Setting up a home studio can be a great way to mix up your photography style, or inspire you to create new images. You can use it to control your environment when shooting many different types of photography, such as portraits (particularly newborn babies and headshots), food, products, fashion and flatlays.
A home studio doesn’t have to be a huge expense, or an ordeal to begin. The size of your studio, and the amount and type of equipment you need will be dictated by the subjects that you like shooting. For example, a still life photographer may need a smaller space with lots of small mirrors and reflectors, whereas a portrait photographer may prefer a bigger space with umbrellas and softboxes, or a space with a large window if they prefer to work with natural light. Below are some tips to help you get started with your first home studio.
Finding A Space
Having a home studio obviously requires a bit of spare space. You’ll probably not only need somewhere to conduct your shoots, but also room to store your gear, and possibly a work station with your computer to do your post-production and editing tasks. A spare room or empty garage are both ideal options, especially if you can dedicate the entire area to ‘studio space.’ Having your home studio separate from your living areas is ideal, especially if you live with other people. Being able to close off your studio not only keeps everything tidy and out of the way, but it stops your family having to clamber over your gear to cross the room, and reduces the chance of anything becoming broken. It also means that you can keep your studio permanently ‘set up’ and ready to go, which will make you more motivated to use it (rather than having to pack it up and down all the time.)
If you will have clients in your studio, be sure to look into insurance to protect them and your gear, in case there is an accident. You may be able to do this through your home and contents insurance, or you might need to take out special business insurance. Be sure to do your research before you invite anyone into the studio.
But How Much Space?
The amount of space that you need will depend heavily on what it is you enjoy shooting. If you like to photograph people, you will probably need a larger space than if you prefer to photograph products or food. The type and amount of equipment you have will also help dictate the amount of space you will need. Make sure that there is enough length to your home studio, so that you can get back far enough to use your longest lens without being crammed up against a wall.
Start With The Basics
Aside from a camera, a basic studio set-up includes some form of lighting, as well as a background. You don’t need to go all out and buy every type of light shaper and accessory under the sun at first. Just start with a basic kit or a Speedlight and let your studio grow as you do. When choosing a studio lighting kit, it’s important to make a decision early and stick to it, so take your time weighing up the pros and cons of each brand. The reason why making a decision is important is that modifiers are brand specific, just like lenses. Modifiers (soft boxes, beauty dishes, snoots, etc) attach to the light via a mount, and each mount is brand specific and non-compatible. Much like trying to put a Canon lens onto a Nikon camera - they are not compatible.
Aside from a light or two, you will need some stands to hold your lights up, as well as some form of syncing device so that the lights fire when you take a photo. A sync cable or a set of pocket wizards will do the trick. Having some sandbags and clamps is always a good idea, as is some black and white card which you can use to reflect or block light. These are all simple things that can be cheaply bought or made.
Installing A Background
Studios will usually have a background or backdrop, and these come in many colours, sizes, and styles. The most common background is the paper roll, and this comes in a few different widths. Paper rolls are easy to use because they can be rolled up and stored out of the way, and when they get dirty you can cut the bottom off and unroll some fresh, clean paper. They are also relatively cheap, so are a great option for home studios. While they come in many bright colours, you’ll probably use a neutral grey or white much more often than hot pink or dandelion yellow. Start neutral and build your collection from there. To hang a paper roll, you’ll need a couple of stands and a pole to suspend it, as well as a clamp to stop the paper unrolling by itself.
Another option is to get a canvas or fabric background, which are a lot heavier, but can have interesting textures or patterns painted on to them. If you don’t want to invest in such a background, start off with a king size bedsheet and go from there.
Growing Your Gear
Don’t feel like you need to buy every single piece of equipment right from the start. It’s completely fine to start slowly and accumulate pieces over time. As you get to use your studio more, you will learn what type of equipment you use most, and where there are holes in your kit. Rather than going out and spending a big chunk of money at the start, just begin with the basics and let your work and interests dictate what you add to your kit and when. This approach means that you will get the most out of your equipment, rather than hoarding things that you hardly use, or having to end up selling again later on.
Depending on the type of photography you do, you may also need to build up your props. For example most newborn photographers have a variety of blankets, wraps and beanbags to use, while food photographers may need plenty of utensils and tablecloths. Try to have an area where you can keep your props organised, clean and free of dust.
Where To Buy Equipment
There are many physical and online photography shops around, and an abundance of good quality second hand retailers. Whilst it might be tempting to get your hands on shiny new gear, don’t be afraid to look at used equipment. Many photographers sell well-looked after gear as they upgrade, so you can often get a great deal if you do your research. Make sure to inspect the gear and test that it works if you are buying second hand, and don’t be afraid to ask questions regarding any faults or issues that the photographer has had. As a fellow photographer, most of the time they’ll be honest with their answers.