Photography will bleed you dry of every penny you’ll ever make if you let it. However, there are places where even guys like me who don’t like to settle for second best (I hate junk) can cut some corners and it not have a major impact on the quality of our work.
One of the easiest places to do this is in your studio. For those who are just getting started, this is also a good primer on some of the things you need. This article is for those who want to just buy something rather than using PVC pipe and buying material at the local fabric store. You can get cheaper than even this, but if your time is important this is a practice solution to help cut costs without cutting the quality of your work.
Background Support System
Step one to any home studio is a background support system. There’s a wide variety of solutions, but most typically go with something like this when they get started:
Impact Background Support System - 12' Wide – only $99.99*
This one is actually very nice and even comes in a nice bag that holds the parts individually and even the stands in their own pockets. It makes it nice to collapse up and bring with you. It’s also nice for those of you who don’t have dedicated studios who need to tuck away your studio gear in a closet. This stand is quite large as well so I was pretty impressed with it. Unless you are going to go with a with an expensive Manfrotto Complete AutoPole Kit ($414.95*) in a place with the walls to support it (my angled ceiling doesn’t like these), you’ll be hard pressed to find something measurably better and definitely not for this great price.
I’d highly recommend a copious amount of Impact Sandbags for all of your stands. You’ll need to buy the sand yourself, so don’t freak when they arrive empty.
Once you’ve got something to hold your backgrounds it’s time to get the basics to get you going. Many people like to start out with a green screen like this:
Chroma Green Screen Background
Impact Chroma Sheet Background - 10 x 12' (Chroma Green)
Click here to see my review of this Impact Chroma Green Screen Background, and check out the comments for some advice from other readers and experts. For $58.95* it’s a simple way to get a background that can sometimes be easier to remove from your image than black or white.
For me my favorite is white as shown here:
I tried both the Impact Muslin Background - 10 x 12' (White) for $58.95* and Impact Muslin Background - 10 x 24' (White) for $114.95* and found the 24’ to be waaaaayyyy too big for my needs. You’ve gotta have a monster size studio for something that huge. If you are going to do white, then it’s usually a good idea to pick up black too so I’d go for the Impact Muslin Background - 10 x 12' (Black) for only $52.95*.
Muslin backgrounds are basically just like bed sheets so they aren’t anything fancy and it’s a much more economical solution than paper.
Lately collapsible backgrounds have started to become popular because they setup really easily and store away nice and compact. While they can be used without a background support, you’ll generally find that they work best with one. In fact, they’ll include Velcro tabs to secure them to a background support or boom. Here’s my favorite:
This $69.99* background features two colors in one and just collapses like a reflector so they are very compact and portable. Once again, they are the perfect solution for those of you who have to pack your studios away when you are done shooting. Here’s a shot I did using the black side of this background:
You can also a get humongous Impact Super Collapsible Background - 8 x 16' (Black) or Impact Super Collapsible Background - 8 x 16' (White) for only $99.95. I found these to be too large for my needs and a bit difficult to work with, but the nice part is that they include material you can pull out to cover the floor. Here’s what they look like:
These pictures don’t really do them justice though – here’s a real shot of just how big they are:
These things are HUGE!
Adjustable Height Posing Stool
A comfortable model is always going to give you better results than a tired one. To that end, posing stools have been a long-time secret of the trade. Here’s a nice solution for only $58.95* that gets the job done:
It also comes in a posing stool and table kit.
Impact Digital Flash Umbrella Mount Kit ($98.95*)
I’ll admit that I prefer this kind of umbrella adapter rather than the cheap ones included in this kit. In fact, I don’t even use a cold shoe – I just screw my 580 EX II or 600EX-RT flash directly into them using the little stand that comes with my flash (it has a screw mount on the bottom). I’m pretty sure this works for Nikon’s too, but honestly I haven’t ever tried it with something like a SB-900 or SB-910.
This is probably the most “cheapo” solution in this article as the umbrellas are small and the black covers leave residue on them. However, I used this kit exclusively for the photos of Kimberly featured in this article. As you can see from those, they get the job done just fine.
People usually have no problems understanding why they need a reflector, but often they forget that they actually need someone else to hold that reflector for it to be effective. For those frequent times when you don’t have that extra set of hands you’ll need a reflector holder like this $79.95 solution:
You’ve gotta be careful as its easy to strip the handle out, and Sandbags are a must! However, this is a good start solution before you get into buying expensive booms.
For the studio and when possible outdoors I like a bigger reflector. I find this 5-in-1 solution to be a superior alternative to the reflectors I carry in the field:
As you move on from speedlights to studio lights you are going to need a lot of stands. Here’s some economical solutions that get the job done for a fraction of the price of their expensive Manfrotto (parent of Avenger) counterparts:
See my review called Impact Master Century C Stand Kit - Avenger Quality without the Avenger Price! on this. It’s really very good and an awesome price. I highly recommend this stand for studio lights over the others mentioned here. You’ll still need sandbags though.
This stand is nice because its air cushioned which means when you loose it and don’t have a good handle on your heavy lights they don’t come crashing down. Instead they’ll glide down softly. I prefer C-Stands, but I own a couple of these as my lighter weight and more portable solution.
If the budget is tight then you can save $17* and go for these which are the same but they don’t’ feature the air cushion.
Light Tent for Product Shots
For only $63.95* this Impact Digital Light Shed – (Extra Large - 24x24x36") is probably the best deal in this whole article. I really like this tent and it’s just dirt cheap. To illustrate a point, I took this shot using speedlights but personally I’d use my Quadras for a shot like this in real world use:
Works great to avoid reflections and hot spots as seen here
in my Vello BG-C2 battery grip review
UPDATE: Great Softbox Solutions
* = A word about prices in this article
All prices are as of 2/12/212 from B&H and are subject to change without notice. Please follow the links for the latest prices and more information.
All of the products in this article feature name brand equivalents that in many cases are of significantly better quality. However, you’d be hard pressed usually to se the improved result in your post-processed photos. As a result, the need to spend more for what in most cases will be “good enough” doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. There’s more than enough ways to spend your money on photography related equipment, so this is one place where you can skimp and get away with it. If you are just getting started and are looking for an affordable solution to build your own studio then this is definitely it.
If you enjoyed this article, then you’ll definitely enjoy these:
- Vello BG-C2 Battery Grip for Canon 5D Mark II–$69.95
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- Pocket Wizard Mini TT1, Flex TT5 and AC7
- Rogue Gels
- Sketching Light
- Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It
- Off-Camera Flash Techniques
- X-Rite ColorChecker Passport
I was provided with some of the products featured in this article for review. If you make a purchase using the links in this article I may get a commission.