Monday, April 6, 2009

I NEED a Studio!!!

...or so I thought for a long time.

How many times have you said to yourself, 'gee, if only I had a studio, I could get this type of shot'? Well, I know I've said that a lot! But I'm starting to learn, in all honesty, 90% of the time you can get by without one.

I love shooting portraits. I absolutely do. Its so cool to try to capture an essence of someone regardless whether you have known them for years or have only just met. I like meeting new people and socializing with old friends too so this just goes hand-in-hand with being a "portrait shooter".

My favorite type of portraits though, by far, are an environmental portraits. I would much rather photograph someone in their environment than in a studio and I love shooting outside least when the weather is nice. There are so many cool backgrounds you can find, right in your own backyard. Plus, photographing someone in their own environment tells the viewer a little bit more about that person.

That being said, there are those times when a "studio look" is just what the doctor ordered. I have for many years now wished that I had a studio to do some of those cool portraits I have seen in magazines and on the internet. However, if you're like me, you probably don't have enough space in your home to set up a studio and you may not have enough money or the ability to rent a location as a studio.

So, what do you do?

Well, getting a "studio look" is a little easier than you might think with just a few speedlights and modifiers. You don't really need big monoblocs and power packs, although I will admit I'd like to have a few.

If you have about 7 square feet, and a bed sheet, or even better, a collapsible background, you can get some pretty cool headshots and 3/4 portraits with a simple setup.

Above is my studio. It consists of a Botero #23 collapsible background, a few Nikon speedlights, a shoot thru umbrella, a Lumiquest SBIII and a few gels. You could very easily do this with one speedlight and a bed sheet hung on the wall, but I have this stuff, so its what I use.

This portrait (of my friend and fellow photographer Michela) is one of my favorites I've done recently and it was done with the very same setup you see above; nothing fancy, just a few flashes and modifiers. The setup above can also be arranged in many different configurations for different looks.

I used the same setup as above for this self portrait, only my main light was modified with a $30 DIY beauty dish I made for the key light, and another speedlight with a Honl grid for my kicker. Both of these flashes had CTO gels on them. Another speedlight was used with a blue gel on my background.

The cool thing about this setup is that I can tear it down in 15 minutes, pack it away in one case, and carry it with me anywhere. Its nice to have an instant studio that you can take with you anywhere, just in case you need this type of look.

I hope this may dispel any ideas that you absolutely NEED a studio to get these types of shot ...cause you just plain don't.

When this blog and/or my photos start making me loads of money, then I'm getting myself a studio ....and I bet I don't shoot 10% of my stuff in there. :)

For some resources on small flash photography, check out these...

1. The Strobist Blog
2. The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally
3. Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography by Kirk Tuck


Jenn Lee said...

I couldn't agree with your post more! You have taught/showed me more things about shooting outside the box than I could have ever imagined...who needs a studio?! Not I!!! =)

Ceece said...


You are an insane wealth of knowledge. Thanks so much, especially for the links to everything. Helps so much!

Joel Neild said...

I've been reading about Storbist style lighting for some time, and the results you ca get are amazing. John, you definatly have the "eye" for portraiture.