13 Nov 2016

The Ultimate Photo Studio Guide

Hello, there!

Sooner or later everyone comes to a point when he is thinking “I need a studio”. It’s comfortable to have a place to invite your clients. Deep down you know you’ll be muuuuch more productive if you have your own place to shoot!
But first you have to think what you will need for this second home of yours…. So let’s get started!

Some points are crucial. Some are not – but are definitely worth thinking about if you are serious about being a photographer. There are going to be differences depending on the type of photography you are interested in but in general there are some things you should have in mind. So here they are:

The Ultimate Photo Studio Guide


1. Location

To have a great loft it’s more than awesome, but if your studio is out of the city, if it’s hard to find or simply unreachable and your model looks tired, because she had to drive for 3 hours in circles to find the front door of your studio… You’ve probably picked the wrong location.Keep it simple – if you can find it easy when you go there to take a look, rent it, buy it, own it!

If not – this is not your place, because everybody else will get lost, too!

Location photo studio guide


2. Have somewhere to park your car

You don’t have to own a parking, but you have to think about the comfort of your team and your clients. So make sure, that you have at least one available parking spot to offer during the shoot.parking photo studio guide


3. How big should it be?! 

If you can have a space 20mx5m (here I include only the open space were you’ll shoot). With at least 3m high ceiling you will be more than OK to shoot full body shots and to have some storage space. You’ll have enough space where to put you Backdrop(BD) system or store your  C-stands. You’ll be able to make your Backdrop white or really dark without influencing your model’s light.


4. What color should I paint my studio?

And the answer is very easy – just don’t paint it in any active colors. If that was too easy for you, great! Still struggling with the final decision? Let’s think about the details.

* If your space is relatively small, you are just starting and you don’t have too much equipment. You are a big fan of less contrasty images – go for white.
Especially because of the less equipment – the light will be bouncing and you won’t need too many flashes. The biggest pro about white studio is exactly bouncing light. Even without large reflectors in hand you can always turn your flash to the wall and here you go you have big soft light!

* If you really like more rough style and you want contrast – then black is your color! But in this case you have to know that eventually you’ll need more flashes.

* Mid grey is the ultimate answer. With the right knowledge and space you can make it really dark and you can also make it very, very bright, so with just one strike you’ll get two rabbits!
But the truth is… you can always get tired of something. The best part about the studio color is that you can change it whenever you want. If you want to change your style a little bit, for example, because we are always influenced by the space we work in.



5. Check out your electricity!

Very, Very,Very important! Trust me you don’t want to become Fireman in the middle of your photo shoot. You don’t want it, you client doesn’t want it… so just make sure you’ve checked this out. Make sure you are responsible and you are taking care of you, the people around you and your equipment. Be aware how many lights you are putting and if your system will be able to handle them. Don’t experiment with it, just hire a professional. Very often if your system is old or not installed properly this might cause serious issues when using a lot of lights so be sure to check that out.

electricity photo studio guide


6. Windows

It’s not “a must” but having some natural light always helps, and let’s be honest – it gives a lot of freshness to the space and it’s just beautiful.
You can use the windows as your main source of light. If you are starting right now and doing mostly portraits, it can even be your only source of light… for now… Because I’m sure sooner or later you’ll get bored with all the same lighting scheme. But let’s not go too ahead out of ourselves, we are still just building your first studio now… so let’s stick to the photo studio guide 🙂
windows photo studio guide


7. Toilet

It’s a must. Nothing left to say about it.


8. Sink

If you don’t have your own bathroom, at least you need a sink. You don’t know how crazy ideas will come up with the time; your model deserves at least this small place. Even if there are no crazy ideas, it’s called hygiene, you know its purpose.
sink photo studio guide


9. Make Up/Hair Corner 

For this you will need:
– high table (You don’t want your MUA to die from pain because of you)
– high/bar chair where your model will be sitting
– mirror and a decent light. If you want to capture the right colors, make sure you first get them for real.
Natural light is the best option, but since you don’t shoot only in the morning and it gets darker outside, put on some light with good Color rendering index.


10. Styling’s corner

For this you will need:
– Ironing table
– iron (of course) – make sure it’s a good one and your stylist will love you!
– Rack. In my opinion you need at least two double of them, so your stylist will be comfortable. They also have to be stable, because you don’t want your clients clothes to get all messed up because  of you.
– Dressing “room” – it might not be a real room, it might be just a corner with a curtain. But you need to give your model/client some comfort and privacy.


11. Comfort Corner

A place for everyone to sit on a chair, in front of a table – many people underrate this space, but I think it’s very important. It’s a good place to exchange ideas before the photo shoot, to discuss your work routine in the begging of the work day, a place to sit down and rest, a place to let your team have their lunch, a place with a table, where you can simply leave your glass and pick up your camera so you can shoot again.

This will be your “business” corner when you discuss with clients your future jobs. And it will be great it gives them the feeling they are at your work station, but again – in comfort.
comfort corner


12. Something for your team and customers to drink

I don’t mean a really old and expensive bottle of whiskey, though a good glass of whiskey is always something great. I mean the basics – have some water, different choices of tea, a coffee machine or some instant coffee…
I’m not a coffee person, and my studio was filled with tea on my first photo shoot in my studio, so the rest of the team suffered really badly. Never made this mistake again, I always make sure I have all kinds of instant coffee so everyone on the set can be happy and give the best they can. Make your team happy and comfortable.
something to drink


13. Air Conditioning

Talking about comfort this is defiantly very important. If for any reason you don’t have it, than you surely need a heater and a cooler in your studio. You don’t want your model/client to be freezing or sweating on your photos.


14. Your own prints

Essential one. Your clients will know how good you are right after entering your studio. You can hear all of my thoughts about it here: http://neverlandmag.com/episode-60/
your own prints


15. Wi-Fi

Because this is the world we live in and it’s easier to check your mail or your schedule.I bet you thought about this one! You can live stream while you’re shooting too.


16. Reflectors, Whiteboards, Blackboards, V-Flats

When you master the craft, it won’t really matter so much what’s the color you choose for your studio in the first place!

* Here you can learn what kind of materials do you need to make your own DIY V-Flats

* And here’s  how to make them


17. Black curtains

You can hang them next to the wall and if your studio is not really big, but you want to have the opportunity to shoot with different contrasts and to give your work freedom this is a great and cheap way.


18. Smoke machine 

It’s not a must, but it will help you to make your photographs a bit different. There are different types – for light smoke, heavy smoke and even mist. Get creative!


19. Backdrop system

It might be mechanical or automate system, it might be from c-stands, but you need a secure way to put up your backdrops, so you won’t have to worry the whole time, if they’ll stay on place.
– The automatic one is a nice decision, you don’t have to climb the ladder every time you want to use one of the hanged backdrops, simply take the control remote and you are done. However, you must be constantly prepared with new batteries for the control remote.
– In case you choose the mechanical one, you will need a ladder AND clips, so you can make sure the BD is secured and it won’t move more than you want it to.
– If you don’t want to drill holes in the wall or the ceiling you can use AutoPole system, but you will need higher ceiling, because you’ll have to put the system vertically.
– C-Stands will prevent you from drilling , too! You can forget about the ladder, but you are gonna need some clips to secure the BD, and sand bags, again to make sure nothing will fall.
*Hanging a BD is team work, you can be on your own of course, but it will take you longer and it will be harder for you because you will have to hang the BD even if you don’t want to break your brand new BD system. That’s why I’d recommend you to buy one with no fewer options than to put at least 3 BD at once (because you can use a friend and you won’t need assistant everyday, every shoot).


20. Backdrops

In the beginning… You can start with a white one, and a really dark grey one, but sooner or later you’ll need some colors. I personally recommend you to look at some textile backdrops, because their texture will give you completely different feeling, also the fact they are not flat and you can make some curves on them will help you to  get this feeling of volume and it will be easier for you to make a picture with more than just one layer. But honestly, I have muslin/canvas AND paper backdrops, because with the time and different clients you just got more and more of everything and less storage space 🙂


21. Laminate

If you don’t like the floor of your studio you can always buy some. You can find relatively cheap package with really good look. The best part is, you need just a few minutes to set it up. It’s true it won’t take long to break if you are using it too often, but it’s not such a big deal since it’s cheap and it works. The only thing you should be aware of before buying is to choose non reflective surface, because you don’t want it to look too cheap.


22. Blow-dryer

Probably most of the time you’ll have a hair stylist that will bring his/her own, but you cannot know that, so you need to have your own. You can use it to give the photographed hair some volume or a little bit of motion, and you’ll make sure your model won’t freeze. You’ll also have the exact amount of movement that you need. In addition if the photographed person starts to cry because of the air in his/her eyes –  it’s enough for your hairdresser to move her/his hand a little and your models eyes will be back to normal in seconds.


23. Photography fan

However you might need some additional power and that’s the reason why you should also think about one.
Of course it’s heavier but the best thing about it is if you don’t have extra hands, you can set it up and you can start shooting and it’s much stronger than the blow-dryer.


24. Ladder

Another handy thing you’ll never regret having, especially if you are like me – a pocket-size person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m above 1.55m bit still find it annoying to jump around. So take a ladder and I’d personally recommend you to take two of these one – big and one small, simply because your model might use the small one to sit on, and in many cases it looks great!


25. Apple boxes

If you don’t want to have a small ladder for some reason – apple boxes are a great decision! Very handy and also beautiful.


26. Chairs

In any case you need some variety of them. It’s always nice to use a chair so your model can get comfortable and sit a little bit for the photo. You can use the back of the chair so your model can place her hand there, or you can choose a chair without back so she can place her hand on her knees and band a little and there will be nothing behind her to distract the viewer afterword.
If you use folding chairs you can save yourself some space.


27. Piece of cloth

If you don’t want to involve the chair you can just cover it.


28. Hangers 

(in case you shoot people, clothes etc…). You don’t need dozen of them but about 10-15 will work. Plus as the time passes people will leave you their hooks and if you don’t like to use the trash to often in certain moment of your whole studio will be covered in hooks.


29. Trash bins.

Just like the ladders. You need two of those – a big and a small one.
The small one is for your MUA and Hair Stylist. So it has to be around their working space. The big one is for everything and everybody else.
*I put nylon on both of them, because it’s easier to clean this way.


30. Vacuum Cleaner and a MOP

Keep your studio clean. Weather you’ll be the one cleaning or you’ll hire a person for this. If your client sees a mess in your studio – how are you going to persuade him you are perfectionist in your job?


31. Duct tape(Gaffer Tape)

You cannot have a studio without duct tape… Everyone knows that, the whole movie industry is still standing thanks to the duct tape, not to mention they use it to patch planes and space shuttles so be sure to stock on it!


32. Scissors 

You can always use them to cut off the damaged BD or to get rid of cloth label.


33. Aluminum foil

I know you are not building new kitchen and it sounds a bit weird, but using this you can do tons of things. You can achieve gobo effect; you can use it as a Backdrop for your beauty shoot… In other words you can get creative.


34. Computer and Monitor

Every client is thrilled when they can see your images on a bigger screen than just the back of your camera. Be professional. You can connect your camera directly to the computer or just download the photos. They look much better on the big screen. Trust me on that.
computer photo studio guide


35. Tablet

If you will be retouching in your studio, you need one. I personally recommend Wacom as a brand, you don’t need the most expensive one, you can even use the Bamboo version, but once you get used to work with tablets you’ll never want to go back to the mouse. It’s easier, more precise and faster.


36. Flashes

I don’t really think in the beginning you need more than just 3 flashes and don’t worry they don’t have to be top-notch technology. So don’t suffer if you don’t have the latest equipment. All you need is at least some equipment.

Everything between 500W and 1000W  will give you all you need in the most situations in studio for at least the first 6 months of your studio work. I assume you won’t have to freeze motion every day and this decision will be relatively cheap and good for you in the beginning. This way you can lit an even white background and your model, you can experiment with different set ups and you won’t let down your clients. You will be prepared for most of the situations. Later when your studio is bringing you enough money and you have the experience, the right team and the need – you can buy more equipment. But for now, this will satisfy your needs completely =)
Maybe you are wondering why I’m not telling you to buy bunch of new and really expensive flashes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the best things in the world to work with new equipment, at least for me, but not everyone can afford this. BUT! You can always rent some equipment if you need to and it will be less expensive for you to do that.


37. Light stands /C-stands

For your flashes. If you are about to buy expensive stands, I’m just going to encourage you. This is steel; it won’t break, so you can use it …. Let’s say….. For the rest of your life.
I’m all for you to take the expensive one, because you don’t want it in certain moment to start braking which happens with the cheaper brands a lot sooner – this will be the easiest way for you to crash your flashes.


38. Color gels

Get yourself some and experiment with them!


39. Continuous light

It’s not a must, but in certain moment you might decide it’s a good idea to have a spare one. I personally love to experiment, and mixing continuous light with flash lights might be a lot of fun for you too.

The best thing about continuous light is that if you are not experienced you’ll be able to see how the final image will look like without even looking in your camera viewer.
Also, you can successfully blur the motion for more interesting outcome!


40. Synchronizer (Light Trigger)

I’d personally recommend to have one for each and every flash. Though I realize in the beginning you might not have the money, but it will give you constant results.

I don’t really like cables. I don’t find them very secure in any way so that’s why I don’t recommend them.


41. Compact flash

You can always use it as additional light and in extreme situations, you can even use it to synchronize you other flashes.


42. Clips

The more the better. Need to put on a fabric backdrop? Clips.

The piece for your model is too big? Clips.

You want to punish someone? Clips. And probably Duct tape. Told you it’s very useful!


43. Batteries

You’ll always need more of them. You’re probably gonna use them for your synchronizer, your compact flash and etc… Better be prepared if you don’t want to join the Dark Side! =)



44. Light modifiers

If your studio is not too big, maybe you should think of umbrellas.

You’ll need a couple of modifiers that will help you to make some harsh light and some that will give you some soft light. You have to be prepared for different situations.

The choice is yours, you might prefer soft boxes, you might stick to umbrellas, it all depends on your personal preferences, wishes, final idea and the space you are using. We will discuss when and which one to choose to get the desired effect in a future article so stay tuned.


45. Beauty dish

As a fashion and advertising photographer, I think having one is also important. We all know beauty dish is a light hard to imitate, and it comes really handy if you want to have this edgy fashion look!


46. Bag for your camera and a Case for your equipment

Eventually you’ll have to go out of the studio and shoot somewhere else, but we’ll talk about this in another blog post 😉



In conclusion I have this personal rule that this business is not a hobby for me, it’s my job.
Therefore I’m not buying things I don’t use in 40% of the time, simply because I can rent them the rest of the time. This rule is working great for me, so I thought it might work for you, too.

This guide is by no means a must and I probably missed something, but these are the things that I use all the time. So grab a pen and paper, check all the things you will need and go and build your photo studio.


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Verginiya Yancheva is a Fashion and Advertising Photographer


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    1. I’m very happy to help!
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