Most of us have visited a photo studio at some time, but very few actually bothered to turn the living room into one. So we did. What should you keep in mind? What do you need? How difficult is it?
Before we started we had to think about what we actually accomplish with a studio? What is the purpose of having one?
We believe it’s all about control. Controlling the motive, the environment and the light, being able to take away the environment and to highlight the motive.
Painting with light
It doesn’t really matter if it’s the garage, living room or guest room you want to transform. You need an empty space of at least 2,5 x 3,5 metres. It’s also preferable if you can shut out daylight from windows.
We got a kit for studio background from China, with stands, paper roll holder and a white paper roll. The largest paper roll in stock was 1,45 metres. Of course it came without any instructions. First time I managed to put it together in less than 30 minutes and once you know how to, you should be able to do it in less then five.
There are also kits for wall- and ceiling fittings. These demand a more permanent place. Kits with stands are preferable for the home studio, since you can dismantle it all and stash away when you’re done.
1,45 metres wide will possibly work if all you want to shoot is a face, but it’s not sufficient for full body shots. In general you want to place your model at least a meter, often two or more, from the background. This is preferable in order to get room for a strobe and to avoid shadows. So you should get a background that is at least two metres wide.
It seems hard to find wider backgrounds on the net. Maybe because of high shipping costs. But the rolls seem to be standard. With a background kit you should be able to find suitable backgrounds locally.
If you are only going to have one background it should be white. You can still achieve different nuances depending on how far away the motive is and how you lit it.
Then you need two or three strobes to work with and umbrellas or softboxes. The set I have used the last years came with softboxes and I am very pleased with the result they produce. But it’s too much work to put them together and to dismantle every time and they are a bit too bulky to keep in a closet when not in use. This is one of the reasons I prefer umbrellas today. They are lightweight, easy to bring and to set up and are very compact to carry and store.
A white diffusing umbrella will produce a result similar to a softbox and a reflecting silver umbrella almost like a big beauty dish. You’ll come far with two strobes, two reflecting and two translucent, diffusing umbrellas and a reflecting screen. With one more strobe and a beauty dish and a snoot you’re set like a pro. With an additional strobe for lightning the background you can’t ask for more.
If you have an unstrained budget and don’t need to work uninterrupted for whole days you’ll probably like wireless, portable strobes. With these you avoid the hassle with cables and you can easily bring them anywhere you like.
Strobes are available in different strengths. The more power, the more they cost. But stronger isn’t necessary better. 200 Watts is normally plenty in an ordinary home studio. 600 Watts should be sufficient even outdoors, as long as you don’t need to compete with the sun over some distance,
It is more important that the strobes are reasonable lightweight, compact and silent. My older strobes have a fan and after a few hours they sound like hay dryers.
If your budget is strained and you already have a on camera flash you might like to settle for a couple of sets with stand, umbrellas and one extra on camera flash. This will probably be a little bit cheaper, even though you can get studio strobes cheaper than your ordinary branded on camera flash today.
On camera flashes and umbrellas will produce a similar result, but they are less powerful and not as easy to work with. However, they do have the advantage that they are easier to bring and lighter to carry.
If you need to shoot product often you might like to have a light cube or a diffusing table. The cube is low cost and easy to use. The table is a bit more expensive and you can’t just fold it together when you are done. But if you often shoot product you may prefer the comfort in working with the table worth it, even though you need a more permanent workspace for the table.