Facebook Pixel Making the Most out of the Photography Stuff You Have Already

Making the Most out of the Photography Stuff You Have Already

Several years ago I had a studio for about six months. It was really nice to have a space that I knew was always there, waiting for me to shoot in, should the need arise. The problem was that most of my shoots took place outdoors or on location, and when my trial lease period was over, I couldn’t rationalize staying on at the monthly rental rate. What didn’t occur to me at the time was that I had a perfectly good, albeit small, basement at my disposal. Due to the low, 80″ (6.6 foot) ceiling, the narrow, 10’x20′ shooting area, and the generally dark ambience of an unfinished basement, the thought of shooting down there had never crossed my mind. It wasn’t until I moved out of my studio and no longer had a place to store my gear, that I even ventured down there with my equipment.

IMG 8174

The setup began simply enough, with me doing little more than editing at a table down there. Over the months that followed, I did the occasional head shot or product shoot, quickly realizing that I didn’t need as much space as I originally thought. Sometimes a problem would arise, like when I needed to shoot a full body portrait of a guy who was over six feet tall. I began modifying the space accordingly, such as adding white panels to the overhead joists to reflect light.

I wanted a white seamless set up, but the backdrop stand legs were too wide to allow for the 8 foot wide white vinyl roll. Instead, I discovered that I could run a rod from the top of the air condition duct to a C-stand and just barely fit it in the space, pulling the sweep just out to the edge of my desk. This allowed a depth just long enough to light the subject and background separately, which meant I could accomplish a pure white background (if the space was any more shallow, the subject would be stepping in to the backdrop light, blowing them out with the light).

Tumblr navcq2zXA81qzpmooo1 1280

The other issue with a small shooting space is that you don’t have the space to back your lights off of your subject. As you may know, if you want soft light on your subject, you need to make your light source large and diffused or indirect. The problem was that if I added even an smaller umbrella to my strobe stand it meant that I’d have to lower the light the length of the radius of the umbrella, leaving my light at a max height of around five feet (too low). The narrow width of the shoot space also meant that I couldn’t simply hang up a white sheet and shoot through it, which is a common workaround in making a small light source larger.

IMG 8294

I eventually figured out as a solution which was to place a 40″x60″ white board on my desk, beside where the subject usually stands, and shoot light into the board, several feet in front of the subject. By securing a credit card, or something of a similar size and opaqueness, to the side of the strobe, and zooming the flash in to 105mm, I was able to get my light stand out of my view of the subject as well as create a large, reflected light surface, that ran all the way up to the ceiling. This large light source was fantastic in creating a giant catchlight in the subject’s eyes, sunglasses or any reflective surface. I also added a small, white v-flat to hide the background light, which also served in reflecting some of the light onto the opposite white wall, helping to further light the subject.

IMG 8288

IMG 8290

Keep in mind that within the small confines of this setup, the subject is pretty much fixed in one spot. If they were to move forward at all, the crosslight will create odd shadows on their face, or if they move backward, they would get caught in the harsh background light.

Tumblr navcq2zXA81qzpmooo4 1280

What sorts of innovations have you come up with to work within your space or equipment limitations? Share in the comment section below.

Links to other DIY projects for you:

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Nick Fancher
Nick Fancher

is a portrait and commercial photographer based out of Columbus, Ohio. His clients include The New York Times, ESPN Magazine and Forbes Japan. He specializes in a no-frills, run and gun approach to lighting. His two ebooks are available here. You can connect with him on Instagram.

I need help with...