In Setting Up Your First Photo Studio: Part 1, we looked at the more expensive gear pieces to get our studios up and running. This time we will spend our time on less expensive components, with one exception, a computer.
You will need a place to do your editing and finishing, whether you print yourself or send it out. You are going to want to invest in a device that is going to serve you well over at least three years due to tax depreciation schedules. Go for the fastest CPU with the most memory and the best GPU that you can afford. From a storage perspective, try to go with the fastest disks, although SSDs get expensive as they get larger. If there is more than one working photographer in the studio, consider Network Attached Storage as it will save you money in the long term.
Figure 1: A large display built for photo editing is a must. The BenQ SW2700PT is a great choice.
A big display is wonderful for editing. It’s also critical. You just cannot make good decisions on a small screen. Look for one that is 99% Adobe RGB capable. Refresh time matters much less than colour space. A 27ʺ display is about where the price inflection point comes. You want an IPS or equivalent panel, not a TFT one.
You need a single good tripod with a ball head. Look for lots of weight handling and carbon fibre leg sets. Look for a head with a large ball, rather than a small one for precision. If you don’t know where to look, start with Gitzo. They are more expensive, but they will last you for the rest of your life. There are a lot of really lousy cheap ʺcarbonʺ tripods in the market. Buy your last tripod first.
This is a studio project, so you want solid, reliable light stands with good reach and to reduce tipping hazards. Consider the C-Stand Complete which includes the base, the riser, a medium length boom and two knuckles. Every stand should be sandbagged.
The Cameron CS-10 is an excellent entry C-Stand Complete, although I would like it if there were shorter riser options. Fortunately, these exist in the marketplace.
If you need stands to go into the field, a portable yet solid boom stand is the way to go. Straight stands are simply not flexible enough. The Cameron LS-65B is a very economical choice and very well built. It also includes a sandbag in the kit. A stand, of any kind, without a sandbag is a hazard.
Figure 5: Paper roll holding system
If your studio is a fixed location, the Manfrotto roller system is brilliant. It uses lightweight plastic chains on pulleys to allow you to unroll and roll up paper backgrounds, and even muslins if you attach them to a rod that you can affix to the winders. If your background needs to be either mobile or temporary, a background stand kit with two legs and an extensible cross bar is perfect.
For background materials you have paper rolls, muslins and canvases. Canvases are most expensive and last the longest. Paper is the least expensive and the easiest to work with. Muslins are more durable than paper but wrinkle consistently and cheap ones are not opaque which is a problem. If you can only afford one background, get a medium grey paper roll, get some coloured gels for your strobes and learn how the inverse square law for light works. (Inverse Square Law: The farther your lights must be placed, the larger and more powerful your lights will need to be. For every doubling of distance, you need to increase power by 4 times.) You can then make a grey background any colour, shade, or tint that you want.
No studio is complete without gaffer tape. Gaffer tape is not duct tape. Gaffer tape sticks well and is removable without causing damage. You can use it for thousands of things. Get a roll of black and a roll of white. You can order it in other colours for caution markers or in narrow widths for easier creation of strike marks, but you can do most anything with a black roll and a white roll.
Any long-term studio operator will tell you that after gaffer tape, no accessory is more important than lots of clamps. From simple A clamps to what we like to call Justin Clamps, to the Super Clamps invented by Manfrotto and now cloned all over the place; a selection of good quality clamps is a requirement. Good clamps cost, cheap clamps break and let go. Choose accordingly.
Sometimes a reflector is all you need to get the right amount of fill light. I like real lights for precision, but love reflectors for low cost. A good reflector set will contain a white, a silver, a black, and a mix of silver and gold (originally sold as the California Sunbounce) as well as a diffusion panel. You can get these as collapsible disks, although I recommend collapsible units with integrated handles such as those from Lastolite or Profoto.
I always recommend having a small pile of white and black foam core boards that you can use with clamps to make flags and gobos. They also make excellent small reflectors.
Most professional people photographers advocate having a couple of sets of V-Flats. A V-Flat is simply two pieces of 4ʹx8ʹ foam core taped together down a long edge with the appropriately coloured gaffer tape. A white V-Flat should be your first one. Then add another (white one), and for your third, do a black one.
The real challenge with V-Flats is getting the foam-core to your studio. The sheets are relatively inexpensive; it’s the delivery that’s a real pain. Ask a friend with a pickup or a van that can take full plywood sheets to help you out.
Figure 9: Lastolite Skylite scrim and frame kit
Sometimes you need to overpower window light. Nothing does this as well as a scrim. You can purchase excellent scrim kits from both Westcott and Lastolite which include lightweight frames making them easy to put overhead if you have to cut direct sun, or below for firing big strobes where you need a very large source. If the light is from the side, I prefer the lower cost of a Savage Translum which is a translucent material that comes in a variety of transmission levels that can be rolled and stored when not in use. Professional product photographers, particularly those shooting reflective subjects, swear by Translum.
And that’s a great start
Building a studio is a lot more than good intentions, and a camera and lens. A properly planned studio makes your life easier and your workflow more efficient. By corollary, a studio heaved together with baling wire and binder twine is an ongoing disaster and tells all your clients that as well. Building your studio does not mean that you need all the pieces on day one. Buy fewer better products rather than a lot of cheaper products that you will come to hate in a couple of days.
If you have questions about this or any other subject, please leave a comment below.
Until next time, peace.