I used to dream about having a home photo studio, but I never thought I had the space. I love photography and all, but I didn’t exactly want a permanent backdrop and light stands in my living room. One long gray winter, followed by too many rainy days, got me thinking: What if I could set up a photo studio in my basement? That would give me the perfect little space for headshots, portraits, food photography, flat lays, product photos… really anything I wanted to photograph on days when the weather is doing exactly the opposite of what I want.
I know what you’re thinking… “what a hassle!” But it really wasn’t. Once I figured out what I needed, compiled the supplies and cleared out a little corner of my basement, I found that I could set everything up (and just as importantly, take it down) very quickly. In fact, I can now do it in under 5 minutes!
My basement photo studio is so useful and easy that I want to share it with you. In the tutorial and video below, you’ll see me set up my entire artificial light home studio in minutes. If you love it, you can easily recreate one in your own basement, garage, attic, or wherever you have the space. The important thing is that you find what works for you and your space.
1. Basement photo studio supplies and gear
First things first, you need to compile the gear and items for your basement photo studio. To follow my lead, you’ll need a light stand with umbrella mount, a speedlight and umbrella, a transmitter for the speedlight, a backdrop and clips to hold your backdrop.
My goal is to keep it simple. Depending on the light available and the nature of the space you’re using, you may be able to do without the speedlight, backdrop or both. If your space has windows that can provide natural light, use that. If there’s a wall that works as a backdrop, use it.
I sometimes use a reflector, a second speedlight and light stand, or a Westcott Ice Light. I also use polyfoam board on the floor that can be raised up used as a backdrop or large reflector.
To create a dark background without a backdrop, use the inverse square law. To do this, position your subject very close to a light source with plenty of space behind. This allows the light to fall off quickly, leaving the background in darkness.
My equipment & gear
Cameras: Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 6D
Lenses: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L2, Canon 85mm f/1.8 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art
Speedlights: Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
Transmitter: Canon ST-E3-RT speedlite transmitter
Backdrop stand: Savage backdrop stand
Backdrop: Savage seamless paper
Reflector: Selens 5-in-1 reflector
Light: Westcott Ice Light 2 (I have the first version but this is the newest one!)
Clips: LimoStudio backdrop clips
Gear case: Think Tank Airport Navigator
2. Storing your studio for quick set up
The key to a quick setup is easy access to your equipment. I store the camera gear I use on a regular basis in a Think Tank case. This includes my camera and lenses, speedlights, transmitter and extra batteries. I keep the case next to my kitchen desk so I can easily shoot at home or tote my gear to my car.
I keep my light stands, umbrellas, and Ice Light stored together in a tote bag near my Think Tank case. Since I rarely travel with my backdrop stand or backdrops, I store them in my basement office.
By keeping the gear in the same place and always taking an extra moment to put it away properly, I’m able to quickly grab what I need and head to the basement when I feel the call to set up a studio. I can pull my camera, transmitter, and speedlight from the Think Tank, throw the tote bag over my shoulder and head to the basement in just one minute. Then, I spend a second minute grabbing the backdrop from my basement office closet and I’m ready to set up.
3. Setting up your basement photo studio
In addition to my office, we have a large unfinished room in our basement, which serves as the ideal space for a quick studio! There is a 10′ x 12′ sliding glass door along the back wall.
- Step 1: Set up your backdrop stand.
As you’re setting up your backdrop stand, hang your background or seamless paper.
- Step 2: Attach the umbrella to the light stand.
Often, I want to bounce the light toward my subject, so I mount the umbrella so that the concave side is facing my subject. But you can always shoot through the umbrella or use another modifier.
- Step 3: Mount your speedlight on the stand.
Again, I like to bounce the light into the umbrella to reflect back on my subject, but there are so many different ways to set up your equipment depending on the light you want to create.
- Step 4: Mount your transmitter to your camera.
Once this is done, go ahead and dial in your settings, and you’re ready to start shooting.
Don’t have OCF gear in your kit yet? It’s so easy to get started and available at a variety of price points. I highly recommend Michelle Turner’s Click Photo School workshop “Off Camera Flash” as a great way to get started!
Pro Tips for a great basement studio
Use foam core: For the “floor” of my studio, I use foam core that I purchased in 4×8 foot sheets at my local hardware store. While I purchased it for an entirely different purpose, I discovered that it is a great reflector and helps keep the color of the light clean. It can also work as a backdrop.
Use a reflector: A simple way to add some fill light without adding a second speedlight or strobe is to mount a reflector opposite your light source. My reflector has a handle that hangs perfectly from the top of a second light stand.
Keep a seat nearby: Have a stool, bench, or apple crate handy for easy model seating. I often use an old chair that we have stored in this same room.
Use alternative light sources: Don’t worry if you don’t have lighting equipment. You can always improvise and use a window or alternative continuous light. An Ice Light works great but you can also try shop lights or other LED lights from your local hardware store. Try diffusing these light sources with sheer curtains hung on a stand in front of them (just be careful to use bulbs that don’t heat up and burn your fabric).
Don’t limit yourself to staying home: You can set up a home photo studio anywhere, not just in the basement. And, since there’s not much gear or equipment required for this set up, you can even take your studio on the road. Nail your speedy set up with a trial run or two and you’ll be ready to create a studio in a client’s home or office. This is a great option for headshots or product photography that might warrant being onsite.
All photos by Rebecca Wyatt