Here’s How to Set Up a Photography Studio

There comes a time in every photographer’s professional journey when they’re ready to shoot in a studio. Maybe you want to take your portraits to the next level or expand your business into product photography. In either case, access to a studio can help you out a lot. While most cities have fully equipped, large spaces available to rent — something Peerspace can help you find — it can often be more convenient to have your own dedicated studio, especially when you need to spend time learning the ropes.

Your first studio space is almost always a spare room in your home or an emptied out garage. Ideally, you’ll be able to keep your equipment set up, but if you’ll need to break it down between shoots to use the space for something else, know that going in so you purchase the best gear. This works fine, but there are several considerations to keep in mind. Here’s how to set up a photography studio.

Consider the space

You have a spare bedroom or unused office in your house — great, this is where your studio preparations will begin. Think about the number of windows in the space. If you want the option to work with natural light, you’ll need to be sure to set up your backdrop near one of them. But, if you want to eliminate outside light sources and shoot only with strobes or continuous lighting, you’ll need to invest in blackout curtains for all the windows.

Also consider the color of the room. White walls are best — they’ll reflect light cleanly. Any color on the walls will affect the color of the light. This room also needs to be large enough for both you and your subject, as well as your equipment. When thinking about how to set up a photography studio, keep in mind that equipment can quickly take up lots of space, so plan ahead.

What kind of lights do you need?

Natural light is nice to have access to, but for the true studio experiments, you’ll need something you can have full control over. The two main categories of studio lighting on the market are strobes and continuous. Continuous lights are easier to use, and what you see is exactly what you get when you’re setting up your shot. However, they don’t put out as much light as a strobe. They’re a good choice if you’re shooting product photography, but the ideal choice for working with people will always be the strobe.

Strobes can get pretty expensive, but several companies have cheaper models that work well for beginners. With strobes, you’ll also need to consider light modifiers. Modifiers fit around or over the strobe to change the strobe’s performance. A softbox, for example, diffuses the light over a large area and creates a very gentle transition from highlight to shadow. This is a classic look that is great for portraits.

Modifiers like barn doors or a beauty dish diffuse the light less gently and can make your portraits much more striking. Over time, you’ll want to have several modifier options for your lights, as well as experiment with combinations for the best effect.

Which lenses work best?

Another consideration when considering how to set up a photography studio is what lens you’ll be using on your camera. It doesn’t make sense to invest in a studio setup if you don’t have good glass to use in the space. Portraits are typically shot on lenses in the 85mm range, but if you don’t have enough space for a longer focal length like that, you may have to use something closer to a 50mm.

The ideal portrait lens has a wide f-stop, giving you great separation between your subject and background. Lenses as fast as f/1.4 are pricey, but if you’re willing to lose a little light, a maximum aperture of f/1.8 should work fine and will be considerably more affordable.

If you’re working with products, the last thing you should be worried about is bokeh, as you’ll likely be shooting in the f/8 to f/10 range. Depending on the size of the product, you may need a wider angle, so look at 35mm and 24mm lenses. If you’re working with smaller products, like wristwatches or jewelry, you’ll probably need a macro lens to get good shots of the details on these items.

Other equipment considerations

In addition to the lights themselves and your lenses, there are some other pieces of equipment that you’ll need. Each light needs its own light stand, and the stand must be sufficient enough to hold the weight of the light. The weight of the light will also change once you introduce modifiers, so plan ahead and buy robust light stands.

It’s also a good idea to have an adequate tripod for your camera, especially if you’re shooting products. This ensures consistent angles across all your images. However, if you’re working with models, the tripod is less useful.

No studio is complete without a backdrop. You’ll want the largest backdrop your space can handle. Traditionally, you begin with a white backdrop. But various colors can add additional flavor to your images, and many photographers use a textured backdrop to break up the monotony of monochromatic backgrounds. In addition to these, there are also fake brick or shrubbery walls, which can give your images a more creative flair. If you’re really in a pinch, a curtain panel or a blanket hung on the wall can serve as a backdrop.

For a first-time studio, however, begin with the white backdrop. It’s the most versatile and the easiest to work with when you’re still learning how to use your lights.

Consider renting it to earn some extra money

Once you’ve decided how you want to build your photography studio, and what equipment you want to outfit it with, you might considering renting it out on a platform like Peerspace. In doing so, you can vet your guests yourself and use your new space to earn a little bit of money.

Hopefully these thoughts give you some ideas on how to set up a photography studio. It can be an intimidating process at first, but adequate planning makes it simple. The key to any successful studio setup will reside in your ability to control the light, keeping it consistent from image to image. And, while a studio can quickly become a major financial investment, you don’t have to shell out large amounts of money to get going.

A pair of $100 strobes and a simple paper backdrop will go a long way toward improving the quality of your images while letting you learn what works for you and what doesn’t. Most photographers don’t have a practical need for the absolute most powerful strobes, or every light modifier on the market all at once. Start small and master what you have before you expand, and you’ll be well on your way to making great work in your own studio. 

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