Homemade Studio | The Camera Coach

Okay, as promised I bring you a blog that is all Photographer Nerdout Section.  In this post, I’ll give you the skinny on one way to make a studio lighting set up that costs less than $100.

It’s common for a set up of pro studio lights, reflectors, diffusers, etc, to cost tens of thousands of dollars.  If you can afford that, you’re awesome.  And please call me.  Most likely you can’t afford that, or you don’t want to spend all that money on lights and such.  My problem is that if I had that money I probably would buy a big awesome studio setup.  So it’s probably a good thing I don’t.

Anyway, you CAN make a small, portable, very inexpensive studio setup that can get you great looking shots.  Here’s what you buy:

1. CLAMP WORK LIGHT ($10 each…not including bulb)

This clamp work light is going to be your new best friend.  I recommend using at least three of these lights.  If you plan to light more than one person or want to light a bigger area, you’ll definitely want to use 5 or more lights.  But it also depends what kind of bulbs you use, which brings us to the next item on your shopping list.

2. Fluorescent Light Bulbs ($8ish for a 4 pack)

You can pretty much get any fluorescent bulb for your studio set up.  Just use normal bulbs you would use in your house.  For my shots below I used 19 Watt 120 Volt 5500K bulbs, which is pretty much like a 75Watt incandescent bulb.  You can experiment with different bulbs, but my recommendation is stick with fluorescent bulbs because they don’t put off all the heat of big incandescent bulbs.  Your models will thank you.  Oh also, fluorescent bulbs are cheaper to run, ie better for the environment.  Yay.

For stands I just use mic stands and speaker stands or tall floor lamps (turned off usually) and clamp the work lights to whatever I’m using.  If you’re not a musician and don’t have a ton of mic stands and speaker stands lying around, then use whatever you have that’s tall and vertical (no jokes please).  You can buy  all different kinds of light stands from any camera store worth its salt, but I should warn you, this is going to push your budget over a hundred bucks.

Here’s a shot of my setup when I did my shoot with comedienne Gilda Sue Rosenstern.

That’s a car windshield reflector that I’m using for a reflector.  Sometimes I don’t use it.  Sometimes I use a normal reflector like the ones you can buy at a camera store, and they’re good, and you can get a 5-in-1 version for around $20, which is good.  And that white backdrop is a white bed sheet stretched tight and stuck to the wall with thumb tacks.

Setup is pretty easy.  Basically you want to light your background well if you’re using a white sheet like I did and want a depth-less white background.  You’ll want to focus your lights so that you don’t have hot spots.  Usually just pulling the light farther away will make your light fall more evenly on your background so you don’t have small bright spots on your background.

To light your subject you can use one of the lights on one side of your subject to create a nice side-lit look that adds depth.  I shot the Gilda Sue shots in a room with two big windows behind me so I opened the blinds more or less depending on how much of that day light I wanted.  Your room lights will also add to your scene, but if you don’t want them, you can turn them off.  Experiment!

Note: I have started using this light set up in conjunction with a speedlight-through-umbrella setup.  The third and fourth pictures down in the group below were shot this way.  Fore more on using the speedlight-through-umbrella techniques check out the incredible website strobist.com.

Okay, here are bunch of photos from the past year or so that I’ve done using this cheap light setup.  I hope you guys like this idea and have fun using it.  Feel free to ask me questions in the comments section below or email me at JoshLamkinPhotography@gmail.com.

Want to get in touch with me?  Email me: JoshLamkinPhotography@gmail.com

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Terrell - March 9, 2010 - 4:35 pm

If you are looking for cheap reflective material, you can pick up Emergency Blankets for about $1. The blankets are a huge, thin sheets of reflective mylar, usually 6ftx4ft. Staple or tape the sheet to a piece cardboard and you are done.

Josh Lamkin - March 9, 2010 - 4:52 pm

Terrell, GREAT suggestion. Where do you buy those blankets?

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