Having a studio, or at the least, access to a studio, is some kind of holy grail for so many photographers. With directional lights, interchangeable backgrounds, oodles of space, and black-out blinds, it feels as if you should be able to make anything happen in a studio. And maybe you can. But we’re going to let you into a secret: you don’t actually need a studio to create studio-like images.
Don’t believe us? Have a look at this photo.
It was shot in our operations manager’s bedroom. That’s natural light heading through a set of blinds. There are no artificial lights, no gobos, and no snazzy backdrops involved. It was just a case of her noticing the dazzlingly perfect light flooding into the room one February morning. She put her camera on her tripod, she set up her Triggertrap, and away she went. That’s your first lesson in creating studio-like images without a studio: look for the light. It could be anything from achingly beautiful window light to impressively harsh shadows raking through a garage door; you just need to keep your eyes peeled.
Studios are chameleons: they can be seamless and white, a plunging black hole, have a trendy wooden floor, or be fitted with deep pile carpets. With a little careful planning, you can achieve any of that in your house or garage. If you can, reserve one wall in one room as a neutral and accessible backdrop. It’ll be perfect for portraits. But with the assistance of a collection of coloured or textured boards and a few different cloths, it can become almost anything you want.
These two photos, one high-key and the other low-key, were taken in exactly the same place. But the low-key Galileo thermometer had a black scarf draped across two chairs acting as a background, and one small off-camera flash illuminating the subject.
The lily was shot against the wall, which is actually pale green. By focusing one flash on the wall and blowing it out, it was rendered white. Another flash lit the flower. Simple.
Artificial lights are a staple of studio work and while you can get away without them, picking up a couple of cheap Yongnuo speedlights won’t hurt. You don’t need to spend a fortune and you don’t need anything that requires more than a corner of your sock drawer for storage. Having a reflector to hand is a good idea, too. A little reflection can make your light go a long way. And this is especially true if you’re shooting outside, because who needs a studio when you’ve a garden? Or a beach?
The sun is a free and surprisingly malleable light source. You can use it directly, you can wait for the golden hour, you can look for shade or even rig up a sheet to act as a diffuser if there aren’t any clouds around to do the job for you. Just be careful when shooting on land that isn’t yours, though. Some parks will require permits and some places that exist in the penumbra of semi-public and semi-private are off-limits entirely. You don’t want to upset either an over-zealous security guard or members of the general public.
The point is, however, that you don’t need a studio. Trust in your judgement and don’t be afraid to experiment. You might just surprise yourself!
Challenge: Try taking some studio-like photos without a studio! Show us what you come up with by tagging us @Triggertrap and #Triggertrap over on our social channels.