Surprising lessons I learned from building a home photo studio.

by Lucas Westcoat April. 16, 2018 793 views

My favorite shot from our most recent "studio" session.

My favorite shot from our most recent "studio" session.

My focus (no pun intended) on photography has ebbed and flowed since 2001. You can read about that cycle in my very first Photoblog post. Over that time, like many hobbyists, I've accumulated a ton of equipment for the diverse and infinite scenarios one may encounter on a shoot. One day, I was looking at a studio photographer's work and realized that I had almost everything I needed for a photo studio.

I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me sooner, so I quickly took to clearing space in the bonus room at home. Then, using drop cloths as a backdrop, and my external canon flash in a soft box, I tried my hand at studio portraits of my wife, and later some family selfies.

Despite the look on her face, my wife being incredible supportive and sitting for my practice time

Despite the look on her face, my wife being incredible supportive and sitting for my practice time

I eventually upgraded to a single strobe, but I drew the line there. I'm trying to master a single strobe first, with the occasional help from a reflector before adding more equipment. Time will tell how well I do with sticking to that goal.

My family and me trying for a family selfie in my makeshift home studio

My family and me trying for a family selfie in my makeshift home studio

I often hear it said that because you have studio lights and the full control they offer, it's easier to get the shot. This was not my experience. I was surprised to see natural, even, light as a luxury. This forced me to be more aware of lighting; the direction, power, distance, etc. I have by no means mastered this, but it's a fun learning exploration, and I've experimented with bright shots as well as more moody low-key photos where the shadows are just as important as the exposure.

The first attempt at a studio-style portrait of my wife. Taken before I hung a backdrop.

The first attempt at a studio-style portrait of my wife. Taken before I hung a backdrop.

With a little bit of indoor space, one diffused strobe, one tripod, and your camera, you have almost all that you need to try this yourself. I've very much enjoyed trying my hand at adjusting the variables available when you control everything end-to-end. Usually, when photographing out in the wild, you work at making pictures with what you're given. This is also enjoyable for me, but it's what I've tried to do for a while now. I don't want to sound snobby about this, but for me, experimenting in a quasi-studio setting feels like a more granular and technical format. It's given me a way to learn more about light and picture-making. Of course, I've always intuitively known that photography is all about light, but I think I overestimated my understanding. Only after trying a studio portrait did I gain a more complete appreciation for the craft of it all.

Fortunately, I have a very patient and supportive (and photogenic) wife that allows me to photograph her from time to time. I suppose a willing subject is something else you'll need, but that's a different website ;).

To see more work from my home studio, check out #thebonusroomsessions on Instagram. You can follow my work @elldubphoto or visit elldubphoto.com.

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