THE BACKGROUNDThis is where the fun begins. By using a little creativity, you can simulate a location in your garage that looks like a grungy alley in Detroit or a locker room at a gym. The simplest option is to put up seamless paper and shoot your subject against this. Seamless paper is inexpensive, and works well to create a clean background in a cluttered garage.
Seamless paper is only the beginning. I like to explore my local thrift stores and see what materials I can find to use for my background. Old curtains, fabric, venetian blinds and even building supplies like corrugated metal all make interesting backdrops for an image. Finding backdrops that have texture and dimension will allow you to create shadows with your lighting. Imagine shooting a hard light across corrugated metal—it will have strong shadows and highlights from the grooves.
Lastolite makes the Urban Collapsible Background, a gritty background that sets up in seconds. These backgrounds pop open into a rigid sheet. All you have to do is lean them against a wall and you're ready to go. Or, if you really want to change it up, try a printed background like those from Denny Manufacturing Company, Inc. Denny offers hundreds of muslins and printed backgrounds on a variety of materials. Their printed backdrops are amazing. Want to shoot in a prison cell or on a seaside pier? No problem, Denny has those backdrops. How about shooting in the woods? Check, they have that option, as well. These backdrops will convince the viewer the shot was taken at a real location, not in your garage.
THE LIGHTSYou want to know one great advantage of shooting in your garage studio? You're working in a small, controlled space, so you don't need powerful lights for your portraits. All you need are a few simple lights and you're ready to shoot.
Most photographers already have one speedlight, and this is all you need for simple portraits (we'll look at techniques shortly). Add a second speedlight, and you have plenty of power and options to create stunning portraits. Speedlights offer a lot of advantages. Small, powerful and portable, these flashes can be used in iTTL mode for proper exposure every time.
You'll want to trigger the flashes off-camera, which will require a wireless transmitter. Some cameras have a pop-up flash that can be set to "commander" mode, allowing you control of your speedlights right at the camera. I like to use PocketWizard FlexTT5 transmitters with my speedlights. The radio signal from these units doesn't require line of sight to work, so no matter where I put my flashes relative to my camera, they always fire. And, I can still control output right at the camera using the PocketWizard system.