Photo boards: mastering the backdrop

The art of creating a beautiful backdrop for small-scene photography has been made far simpler with Photo Boards – rigid, lightweight background boards where every splinter, grain of wood, rusty nail and thread of linen are true to size. We spoke to Lyndsey James about her designs...

Lyndsey, Photo Boards® is such a clever, yet simple, idea. How did you come up with the concept?

Thanks! As a commercial photographer, I have spent a lot of time looking for backgrounds. I had the idea about three years ago, when some vinyl backdrops I purchased just weren’t of the quality I needed for close-up work, like jewellery, but I had just started teaching online and knew it would be a huge undertaking to manufacture, market and ship products to customers at a time when I was already super busy. 

I decided back then that if someone still hadn’t produced something like this in three years, then I'd go ahead and do it. It helped that I had a huge customer database of photography students to market them to, but I didn’t quite expect them to go viral in the way that they have – after just two months we were dispatching worldwide from a warehouse! 

What exactly are Photo Boards? 

They are table-top sized background boards for small scene photography with two essential features – they are true to size replicas and in a board format. As a photographer taking close up shots, you want a fake background to look like the real thing, so every splinter, rusty nail and thread of linen in the designs is actual sized. 

It being a rigid lightweight board design is also important for photographers, because it means that your set becomes mobile, allowing you to pick it up and move to a window for more light, or rotate your board to adjust your shadows without having to set up from scratch. To use a Photo Board, you simply use it like you would an actual piece of board, placing it on the table or floor or propping it up for a vertical background.

The textures of each Photo Board are strikingly crisp and as close as possible to the real surface - how do you achieve such clarity?

Yes, they look so real sometimes we do a double take! We spent a lot of time researching the base materials, inks and processes used to create the boards. They are created using the latest in high-resolution scanning and printing techniques, and laser cut to perfection to ensure each board looks smart before being wrapped in a clear sealed wrapper. 

People often think they're just prints of stock images but you just couldn’t get the true replica quality without having full control of the resolution at every stage. Each board starts out as an actual board from my collection of backdrops or we paint new designs when we fancy introducing a new colour or texture to the collection.

Which Photo Boards are the most popular? 

The most popular designs are neutral because they are the most versatile. Our customers can add a splash of colour to a neutral background with their subjects or props, layering their scenes on top of the neutral Photo Board base. We have seen the same wooden design used as an effective wooden floor, cabin wall, kitchen table, rustic desk – our customers always delight us with their creativity!

Why is it important for makers and bloggers to carefully consider backdrops for shooting their products?

A good background can really make or break an image, which of course is important for makers and bloggers who want their shots to be shared on social platforms to pull traffic and interest to their blogs and stores.

Readers and buyers love to aspire to a lifestyle, and for effective lifestyle shots you should always ask yourself does this photo look like real life? One example is that solid surfaces, such as wood and marble, don’t usually bend and curve, so if you use a wood or marble effect paper that curves behind your subject, it won’t look like a real lifestyle setting. Using a flat wood or marble effect base for the table and plain wall behind would look more effective in that scenario.

What's your personal favourite go-to Photo Board?

We particularly love the marble designs and bloggers and food photographers love them too – marble is very on trend at the moment because it adds a touch of style and glamour to scenes. If I had to choose a personal favourite, it would be our French linen design because it looks so wonderfully real, yet, like all our boards, it's wipe clean!

You also run Photocraft, an online photography school that teaches makers how to tell the story of their products - when's your next course?

There are exciting changes going on at Photocraft – we're about to embark on the summer season of live workshops here in Rutland, which are fun, relaxed days of styling with lots of pretty props.

Online we're moving towards mini workshops and free webinars. Photo Boards has taken over big time so after three years of hosting tutor guided courses, Photocraft will now become the place to go for free webinars and mini courses about specific photography topics, such as how to create dark and moody lighting. Watch this space!

Discover more about Photo Boards at and follow @photoboardshq on Instagram. Find out more about Photocraft in our Directory.

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with Photocraft

Unexplained sounds

Some folk will tell you about the latest music or band you need to hear, but Ernest favours a different type of sound. The world may be filled with monitoring and recording devices, but not everything that’s picked up has an obvious explanation. James Burt investigates some of our favourite puzzling noises. 

  Illustration by Ruth Allen

Illustration by Ruth Allen


First detected in 1997, the bloop is a low-frequency noise occurring at a location very close to HP Lovecraft’s fictional sunken city of R’lyeh, in the south Pacific. It is thought to have come from an ice-quake, since the noise is too loud for a biological explanation.That is, at least, any known biological explanation. 


Also known as mistpouffers, skyquakes are similar in sound to cannons or thunder, with incidents mostly occurring near rivers and coastlines. One explanation is they are sonic booms – but this doesn’t explain accounts going back to the 1800s. According to Native Americans, the sounds are the Great Spirit working on the world. 

Taos hum

First recorded in Taos, New Mexico, similar low frequency hums have been experienced worldwide since the 1970s, suggesting they are a side-effect of the modern world. Some people have blamed secret military communications devices,others a type of fish. A leading theory is that the hums are caused by ‘spontaneous otoacoustic emissions’, the noise of the hearer’s own inner ears.


Quackers were named after the Russian onomatopoeia for a frog’s sound. First detected by Russian submarines during the Cold War, no objects appeared on the sonar and the source moved too fast to be man-made. An unknown type of animal is one explanation, as are Unidentified Submersible Objects, the underwater equivalent of UFOs.

The 52-hertz whale

The ‘Loneliest Whale’ sings a song at a higher pitch than any other.The call is always heard alone and some say it prevents the creature ever finding companionship, leaving it to wander the Pacific Ocean alone. It has inspired a Kickstarter-funded investigation as well as Kathryn Roberts’ folk song 52-hertz. The sound has not been recorded since 2004, which may mean a happy ending. 

James Burt is a computer programmer who spends his spare time researching strange things. He is currently working on a book about the history of the vindaloo.

This features in issue 6 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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The Terradora: a hybrid hiking shoe for all adventures

From off the beaten track to urban streets, KEEN's new hiking shoe will get you moving on all terrain

Promoting play and exploration in all environments, KEEN’s range of footwear is ideal for adventurous hybrid lifestyles, migrating effortlessly from urban landscapes to the unexplored territory of the back country.

Their latest evolution in footwear can’t fail to speak to a generation of adventure-seeking women. Made for dynamic, active women who carve their own path when it comes to fitness, KEEN’s new Terradora waterproof boot infuses style, all-terrain versatility and performance with a precise women’s fit.

Whether pounding a favourite route through the city or traversing off-road trails, theTerradora will be a worthy companion. Built to bridge the gap between the gym and the mountain track, this athletic hiking shoe – which hits a sweet spot between the support of a hiking boot and the flexibility and vigour of a trail runner – has been designed specifically for women’s feet. 

Cushioned panels reduce pressure on the Achilles tendon, while a low-density EVA midsole provides lightweight support for both high intensity workouts and steep descents. On more demanding surfaces, an all-terrain rubber outsole and multi-directional lugs provide a superlative grip.

TheTerradora fits into KEEN’s new workout category TrailFit – a movement aimed at empowering fitness on any trail. By providing a technically-robust, durable and stylish shoe, KEEN aims to inspire women to continue in their quest to challenge themselves mentally and physically, wherever their feet decide to take them.

KEEN’s Terradora comes in a mid (£109.99) and low (£99.99) style. Head to for more information.

This is a sponsored blog post, created in collaboration with KEEN. Read more stories from the Ernest x KEEN partnership in our directory.

Issue six is now printing!

Thank you for pre-ordering, subscribing and for your patience, dear reader! Once the ink has dried, issue six will be on its way to you. Read on to explore a few of the themes playing out in this edition: stories of shelter, etymology and the strange and wonderful things that can happen when you delve into old journals and archives.

In the summer of 1956, Jack Kerouac spent 63 days manning a fire tower on Desolation Peak in the North Cascades. Other than penning a letter to his mum, scribbling journal entries and composing the odd haiku, he didn’t get much done; he spent his days brewing coffee over a handful of burning twigs and watching the clouds roll by through the lookout’s panoramic windows. In Lonesome Traveller, published four years later, he describes his yearning for solitude: “No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength.”

Whether a refuge at the ends of the earth, a base for scientific research or a sanctuary in which to write (or – in Kerouac’s case – to just be), functional shelters have an irresistible allure. They present a space in which we can understand ourselves. In his article ‘Gimme Shelter’, author Dan Richards uses these basic structures – cabins, bunkers, eyries and bivouacs – as a lens through which to examine our relationship with isolation, wilderness and creativity. While in ‘Hole & Corner’, artist Luke Franklin leads us on a merry chase across Ireland in search of hidden bothies: four simple sheds built for creative folk to use freely and kept secret by a non-disclosure agreement with a post-apocalyptic clause. 
As well as investigating ideas around shelter, in issue six we also examine the strange and wonderful things that happen when you burrow into old journals and archives. Starting with a personal obsession, we follow in the wake of Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle by seeking out the curious human and natural history stories of the Galápagos Islands – a volcanic archipelago the naturalist described as “eminently curious”. Meanwhile, Huw Lewis Jones and Kari Herbert delve into explorers’ sketchbooks that changed the way we see the world. James Burt surveys superhuman feats of memorisation and explains how to construct a memory palace in which to store your most precious thoughts. Finally, Bethan Stevens and George Mind share their experience archiving the work of 19th-century engravers, the Dalziel Brothers, during which the team became so immersed in their research it seeped into their everyday lives.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be an issue of Ernest if we didn’t explore an obscure tale of etymology. So, after learning some seafaring vernacular, why not join writer Joly Braime as he roots out the origins of a long-lost Nordic language found hiding in the North York Moors? 

Order your copy in our online store, subscribe so that you never miss an edition or head to your local stockist and ask them to put a copy aside for you. 

Capturing the Aurora Borealis on Welsh Summits

Photographer Daniel Alford shares this guide to capturing the elusive aurora borealis, which he was fortunate to witness in the wilds of Wales. 

 Photo by Daniel Alford

Photo by Daniel Alford


To avoid light pollution, get as far away from the city lights as possible by heading out to the coast, the mountains or countryside. If you’re looking to capture a frame full of stars or the Milky Way, you should check the moon cycles to ensure there will be little to no moon light. You want the sky as dark as possible to ensure the only light your camera is capturing is ancient star light. It can be quite tricky to ensure a sharp image, so select manual focus and put your camera into live view mode so you can see the image from the lens on the back of the camera. Then use the digital zoom function to isolate the brightest star you can find and zoom in as far as your camera will allow; manual focus on that. Zoom back out, get out of live view and you’re ready to shoot.


Shutter speed: Ensure your shutter speed is very low. As a standard, I use a shutter speed between 25-30 seconds to ensure I let as much light into the lens as possible.

ISO: As a standard I set my ISO to 1600 and go from there. Most modern DSLRs will have very little grain at this number but be flexible as every camera is different.

Aperture/lens: Use a lens that has a very low f number, anything below and including f2.8. This is to make sure you let in as much light as possible.Tripod/camera remote For astrophotography of any kind a tripod is essential. To avoid any extra blur, use a remote shutter.


The above settings are also a good base for photographing the Northern Lights, but do try adjusting your shutter speed up and down depending on how quickly the lights dance across the sky. The Aurora season in the northern hemisphere is most visible from September to the end of March. Your best chance to see them will be in the far northern countries, but if you’re lucky they can be spotted in the UK. There are plenty of websites and apps that can alert you to the amount of solar activity hitting the upper atmosphere. The Kp-index represents the amount of activity and how far south the lights can be seen. For the UK there needs to be a lot of activity, so look out for a Kp value of around 5 to 7.

To discover more about Dan Alford's unexpected encounter and for more tips on capturing lights in the night sky turn to Issue 6 of Ernest Journal available in store