Some photographers prefer the control that’s only possible when they have complete control over the lighting. Instead of the hassle and cost of renting a studio, why not make one in a room you already have?
The real secret, if there is any, of making a portrait in limited spaces is having the right equipment, and that gear doesn’t have to be expensive and it is all available at Adorama. Let me help guide you to the best gear to get started.
72 square feet
All of the images accompanying this article were made in this 8x9 foot space in my basement sandwiched between my model train layout at camera right and an old sofa on the left. That’s a water drainpipe on the left edge of the frame. In addition to the studio equipment in the photograph, the only amenities in this temporary studio offers is a stool - not a posing stool, but one I sit on to run my model trains - and a 4x5-foot rug purchased at Target. It ain’t fancy, but it works.
Recently a make-up artist I work with asked me to do a portrait of a client that “she could hang above her fireplace” and because of the changeable springtime weather in the Rockies, I decided to shoot it in my basement. Here’s a list of all of the gear I used for this and similar portrait sessions:
Lighting: While there are 40-inch square windows immediately out of camera range to the left and right of my temporary studio, they open into window wells that are five feet underground, so there is no strong direct available light. In my basic set-up, lighting is provided by two monolights. The main light is a FlashPoint II Model 1220A that produces 600-Watt Seconds. It has continuously variable power that lets me tweak exposure by adjusting the flash instead of my camera’s aperture so I can control depth-of-field. The fill light is a Flashpoint DG600 300 that produces 300 Watt-Seconds of power at in stepless increments down to 1/32 power.
Light modifiers: Umbrellas and lightbanks can have a big affect on the quality of the light used in your temporary studio. For the portrait sessions shown in this story, my main light was fitted a 45-inch Westcott Halo Mono lightbank. While I often use an umbrella on the fill light, fill can also done without a monolight or other powered light source. In those cases, I use the Flashpoint 42-inch 5-in-1 Collapsible Disc Reflector (the white side) opposite the main light to fill and minimize shadows on that side of the portrait subject’s face.
This portrait of my wife Mary was made using a FlashPoint II Model 1220A placed on camera right fired though a 45-inch Westcott Halo Mono lightbank at it lowest (1/8th power) setting. On the left, a Flashpoint DG600 300 set at 1/4 power and fitted with the standard reflector is aimed down on top her head to act as a hair light. The image was captured at ISO 100 with 1/60th of second at f/18 exposure using a Canon DSLR in Manual mode using an EF 80mm f1.8 lens. ©2005 Joe Farace
Lightstands: One old rule of thumb is that you can never have too many or too tall light stands. Manfrotto, for instance, makes a wide variety of stands that support different weight lights. One example: the FlashPoint II Model 1220A is supported by the Bogen/Manfrotto model 3333 light stand. Lighting supports are available from many sources but photographers on a budget will want to check out the rugged and inexpensive light stands produced by JTL.
Background and stands: By far the best deal in muslin backgrounds is Belledrape Muslin Backgrounds, exclusively available at Adorama. For a background stand that perfectly compliments Belledrape Muslins JTL’s B-1012 stand is perfect. It expands to 12.6 feet wide using the four poles provided. For this 70-inch wide scenic background shown in the set up photograph, only two of the sections were required.
This portrait shows one of the secrets about working in small spaces—tight cropping. You can produce headshots like this one in even less space that I have available. This photograph was made using a FlashPoint II Model 1220A placed on camera right fired though a 45-inch Westcott Halo Mono lightbank at its lowest setting. On the left, a Flashpoint DG600 300 at _ power is used with a 43-inch Westcott White Satin (collapsible) umbrella to act as fill. Image was captured with a Canon DSLR at ISO 100. Exposure was 1/60th of second at f/16 in Manual mode with an EF 135mm SF f/2.8 lens. ©2005 Joe Farace
When working in these tight spaces, your photography styles are obviously limited. Obviously full-length poses won’t work, but using 85 and even 135mm portrait lenses, you will be able to get some three-quarter length poses or some nice horizontal headshots as well. I could, however, use the same equipment along with a larger muslin background in my garage to shoot full-length shots.