush at the center, preferably at a 90º angle depending on the hinge you're using. Again, tighten the nuts & bolts with a screwdriver and wrench. Unless you're 8 feet tall, you'll need a ladder to attach the top hinge.
You should now have a standing frame that supports itself when it's open at a 90º angle. It can be folded for storage. Ideally, you have a moving dolly to transport it because it's HEAVY. (We didn't have a dolly.)
Step 3: Paint your eucaboards and your floor(s).
Now it's time for the fun part – if you like painting. I thought I liked painting, but by the end of this, I was ready to not see a roller for a while! Because eucaboard is pretty dark, I had to do two coats of paint on each board. Use interior flat paint – you want the colors to be matte, not shiny. Don't worry too much about tiny marks or smudges because they likely won't appear on camera; plus, they're easy to clone out. But you want to make sure that there are no glaringly bare spots or shadowy areas. You're aiming for a smooth, monochromatic surface. See my note at under "what not to do" about painting both sides of eucaboard.
Paint your floors, too. You should have one 4'x4' piece of wood for every 2 colors. It should be at least 1/2" thick so it can be stepped on without bending or warping. I painted one color on each side of my 4'x4' particleboards, and I did two coats on all of them. Be sure to let each side dry fully and have a clean sheet to lay the painted side on if you're painting both sides. These WILL get dirty while shooting, so begin to accept that.
Step 4: Put it all together.
Once the paint has dried, it's time to finally make this dreamy colorful corner come together!
Stand your frame up (if you haven't done that already), and assign someone to be on a ladder, and someone to be on the ground. One person will lift the colorful eucaboard over the surface of the frame, while the person on the ladder clamps them to the top. Repeat this process with both panels. Be mindful of keeping the panels flush in the center, so you don't see the hinges or any gapping.
Slide in the floor, and you should have a complete set! (This moment was so exciting for me.)
WHAT NOT TO DO:
Based on my mistakes, don't do these things:
1. Don't try to make your frame double-sided – unless you're construction-savvy. My original plan did not include colorful overlays; rather I was planning to make two double-sided frames and paint each side to have 4 colors total. We used piano hinges for this purpose (they can bend both ways), and because we didn't know what we were doing at first, we screwed the hinges into the thin edge of the particle board, and the instant we tried to make it turn the other way, the hinges ripped out. Moral of the story is: if you're going to do this, find someone who knows what they're doing and stay away from particleboard. Plywood would be a more viable, but more expensive, solution.
2. Be careful if you're tying eucaboard to the top of your car. We tied our eucaboards onto a Land Rover with a roof rack using two ratchet straps, and just driving slowly on a residential road, one of the boards caught wind, bent in half, and blew away. We felt like those idiots you always see on the freeway losing things off the back of their car! So ideally, clamp them together so they act as a more solid, heavier unit, and use LOTS of ropes/straps.
3. Painting on the rough side of eucaboard will use twice the amount of paint. It's cheaper to get 8 panels of eucaboard and only paint the smooth side than it is to try to paint both the smooth and rough side and use twice the amount of paint on the rough side. The texture just soaks it up! Alternatively, find a different type of board with the same texture on both sides and you can do this double sided.
So – there you have it. A low-budget, colorful photo set! I had so much fun with this project and hope to do a whole series out of this set. For now, I can't share more of the images from this set since we're trying to get them published. But check back for more! (Including a fancy BTS video by Ocean Ho :) )
For lighting, you could put this inside and experiment with studio lights, or you could go all natural like I did and use the natural light of your backyard! Try to find a spot that will be in shade for the duration of the shoot, ideally with a bright object, like the wall of a house, bouncing even light onto your subject. At one point, our clamps were reflecting splashes of light onto the boards, so we covered them with a napkin and a rubber band. :D Be mindful of subtle shadows being cast by the walls of the frame.
If you try it yourself, use the hashtag #colorfulcorners on Instagram and send the results to me! I'd love to see how it turns out.
Here's the full behind the scenes video: