How to Build an Affordable Photo Studio

Portrait Studio Headshot Photography Illustration

Photography in studios can be challenging but also rewarding. At first, when we are just beginning to take the first steps towards improving our photography abilities it is always the first step to start using the light available. It doesn’t take time for people to realize that it is extremely difficult to take beautiful photos in dark environments particularly indoors. Naturally, we look for solutions to overcome the issue of low light and end up purchasing higher-quality lenses and faster cameras.

Then we realize that even more expensive camera equipment isn’t enough to take pictures of a dimly lit scene. The last option then is flash photography, a subject which scares of the majority of photographers.

Flash Photography Sample (4)
NIKON D3S + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 98mm, ISO 400, 1/160, f/8.0

In my work as a photographer I have met many professional photographers who have not used flash. They are referred to as “available lighting shooters” since they’ve not explored artificial lighting. A few of them couldn’t make it happen due to financial constraints (unfortunately it’s common among professional photographers to believe flash photography is very expensive) Others were worried or busy to experiment, while others believed that they had did not need to try it.

But what happens when you are asked to shoot an event with a poorly illuminated ballroom, huge ceilings and a variety of tungsten lighting? Are you likely to quit the job or do you come back with terrible pictures? The majority of photographers will attach a speedlight to their cameras (in auto or TTL modes) and then shoot the camera towards the subject, and snap pictures that look nothing more than the cousin of the bride’s $100 point-and-shoot. When their flash stops working after 20 shots, they’ll blame Nikon for a defective flash that is overheated. Sounds familiar?

Flash Photography Sample (3)
NIKON D700 + 85mm f/1.8 @ 85mm, ISO 200, 1/200, f/8.0

If you’re being paid to perform photography work It is your duty to understand how to perform under various lighting conditions. The best way to master flash photography and improve at it is to constantly work on and play around with it. Setting up a modest, cost-effective studio for photography at home is a great method to begin. You can gain lots from photographing your children and family at your home. This is how I started my journey using flash. If you’re doing photography just for enjoyment, why not try and discover something new? Wouldn’t you like to know what you can do with difficult light?

This article I’ll demonstrate how you can build a cost-effective photography studio at your own home. In the beginning, we’ll review the basic essential tools, and then we will look at different options for lighting in studios. If you are interested, we’ll extend our coverage of flash photography to outdoor, indoors and studio spaces.

1. The Light Source

The first thing you’ll have to decide the type of light you want you want to use. The cheapest way to begin experimenting with Studio lighting is to make use of continuously “hot” (tungsten) as well as “warm” (fluorescent) lighting. It is possible to purchase two light stands, with umbrellas and a continuous light for around $100. However, this type of setup comes with its own difficulties (more on this subject in a separate post) and will certainly not help you handle the dark environments outside or in areas in which a power source is not readily available.

If you are interested in continuous lighting I would suggest that you begin to explore it when you’ve learned how to utilize flash. You will then know precisely what you require and will be able to make the best results from your equipment. Many studios that are high-end use continuous lighting because they can alter the light exactly as they’d like it. Consistency and precision are often needed when working in studios with professional photographer. For a photographer like you, who’s just beginning to get started it is not necessary to explore that area. At the very least, not right now.

In spite of its difficulty, I would advise you to study how to utilize flash for the first time. We have a few basic instruction on flash photography which we’ll be expanding over the next few months. Here’s the negatives – this is the most expensive aspect to purchase. “Speedlights” (also known as “Speedlites” (depending upon the camera you are using Nikon and Canon) are compact flash strobes that are suitable to use both off-camera and on-camera setups. If you are using an DSLR or a more expensive mirrorless camera, there is the option of a hotshoe built into the camera, which is specifically intended to be used with speedlights.

If you want to use an on-camera setup you place speedlights directly onto the camera. You can utilize it in a variety of designs to bounce light (see my old video on indoor flash photography in which I cover different bounce setups). If you want to setup an off-camera setup you can remove the speedlight from the camera and put it on a light stand to be used in a different location from the camera. This is the arrangement that we’ll use for creating your first studio.

The best aspect of speedlights is that they have enough power to meet most daily needs ranging from lighting one person or a crowd of people. They can also be expanded You can start with just one speedlight and then add additional flashes in the future to create greater creativity in photography. At present, we’ll begin with just one lighting setup.

The majority of DSLR manufacturers manufacture flashlights that are exclusive with their respective cameras. Nikon uses the term “Nikon Creative Lighting System” that comes with a lot of integrated automation. Canon along with Sony also have similar flash systems. Each of them has a variety of choices for speedlights ranging from the basic models to those employed for commercial use.

Nikon offers three options for speedlights on DSLRs: SB400, SB700 and SB-910. If you’re wondering about the differences between them, take a an look at my Nikon Flash Comparison article. Because we’re building an off-camera system, we can do not use the SB-400. The SB-700 is currently available at $326, while the SB-910 retails at $546. The SB-910 comes with lots of amazing features, it’s a expensive flash device.

Personally, I’d recommend starting by using the SB-700 and if you require to trigger it using another trigger system like PocketWizard or PocketWizard, you have the option of purchasing an inexpensive hot shoe adapter. The SB-700 is an extremely advanced device and can be used in both ways, as an “master” or “slave” device. For a single setup of lights the most cost-effective option is to set up this SB-700 as an off camera setup and then use the camera’s built-in flash to activate the unit (see this article for how to use your flash pop-up when it is in the command mode).

If you are using an basic Nikon DSLR, then you have a variety of choices. The first is to purchase an SU-800 commanding unit. The other alternative is to purchase an entire group of PocketWizard Plus III units (my preferred choice, as radio technology is more reliable than infrared) This costs you an additional $50 (plus the price of the adapter I mentioned earlier) However, it will provide you a more flexible and dependable set-up. This is among the reasons why it usually is advisable to purchase an expensive DSLR equipped with a commander feature.

If you have the Canon DSLR, you can begin by using either one of the 320EX and 430EX II speedlites. Both serve like “slaves”. A lot of the latest Canon DSLRs like the 7D can also be used to function as commanders of flash units. In the event that you have a Canon DSLR supports this, then you don’t have to buy an additional commander. If not, Canon also provides the ST-E2 commanding device that’s identical to Nikon’s SU-800. Canon recently launched a new set of triggers and speedlites equipped with radio transmission capabilities, however it’s very costly.

Total Cost: Between $250 to $550.

Flash Photography Sample (2)
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF50mm f/1.2L USM @ 50mm, ISO 100, 1/200, f/5.6

2. Light Stand, Umbrella and Adapters

As with camera equipment, you can find many kinds of light stand there for you to pick from. To trigger speedlights in controlled environment, I usually select the least expensive light stands that I can locate. My top choice is Impact They make excellent lighting equipment that is often superior to even the most expensive brands in terms of quality, reliability and features. It’s also not hard to be unhappy with the price! There is no need for something heavy-duty to trigger speedlights. So, get the 6 Light Stand for $20. Light Stand for just $20.

You will then require an umbrella adapter that can be placed on your light stand – it will house your speedlight as well as an umbrella (to reduce the brightness generated by you flash). The most cost-effective “two two in one” adapter for umbrellas is called the Impact Umbrella Bracket which comes with Adjustable Shoe that retails for $25. It’s of top quality and is in no way inferior to an identical adapter made by Manfrotto.

The final one will be the umbrella that is incredibly cheap. Impact’s 45″ convertible umbrella at $15 is fantastic.

If you’re building an two-light set-up think about purchasing this Impact Digital Flash Umbrella Kit available for sale at $70. It’s a bargain for the price. It comes with smaller umbrellas as well as a less-quality umbrella bracket.

Total Cost: $60

3. Background Support System

A support system for your background isn’t necessary in the event that you’re willing to put in the extra work. You could make use of sheets of white or a colored muslin to serve as your background. You could hang on your walls. However, if you’re looking for something more elegant and portable (say for use for a photo shoot with corporate clients) I would suggest that you purchase a high-quality Background Support System. We’ve already examined a few different background systems, and I’ve found an Impact Background Support System to be of high worth (see the review below). Savage also offers a excellent “Port-A-Stand” Support system, but it’s a bit higher priced than the Impact’s.

There are a number of additional things to complete this background setup. In the beginning, you must choose between buying a either a paper or muslin background. Personally, I like paper because it’s soft, inexpensive and if it gets dirty, just cut off the dirt and roll it back down. Also, you don’t need to be concerned about wrinkles or ironing. However you will need less storage. I suggest starting with 53 Super White as well as 53” Gray papers. If you find it to be inadequate for what you need, you could purchase bigger 107” versions to accommodate larger assignments or for group photos.

Total Cost: $155

I believe that these are one of the most fundamental tools to begin with. In the future, when you are able to begin exploring more advanced techniques of flash You can begin exploring more advanced lighting modifiers and shaping tools flags, and other devices to control the lighting completely.

Flash Photography Sample (1)
NIKON D3S + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 85mm, ISO 800, 1/100, f/2.8

Once you are familiar with how to work with flash, you are able to use it in any situation and form it in any way you’d like!