Setting up a studio at home is fairly simple to do once you have an idea of what subject matter you actually want to shoot. Either way though, studio setups can be modular as well as long as you have sufficient space, the right gear, and the right creative vision. Starting one is easier than many of us think; here are a couple of tips on how to get yours up and running.
This is one of the most important parts. Now the space needed really varies. For example, macro studio shots will need significantly less room than doing corporate headshots will. So you'll need to think about the logistics here. Will there be enough room in your living room? If not, maybe you'll need to get it done in your garage or attic? And if there isn't enough room anywhere, you'll need to start thinking about making something portable that can be broken down easily.
But space not only has to do with how much room you've got, but also how much control you have over the area in general. For example, you should consider whether or not stray lighting will affect your shot or not. This can come from a tungsten colored bulb, a window, or more.
Something else to consider: you may want to shoot with your camera tethered to a computer. Does your area have enough space to have the computer at a desk and your camera connected via USB, Firewire, or WiFi?
The lenses you own also make a big difference on your studio space. For starters, you'll need to work with a variety of focal lengths. While many may spring for zoom lenses for the simple conveniences they offer, you may also want to try primes. But if you have a small living room or spare room (the way many rooms are in big cities like in NY) then you'll probably not be springing for longer focal lengths such as 135mm. Instead, you may go for 50mm, 85mm or 105mm equivalents if you want to shoot portraits.
Setting up a studio to shoot food? Our advice is to go wide! Wider to normal focal length lenses with Macro capabilities may be some of the best options for you.
Want an all-in-one? Then you'll need to consider a zoom lens with a fast or constant aperture. 24-105mm, 24-120mm, 17-50mm, or 24-70mm lenses may be the best considerations.
Each photo you take may need different backdrops or locations for different types of shoots depending on your creative ideas. Once again, this also varies for each subject you shoot. Many studio shots will often include a white background, but maybe someone will want black, blue, or gray. In that case then, you may need to either invest in paper or muslin backgrounds. Muslin can be tougher to deal with because in order for them to look their best, they need to be ironed to be smooth. Paper is by far one of the biggest and most popular options if you don't have the color of a background that your subject may want. If you plan on making a full business out of this though, you'll really want to consider purchasing different paper backgrounds and having them set up on a system that allows you to easily switch them out.
Or maybe you need a brick wall? If your house conveniently has a brick wall, then you'll need to make the most of it. Are you inside? Then you probably have more control over the light.
If you're outside, you may want to look into stands and black cloth to cut out an excessive light rays.
If you are shooting food, one of the best ways to do this is to use window lighting with a nice table as your tasty treat's backdrop; unless of course you can create that yourself (more on that later!) Ensure that you diffuse the light with either a blind or a thicker curtain.
Lighting and Modifiers
There are many different options out there for lighting and modifiers. Let's begin with flash. First off, many users usually like to start using their flash by pointing it directly at a subject. In recent times, that has become a very highly prized look in the fashion industry, but not everyone really want to do that. Instead, they opt for bounce flash. We have a guide to the basics of bounce flash here and some examples on how it works in practice here.
Many portraitist and professionals will tell you to get the flash out of the hot shoe of the camera. If you're going to do that, we highly recommend that you then spring for radio transmitters. PocketWizard and Phottix make some excellent ones that will make being a strobist very simple for you and meter well with your camera's system.
When you get it off of the hot shoe you then need to put it on a light stand; we recommend looking for C-Stands because they are tougher and more durable for long term use. To keep your flash from falling, you'll also need to invest in sandbags for your C-Stand. This is something we highly recommend. As a lesson learned, I had a studio strobe come down on my head during a shoot recently--which earned me a trip to the hospital.
If you're not looking to bounce the light off of the ceiling or a wall, then you'll need to then look into diffusion. Softboxes, umbrellas, and beauty dishes are some of the most popular light modifiers; and they can be used with flashes, Studio strobes, and Constant lights.
Softboxes are a popular choice because they take light from your source, and make it very directional and narrowed depending on how large the softbox is. Depending on the interior, it will also add different effects. White will be almost like normal flash, silver will cool the light color temperature more, and silver beaded will cool the light temperature and add more punch to your lighting as well. Beyond this, the light also usually gets diffused and well spread through the box via diffusion panels.
Beauty dishes work in a different way, but usually have their more round shape working for them; they also usually only have white interiors.
Umbrellas come in different forms: shoot through (white), reflective white (with a black exterior), and silver interior. Umbrellas take your light source and spread it out over a very large area; therefore making it now very directional. They can often provide the softest light due to just how much spread coverage they can give.
This is just a start to setting up your home studio; but in the end you'll need to find what works for you and what you want. Before you start your studio, consider what you'll be shooting and how you want to do it.