So, you want to set up a portrait studio in your home or office… We are often asked what is needed and how much it will cost. Here we will give you a good starting point.
The basic components are:
Background – A good background is very important. It can either compliment your subject or detract from it. When in doubt, go for a plain background. The most common is seamless paper on a background stand, the seamless can be used for head shots or full length portraits. Black, White, Gray and Blue are the best choices of colors to start with. For something more interesting, use a muslin or painted background. Either of these can be used on the same background stand.
Seamless Paper backgrounds are rolled down flat for head shots. For full length portraits roll the paper onto the floor so your model can stand on it. Be sure to make a smooth curve between the vertical and horizontal. This will eliminate the harsh horizontal between the wall and the floor.
TIP: Put masking tape on the sole of your model's shoes to help keep your seamless clean.
Muslin backgrounds are made with a lightweight muslin material, usually dyed with a color. These are lightweight so they can be draped.
Painted backgrounds are made on a heavy weight material such as canvas. Normally these are painted with a random pattern or a scene. Painted backgrounds should be hung flat. And, must be rolled for storage. (except for hand painted muslins)
Props – At least get a posing stool or two. This is a stool with adjustable height. Also, think about some other props for your model to hold such as flowers, books, toys etc. Use your imagination.
Lights – Use at least two lights, a main light and a fill light. Use umbrellas with these to give you a nice soft light quality. A third light can be used on the background to help eliminate shadows. And a fourth light can be used as a hair light. There are many good books on lighting techniques. For some very basic lighting setups, CLICK HERE.
Flood Lights (Hot Lights, Constant On Lights) are good to get started with because of the lower initial cost, and are especially suited for most digital cameras in addition to film cameras. The drawbacks are that you have to replace the bulbs from time to time and they are hot, which can be uncomfortable for your model (and you) after a time. It’s not unusual to be using 1000 to 2000 watts at a time.
Studio Strobes (Electronic Flashes) work like the flash on your camera. When you take the picture they flash. If your camera has a Hot Shoe or PC connection for a flash, your camera is connected to the Studio Strobes with a sync cord. If your camera does not have a way to connect to the strobes, some studio strobes are equipped with a slave sensor. This slave sensor triggers the strobes when the flash on your camera goes off. So, there is no need to have the camera and strobes connected. It is important to note, many digital cameras have a “pre-flash.” This is used the help the camera adjust itself for the picture and reduce “red eye.” If this is the case strobes may or may not work for you in the slave mode. Some strobes have a setting to adjust for this… Check with your camera’s instruction manual and/or ask one of our sales people for help.
Camera – You can use just about any camera you want. I suggest, at least a good 35mm camera that will allow you to set the exposure manually. Or, you can use a digital camera with some exposure adjustments available. The minimum resolution required, will depend on what you want the use the picture for. Most $400 to $1000 digital cameras will work fine for making prints from your digital files.
Film - Use a film that gives you the results you like... I suggest Kodak Portra NC or Fuji NPS. Both of these films are made to give a neutral skin tone and normal contrast.