Have you ever felt the awkwardness of working in unfamiliar territory? For people who live and thrive on creativity (like us photographers), a relaxed, familiar environment is definitely a must in order to produce outstanding outputs. Where else can you call comfortable, familiar territory but in your own home? You can welcome your clients with ease and you can do anything you want! Well.. it is your home after all. In this post, our guest contributor – Ferina Santos breaks down the best ingenious ways of coming up with your own home photography studio.
1. A Room of One’s Own
Back in the early days of the last century, Virginia Woolf, one of English literature’s most important female writers, in an extended essay asserted that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Her essay’s title, “A Room of One’s Own,” was of course alluding to women being allowed space within a literary tradition that was dominated by a male establishment. But her call for a separate space for creation – a studio – was also sincere.
2. Far From the Madding Crowd
Yes, most artists, male and female – photographers, painters, musicians, sculptors, graphic designers, as well as writers – crave a space “far from the madding crowd” to have some room to explore and create without distraction. As items mentioned in the famous essay, sometimes a lack of space or a lack of money can prompt a photographer to employ an ingenious touch when finding a way to make a photographer’s studio in his or her home.
3. What Do You Want to Do?
What exactly do you want to be able to do in your photo studio? No matter how you “develop” and manipulate your “film,” you must have a place where you can intricately control the light from absolute darkness on up the scale. The availability of electricity and plumbing are two obvious requirements that are somehow overlooked when scouting spaces or in the initial planning of a home photography studio.
Space requirements for a micro-photography studio will differ significantly from a space engineered to make large product marketing shots such as motorcycles, exercise equipment, or the like. If you are going to be undertaking composing photos in your studio, the major consideration will be the availability of electricity with an eye on hiring an electrician to ensure that use of lighting and other equipment doesn’t shut down the microwave and the air conditioning when you go to set up the shots.
With the advent of digital photography, not many photographers have the need for an old fashioned lab with chemical developers and fixers. But if that’s part of your photo-experience, you’re going to have to think about plumbing needs. You may want to consider having a “dressing room” with a sink and a mirror for models.
4. Finding the Space
You know you’re going to need space for a good-sized CPU and monitor. And once you’ve got the electricity, plumbing, and square-footage needs ascertained, then you need to start looking around your house or condo. Attics, basements, garages, outbuildings, spare rooms, large closets, spaces under or over stairs, and other nooks and crannies are all fair game. No matter how small a space may seem, with a little ingenuity it can often turn into a space far larger than what you may have expected, especially when it comes to storage for all the items you may need.
5. Shaping the Space
“Scrounge” is the word when you start looking for material to reshape your new-found space into a configuration that works for you and your trade. Are there nearby building sites where you can scrounge pieces of wood that a builder would simply discard? Is a shop or a home in your neighborhood being remodeled? Look for discarded fixtures or furniture that may be useful.
Hat boxes, milk crates, display cases, pegboards, and even old muffin tins can become solutions for many storage challenges. Inexpensive and colorful stiff plastic panels can be had at many hobby or home improvement establishments. Again, by applying your creative ingenuity, anything that falls within eyesight is worth considering for use in your home photo studio.
6. Lighting Setup
Should you walk into a corporate sponsored photo studio you’ll first be astonished by the boatloads of lighting equipment. Floating dollar signs soon prevent the eyes from actually seeing the stuff. But, lighting is probably the most important element in a home studio and it can be the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, or a great shot. Some of it you can make yourself.
In fact, one website, shuttertalk.com, has a tutorial that shows how to put together a flexible – and robust! – lighting system for under US$75. Surfing the Web you can find all sorts of lighting kits with relatively inexpensive pricing. Backdrops may be another important consideration. Of course, your cameras and flashes, your computer and monitor, and your scanner, are going to have to be purchased with little compromise in mind regarding quality and cost.
7. Photographing Toys
At her day job, a friend had a lot of experience doing product shots in a studio environment. She fell into a free-lance opportunity when a friend of hers decided he wanted to open up a small toy and model railroad shop on the Web. He wanted his product shots done in a unique way specific to his marketing plan that included a lot of color-coded backdrops.
Her day-job workplace studio was off limits for such activity, and while there was some room at the friend’s small warehouse to set up shots, there was just too much dust and activity in the environment. So, with a good six months of photographing toys ahead of her, she set about putting up a small-product studio in her rather small home.
8. Setting Up “Toy Shot Studio”
Her house had a rather strange heptagonal “hallway” which held doors to three other areas as well as a small staircase. Beside the bathroom door, another door led to a bedroom, the other to a hallway. She lived alone so there would be little chance of anyone intruding during a perfectly set-up and nicely lit shot.
Since the house wiring was rather old, she had an electrician come in and install a couple of heavy duty outlets in the hallway with their own circuit breakers. Plumbing was not a considerable need since she wouldn’t be developing film, and anyway one of the doors led to the bathroom, a source of water if needed.
Though there were no sources for outdoor light, she could effectively control the light in the area with baffles around the doors and a simple black cloth over the doorway at the top of the stairs. Though the ceiling was very high, she rigged a round plywood “ceiling” on pulleys. Painting it white, she could get the desired “light bounce” for different product shots.
9. Platform and Backdrop Requirements
On the two empty walls she hinged two sets of platforms, one at desk height and one at mid-chest height so she could see some of the products at almost eye-level. The sets of platforms were cut in such a fashion that they melded and latched together when lowered for use. Underneath the platforms she attached muffin tins that swung out to hold the various items – pins, cotton balls, tape, etc. – that she would need for setting up shots.
Above the platforms she hung some cloth rollers that she had salvaged from a fabric store undergoing renovation. On those she hung the various colored plastic backdrops she would need as background for her product shots. Under the stairs she set up her two computers, two monitors, a scanner, and various back-up/storage units. While the space was a little crowded, with just a little maneuvering the place could become a studio or revert to a hallway as needed.
Later she discovered that she could do head and shoulder portraiture when the platforms were folded up by pulling the backdrops down over them. The muffin tins were affixed in such a way that even when the platforms were folded back, all the little bits stayed in place in the tins as they were attached snugly to the platform bottoms.
10. Swimming Pools and Tree Houses
With seven-billion of us (and counting) on this planet, finding a room of one’s own may get tougher and tougher. But, being an artist with a creative eye, it’s probable that you can make even the most unlikely space a suitable spot for a photography studio. One gentleman threw a roof over a small swimming pool that he was tired of maintaining and had used very little anyway. One woman weather-proofed a long-gone son’s rather large tree house and had an electrician string wires to it. She really had a room of her own when she started setting up her photo shoots. How, or if, she got clients up there wasn’t revealed.