How to Build a Home Photography Studio on a Budget
Build a Photography Studio for Less
One thing most photographers want to do is to have a home photography studio where they can do small projects like still life photography or the occasional portrait. Maybe you want to do portraits full time from home but balk at the cost of some lighting set ups so I wrote this article to explain what I have done and how I have saved a ton of money. To use a simple analogy you may have seen decorating magazines that show the same room decorated on the cheap and then decorated very expensively. Often the difference is $800 vs. $8,000 and this is what I will try to help you with. This is about equipping your studio with lower cost versions and workarounds.
So here is a list of things you can do to control costs in your studio.
Lighting: Instead of strobe setups that cost thousands of dollars consider inexpensive shoot through umbrellas with an inexpensive strobe from an aftermarket supplier. Canon and Nikon flash heads can cost $500 or more. Vivitar and Yongnou produce strong flashes for under $150 each. If you need 5 flashes you are saving about $1700. You can also go with compact fluorescent (CF) lighting but it will have to be strong to keep the shutter speed up and avoid blur. Just make sure you get all the same colour temperature (around 5000 kelvin or daylight bulbs). To produce high key photography you will need to light the background quite strongly or be faced with lots of work in Photoshop after the shoot so consider this when choosing flash or CF bulbs. You may need 20-25 45watt CF bulbs to equal the output of the strobes.
Shoot through umbrellas cost about $80-$120 at your local camera store but you can get the same ones on line through Amazon or eBay for about $22.00 each. Same goes with light stands you can spend over $200 each for air cushioned stands (so if you accidently undo the extension knob and forget to hold on to the extension tube when lowering your flash it doesn’t come crashing down) or you can go online to Amazon or eBay and get spring cushioned models for about $25.00 each. That saves you almost $900 dollars and the products are almost identical. Better yet a “stick in a can” can work and this is a small bucket filled with cement with an 8 foot (2.6 metres) 1x2 wooden board found at the building supply store for about $3.00. The total cost is about $7.00 plus the clamp to hold your $12.00 garage reflector on the stick. So theoretically you can get the cost down to about $110.00 for 5 “stick in a can” stands. The most expensive set up will cost you around $8,000.00 and the least expensive method will cost you under $500.00 and maybe lower. Don’t forget lower costs mean less flexibility and slightly different quality of light so don’t expect miracles, just serviceability. You sure won’t get radio controlled strobes in beautiful deep and baffled soft boxes at the low end, You’ll have to adjust the lights by walking up to them and turning lights off or on manually. Here is a trade off with everything in life.
Reflectors. The dollar store sells white foam core in 2’x3’ sheets. The local craft store may be able to get white or black foam core in 4X8 sheets to be used as backgrounds and reflectors. He cost is $2.00-$50.00. A wide selection of foam core will cost you under $100.00. Another option is a 43” 5 in 1 reflector from Amazon or eBay. These cost around $15.00 to $25.00 and are the same thing you see in the local camera store for $80.00-$100.00.
Backgrounds: While difficult to use a green plastic tarp will serve as a cheapo Chroma-key background and you can put anything you want behind your subject in Photoshop. Other options include a custom hand painted background for several hundred dollars and Amazon and eBay equivalents for for around $100.00. You could also paint a wall yourself for low key photography with browns and blacks dabbled into a slightly lighter centre, typical of what you see in many photography studios. If you want to the background will appear black for you Just adjust the lighting to light your subject only.
This is only a primer on getting the job done on the cheap. Cheap doesn’t mean bad and sometimes the inconvenience of cheap is minor. Two good sources to use to get some cheap ideas on You Tube are prophotolife and learnmyshot.com. These guys do it on the cheap and do it well. I did attend a Scott Kelby one day course on lighting and the set ups were perfect but very expensive. He had beautifully deep baffled Elinchrome soft boxes and beauty dishes and the best radio controllers you could manipulate from the camera in 1/10th of a stop increments. The set up was every photographer’s dream. It was great to see but with some imagination you can do the same for way less cash.
I hope I have stimulated you to make an inexpensive home studio. It takes a little imagination but it definitely will work. Oh yeah I forgot to mention the cheapest lighting of all; a window!
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