While I was working on my degree in photography, I earned extra income as a photographer working at a portrait studio in the local mall. The occasional nightmare customer aside, all in all, it was a fun college job, and I learned a lot of the practical, business side of photography that you don’t get in the classroom.
One thing that you may not realize is how little equipment you actually need to set up a fully functional studio. It’s not that big of an investment to get started, and you can always upgrade or augment your gear as you generate income.
If you’ve been thinking of turning an extra room or your garage into a portrait studio, even temporarily, here are the key tools and accessories you’ll need—many of which you may already own.
Lighting is what sets the look of pro images apart from snapshots. You’ll want two lights at a minimum—a key light for your subject and a light for your background. A third light is ideal as a fill light for your subject.
If you already own a flash, particularly a high-powered professional model that can be remotely triggered and configured to work in groups, you might choose to expand that system with additional units. The advantages of such a system are a small footprint, the flexibility to place lights in tight spaces, through-the-lens metering and the ability to control their output remotely from the master flash unit.
Alternatively, studio monolights offer advantages of their own, including faster recycling times and the option to use them as a modeling light (the ability to turn them on continuously while you adjust light positions, see where shadows fall, etc.). Generally speaking, monolights will produce stronger output, more consistent light quality and hold up better under heavy use compared to shoe-mount flash. There’s also something to be said for the impression they’ll make on your clients—studio lighting signals that you know what you’re doing and sets you apart from the amateur photographer.
Whichever lights you choose, though, it’s how you use them, and the results you achieve, that will determine whether a client is happy with his or her session. Learn the four classic lighting setups that every portrait photographer should know on our website: dpmag.com/how-to/shooting/classic-portrait-light. Then invest in light modifiers.