We have been asked by lots of people how we built our huge infinity wall so we thought we would put a rough guide up. First of all this is just how we did it after researching it, not finding much information and then pulling a few ideas together. It did help that Marc is a qualified engineer when it came to figuring it out but the concept it quite straight forward. The design was based on a few photos we had seen, some tips on forums, ideas from boat building and even from skateparks where curves ramps are used!
Before we start, the principles are simple, the trick bit is the quality of the build (especially when your wall is 3.5 meters high x 5 meters wide like ours!).
This takes time be warned. It may sap your enthusiasm for photography, your studio and life in general whilst building it! We spent weeks building ours. The good news is its worth it in the end!
Before you start
Careful planning will save you a lot of time and money. Design your frame carefully. Not only do you need to take into account the space you have but also the materials you can get. How long are the pieces of wood you can get from your local DIY shop? What size are the boards that you are going to cover it with? How will you transport everything? etc.
Step one – Build The Backdrop Frame
Once you have your studio space you are good to go. The first thing to do is build the frame for the backdrop. We could not attach ours directly to the wall which threw in another challenge and meant we needed to build a very robust frame. Our frame is built from 2″ x 4″ wooden beams. Make life easy and get planed wood that is nice and straight without any bows. Depending on the size of your frame and if you can attach it to the wall will dictate how complicated it needs to be. At this point consider where your batons for the boards will need to be, if you can incorporate them into the design of your frame happy days! As ours is ‘free standing’ it had to be sturdy to prevent flexing. The trick here is the get the frame square and flat across the front side. We had to plane ours down in places and used string, pulled tightly from one side to the others to determine where the high and low spots were.
Step 2 – Fit The Frame
If wall mounting this is easy, just use some brackets strong enough to safely carry the weight of the frame and appropriate wall screws / fasteners and off you go. For us it was a little more difficult. We screwed ours to the floor to prevent the bottom from moving and then used a system of braces to fasten the frame to the wall behind and the walls to the side. Just remember however you decide to this it has to be safe. Last thing you want is it falling on someone who is paying you to photograph them!
Step 3 – The Floor
Again we had to do things a bit different as we had a sprung dance floor for the curve to finish at. To be honest this was a nightmare and if you dont need one life will be easier! If you just need a standard floor, build another frame similar to that of the backdrop frame and attach it to the floor. This will only be there to screw the curve to and to screw the floor boards to to create your set. Again accuracy helps so starting with a flat floor would be a good idea!
Step 4 – The formers to create your curve
After much reading and digging we struggled to get any definite answer on the size of the curve so we based it on one we had seen in another studio. The radius on ours is about 2 foot. We created a cardboard template for our formers (the curved bits on the photo on the left) so we can ensure they were all the same. When designing your former take into account how they will be fitted to the frame. You will see our formers do not finish at a point. This was so they could be screwed to the uprights of the frame. The formers also do not finish at a point on the floor, they should take into account the thickness of the floor so the curves surface of the former blends perfectly into the top of the frame on the floor. Now this is where we cheated, we had our template and we simply took it to a local timber yard and got them to cut them out. They have much better tools for the job than we did and it only cost about 50p extra per former to get it cut. They were made out of 15mm MDF.
Step 5 – Fitting your formers
First of all fit your formers to your frame using what ever method you have designed. We simply screwed ours to the frame. Next job is the put some ribs between your formers to help support the curve. For this we just used some scrap wood we had knocking around (Im guessing it was about 30mm x 30mm). These were simply held in place by pilot drilling and screwing them in at the ends (hence the staggering of the ribs so we could screw them in!).
Step 6 – Boarding it up
Your backdrop and floor frames are flat and secured in positions, your formers are in place, the ribs are all attached so its time to make it look like a studio! Please note the size of boards we used may not be suitable for your studio, especially as we did not have to cover the floor. If you are building the floor as well adjust the thickness and material to suit to ensure it is safe to jump on (someone will!).
The main principle though is this. Decide the thickness of your floor and backdrop boards taking into account two things. First is safety, how thick does my flooring need to be. Second things is you need to consider is the thickness of hardboard you can get (hardboard bends easily and is therefore used on the curve). The floor and the backdrop do not need to be made from the same material but do need to be the same thickness.
We built our backdrop with 6mm MDF because we know we could get hold of 3mm hard board of the same board size. The principle of the curve is to build it up to allow an even bend. You would struggle to bend 6mm board but 3mm boards bends nicely. Guess what, you put one board down on the curve and then put another over the top to build it up to the same thickness as your main background / floor boards (hence why you have to consider the thickness of your hard board when deciding).
When fitting the curved board make sure the edges of your board extend beyond where the curve finished. Doing this will minimise the risk of snapping the board and should give you a smoother transition from curve to flat. Draw a line across the frame where the board should finish and fit the first layer of boards. We glues our on as well as using a load of screws (dont forget this board will get covered by the second layer).
Once the first curves board was fitted we used this edge to allow us to fit the backdrop (and in your case the floor board). Doing this now will give your second board something to wedge between helping to form the curve with less screws. When fitting the backdrop and floor boards we used lots of no more nails and as few a screws as possible to reduce the impact on the final look. Dont forget though they have to stay on!
Once your main boards are on you can fit the other curves boards to build it up to the same thickness. Again lots of glue and as few screws as possible!
Step 7 - Filling and sanding
This is the painful bit. Your arms and hands are knackered anyway and now you have to spend days sanding. This is where quality counts! No doubt you will have a few small gaps between boards, screw heads to cover up etc. There is only one thing for it, fill them and get to work sanding it flat. We had such a large area we gave up and bought a power sander from the local DIY shop. It was money well spent and reduced the time of this stage massively.
Step 8 – Paint
Its boarded up, there are no gaps and its flat. It should now look like an infinity wall (apart from the colour!). Now its time for all your hard work to come together. First of all you need to get this as true a colour as possible so base coats are a must. Apply base coats until the colour of the wood has gone. Next paint it what ever colour you want it to be. The paint does matter though. Obviously white gloss isn’t a great idea (it will reflect so much light back it will be a nightmare to control) so make sure its a matte finish. We did read that some paint would photograph slightly blue etc but we must have been lucky as ours was a guess and it worked fine! You could always get testers, paint an area and photograph it its ups to you!
Get a beer, a glass of wine, a cup of tea or whatever and celebrate! If you have any questions about any of this drop us an e mail and we will be happy to help where we can!
Hang about what about plastering? We didn’t! We didn’t need to. The boards and the filling produced a flat surface so it was not necessary. If you want a plastered finished you will need to covers your surface with something plaster can key too (chicken wire is a popular choice). Plastering straight only MDF just isnt a great idea apparently!