Do you dream of creating lovely studioesque photos but don’t actually have a studio in which to shoot said images? I hear you. But, if you have a garage (or know someone who does), your problem is solved. You can easily create your own garage photo studio in minutes.
I know what you’re thinking. A garage doesn’t seem like the ideal place for a photo studio. However, I assure you that it IS possible to create stunning studio-like images in your garage. Garages hold beautiful light that can be easily manipulated and is available all day long, just like your dream studio location. With just a few tools and tricks, you can turn your “eh” garage into a pop-up studio that will help you produce gorgeous portraits. Here’s how—
The messy garage:
All you need is a messy garage (it will ONLY work in a messy garage… OK, not entirely true but I’m choosing to believe it), a seamless paper backdrop and stands, spring clamps, gaffer’s tape, scissors, apple box or stool, a willing subject or completely inanimate object (This setup works perfectly for still life objects which do not require bribes. Bonus!) and about two hours.
This is my garage. Don’t worry, I know what you are thinking: That is a beautiful garage. I should probably pin it on Pinterest. Despite the heart palpitations and sweating that ensued at the mere thought of posting a picture of my horrifying garage on the Interwebs, I wanted you to see the real behind-the-scenes which might inspire you to look into your own garage and say “oh yeah, I can work with this.” You can. I promise. So crank up your favorite music and let’s get to it!
How to set up your garage photo studio:
OK, so you’re on board with the idea that your own messy garage can work as a pop-up photo studio. Let’s talk about how you’re actually going to set it up. I’m going to break it down into seven super simple steps.
1. Assemble your supplies.
- Roll of seamless paper
- Backdrop stands
- Sand bags (to keep stands steady)
- Gaffer’s tape
- Spring clamps
- Apple box or stool
- White laminate plastic floor sheet (only necessary if your garage floor isn’t smooth)
2. Sweep it up.
The floor should be clear of rocks, dirt, oil or other liquid and pebbles.
3. Find the light.
It’s important to know how and where the light is coming in so you can decide the best angle for your backdrop. To find just the right light, I stand where my subject would be and make a fist, with my thumb and pointer finger facing the light. I move my fist to the left and right, forward and back until I find the perfect amount of shadow and light. This gives me a good idea of how and where to assemble my “studio.”
Typically, I position the backdrop at a 30-45 degree angle to the open garage door, just where the light starts to fall, off since I want the backdrop a little darker.
Caution: If you have an east or west facing garage, the rising and setting sun can be harsh. Wait until the sun isn’t streaming straight into your garage.
4. Set up plastic flooring.
You only need this step if your garage floor isn’t perfectly smooth.
Plastic flooring helps create a smoother surface for your seamless paper and prevents any texture from the floor from imprinting on your paper. Use gaffer’s tape to keep the plastic laminate flooring in place.
5. Set up stands and backdrop.
My backdrop stands are wheelies which allows me to easily modify the angle of my backdrop if I need to. To keep the stands from getting squirrely and moving on their own, I use sand bags on the legs to keep them in place until I need to move them.
6. Unfurl the seamless paper.
Unroll your seamless paper so that you have about three or four feet of paper flat on the ground. You want a soft, gentle slope, not a hard crease where the paper meets the floor. Use the spring clamps on either end of the roll at the top to prevent it from further uncoiling, and use gaffer’s tape to secure the paper to the floor.
7. Position your apple boxes/stool.
I like to position my subjects two to four feet in front of my backdrop seated on an apple box at the same 30-45 degree angle to the garage door as the backdrop. This allows me the flexibility to rotate my subject toward the light for more of a flat lighting scenario or away from the light for Rembrandt or split lighting.
TA-DAAAAA! There she is in all her glory: my garage photo studio in the midst of my messy garage. Almost as easy as growing a Chia pet. But this garage studio can do something no Chia pet ever could: create a serious “wowza” factor.
Here are some portraits I created in my garage photo studio:
Use V-flats for more control over the light.
You can also use V-flats (polystyrene boards available at Lowe’s) to have greater control of the light and create a little more drama in your garage. Sue Bryce has an excellent V-flat tutorial on her blog. I made my V-flat feet using 2×4” wood and L-shape shelving brackets.
V-flats are my go-to with clients because they are super easy to setup and move to create the exact lighting scenario I want.
Bonus: It’s totally mobile!
I use my garage photo studio setup as a temporary shooting space. Sometimes I even take the setup on the road and set it up in a client’s garage, but it is not designed to replace an actual studio shooting space. I do plan to one day have a more permanent professional studio space for clients void of drill presses, gas cans, shop vacs, strollers and weed whackers. Until then, for my personal work and some portfolio building, my garage photo studio works just fine.
Watch me set up my garage photo studio (video):
Let’s see your garage photo studio!
Please share your garage photo studio images on Instagram or Facebook and tag them #clickgaragestudio. I can’t wait to see what beauty you uncover in your garage!