SMALL SPACE SETUP
28th January 2020
One of the main limitations to my photography in the last few years has been doing a lot of my more collaborative sets from my home - setting up a mini studio setup which then I had to pack back down to move around my house still!
I thought it would be a useful first post to go through some of my setup for these home shoots - as I know a lot of you also shoot in smaller spaces, or don't often have access to a full studio every time. In my experience, it only serves to make shooting in a kitted out studio an even more creative experience when you are able to work in a confined space to begin with.
1. Think about whether you want to work with a background, or with the actual furniture of the space you're working in. Personally, I find it much easier to put a background up, because it acts as a blank canvas for some of the more out-there styling I love working on - however if boudoir is your type of thing, or pin up etc., think about whether you could strategically shoot in your existing environment, using the room and everything in it as a 'prop'.
While this photo was admittedly not taken in my house, it was taken in a relatively small living room, with very little additional lighting - but I think it's a good example of working with the environment if it would fit with your subject matter.
In terms of backdrops, I usually work with two types: seamless paper, or handpainted canvas. If I'm going for something with hard light, colour blocking, more obviously striking portraits, I will often go for the paper roll - it's easy to add texture afterwards as well. On the other hand, I also take a lot of inspiration from fine art photographers, and so the textured canvas backdrops allow me to add some interest in the background very naturally, which works beautifully for other sets.
2. Think about your styling ahead of time. There's nothing worse than getting everything set up in one space and then realising you can't really fit everything on the background, or you now have room for any lighting. If, like me, you love really big headdresses, but you're working from a small space - why not use a smaller stool, or have the model work with some creative posing on the floor - I'm always trying to add little variations like this to my portfolio anyway, otherwise it can get quite 'samey'.
3. Lighting. This is one of the things that (a) it's easy to get stuck in a rut with and (b) can be a health and safety nightmare in a small shooting space. I started off using a very cheap little set of lights off eBay (or similar), and learning the basics of working with flash was such a learning curve, but really pushed forward my images into the sort of thing I actually was envisaging when I started shooting. Don't get me wrong, I love natural light, and will still work with natural light - especially when the weather is great, but if you're interested in also being able to work your way round a studio, it's a no brainer.
Recently, I started shooting with an Interfit light I was lucky enough to see in action at 2019's Photography Show. I've shot with a battery operated light a couple of times, but not having to trip over wires has been so great...! I actually take this light with me on location sometimes - or even in the back garden with a backdrop when I want that 'studio' look, but I have a more complex lighting setup, or just need that extra space to work in.
If you can think about this ahead of time, do you want some sidelight, gels etc., it means you can plan the use of your space much more effectively. My maximum number of lights in a setup is probably four - but more often three, such as in the one below (which was still shot in a tiny front room!)
4. Another limit while working in a smaller space is how many bodies you can realistically have on a shoot day. I think the most I've done a home shoot with was 3 models, 1 MUA, 1 hair stylist, 2 assistants, 2 designers (and my cats knocking around...). Not something I would recommend for a super chill day - but it can be done with a bit of pre-planning. If you have some additional space already available for an MUA to setup, and somewhere you can bob a cheap hanging rail for the styling choices, you can communicate a workflow to everyone at the beginning of the shoot, and still really make the most of a small space or home studio, without the chaos!
5. Whether or not working in Photoshop, or doing any post-processing is your thing - one of the main skills to brush up on quickly if you've got a limited space to work in is extending backdrops or editing out distractions in post. You don't have to touch the model at all if you don't want to - but you can keep all the pixels in your work by adding to the background rather than cropping down, a technique I've used in quite a number of my images. Sometimes, I purposefully add some negative space round the model because it adds something to an image, so would definitely recommend getting to grips with the process so that the skill is at least in your toolkit!
Hopefully this quick run-down of setting up in a small working environment has been useful - leave me a comment etc. if you have any questions as per usual! Till next time!