10 Must-Haves for Your Startup Photography Studio
So, you’re a part-time or hobbyist photographer who has just decided to turn your passion for people and pictures into a startup business specializing in portrait, portfolio, still life, fashion, advertising, or general studio photography. For some, making that all-important leap is the hardest step in the business process. For most of us, acquiring capital and knowing what studio equipment to invest in presents challenges.
Obviously, the two core elements to building your startup photography studio are having enough capital and selecting the right camera. Many professional photography sites share their insights into the statistical and logistical aspects of setting up a photography business; while hundreds of articles and bloggers offer their own expert opinions on the cameras, lenses, and other accessories that are best suited for studio or portrait photography.
With those two major issues sorted out, all the other necessary equipment and photography essentials will be easier to prioritize as you see fit to your budget and needs. But with dozens of options, goodies, and setups to choose from, ‘easier’ doesn’t necessarily mean a walk in the park! Below are 10 of our top suggestions to add to your studio must-have shortlist:
1) Studio space
Professional photographers choose to either set up a studio in a room in their homes or lease out a separate space. Many of them do agree that you need at least a 12×12-foot space to adequately work in comfort with clients and lighting equipment. Other ideal studio space conditions include:
- A ceiling height of at least 8 feet (if you deal primarily in headshots and sitting portraits) or 10 feet (if you use hair lights or do not want to capture the edges of your backdrops in full body shots).
- At least 6 feet of space between you and your subject, and 6 feet between your subject and the wall (to avoid a shadow on the background without using a backlight).
- A closet or a curtained-off area as a dressing and hair/makeup room (with a mirror and hooks to hang clothes).
- White-painted walls.
- No flammable flooring materials (such as carpets and floor padding).
2) Studio Lighting Kit
A good mid-range or high-end DSLR may be at the heart of a studio photographer’s arsenal, but a complete lighting kit is just as important—if not more so. Build a collection consisting of at least one of each of these studio lighting essentials:
- Continuous lights
- Strobe lights
- Umbrellas or light boxes
- Light meters
- Lighting trusses
A tripod allows the photographer to focus attention on the subject and step away from the camera without breaking the shot. One tall and one short tripod are adequate enough to create just about any type of shooting angle. Consider tripods that are lightweight and allow full tilt, rotation, and height adjustment.
Also called stages, platforms are used for the subject to stand, lean, sit, or be placed on. They are best if they are flat, solidly-built, can take on a bit of weight, and are painted black with no visible seams or edges. Have a couple of platforms in a variety of heights, and consider making them do double duty as storage crates.
5) White balance card (WBC)
Aim your camera at a WBC and, using its various shades of white, you can adjust your camera’s settings to the lighting, as well as adjust its proper focus settings.
6) Remote triggers
Consider investing in a variety of remote controls that can automatically trigger multiple pieces of equipment when you need to operate them at the same time. Remote triggers make it possible for photographers to work on their own and are worth the cost of not having to hire assistants. Remotes include those for flashes and shutters, with wireless versions (using radio frequency) being the most ideal as they prevent you from straying too far and accidentally pulling your camera or light off its perch.
7) Electrical gear
All your electrical photography equipment (especially power-hungry lights) will draw electricity from your studio, so make sure your space can carry the load with enough sockets rated for the appropriate amount of watts and amps to be used on them. If your studio does not have an ample power supply for all the equipment, you will likely need to invest in a separate battery backup or generator. Here are a few electrical gadgets you will need to keep your studio continuously powered and, more importantly, protected from equipment damage, shorts, and even fires.
- Power strips. Purchase high-quality power strips for each of your equipment types (lights, fans, monitors, computers, etc.), and make sure they feature fuses and surge protection and do not plug one power strip into another.
- Backup power supplies. These include lighting battery packs (sold as part of many portable lighting kits) and diesel-powered battery emergency generators.
- Spare fuses. Keep some extra fuses in-store since photo lights are a very high draw—it is not uncommon for them to quickly blow out most household circuits.
- With your studio likely blocking out all sources of natural light from windows, getting adequate ventilation and cooling for all your heat-generating lighting equipment will be a challenge. Consider installing an exhaust fan or two in the ceiling or placing a few electric fans in strategic areas of your studio (blowing away from your subject) to dissipate as much heat as possible.
All photography studios worth their salt have a few solid-colored and textured backdrops to make their photos pop. Many specialty photography shops sell heavy-duty, light-tested backdrops in a variety of styles that can cost up to $300. The more resourceful—and budget-conscious—studio photographers, however, are able to do wonders with a few yards of paper, canvas, vinyl, or cotton fabric, plus a DIY pipe stand.
9) Props and costumes
As a studio photographer trying to make your name in the market, you definitely don’t want your studio portraits to look like cookie-cutter clones of each other. Vary things up a bit by getting creative with costumes and props—which also have the bonus of loosening up your subjects and encouraging them to have fun and be spontaneous. They can be anything from interesting pieces of furniture, hats, sunglasses, wigs, and feather boas for the adults; and stuffed animals or princess outfits for the kids.
Props and costumes don’t even have to cost a dime if you collect them from flea markets, garage sales, or even your grandma’s attic!
10) Laptop, editing software, and photo printer
Sure, you may have mad pinup photography skills of an Annie Leibovitz or a Mario Testino, but even picture-perfect subjects benefit from a little post-processing touch up here and there. By tethering Photoshop and Lightroom-loaded software to your camera, you can also use it as a preview monitor for your subjects or to show them the various filters or effects that can be added into the final photo during editing. Meanwhile, adding a photo printer to your setup to print out samples or souvenirs of your subject’s studio experience is a welcome perk that many clients appreciate.
Building up your own photography studio from scratch doesn’t mean you have to lease a 2K-square feet loft, buy lighting kits that can illuminate a whole town, or invest in all-new equipment. Take stock of the space and gear you already own. Chances are, you already have a few items stashed at home that you can repurpose or upcycle. Together with your trusty DSLR, a good eye for lighting, a relaxed attitude with your subjects, and maybe a few square feet borrowed from your house garage; you can turn your photography hobby into a full-fledged business in no time.