Perfect Home Studio Setup Guide
Many times I've been asked what is my "recipe" for a home studio.
While my personal home studio is loaded with equipment like different sizes and types of umbrellas, softboxes, reflectors, booms, holders, adapters, numerous flash lights and others I strongly believe that a good starting setup doesn't need to be complicated and actually requires limited amount of studio equipment.
In this post I'll share my view of what consists the essential studio light equipment. With it you will able to to build a home photography light studio and take great portraits with flattering light. I'll also share just a few optional accessories that you can include when you're ready to go to the next level.
In order to achieve professional looking images you need to have good background. Backdrops are available in different colors, materials and sizes. Choose a size that will suit your room and your image style.
My recommendation for a start is a grey muslin or paper backdrop that is between 2 and 3 meters wide and 3-6 meters long. I suggest grey background instead of white or black as with grey you will have good control over the shadows and will be able to change it to full black of very light grey by changing the distance between your subject, main light and the background.
You will also need a sturdy background support system. It should have two stands and a crossbar on which you can hand the backdrop.
2. Main light
The main or key light is the main light source for your image. It will light up the model. It should be able to provide soft light with no harsh shadows. It will also create catchlights in the model’s eyes.
For a single light studio setup, I recommend a single flash light and either a translucent white or black and white reflective umbrella (100 cm diameter or larger) or a softbox (80 x 80 cm or larger).
The umbrella will be able to light larger area of the scene while the softbox will have more controlled light. Both will provide very soft light on your model’s face. Traditionally the translucent or white and black reflective umbrellas have been the number one choice for almost everybody that is just starting with off-camera flash lights. The softboxes required additional adapters and brackets and most were designed for use with studio strobe lights.
These days however there are hybrid umbrella softboxes that mount the same way as a standard umbrella. There are also softboxes and adapters that are designed to be used exclusively with flash speedlites so you have the freedom to choose the best light source for your needs.
As the distance, angle, direction and height of the main light are critical for the end image you need a way to properly control them. For this you need a light stand and either an umbrella flash bracket or softbox adapter (depending on your choice of light modifier). As you’ll be using fairly light equipment and light modifier you don’t need a super sturdy light stand, but you’ll want to stay away from the very basic ones that are quite flimsy and can be tipped over by an incidental touch.
While this is obvious you need to consider how you will trigger your flash light from the camera. Some camera / flash lights combinations have built in flash controllers and you don’t need anything extra. If this is not the case, you should consider using a wireless flash trigger set. This way you are able to trigger your flash light without the need for it to be mounted on your camera or to use cables across your studio.
Some triggers allow you to remotely adjust the flash power and zoom which can be very convenient while you try to figure out the settings for a proper exposure.
Of course you’ll also need a portrait lens. This can be your favourite portrait lens. For me I would choose either a classic 50mm prime lens or something in the 85-100 mm range.
Now that you’re ready with your home studio you need to think about the models you will shoot. Consider working with family and friends or hire a professional model. You can also find aspiring models which should be enthusiastic to work with you as they need to create their own portfolio and you can work together for a win-win scenario.
That’s it – you now have everything you need to start creating beautiful portraits. If you still don’t get your desired results or strive for the perfect image and there’s something still missing, consider the following optional equipment to build
5. Second light
Adding second light will expand your options for light setups in your studio. You can use it as a hair light or as a background fill light. You can place it behind your subject to create rim light or you can create symmetrical light setup. The possibilities are almost endless. You can also use a reflector as your second light, which leads us to the
You can use a reflector as a second light in your studio by bouncing light from your main source. This will allow you to lift some of the shadows from the dark areas while still have good shadow definition of the face. If you already have a second light, then use the reflector to lift up some of the shadow below the face of the model. You can either have an assistant to hold the reflector or use light stand with reflector holder arm.
7. Studio clamps
The studio clamps are perhaps the least expensive accessory for your studio. If you are having nightmares about how to obtain wrinkle free fabric or secure your paper background in place you have your answer. Put a few clamps to secure your backdrop to the stand and you won’t have to worry about this anymore.
So which studio setup do you prefer, or do you feel there's something missing? Let us know in the comments below.