Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Garage Studio

I remember walking into Bathhouse Studios in New York for the first time.
Text & Photography By Tom Bol Published in Shooting
The Garage Studio
I remember walking into Bathhouse Studios in New York for the first time. Stretching out before me was 4,000 square feet of shooting space, including a 30-foot white cyclorama cove you could drive a Ferrari onto. One of New York's premiere rental facilities, this massive studio (originally a bathhouse) was what photographers fantasized about. Multiple backgrounds, an outside deck, full kitchen, shower, lounge, Bose sound system—this studio had it all. I shot some portraits against the white cove and it seemed like the models were floating on air against the background.

But my reality is more like this: Wake up in a tent, scrape ice off camera bag, warm up batteries so they work, and start the camp stove for coffee. Granted, I photograph a lot of adventure sports, and being on location in a remote area is something I enjoy, but occasionally, I'm asked to shoot studio portraits for a client, and the fact of the matter is, I don't have a studio. What to do?

My solution—and one anyone can use—is to set up my "garage studio." I'm not talking about expensive studio lights, overhead rail systems and a vast array of softboxes. Instead, with a few speedlights and light stands, I can turn a small room or a garage into a comfortable studio for shooting portraits. Here's how I do it, and the handy accessories I use to make it happen.


Almost any space can work as a small studio. I have a two-car garage with a nine-foot ceiling that provides more space than I need. I have plenty of room to set up a background, light stands and softboxes.

If you don't have a garage, consider using a small room in your house as a temporary studio. Almost any room will work; your model could be sitting down, so you don't need much height or width.

The depth of your space is more important. If you plan on lighting your background separate from your subject, then it helps to have more depth so your lights won't spill onto your subject. Also, I like using my 70-200mm for portraits, so I need some distance from my subject to get the right composition.

An advantage of using a room inside your house is it will be warm. I live in Colorado, so shooting in my garage in winter requires an external heater to keep the garage warm.

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