Many photographers dream of having their own studio to practice their craft. Now you must be wondering, how can I make a photography studio at home?
Well, what if I told you it’s easy to get started? Here are some tips on how to set up a low-cost photo studio at home!
[ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here.]
How Do You Set Up a Home Photography Studio?
Planning how to set up a home photography studio can be overwhelming. With so many elements to consider, where do you start?
The first step for me was to do some research on the photo studios near me. Of course, I didn’t have to visit those places physically. A simple internet search was enough.
A photo studio near me even had images of their facilities. Seeing their set-up allowed me to figure out how to arrange my equipment at home.
Remember that it would take years to acquire expensive equipment you see in professional studios. So for now, don’t be afraid to start small with the essentials.
Which Is Better: A Fixed Location or a Portable Studio?
Think about how you intend to do your photoshoots. Do you want to stay in a single place? Or do you see yourself shooting in different locations a lot?
If you’re not doing photoshoots on a regular basis, you can get away with a clean wall and window light. That’s all you really need for simple portraits.
But what if you’re shooting product photography several times a week? Then a dedicated home photography studio would be the most ideal.
It would be best to invest in equipment that is compact and easy to store away. That way, you have to option to have a permanent studio and still have the ability to move around gear to locations.
How Big Should Your Photography Studio Be?
You don’t need to have access to a 100 square metre venue to take studio portraits. You can convert a spare room or even a tool shed into a home photography studio.
Working in smaller spaces can be quite challenging. It demands a good deal of flexibility, the ability to make compromises, and a lot of creativity.
But then again, you are not going to need a lot of equipment for your home studio. In most cases, even a 100 square-foot room is enough to fit all of your home photography studio gear. Place your background stand against one of the walls, set up the light stands in front, and that’s it!
One factor you need to consider for your studio is the number of people you can fit in it.
Do you like to photograph groups of people? If so, look for big spaces for unobstructed motion.
You should also beware that the size of your home studio may affect the light in your photos.
It’s easier to control artificial light in large photography studios. In very small places with a low ceiling, stray light can be more of a problem.
So if your space is small, it would be best to stick to window lighting. It never fails to create pleasing light no matter the size of your studio.
How Do you Manage a Small Studio Space?
Building complicated lighting sets can be trickier to do in small studios. This is because of the lack of space.
For the same reason, your expensive 70-200mm f/2.8 could end up being too ‘long’ for your space. Due to this, you will only be able to take headshots (at best).
In small photography studios, it may be better to invest in lenses with shorter focal lengths. Try any option between 80-100mm for taking larger portraits.
Finally, your home photography studio setup should have a few power sockets around.
You’ll likely have to plug in gear all the time when taking pictures. These could be lights, laptop (if you shoot tethered), and chargers. You may even fans for cooling your place or for portrait effects.
What Is The Basic Gear Setup for a Small Photography Studio?
There are tons of studio gear to choose from that it’s difficult to know which ones to buy first. So what equipment do you need for a photography studio?
Don’t obsess with buying all the gear as you start building your studio. It’s quite surprising how little equipment you need for most photoshoots.
Here is a handy list of basic gear setup for a small home studio:
- Lights – One light and a reflector are more than enough to start. But three lights will give you the best flexibility. Those lights can be three cheap manual speedlights. Try the Yongnou 560 IV, or studio strobes such as Godox strobes.
- Flash Trigger – This tool is necessary to trigger your flash units remotely. You’ll need a specific model that’s compatible with your strobes and your camera. Otherwise, it won’t work at all.
- Lighting modifiers – A reflector and umbrella are a must. Neewer and Godox produce cheap umbrellas, softboxes, and octaboxes. These are quite good and fold into small, easy-to-store packages.
- Light stands – You need one stand for each light. As a rule of thumb, the heavier your light is (along with the light modifier), the sturdier your stands need to be. Don’t invest in cheap gear or you will risk your lights being too unstable and wobbly. I prefer stands that extend to 2.4 metres and higher. Especially since the lights need to be above the model. But it is also useful to have a small stand. This can light the model from below or hide your rim/background light behind the model.
- Background – A collapsible background is a good way to start. That is if you cannot install a permanent background. Impact and other brands are not too expensive. Especially when compared to Lastoline collapsible backdrops.
Other Optional Gear
Photography gear aren’t the only pieces of equipment you need for your home photography studio. You should also get these everyday accessories you’ll need for your shoots:
- Step ladders – Ladders are useful to change your point of view on your model. But also to change the orientation and settings of your lights.
- Fans – A fan can introduce some motion into your portrait (think wind-blown hair or clothes). But they can also make it comfortable to work in hot studios. Continuous studio lights and strobes with modelling lights generate a fair amount of heat. A fan helps provide some comfort.
- Extensions and power strips – If you use studio lights other than portable lights, think about getting extension cords and power strips. You’ll need space to plug in your lighting equipment.
- Furniture – If you are going to do portraits larger than headshots, you should consider having some furniture around. Chairs and stools are must-haves.
So how much does it cost to build a photography studio?
When it comes to how to build a photography studio, you want to ensure your equipment meets your needs. Do not spend a lot of money on a light that you’ll never use.
The good news is you can find plenty of home studio kits online for cheap. You can get a package with muslin backdrops for about 160USD.
Most kits include two light stands two modifiers, background stand, and muslin backgrounds. The stands can be a bit flimsy, but they will last you years if you keep them in your home studio. If you plan on shooting in different locations, I suggest getting sturdier professional options. They may be more expensive, but at least they’ll last longer.
You should also beware that the lights from the kit are simple white bulbs and aren’t bright at all. But you can easily swap them out with the speedlights you already have.
Setting Up a Home Studio According to Portrait Photography Style
Think about the types of portraits you plan to take and how you want them to look. Do you like working with natural light? Then you will need a home studio with big windows.
Are you a flash photographer? Then an empty wine cellar or basement is great for shooting studio photography portrait.
How to Choose the Best Lighting Equipment for Your Home Studio
You have plenty of options when it comes to lighting in your home studio. We’ll discuss the two most popular ones below.
- Perfect in small photography studios and for portable setups
- Lightweight and small
- Cheap, particularly manual units like Yongnuo, Phottix, etc.
- Low power
- Lack of modelling light prevents you from seeing where the flash beam goes
- Can have long recycle time, particularly at full power, making hard to shoot in burst
Some of the speedlights’ shortcomings can be overcome by using flash units such as the Godox V850II. These are much more powerful than speedlights, whilst remaining portable. Unfortunately, these units are quite expensive.
Photography Studio Flashes
- Powerful light
- Can have built-in a modelling light
- Includes an AC plug for batteryless operation
- Heavy and bulky
- Need sturdy light stands
- Cheap units can overheat and stop working until they cool down
So how many lights should you have? I would say three lights. These will give you a great deal of flexibility in your work.
Whatever option you choose, remember that you’ll need one light stand for each flash unit. In most cases, two or three should be enough.
But don’t let the shopping fever get you. Start with one light. Learn the basics, and build up your equipment once you need more flexibility. You can also make great portraits with a single Speedlight as you can see in the example below.
Must-Have Light Modifiers
- Reflectors – They bounce light back into the scene. 5-in-1 reflectors provide various types of reflective surfaces. In one package, you get silver, gold, white, black, and translucent.
- Umbrellas – The cheapest light modifiers you can buy. They soften light from the flash. But the problem with them is that they let light spill everywhere. As a consequence, they reduce your ability to control the light, particularly in small studios.
- Softboxes/Octaboxes – more expensive than umbrellas, they allow you to have better control over your light. They also produce a softer glow in general.
- Grids – Grids concentrate the light in tight beams, making light very directional.
- Gels – Gels are sheets of semitransparent materials. They come in different shapes (to adapt to your light source) and colours. They change the background color when used on a background light. And they introduce light effects in your portrait. They are cheap too.
- Flags – They stop stray light from bouncing around the set. Flags can be from anything that is black. A panel, cardboard, a curtain, a cloth, etc. work really well. 5-in-1 reflectors have a black side allowing you to use them as flags.
Bear in mind that, the larger the light modifier is, the softer (but weaker) your effective light will become.
DIY Speedlite Flash Modifiers
Creating softboxes at home means that you get to try different ways to light your portraits. All without spending a lot of money.
With a few small pieces of plastic, you can create a few different modifiers. Other items you might have laying around the house.
You might need to buy a pack of Pringles, but then you can enjoy them too!
How to Choose a Background for Your Home Studio
There are two kinds of photography studio backgrounds you can choose from. A collapsible portrait backdrop. Or a professional photography studio backdrop on support or on a rail/roll system fixed to a wall or ceiling.
- Relatively cheap
- Fold in a compact, portable package
- One face black, for low key portraiture. And the other one will turn it into a white photo backdrop for high-key photography.
- Small, most suitable for headshots or single person portraiture
- The tissue can have creases
- Folding them is an art difficult to master
Professional Portrait Background
- Paper, vinyl or tissue backgrounds
- Comes in many background sizes
- A heavy system to carry around – not so compact
- Cheap models will not support heavy backgrounds, such as a 3 x 11 m paper roll
As per the background colour, they come in black, white, and grey. For small studios, a grey backdrop is the best solution. It can be black or white depending on your lighting setups
Gels can also work to change the colour of the background in your images.
How to Get Rid of Ambient Light
Keep in mind that when you work with flash indoors, you do not want natural ambient light. This can contaminate your photographic studio lighting setup.
Of course, not using ambient light does not mean you should work in total darkness. But it’s good to have a low level of ambient light. This will improve your portrait home photography studio setup.
You can achieve this by shielding the windows with curtains or by using flags (any kind of black panel or tissue). This will stop unwanted light from bouncing around the set.
To ensure your ambient light will is not affecting the photo, do a few test shots. Set up your camera to take a photo without firing your flash. Make sure that the resulting image is completely black.
You can then manipulate your lighting to achieve the exposure you want.
I usually photograph at f/8, ISO 200 (cannot go lower with my camera), and 1/125th of a second. I then use a flash meter or a trial-and-error process to set the power of the lights to match my target exposure.
How Do You Start a Home Photography Business?
Having a small studio is enough to start a business. Once you’re comfortable with your lighting set-up, ask your friends if they need professional portraits.
However, I recommend that you get a better location first before asking strangers to pay for their portraits. You need to conduct business in a proper environment for people to take you seriously. Your clients would definitely be put off paying you if you ask them to pose inside your living room.
Remember that presentation and professionalism are crucial elements for success. So if you’re not ready yet, stick to the people you know first. They’ll be more forgiving with your location and are always excited by your talents.
So what if taking paid portraits of strangers is still not possible? There are also tons of brands out there that need pictures of their products. You can ask local businesses if they need e-commerce photos and photograph their items for sale. Use the money you earn to buy more equipment and eventually rent a real studio for your business.
I hope these tips give you a good idea of the basics you’ll need to build your own home/portable studio.
My advice is to not get too stuck on the idea of the perfect, ideal photography studio and equipment. What counts the most is your creativity and your willingness to squeeze the most out from what you have to work with.
If you want to know more about how to create a photography studio anywhere, read this book from Nick Fancher.
To kick-start your portrait photography business, read our eBook: Profit from Portraits!