Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How big should my home studio be?

I frequently see people who are remodeling their house and want to create a proper photo studio as part of that space.  Since space is almost always at a premium during a home remodel, these folks want to know how small a space they can get away with allocating to their studio without making it so small that it's not really usable.  Of course, the answer depends on what type of subjects you're photographing:  automobiles require more space than jewelry.  However, by breaking it down and adding up the space required for each individual component, it's not hard to come up with a number that serves your needs.

Due to space constraints, I don't have a proper studio at home, but I have shot enough products in my basement and corporate portraits on location that I have a pretty good feel for the space requirements.


If you're remodeling your basement or some other existing room, you probably won't get to choose your ceiling height.  If you can choose, 9-10 feet (2.75 - 3 m) is sure a lot better than 8 feet.  Your side lights will bounce off your ceiling, so a higher ceiling allows you more creative control.

Photographing wall art (read more)
I would recommend leaving your floor joists exposed so that you can clamp and hang things from them.  Hanging lights or backgrounds from the ceiling (and putting a few electrical outlets up there as well) will remove the clutter of stands and cords in an already cramped floor space. A standard white drop ceiling will rob you of that ability, as well as stealing 6-8 inches of height.

I'd paint the ceiling joists medium grey (18%) to help control light spray.  Black will kill light even better, but it will make the room feel dark and uninviting.  If you're inviting clients into your studio, you want them to feel comfortable.  A white ceiling will allow you to bounce light and fill the space evenly, but remember that this fill will then happen whether you want it to or not.  You're better off clamping a white sheet or foam board across the ceiling if you want a large, overhead fill.

Speaking of colors, you'll want to be careful about anything in the room that can add its own color cast to the light that you're creating.  From a photographic standpoint, you'll be better off if the ceiling, walls, and floor are all surfaced in neutral colors like black, white, and gray.  Of course, you still need to be aware of making your space inviting to clients.  There are lots of ways (50?) to combine different shades of grey into attractive combinations that will make your space look nice without screwing up your white balance.  Dress up your walls with some hanging prints, and the fact that your walls are completely colorless may not even get noticed.

While we're talking about lighting, it would be great if you switch off the overhead lights above your subject separately from the overhead lights above your camera so that you can still see what you're doing without polluting the light above your subject.


Portraits of cockatiels (read more)
Ideally, you should give yourself at least 4 feet (1.2m) on either side of your on-camera subject area to allow room for light stands & modifiers. The width of the "on-camera subject area" depends on what you're shooting: for a single person head shot, 4 feet is a comfortable width. Maybe you can get by with 2-3 feet per side for lighting, but you'll be cramped when trying to move around, and you'll lose flexibility in how you light your subjects because your lights will have to be practically right on top of them.

If you're hanging a 9' (2.75m) seamless backdrop roll from portable backdrop stands, you'll need about 2 feet (60cm) for the stand legs on each side of the 9' roll, so the whole thing will take up about 13' (4m) across your room.  Fortunately, you can get half-width paper background rolls.  Muslins or sheets can, of course, be spread across whatever width bar you have available.


Test setup for head shots (read more)
For a permanent space, allow 2 feet (60cm) of depth for your backdrop. This gives you enough room to set up portable backdrop stands, or it allows you space to simultaneously hang several backdrop rolls from the ceiling so that you can simply pull down whichever backdrop you want to use. If you're really tight on space, you can hang a single backdrop at a time directly from your rafters or from your wall and place it right up against the wall.  This requires only about 6 inches, but is more cumbersome to use.

For portraits, you should give yourself a minimum of 6 feet (1.8m) of depth between your backdrop and your subject. The more, the better. This allows you to throw the backdrop out of focus and minimize the effects of wrinkles or blemishes on the backdrop. It prevents harsh shadows from your subject on the background. It allows you room to light the backdrop separately. It gives you room to position a hair/rim light at a decent angle behind the subject.  Alas, this is one space that many photographers forget about, to their detriment.

The distance you need between your camera and your subject depends on the subject. For a single-person head shot, 6 feet is probably a minimum. More subjects require more space. You need room to use a long lens (like 90mm), because a wide lens distorts faces and captures more of your backdrop, which we already know might be on the small side due to space requirements.

Finally, you'll want at least 4 feet (1.2m) between the camera lens and the back wall, just to give you room to move around or allow spectators to stand. 6-8 feet is even better.

Summing it up

Test setup for head shots (read more)
If you add all that up, it you'll want at about 18' (5.5m) of depth and 12' (3.7m) of width for a cozy, but not cramped, portrait studio capable of shooting a couple people at a time. a 25x15' (7.6 x 4.6m) space would give you more flexibility for shooting family groups.

I've shot corporate head shots of husband/wife teams in a space that was 10' wide by 12' deep with a 10' ceiling... (3.6 x 3 x 3m) with a conference table in the middle of that space (see the title image). It was uncomfortably tight--especially the 12' depth. My back was literally up against the wall, as were most of my lights. However, it was usable in a pinch, and the results turned out well.

If you're photographing products instead of people, the numbers here will change, but the process will not.  You may need more width and probably less depth, depending on the size of your products and the angle at which you shoot them.

If any of you have created an in-home studio yourself, I'd love to hear about it.  Please share your experience and photos in the comments below.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comment below. Comments are moderated, so don't be alarmed if your note doesn't appear immediately. Also, please don't use my blog to advertise your own web site unless it's related to the discussion at hand.