If you’re a landscape or street photographer, you probably don’t need a photo studio, but for some photographers a studio is essential. For many, this means converting a garage or spare bedroom into a studio, sometimes temporarily for specific projects. In this article, I’m going to lay out what you need to create such a studio, keeping one eye on the pocketbook.
A studio is a place where a photographer has control of the light, whether it’s daylight from a window, or strobes or quartz lights. There should be no other light sources that overpower the photographer’s light. This includes anything that might cause reflections—you don’t want to see a TV set reflected in your model’s eyes (unless a shoot calls for that, of course).
Walls and reflections
One of the ways I can control these problems is by making walls. I usu- ally do this with seamless paper or with light panels, as in figure 1. The panels are one of my basic studio tools; they let me diffuse, bounce, and block light, all of which is accomplished by changing the fabric cover of the panels. I usually use a black cover—often Duvateen—to kill the reflections. These are easy to set up and put away, so they work well in a temporary studio. I can build a room within a room from these panels.
If you are outfitting a garage as a studio, or creating a permanent home studio, you have another choice: you can mount rolls of black seamless paper on the ceiling and bring down the paper as a wall to control reflections. This is quick and easy, especially if you use a chain drive on your paper roll. Bogen, also called Manfrotto, has a nice chain drive (figure 2) for raising and lowering the seamless paper. Even simpler is to buy a roll of black seamless paper and staple it to your wall. Seamless paper is available in widths of 4.5, 9, and 12 feet, and lengths of 10, 50, and 100 meters (watch out—those 100-meter rolls are extremely heavy). Another method is to hang brackets and put up a curtain. Of course, if you did use white here you could employ it as an oversized light panel. Any of these ideas can be adapted to your circumstances to bring your location under control.
Another concern is the area above the shot. My ceiling is not in very good condition, so I don’t bounce light off it. If I need an overhead bounce, I either put up a light panel or pull white seamless paper along the ceiling. I have a set of rails mounted on the ceiling that make either possibility more practical (see figure 1). I’ve mounted two 10-foot poles to the ceiling using thread and expansion bolts; I’ve run two more poles between them. This second set of poles moves, and I am able to hang lights, reflectors, and props from them. This won’t work in most living rooms, but it would fit pretty well into a garage studio. Everything should be available from your local Home Depot. Figure 4 is a Norman head mounted on a Bogen Magic Arm. The Magic Arm is mounted onto a super clamp.
The ability to mount backgrounds in the studio is critical. In addition to the brackets shown in figure 2, there are temporary ways to hold seamless paper or other backgrounds. It is easier to set up smaller backgrounds; in fact you can hold a small roll of seamless paper or a light background with two regular light stands and a top made of PVC (just like the top of a light panel, but wider). For bigger backgrounds you can buy a set of background stands, but you might be better off with a set of C-Stands. C-stands are critical around the studio; they are like light stands on steroids. If you use two C-stands and a couple of extension arms you can easily hold seamless paper or other background material (see figure 4), or hold lights or hang things in the shot. Another permanent method is to make wall brackets out of 2×4s (figure 5). This works well, as you can have several back- grounds set up at once. However the Bogen background rollers will work with the U-brackets and won’t work with the wall brackets.