How To Set Up Your First Photography Studio

May 21, 2016

 

DEDICATED STUDIO SPACE

An ideal studio should have its own dedicated space where all your photography equipment can be stored. No one wants to feel like they are tripping over gear and wondering where you have place that tripod or this light. Having a dedicated space is important to make your clients feel like you are a true professional and does not give them and excuse to underpay you. A professional work environment also makes your clients more comfortable and not like they are intruding on your home in any way. Discomfort will show up in the photos whether it comes fro you or your client.

 

MAKE ENOUGH ROOM

The on of the biggest challenges you will need to overcome in your studio space is making sure you have enough room to zoom. If the space is too cramped, you won’t be able to get a variety of photos from your studio or there is a chance your photos will look distorted. If you use a wide angle lens while standing close to your subject, you will quickly find that the image is distorted and your subject doesn’t look good at all in front of the camera.

 

The best way to prevent this distortion is to step back and zoom in. To do that, you need the physical space to move back. If you plan to take full body shots, a 20 foot deep room is generally considered ideal. You can make it work in a room that is 15 feet deep, but if it is much smaller there won’t be room for much of anything. To help avoid lens distortion in your photos, don’t go wider than 50mm. Whether you use a zoom or a prime lens for your photos, 50mm should be your absolute minimum when you shoot portraits or products.

 

The depth of the room is a serious limitation, however the height of the ceiling may be one as well. If you have a low ceiling, you can be sure light will bounce off it. The ceiling effectively becomes a giant reflector board, adding light that you didn’t consider. You will have to work with your studio setup to learn how the light behaves and what it takes to avoid having too much light bounce off the ceiling with a few trial shoots.

 

There might also not be enough space to place a hair light. A hair light is used to light the back of the subject and separate them from the background. With low ceilings, you will be able to use a hair light for a seated subject, but not for a person who is standing with average to above average height. Generally, you need about 3 feet between the subject and the hair light for it to work as it is supposed to.

 

 

USE WINDOW LIGHT

Window light simply refers to the light that comes through your window and into the room. There are pros and cons to having a window in your studio space. Assuming the window is placed in an ideal location in the room, when used properly it can be a great benefit to your photography studio. Natural light can give an, even soft glow to a subject. There is never need for a flash and it is easy to cover up to control how much light you want getting through. However you might run into some extra ambient light. It is difficult to angle and control in terms of direction. It also limits how creative you can be with your subject due to the variety of options you have with lights.

 

 

HAVE A GREAT BACKDROP

The backdrop the background for your subject. In studios, nice backdrops are often seamless so they don’t take away from the subject and provide a clean look that you can manipulate if need be later. There are endless options of different backdrops you can buy. The only limitation on the number of backdrops your studio can have is how much space you have to store them.

 

Trendy backgrounds are just plain solid colors. You can get neutral colored backgrounds and use gelled lights to change their color, or use Photoshop to edit different colors or backgrounds onto them.

The idea behind having a good background for your photos is to remove distractions, enhance professionalism, and add to the control you have as a photographer over your photos. If you have limited space, you can buy a wall mount that allows you to hang 2 or 3 rolls of paper. When you are done, you use the chain and roll the paper back up. 

 

PROPS

Using props to add a new element to the photo can make all the difference. One difficulty with studio photos is that it doesn’t take very long before every photo in the studio starts to look the same. You will need and want to mix it up by adding in creative elements with the use of props.

 

Props can be anything, start collecting things now to add to your props. Garage sales, thrift stores, grandma’s attic, or your best friend’s closet are great places to acquire fun props that don’t cost a lot of money, if any at all. Then, once you get them, place them in a storage unit nearby that is easy to get to and manage.

 

 

 

LIGHTS

There are a lot of studio lights to choose from that claim to do certain things to help you with flash photography. The basic types of lights you want will be one of these three:

Constant Lights
These are lights that are on all the time. (Pretty much a fancy word for a lamp.) These are nice because you can instantly see how the light will fall on the subject. However, they often lack the brightness and power that you can find in a speedlight or strobe.

Constant lights are not very portable or much good outside. Before getting a set of constant lights, consider these other, more versatile lights.

Speedlights
These are compact flashes that are easy to set up. The best way to use these lights is in conjunction with radio triggers and receivers. This allows you to use them off-camera and not be tethered by cords as you move the lights around the studio. You can also take these lights with you anywhere because they are so small.

Studio Strobes
A studio strobe is a high powered flash that plugs into the wall. These are a dream when compared to the speedlight and constant light, but they come with a high price tag. They have great output and an incredible recycle time that is sure to never slow you down. Studio strobes are often a photographer’s choice for any studio setup if their budget allows. The downside to these lights is that they are heavy and need to be plugged in all the time.

To understand more about the differences between these two types of lights, read this article:
Off-Camera Flash…On the Cheap!

 

LIGHT MODIFIERS

A light modifier controls the effect the light has coming from the flash. You can choose from umbrellas, soft boxes, beauty dishes, strip banks, flash benders, etc. There are a lot out there to choose from, and they come in all different sizes. To keep things simple, this list will only focus on the two major light modifiers that you can buy to use with any of the three lights discussed above.


Umbrellas are intended to spread light. This is a nice choice if you are trying to light a large area or a group of people. You have little control over where the light goes because as far as the umbrella is concerned, you are not trying to limit its reach. There are different types of umbrellas out there, but for a home studio purpose, stick with a white shoot-through umbrella or a small silver reflective umbrella. These are highly portable and very cheap depending on what you get.


A softbox gives you greater control over the direction of the light. These are often seen on constant lights, but they can be attached to speedlights and studio strobes as well. Softboxes are more expensive to get into and less portable than umbrellas. However, you get better control over the light so these are great for smaller studio situations where you’re trying to keep the light from going everywhere.

 

PORTABILITY

How much of your studio do you want to take with you on location? Before you run out and buy a bunch of gear, this is a very important question to consider. A lot of studio gear is big, cumbersome, and often requires being plugged in. The studio strobes and modifiers, for example, are great but are difficult enough to set up that it is easier to leave them instead of tearing them down and loading them in the car.

You can achieve great studio photos with portable gear. Going the speedlight route will be the easiest and by far the most cost effective method. If you are tight on space and money for your studio, then buying speedlights is probably your best option.

 

SET UP OVERTIME

Don’t feel pressured to go out and buy everything right now. There is nothing wrong with building up your studio setup as you go. An added benefit to purchasing as you go is the possibility of learning about new or different pieces of gear that might make more sense for your particular studio.

 

Each studio space is going to be a little bit different. Because of this, each studio will require unique pieces of gear to make the space as functional as possible. Determining what else you need after using your current gear for a while will help you make more educated choices with your next gear purchase.

 

DISPLAY YOUR BEST WORK

Show your clients other work you have done. The studio is your space, so show off some of your best work! Chances are they have already seen some of your work and that is why they are in your home having you take their photos. But there is something special about seeing a printed photo; it’s a different experience and really brings the photo to life.

 

You can also show your clients what different sizes of prints look like if you offer that in your packages. Help them fall in love with large prints and upsell them to the idea that they, too, can have that on their wall.

 

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Stephanie Amber

Stephanie Amber Photography is not only my portfolio, it's yours. I have started this photography blog to highlight local and amateur photographers. Submit your photography to the blog to become our next featured photographer. I am a graphic designer and freelance photographer in the greater Boston area. 

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