Creating a Home Photography Studio on a Budget

Creating a Home Photography Studio on a Budget

A Guest post by Kimberly Gauthier from Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier

Sidney 043011-7.jpgI live in the Pacific Northwest and every now and then we have days when the weather isn’t ideal. Overcast days are fantastic for photography, but the rainy days drive me inside. I have a sleeve for my camera that I use on those days when a shot is too good to pass up; otherwise, I use my home studio.

The idea of creating a home photography studio was inspired by a long, wet spell in Washington. We had an empty room and after some research on photography studios, I came up with a plan and set about creating my studio. My goal was to build a place to take pictures out of the rain and I was convinced that I could accomplish this without breaking the bank and I was right. This is how I turned a 250 square foot room into a photography studio for less than $500. Keep in mind that I already owned the camera, lenses, and tripod.

2 gallons of paint (bonus: it was buy one, get one free) $20

My initial plan was to choose brown and pink (my logo colors) and maybe green, but after some research I went with two shades of grey; they’d do the least amount of damage to skin tones when I had portrait parties with friends. One gallon was matched to the white balance grey card and the second was a shade lighter. Someone suggestion that I go with a black room (or a black wall), but this would be a pain to repaint if we put the house on the market.

Continuous lighting kit set, 2 7’ stands, 1 mini stand, 4 umbrellas (2 white, 1 black/silver, 1 black/gold), carrying case $110

When I was researching lighting equipment, I was intimidated by the strobe sets. I wanted to start small, because lighting is an area where I need improvement and this kit was perfect for me; it’s light weight, it’s portable, and it doesn’t take up a lot of space. I was able to take free local workshops to get the basics and I followed that up with tutorials on YouTube.

10’x20’ backdrops: grey, black, white, and brown $130

I was tempted to buy sheets, but the fabric was too sheer and sewing (not my forte) would be involved to get them ready to hang. The backdrops I purchased aren’t top of the line (as you may guess by the price, which is for all four), but they work. The size makes them a pain to fold for storage and great for group shots.

Backdrop System: purchased supplies from the hardware store $35

I searched for a portable backdrop system, but the ones I found that fit within my budget took up too much floor space. My boyfriend built my backdrop system in an afternoon and it is effective, doesn’t take up floor space, but it isn’t portable. I have no idea how he put it together, although I “helped,” but he shared the ingredients with me: 10’ dowel, PVC pipe, closet rod “receiver,” trimmed 2x4s, 1 bolt.

Furniture & Props $150

I commandeered furniture from around the house, purchased two stools off of Craigslist, and purchased an armoire from an auction. Furniture/Props: sofa, 2 stools, bench, two armoires (for storage), card table, folding chair, and 2 mirrors. It helped that we had extra furniture when we combined households.

Total Price $445

Don’t let being an amateur photographer discourage you from creating a space at home for your photography. My studio came together in 3 months and is much more affordable than renting space and a better idea than taking over our dining room. If you’re interested in creating a home studio, avoid going overboard on spending by creating a budget and sticking to it; if you can’t find the right price or item today, check tomorrow or next week. Develop a space plan, shop online, buy used, and ask for suggestions from other photographers.

Considering everything that’s in my studio, $445 isn’t bad.

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Some Older Comments

  • Jim Hennessey August 4, 2013 10:46 pm

    This is great information. In today's economy, it is tough starting a new business. I wanted to construct an in home studio, but, was told my ceilings should be 10ft high. I have 8' ceilings.
    Is this a problem or not? Can I just hang a backdrop on my ceiling to stop light reflection and or light ounce?
    Should I use a flat paint on my ceilings and walls?
    These are just some picky questions I have which are not brought out in the articles.


  • Yb April 24, 2013 11:19 am

    If u don't mind me asking. Where did you get your lighting kit?

  • syed February 13, 2013 01:36 pm

    hey bro, can you take a picture of your studio, i'll be eassier for me to copy it..xD your pleasure :)

  • Mary February 2, 2013 09:59 am

    I am starting to plan mine, I have a shed that I am going. Good to turn mine in to. I would like if you have any hints. And I am looking to make my own water marks, but not sure how to start

  • valerie Pietrowiak October 13, 2012 03:36 am

    pictures would have been even more helpful...especially what your boyfriend built!

  • Jamie September 17, 2012 03:47 pm

    I've been much into photography these days and I have been longing for that studio background which, in my case, I cannot afford to buy one but you definitely opened my eyes today. Thank you for listing these breakdowns. I'm going to really try this one.

  • Alec Hosterman August 5, 2012 01:52 am

    I am going to be turning my spare bedroom / cat room / storage room into a photo studio. I hadn't thought about making my own backdrop supports before - and I do woodworking, so it's a good way to save some money. The one other tip I found while doing my research is to paint the ceiling a matte white - easier on the light. Usually if you get ceiling paint (goes on pink, dries white) it's already a matte color. Inexpensive too at your local Lowe's or Home Depot (less than $20/gallon). Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Deb Buchanan July 15, 2012 09:08 am

    I have a spare bedroom that I've been wanting to have as a small studio and for somewhere I can put my camera/lens equipment. (Kimberly G), your enthusiasm and photography are amazing! This is a great article and great information from the readers as well! Thxx everyone!

  • Lacy December 22, 2011 07:00 pm

    Oh I hit enter before I was finished... I am in the process of making my computer room into a small studio, mainly for my family and friends. I've been taking pictures and doing sessions for 4 years now but have always used natural lighting so if the weather isn't good, I have to "cancel" my appointments. So I have decided to turn a room into a studio and just looking for suggestions and other people's opinions about lighting and flash units but seems I'm asking for the wrong questions or asking the wrong people.

    Once again, thank you for sharing this.

  • Lacy December 22, 2011 06:56 pm

    I wish that more photographers are more like you, because I've just been told that it's very unprofessional to ask another photographer of what type of lighting they used. I guess some photographers see it as competition :( I've been showing Himalayan cats for 20 years and there is just so many breeders that will turn their backs on new breeders that ask for there help just because they do not want competition in the Show rings. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Carmen Faye July 31, 2011 08:17 am

    Hi Kimberly,

    I found your article to be a great and very informative post! It was very considerate of you to share with the rest of us. I will be converting a spare room of mine into a home studio soon, and I just had a quick question, for the two colors of paint, did you mix them, or...?? I look forward to your (a) response! Thanks! :)

  • Neal Malik July 11, 2011 02:19 am

    One more word TAXES! I was wrong, this is the most important investment. This article does not really mention them but trust me it is a cost you must consider. Please contact your local, state and federal tax offices to find out what you need to do to make your studio business legitimate. When I formed "Impressions in Time (" I had never done anything like it before, I had no clue about taxes but it really took no time to figure out what I needed to do for my area.

  • Neal Malik July 11, 2011 01:49 am

    Dont forget the most important cards. Cheap and plentifull, pass them out like there is no tomorrow.

    Get a website, this can be expensive but once you have a few clients invest almost all of your income back into the studio to help it grow. Most photographers have another job but who wants to, better yet, who can afford to take money set aside for food or rent and gamble it on a start-up business. You will need to bank roll it in the begining for the equipment but then let the business feed itself. This takes some discipline but it is almost a requirement to get through very lean years like we have had over the last two.

  • Rajesh Arya July 10, 2011 06:24 pm

    You can try buy photography light and camera from ebay. You can find lots of good used stuff from there in very cheap price. And for background you can try clothe instead of salvage (paper) background.

  • Calin S July 9, 2011 02:28 am

    This looks nice and cheap. Maybe i'll try to do it. Good article!

  • dblayn July 9, 2011 01:49 am

    Great article -- thanks. What color did you paint the ceiling? Also grey or did you leave it white?

  • juli July 9, 2011 01:03 am

    we want pictures! :)

  • jackie July 8, 2011 11:22 pm

    my studio is a garage when cars are in it ;-)

  • jackie July 8, 2011 11:18 pm

    Would love to see it - post a pic here?

  • John July 8, 2011 04:26 pm

    I wish I had a 250 square foot room to shoot in.

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Photography Blog July 8, 2011 01:57 pm

    Hi Everyone. I'm not sure if some missed it, but there is a link on the words "backdrop system" that leads to the pictures of the studio on my Flickr - there you'll find links to some of the gear that I purchased. If you head on over to my site, you'll also find a video that shows the set up.

    I wasn't sure how many links I could add here so I tried to keep it minimal; I know, I should have just asked.


  • @Nakeva July 8, 2011 12:18 pm

    Kimberly, you did a great job making the best of resources to accomplish the home photography studio. Thanks for the tips. I'm moving into a house soon and already have my eye on a setup in the basement!

  • Neal Malik (Impressions in Time) July 8, 2011 04:57 am

    I nearly forgot, keep everything professional. Make sure all clients come to you, I have never traveled to a clients home. There must be commitment on their end and them taking the time to see you will validate the possible investment. Never be ashamed to let them know you work from home. I dont advertise it but if ask I am upfront. I simply tell them I have reduced my overhead and in doing so I can keep my prices competative and reasonable for them. If I had to pay a rental fee for a studio it would affect my profit margin and thus raise my rates on every aspect of my business both in studio and outside of the studio. Designate a portion of your home or location as business and use it only for that if possible. If it is not a space is a premium then always give enough time to clean up and have it presentable before a consult. Never have pets of others in the area during the consult, it should be just you and them.

    My primary business is wedding photography and specific portraits that relate to weddings such as engagement and bridals. You can view some of my work at By targeting this market I have ensured most photogrpahy is away from my home and thus meeting any local home business restrictions here.

    Bottom line is have a professional presentation, listen to the clients needs, adress any concerns and take quality photographs and your clients will return no matter where you work from.

  • Neal Malik (Impressions in Time) July 8, 2011 04:38 am

    I have owned my own studio "Impressions in Time" and have run it from home since I founded it in 2004. The first item you want to check is to make sure all zoning laws will be met. When I went to get my business license and document my location I was told I could not operate a studio from its location nor could I have adidational structures on the location to house equipment. I do all of my photography on location, now Viriginia weatehr is much better then the Pacific Northwest but it still presents a challenge to ensure you have back up dates or plans. To open a studio at home will aloow you to get established without running the overhead of a rental studio that could bankrupt you without the clients.

  • bryan July 8, 2011 12:47 am

    great stuff however for 450 you can find real stands back drops and light modifiers if you search hard enough

  • Niki Jones July 7, 2011 11:33 pm

    Thanks for the info. Will be doing something similar in a couple of months when I move to a bigger place.

  • Duncan Fawkes July 7, 2011 04:47 am

    Good post, thanks. I wish I had a spare room to do this! I purchased an eBook from which is packed with tips on building various items for a home studio - from softboxes to light supports. Might be worth a look for anyone working on a budget.

  • Joe Sands July 7, 2011 04:00 am

    Thanks for the post, I've been meaning to do a similar part time studio in my basement and this is kind of a good kick in the pants to get it done. Also thank your boyfriend for me, great idea for an easy way to hang backdrops with minimal effort. I had some ideas in my head (I'm using conduit instead of the dowel) but his hanging solution is easier and cheaper than what I had in mind.

  • Shayla P July 6, 2011 11:12 pm

    William, thank you for the indepth description of how you build the backdrop system! I am printing it for my husband so he can build me one! Thanks for taking the time![/img]

  • Shayla P July 6, 2011 11:08 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have a small home studio, but because it isn't big and fancy I never used it because I was afraid people would think it "drab" and not become return customers. This gave me the confidence, along with some more helpful tips in how to make it even better. Thanks for taking the time to write this and help people like me!

  • TrentReznor July 6, 2011 03:22 am

    No photos of the setup, no links to the mentioned items... what exactly was I supposed to gain from reading this?

  • THE aSTIG @ July 6, 2011 12:33 am

    I do car photography for my website

    I'm seriously contemplating about turning my garage into a studio for car photography, but on a larger scale. I can photoshop backgrounds in, but the garage studio will help me take photos on a controlled environment, getting the lighting and reflections on the car just the way I want it before I photoshop another background in. Or maybe have large tarps as backgrounds? Still toying with the idea. But thanks for the writeup! This will be a big help!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck July 6, 2011 12:31 am


    I set up a small portable studio this past weekend...It is called A Studio in a Box. Basically a small collapsing White ox with a couple of lights. Shot this tribute to Pink Floyd with it!

  • Lyn Rees July 5, 2011 10:26 pm

    What about hight? I keep thinking that I'd want more hight than 8ft to mount lights hight up.

  • Nova July 5, 2011 08:58 pm

    Very interesting! It would be nice to see your studio. Could you post a photo of it? :)

  • markus July 5, 2011 06:28 pm

    thanks for the post. it might be great if "on a budget" and $445 fit together, which it mostly does. but i'd be really glad to read a post on "building a low budget home studio" as my budget as a student doesn't always allow to just spend a few hundred, so.... thanks anyway.

  • bycostello July 5, 2011 06:21 pm

    i just need a space to convert though :(

  • Michael July 5, 2011 05:18 pm

    that is a great idea but unfortunately, I do not have spare room.

  • scottc July 5, 2011 03:05 pm

    Perfect timing, I'm considering doing something similar very soon and the budget is very close to my own. This one is bookmarked.

    My "studio" so far consists of various colors of poster board as a backdrop, positioned anywhere the light seems to work:

  • OsmosisStudios July 5, 2011 12:13 pm

    The only thing I'd change is the lighting kit which is, arguably, the most important part. I'd steer clear of continuous lighting and go to some kind of flashes, even if it's just dummy slaves that you can trigger with cheap triggers.

    That being said, My current "studio" is a small bag with 2 stands, an umbrella and a softbox and the 3 SB units I keep in my backpack that work through CLS. More costly, but so much easier.

  • Christopher Santos July 5, 2011 08:03 am

    Hi Kimberly, great idea.
    I would like to know what equipment you use, like lenses, camera. etc.

  • Chuck July 5, 2011 07:49 am

    I too have been contemplating something similar as soon as my son moves out and I can clean things up. I hadn't thought about the paint and props so this gives me some more ideas to work on. Thanks for taking the time to write the article!

  • William July 5, 2011 07:34 am

    I turned my porch into a small portrait studio. Mine is like 10X17 and space inside is a premium.
    There are a couple of things you can do to 'improve' your collection and make it a bit more portable. I happened to have some rarely used light stands, which were part of a kit I purchased. Light stands are basically backdrop stands anyhow. I went to my local hardware store and purchased two sections of 1/2" EMT pipe. I had one section cut into one 6' piece and one 4' piece the other cut into three foot pieces and took the last piece along. I got the pieces de-burred cut straight by their equipment. While waiting for the pieces to be cut I got four 90 degree corners, four 1/2" couplers. I put the 90 degree corners on each end of one piece of 5' pipe and put that between my light/backdrop stands. I keep the three foot pieces together with ball bungies. I can mix and match lengths to get different size backdrops. I just have to put on the additional coupler. For longer spans I do have some 3/4" EMT also cut to the same lengths.
    The six foot piece is pretty much set up all the time. I can load everything into my car along with the extra lengths without a problem.
    You'll want your stands to reach eight feet minimum so you can shoot your shots all the way to the ceiling.
    Unlike you I use flat sheets that I buy on sale or use a coupon. No sewing is required if you use those pinch curtain rings, which will slip over the EMT pipe pretty easily. I have a cloth shower curtain that I got from a chain store. You can use one of your backdrops as a regular backdrop and the other as a really big diffuser. Don't forget that you can get 'A' clamps or even use clothes pins to help hold your materials together. I went to the office supply store and bought several sizes of those folding paper holders, from tiny to medium size.
    You can get some window treatments at discount stores like Big Lots or something similar many of those have ties so I just attach them to the cross bar with a regular shoe tie. They can also double as scarves and drapes.
    While not part of my studio actually I do use a contractor rolling tool box to carry my 'stuff' around and it can double as a prop if you cover it with a sheet or something. When I tote my stuff around I use the 'backdrops' as padding to keep my gear safe. You can find those at a major chain hardware store. I'd advise you to check both because there are several different styles, some with tool trays and some without. They were around $50 the last time I checked. The added bonus is that they tend to be a bit water proof. Also while my light stands don't fit inside the tool box I can bungee them to the top and this helps make fewer trips when I'm bringing the studio to the client. It kind of also helps to keep my gear in one place so I know where it is the next time I go to use it.
    One last item in my 'studio' is a small folding table. This is great for portrait work. The top of the table is white and acts like a reflector. It is also handy to keep my laptop where me and my client can see the photos at the same time.

  • retlaw7 July 5, 2011 07:17 am

    This is great, but no links to the items you purchased?

  • Marcel July 5, 2011 06:55 am

    Thank you, I've been thinking about doing something similar in my spare bedroom.
    The backdrop idea is especially good.