Updated: Mar 18, 2019
I have quite the collection of backdrops thanks to my talented friends over at Fancy Fabric and Props and Hazy Skies Designs. Early on in this photography gig I realized that I was not a fan of hanging backdrops from my backdrop stand...it was very difficult and took forever to get a nice taut backdrop. At my last studio I attached a few small metal strips to the wall and attached my backdrops to those using strong magnets purchased on Amazon. It was a great system, but not without problems. The biggest problem I encountered was being limited to one size of backdrop. It wasn't the end of the world because I mostly use 5'x7' horizontal backdrops. Every once in a while, however, I would need to use another size and had to mess with painters tape and tacks to hang them and it was a hassle. Erin over at Fancy Fabric and Props/Captured by Erin Photography had sheet metal installed on an entire wall in her studio and I knew I wanted to do the same at my new place. I called around to several local sheet metal companies and they either thought I was crazy or quoted me prices that were way out of my budget to install one. I had Brian over at LaFountain Professional Finishes working on some projects at our new house and told him what I wanted to do in my studio with the magnetic metal wall and he said he could install the wall within my budget AND do it even better than I was describing because he'd make it look like a regular seamless wall. I was thrilled! Because this is not a commonly done project he kind of had to figure it all out along the way and was kind enough to share the process.
My wall measures a little over fifteen feet wide by eight feet tall. The material cost for this size was about $500.
Here are some of the supplies that were used:
.24G sheets of metal to cover the area (Brian purchased from BMG Metals in Chesapeake, VA)
Note: When picking up the sheet metal from the supplier, be careful not to crease the sheets. Wear proper hand protection because edges are sharp.
acetone and denatured alcohol
100 grit sandpaper
right angle grinder
construction adhesive (Brian says he'd use some sort of bucket glue and apply with a trowel next time)
waterborne factory metal primer (specifically for stainless steel)
Bondo (cut with a thinner for easier application)
Benjamin Moore Advance paint
First the oils were cleaned off with acetone and denatured alcohol (four times each sheet front and back). 100 grit sandpaper was then used to etch the sheets for paint and glue adhesion and a right angle grinder was used to cut to fit wall outlets.
Brian attached the sheets to the wall using construction adhesive but says he'd switch to some sort of bucket glue and apply with a trowel if he did it again. Two people are needed to hang the sheets.
The metal was then primered with a waterborne factory metal primer that is specifically made for stainless steel.
Bondo was used to fill in the seams. Brian recommends cutting the Bondo with a thinner to make it easier to apply (and thinner). The Bondo helps to prevent cracking (as regular drywall mud would) with the force of pulling the magnets off.
The wall was then primed again.
Two coats of paint were applied. Brian said next time he'd use Benjamin Moore Advance paint because it's a stronger paint and should resist the residue left from the magnet better. (I have already had some of the paint come off when pulling the magnets off). I chose a dark gray paint because I considered using it as a "Thunder Gray" seamless background for family shots but I think it has too much glare even with the eggshell finish I chose. If I were to do it again, I'd pick a gray that was close to the silver of the sheet metal so that if/when paint gets chipped or damaged by the magnets, it wouldn't be so noticeable.
Next the wall was patched with regular drywall mud for any imperfections seen after painting. He recommends using two to three coats of mud and sanding in between each coat. If you want a truly invisible metal wall, Brian recommends spreading a thin layer of mud all over the wall to reduce the difference in texture from ultra smooth metal and the drywall patches. Keep in mind, however, that more material between the metal and the magnet will reduce the strength of the magnet's hold. I've noticed that the magnets don't stick on the areas where the seams are because of the drywall mud.
Next the drywall mud was primed two times before applying two more coats of paint. We then let it dry for a few days to fully cure before using!
Here I have one of my canvas backdrops hanging:
I use magnets with knobs that make it easy to pull them off (large ones-25 lb holding power- for the outer corners and smaller ones-1" with 16 lb holding power- for the middle and sides. I bought both on Amazon. I purchased the button magnets for the bottom corners at Home Depot. Just be really careful about making sure little ones don't get them as they could be very dangerous if swallowed!
I've used my new wall several times already and am super happy with it. The magnets are definitely going to do a number on the paint after a while but that's easily touched up with a little more paint. This was not a cheap project but I think it was definitely worth it for the ease and versatility it will give me. If you're local, I highly recommend Brian with LaFountain Professional Finishes for any finishing work you might have. He painted several rooms in our new home, refinished our kitchen cabinets, installed a beautiful subway tile backsplash in our kitchen, and created this awesome metal wall for my studio. He really has an eye for details and was not happy unless everything was just right, which I appreciated! Click here to be directed to his Facebook page!
Here's a quick video of it in use with a couple of backdrops. This was take four people...it's pure chaos over here with a loud, trouble-making baby running all over the place. Good luck hearing me over him lol!
What do you think? Is this something you'd love to have in your studio? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!