Creating a home photography studio may seem like an expensive venture, not to mention an overwhelming one. Where do you start? What do you need? And will it be professional enough? But if you go the DIY route, you can create a fully-functional studio for much less than you might think.
There are countless ways to save on backdrops, stands, and light modifiers, if you’re willing to build them yourself. You can also shop for deals, or buy used equipment like umbrellas and light stands. If you have a spare room, or even a quiet corner in your home, a bit of imagination, you can easily build your own home photography studio on a budget.
Here are the basics you will need to get started:
When putting together a photography studio, the most expensive – not to mention important – part of the project is the lighting. The two most basic choices of lighting are speedlights (also known as accessory flashes) and continuous studio lighting. For the beginner, or those on a budget, speedlights are the better option. For one thing, you can purchase used speedlights at nearly any camera shop – and they’ll be much less expensive than studio lighting.
Another great reason to go with speedlights is that they are more portable than studio lights. They're smaller and you can use them both on and off your camera. In addition, your lighting system will be powered by AA batteries rather than heavy battery packs.
Light Stands / Tripods
No matter what type of lighting you decide to use, you’ll need a stand to hold it up. Light stands and tripods are both great choices. Light stands are normally less expensive, but tripods offer a little more versatility. Most tripods have adjustable legs, so you’ll find they have more stability should you ever need to set up your lighting outdoors. You can also use the tripod as a makeshift light stand with a cold shoe adapter affixed to the camera plate. If you’re using speedlights, get a simple bracket that has an adjustable shoe to hold the flash, as well as a slot to hold the umbrella.
It’s hard to go wrong with umbrellas. Depending on the type of photography you’re planning to do, you’ll need diffuser umbrellas and bounce (reflective) umbrellas. Diffuser umbrellas – which are simply plain white umbrellas that soften the light from the flash – are the most common, and they’ll only cost you a few dollars apiece. If you need bounce lighting, you can get convertible umbrellas. These come with a black covering that can be removed if you need to switch between bounce and shoot-through umbrellas.
Reflective umbrellas are the most expensive of the three, and a majority of photographers find that they rarely even use them. However, if you need to warm your lighting with a gold umbrella, or reflect a lot of white light with a silver umbrella, go ahead and add them to your shopping list.
Snoots & Accessories
Umbrellas aren’t the only way to modify your lighting. You can buy – or build – many different accessories that attach to your flashes. For instance, if you want targeted lighting to highlight your subject’s face, rather than buying a snoot (the conical attachment that mounts on the head of your flash), you can use card stock and gaffer’s tape to make one. Grid lighting (like a snoot but gives a more gradual fall-off to the light beam) is also easy to make with some black drinking straws. And consider building a DIY softbox out of cardboard and an old sheet to diffuse your lighting.
When it comes to studio backdrops, which can be expensive, there are many great DIY options. The first thing you’ll need to choose is the backdrop itself. Most photographers use muslin, which is a thick cotton fabric that comes in a variety of colors. It’s inexpensive, durable, and easy to wash. You can buy it as a pre-made backdrop, or purchase bulk fabric from a craft store and make your own.
The next challenge is finding or building a mounting system for your backdrop. A simple idea is to mount a curtain rod to your wall. If portability is a priority, you can build your own collapsible backdrop stand from PVC pipe. This route is a little more expensive and time consuming than a curtain rod, but the result is a lightweight stand that is easy to tear down and move around. Just make sure that you select a thick enough pipe so that it doesn’t bow under the weight of the backdrop.
Aside from the electronics, almost everything listed here is both inexpensive and easy to create on your own. And, once you build up your clientele, you can indulge yourself with other pieces of equipment to make your studio even more versatile. Happy shooting.