A Beginner’s Guide To Equipping Your Home With The Equipment Necessary To Take Professional-Quality Studio Photos
When people hear the term “professional photography studio” it usually comes with the underlying assumptions that the setup cost a ton of money, and the gear involved is outlandishly complicated. Neither of which have to be true today with the incredible options for equipment that exist online.
The primary components for building a studio include: Your camera, the lights, the backdrop, and your storage/computing elements. In this article we’ll be going over the necessary basics, as well as pointing out the accessories which can give you even greater control over your lighting environment.
1. The Background Support System
The first determination you’re going to make is how much space can be devoted to your studio. In addition to the overall space, ask yourself whether the equipment can sit there permanently, or whether you’d prefer the option of being able to store it away once you’re done shooting. Which you choose will affect your purchasing decision.
Selecting a backdrop system also needs to pertain to the type of subjects you’ll be shooting. If product photography is your primary and only use, you’ll only need the background to span a width as large as your biggest items. If you intend on using the studio for multiple purposes, like models for instance, you may want to select a system that spans at least 8 feet in width.
Permanent backdrops mount to your wall
Permanent backdrops make shooting incredibly efficient and typically come with three separate rungs for different rolls of paper (although you can add several more rungs). The most common colors for studio photography are white, black and medium tone grey.
The paper is easily released using chains (Or an electric motor), which helps preserve it from creases and tears. There are many affordable options available from Ebay or B&H Photo.
This option is for those of you wanting a studio that can be set up are torn down after you’ve finished shooting. Pop-Up backdrops contain two tripod stands and a bar, usually composed of individual pieces, that allows you to run any type of backdrop across it. The types of materials available are:
Muslin is incredibly lightweight, and can be hung to provide a solid background, or it can be folded over objects like stools and boxes to mold to what you’re trying to shoot.
There’s an incredible variety of muslin available and the fabric can come in sizes from 5×5′ to 30×30′. We advise researching muslin based on customer reviews as many ‘stock’ kits provide a very low quality of muslin that has unflattering texture and doesn’t absorb (black) or reflect (white) light effectively.
Prior to Muslin becoming more popular, canvas backdrops were the choice of many professionals. They’re heavy, thick, and tend to have subtle textures making excellent backgrounds, but are more expensive than modern alternatives.
None the less, canvas backdrops last a long time and can add a very artistic feel to your photos.
Vinyl backdrops are one of the most durable, and because of their plastic material can be washed when dirty. A potential downside is most Vinyl have a glossy sheen to them, which can produce glares if you’re lighting isn’t setup correctly.
Recently, Savage Universal announced a matte vinyl which eliminates glares and reflections. Vinyl is also very cheap, so for those of you requiring basic colors this is an excellent option you won’t have to replace.
Seamless paper comes in rolls, most commonly in the color white, but can be found in almost any color. Due to it’s non-reflective properties, the paper creates an excellent infinite space, perfect for product photography. If used carefully you can get away with keeping a single roll for several years, cutting away the bottom portions when necessary.
2. Lighting Options
The bread and butter of any successful photography studio is finding a lighting kit that will match your needs. Keep in mind that many photographers on a budget have produced high-quality photos with as little as two shop-lamps and a couple of poster boards, so when choosing your setup don’t feel pressured to buy more than what will be useful.
With continuous lighting, what you see is what you get. Because the lamps are on ‘continuously’ it makes positioning still-life objects much easier. For instance, if you’re shooting sunglasses, you’ll be able to look through the lens and determine where your lights need to be positioned so you’re not creating highlights in the lenses of your product.
It is much easier for beginners to start this way and get a feel for how positioning works. The most standard setup for studio lights is a triangle, using two soft boxes pointing at the subject from opposing angles (See Below).
By using two lights you’ll be able to eliminate most shadows present on your subject. Many kits will also come with a third boom light to place over the top of your subject and create a pleasing ‘rim-light’ effect.
If you’re still not getting the shadows out, there are additional accessories which we’ll mention below.
Strobe lighting is essentially flash photography, in which you can set up two different flashes off camera, on tripods, and angle them however you please. Strobes use umbrellas to scatter the light particles evenly over the surface of your subject.This
Strobe lighting is much more challenging because simply pointing the lights at your subject does not guarantee a perfect shot. Strobes require adjusting the flash power, and typically need to be set further away from the subject, requiring more space for your studio.
Strobes also require a decent amount of additional equipment, including:
- Diffusers- This item is necessary to spread the harsh light coming out of the flash.
- Sync Cords- Unless you purchase a strobe with wireless transmitters/receivers you’ll need to connect the camera with wires.
- Hot Shoe Adaptor- If you’re using wires, this item sits on top of you camera and connects the sync cords to the strobe.
3. Studio Accessories
Once you’ve built the primary components of your studio, you’ll be able to select additional accessories for further assisting you in controlling light.
While a lot of the following accessories are recommendations, having a tripod should be considered mandatory. Your tripod will allow you to close off your aperture for greater depth of field, and acts as the primary image stabilizer. You don’t need anything fancy starting out, but make sure to buy a head that allows you to angle the camera without slipping.
Reflectors are the additional hands in your studio that help bounce light onto areas of your subject that may still have unwanted shadows. They’re usually very cheap, and come in a variety of colors to compliment different items.
You can either invest in manufactured discs like those on the left, or buy some white foam boards which can be cut and placed around your subjects.
If you’re working independently, clamps can greatly assist you with holding reflectors in place, or to pin your backdrop.
A pack of 6 can be purchased for under $10 on Amazon.
Aside from editing, having your laptop present in the studio is incredibly efficient for examining your photos as they’re taken. Tethering is the technique for connecting your camera through a USB cable, and will allow you to make editing adjustments as you go. This also greatly assists with adjusting your lighting to get perfect photos.
We’re Here To Help
There’s an infinite amount of options out there for selecting the best equipment for your studio. Since only you can determine your budget for building the studio, we’re here to answer any questions you may have regarding the quality or necessity for certain items.
If you find yourself needing help, leave your questions in the comments!