You love photography. It’s fascinated you for as long as you can remember. You’ve long held a desire to open up your own photo studio, but when you look at the prices in those photography catalogues, your blood runs cold.
But here’s the insider secret: You don’t have to drop thousands of dollars when you’re just starting out, nor should you! You’d be broke in a day with an apartment full of equipment you couldn’t use!
State-of-the-Art photography equipment is typically reserved for professional photographers and studios that can afford it, but Rome wasn’t built in a day; it was built one brick at a time.
Building a Budget Photo Studio at Home:
If your mindset is to improve your skills as a photographer (and it SHOULD BE) then you need more than just a digital camera and Snapchat filters.
You’ll need a camera, you should know the basics of photography, and you’re going to need a dedicated home photo studio.
Stay calm! We know how intimidating those words look.
You’re picturing lights and rigs and sets and a burning hole at the bottom of your wallet. But you can get the same high-quality results as a professional photo studio on a shoestring budget and become a better photographer in the process!
1. The Camera
Let’s get the most expensive and most important item out of the way first. You can’t be a photographer without a camera, and it’ll make your awesome new budget photo studio pretty pointless too.
This is where most people blow a good portion of their budget right away. Everybody wants the ten grand Nikon that auto-adjusts the lighting, takes the picture for you, and makes you breakfast in the morning, but that’s a long way off for most of us.
Choosing a Digital Single-Lens Reflex Camera
Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameras, or DSLR’s, are essential to modern photography because their design allows the image you see in the viewfinder to be exactly the same as the image captured by the camera’s sensor.
But DSLR’s come in all shapes and prices, and only your own personal budget will dictate how much money you can afford to spend on a camera.
You can find Canon Powershot models for under $200 online. Or if you want to invest a little more, the Nikon D5300 at $475 or the Canon EOS 750D at $350 are both excellent entry-level cameras for the price.
Bonus Budget Tip:
Keep an eye out for DSLR “bundles” or “kits,” which typically include the camera body and an 18-55mm lens.
Lenses can get really expensive, so if you can save money by getting the camera and lens together, then do it!
2. Dedicated Studio Space
While some of your photo equipment will be easy to pack up and take anywhere with you, your dedicated photo studio shouldn’t be regularly mobile.
So when you’re deciding on a space for your home photo studio, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Even if you’re planning on shooting most of your photos up-close, you’ll quickly find that without having the space to back up and zoom in, your photos will all start to look the same, and could even look distorted.
If you’re going to be doing full body shots, you should ideally aim for at least a 15-20ft deep space.
You’ll also want a place to store all your photo equipment, so you’re not tripping over it as you walk through the house, or not being able to find it when you need it.
If possible, another thing you should look for is a room with a large window with access to a lot of natural light.
This will save you money in the short time, and give you some time to develop your skills with natural lighting before moving on to photo studio lights.
3. Studio Lights
If you want to save the studio lamps for later while you experiment with natural light, there’s nothing wrong with that. This is supposed to be on a budget after all and sometimes budgeting means saying, “No.”
Or at least, “Not yet.”
But if you stick exclusively to the window in your studio, you’re going to find that it comes with drastic limitations.
Lighting is an essential part of any good picture, and learning how to frame the light for pictures is an essential part of being a good photographer. If you stick to natural light too much, you’re limiting your own growth as a skilled photographer.
You can pick up a Mini-Flash Softbox from PocketBox for $17-$30 that will provide soft, even lighting for portraits, or you can rig up your own with a bright lamp and reflective surface!
And as you experiment with backdrops, reflectors, and light softeners, you can make a little go a long way!
Next on your shopping list should be an adjustable tripod stand. You may love the feel of a camera in your hands, but when you want to take multiple photos from the same angle, it’s nearly impossible to make any adjustments to your set without losing the shot. And in the final pictures, it’ll be obvious.
While there are numerous ways to build your own tripod or camera stabilizer at home, Targus and Craftsman provide good-quality adjustable tripods for $10-$20 online or at any major retail chain. Even these cheaper options usually come with a level and 3-way fluid pan head.
Without backdrops, your photo studio is nothing more than just another room.
Simply put, you don’t want your photo to have a light switch, or floorboards, or minor wallpaper imperfections in the background. But luckily, you can make your own backdrops for cheap, and you might already have what you need in your house!
Roll of White Paper
It doesn’t get any more basic or essential than this! A white paper backdrop reflects light well, so it helps to create that high-quality professional studio look every time.
Solid colorful backgrounds can bring a lot of vibrancy and life to your photos and can be made fairly cheaply as well.
Building a Backdrop Stand
There are a few different ways to hang your backdrop for photos. You can buy a wall mount that allows you to store 2 or 3 rolls of paper, you can get a stand that will hold a single backdrop roll in place, or you can go the frugal route, and just duct tape your backdrop to the ceiling or wall.
You can buy a wall mount that allows you to store 2 or 3 rolls of paper, you can get a stand that will hold a single backdrop roll in place.
Or you can go the frugal route, and just duct tape your backdrop to the ceiling or wall. It may not be pretty, and it probably won’t impress any clients if you’re selling your services, but it gets the job done.
Reflectors are another item in the photographer’s toolbox for manipulating light. Even if you’re just using natural light, reflectors are a good way to ensure that you have even lighting and don’t have that shadow on the opposite side of your subject.
Foam Core Board
White foam core board can be bought for a few bucks at any office supply store, and it serves as a great reflector for basic shots.
For sharper lighting, use strips of silver duct tape or glued foil on the other side of your foam core board, so you can alternate between soft and sharp light reflection.
This is the point where your wallet may be cowering in fear again, but keep in mind that in most cases, the lenses account more for a great picture than the camera itself.
We mentioned above that you should look for a camera “kit” that comes with an 18-55mm lens. If you don’t have the funds for anything else, the 18-55mm lens will serve you fine up to a point, with pretty decent wide angle and zoom capabilities.
But just like with natural lighting, eventually it will limit your growth as a skilled photographer.
The f/1.8 50mm portrait lenses are still relatively cheap at $100-$150. It gives you the ability to get up close to your target and take sharp, clear images of your subject, while the backdrop is soft and peaceful. It’s also great for taking pictures in low light.
When you’re in the studio, the only other lens you’re likely to want is the ultra wide-angle zoom lens.
It’s designed to bring in light from all sides of the room, and if you’re standing in the corner, it should allow you to photograph nearly everything in the room.
These lenses tend to be a bit on the pricey side, and they’re not essential for a lot of projects, but if you want to experiment with lenses and zoom, this will be one of your first big purchases.
So, it’s not so much “Lights, Camera, Action” as it is “Lights, Camera, Memory Card, Tripod, Backdrops, Reflectors, Table, Duct Tape, Lenses, Dedicated Studio Space, Action!” But that doesn’t fit on a business card.
You can prioritize this list for your immediate needs and gradually build your home photo studio just like Rome: One brick at a time.
You might decide that you can hold off on the studio lights if you have a really good natural light source, or you might decide to MacGyver a tripod out of measuring sticks and rubber bands. If necessity is the mother of invention, then an empty bank account is its father.
Decide where your priorities are as a photographer and follow our guide to building a home photo studio without breaking the bank!