Basic Studio Set up

Stargazer Lily with backlight shot in studio

Studio work is not really my thing, but I’ve had a few situations where I needed it. I created some of my abstract floral shots in a studio and it was a must to shoot for a gaming company several years ago. Recently a student also asked about a low-cost studio setup, so I thought I’d share what I did with everyone today.

This list is intended for a small studio setup, to shoot still life tabletop, portraits or for you to do your own videos with a basic backdrop.

First off I visited a website a friend recommended called the Strobist. They have a nicely written article on lighting 101. They give you the basics for setting up a studio and also have a couple of kits you can buy.

After reading through that material you will need to find a space to shoot. Do you want natural lighting or do you want to control all of the light? For the game company shoot, I worked in a basement and blacked out the windows with a heavy fabric. This allowed me to control all of the light. You will need to pay attention to shadows cast by all of your light sources and to any distracting reflections on the subject.

Studio setup in bedroom

Recently I have moved my studio setup to a bedroom that has large windows to one side and overhead lights. This was sufficient for me to shoot a number of items I wanted to put up on eBay. And I hope to create some short video segments for my teaching channel on Youtube – coming soon!

For equipment I have the following items:

  • Canon 550 EX flash – yeah it’s a dinosaur from my film days but it works fine
  • LumoPro compact umbrella
  • Cheaplights spring clamps – to hold the paper onto the table
  • 5001B Nano Stand Black – to hold the flash and umbrella
  • ePhoto Video Backdrop with dark grey and white paper rolls for backgrounds.
  • Tripod – I use a Gitzo G1348 MK2 4 section tripod – it holds a lot of weight and is very stable
  • Shutter release cord – I prefer this to the remotes and I can stand behind the camera to release the shutter.
  • 5 in 1 reflectors in two sizes – 22″ and 45″

You can use a flash or studio lights. I have some old studio lights I purchased a long time ago that I used for some of my shots, but a flash will work fine as well and sometimes you might want the combination. For more advanced techniques multiple flash units are needed. You should learn how to use the flash manually for the best results and most control, but TTL auto does a decent job.

Hot shoe adapter for flash

I still use the flash from my film days. It’s almost 20 years old. It pays to buy good equipment as it’ll last. The only drawback is it’s not wireless so I had to get a hot shoe adapter with a cord to link the flash to the camera since you place the flash on the Nano stand and not on the camera. This allows you to adjust the angle of the light on your subject.

Umbrella used to reflect light back onto the subject from the flash.

The umbrella is essentially a diffuser for the flash. You can shoot the flash into the umbrella and then that light is reflected back onto the subject or you can shoot through the umbrella so it acts like a softbox.

The ePhoto Video backdrop is adjustable both in height and width. The setup shown above only uses 2 of the 4 poles provided for the width. I have both white and grey paper for backdrops. You can also use fabric. The options are limitless. Make sure the background does not interfere with the main subject, so keep it simple.

The clamps hold the paper down onto the table I am using. They are also useful for various other things such as securing reflectors.

If you don’t already have one, get a good tripod. I’ll post another blog on tripods, but you want one that is suitable for your needs. Spend some money now and you won’t ever need to get another one again. I’ve had mine for 14 years.

The tripod improves picture quality by keeping the camera stable. Most studio work needs a high depth of field (aperture setting) which lets in less light and results in slower shutter speeds. You want to keep your ISO low for quality so use a tripod and you don’t need to worry about slower shutter speeds causing blur.

Close-up shot of Rose

The tripod also improves quality by giving you a stable platform from which to create a good composition, especially for close up shots and tricky angles. You must learn to love your tripod! It slows you down and that is a good thing for producing quality images.

F22, 1second, ISO 100 with 100mm Macro lense

To go with your tripod a shutter release cord or remote control are essential. The problem with most remote control units is they have to be activated from the front of the camera. However, some cameras can be triggered by your phone or computer. I actually had my computer connected to the camera during my gaming shoot and activated the shutter from the computer. The images were then directly copied to the hard drive and my client could see the image immediately.

The equipment is lightweight and portable. So you can easily take it with you for on-site shooting. Especially the stand for the flash with the umbrella.

If you already have a flash and tripod then the rest of the equipment is quite affordable. I think it all totaled less than $100 for me a few years ago. If you don’t have a flash or tripod it’ll be quite a bit more. Both are useful well beyond studio shooting. I use my tripod all the time for my nature and macro photography.

Have fun with your new studio and keep shooting!


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