Taking great studio photographs at home requires the right equipment, layout, strategies, and techniques. Start with identifying the type of photography you want to do and then follow these tips – ranging from which photography backdrops and camera tripod are ideal to the best settings for different types of photography – to get your home studio in shape for your photography goals.
Photo studios let you control the environment, most importantly light. Mastering home studio photos requires the equipment to let you do this, which you can put together for thousands of dollars or hundreds, depending on your flexibility and creativity.
For starters, you need a room that is big enough for you to photograph the subject using nothing shorter than a 50mm lens, in order to avoid distortion. Most photographers who shoot full-body portraits find that the freedom to put 20 feet between the subject and the camera is the minimum. You can get away with 15 feet, but this may cause cramped frames or a bit of distortion. The other essential feature is the ability to control natural light. It’s great to have access to it but you also need a way to block it out whenever you want.
Next you need a photography backdrop, or better yet more than one. Simple, solid neutral colors and an option with a bit of texture are perfect, and you can order them for around $20 for the cheapest rigs with basic rolls of paper.
Lastly, you need artificial light sources and fill elements, which you need to position in relation to your subject area and tripod. Choose between continuous and flash lighting; the former are less expensive but the latter are more versatile and don’t create as much heat in your studio. You need a primary light with a diffuser at an angle to the subject. You can change the angle and height to create different effects. A bounce card or reflect helps create fill light by bouncing light from the main source to brighten the darker, shadowed side of the subject and soften contrasts. Every shoot has a unique ideal amount of bounce, so it’s important to play around with this before a shoot and figure out a range of what you might like. Then your main camera can be hand-held or on a tripod, and it should be connected to the studio lights to control the flash.
Gear Settings and Photographic Techniques
Getting the room right is only half the battle to mastering home studio photography (if that)! Think of setting up a shot as building a composition. Position your subject first. Then turn the lights on and play with their position to get the visual effect you want. You can take a few sample photos as you adjust the light to get a feel for the mood before you move on to getting your camera settings right.
The main settings are ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. If you are using flashes, their speed limits how fast you can set your shutter speed, typically not faster than 1/200 unless you spend a lot. Typically you shouldn’t set it any slower than 1/160, even if you use continuous lights, unless you want a specific effect. Set the ISO to 100 unless the camera’s manual specifies a different “native” sensitivity. Then close the aperture down to f/5.6 or smaller. Then take a few shots and use the camera’s histogram to evaluate your exposure and make any setting adjustments. The other option is use a light meter to identify ideal settings for the amount of light.
Your best option with ambient light is to block most of it, especially if it comes from yellow incandescent light, because it’s difficult to eliminate the color effects of that lighting. If you have ambient light you want to use or can’t eliminate, you need to configure your white balance and exposure more carefully. The camera picks up light you don’t notice with your eyes, and the color from overhead lights and windows can alter your final product. Most pros suggest turning off auto-white-balance to give you more control during editing, which means you can’t rely on your camera to compensate for unnatural ambient light
Apply these basics, from setting up your photography backdrops to assembling your studio to getting the right settings on your gear to begin a foray into home studio photography. They lay a solid foundation on which you can build to really master the art.