A while ago, I wrote about me being in a preparation progress to open my own photo studio for offering exclusive looks for private female clients. (read “Why I add Boudoir Photography To My Service Portfolio“).
Until today, most of my commercial work were “on location”-jobs and in certain cases I needed (and still need) a studio. I usually used to just rent one of the many we have here in Prague, depending on my needs regarding space, layout and interior design.
But in order to progress with my own project, I now just took the first step: I installed a sweet micro-studio at home.
Why A Micro-Studio? (Hint: It’s A Lab!)
As the concept name suggests, it’s a tiny space. It only offers room for about 3 people on site but it works well for shooting up to three-quarter length. I could force full-body shots but that is not in accordance with my needs nor would I have great preconditions at hand. The shooting area is little (4m x 4.5m / 13′ x 15’) but the room’s height is good (3.7m / 12’).
I call this microbox my “lab”. And this lab perfectly suits my needs for preparing the leap to open a “Women Portrait Studio”.
Here is what I am going to use my lab for and why I decided to do so:
A dedicated space. You might remember that my last 3 LIVE Shoots were also set up at my private place, showcasing and proofing to you that it’s possible to shoot alluring stuff in limited space without too much of a hassle. The thing was that those setups were built in our living room and partly in my wife’s office. So these installations had to be temporarily because we actually use the living room for what it is meant to be used for: living.
Of course, my lab does not offer me the possibility to build three sets at the same time but I can install and potter around in one setting, doing my exercises and experiments nonstop without having to clean up things every time (a man’s dream, so to say…). The lab is my own space at home. My wife, a soprano singer, (read “Portfolio Shoot for Noema Erba“) has her own lab for doing her daily voice training. But hers is – thank goodness – miles away in another neighborhood. Anyway…
Testing. My lab is made for messing around: exploring new (business) ideas, testing new concepts and fresh approaches, experimenting with new shooting styles and new image looks that are paired with specific light settings, stylings and work processes.
I love the software set.a.light.3D and I try out a whole lot of new lighting ideas with this simulation tool first (especially when simulating modifiers and strobes that I don’t own myself). But after that I want and need to try this in reality without having to pay for a (little) studio or just temporarily installing setups. My lab offers me this playground for free.
The first priority now is to come up, experiment and fine-tune various portraiture styles (and image looks tied to them) in order to get a set of looks for my real studio endeavor. This means cooking up artsy B&W moods, contemporary ideas, painterly nudes, alluring portraiture glam and more. So a whole lot of work awaits me now.
“Suffering” from limitations. I’ve seen fellow photography hobbyists installing private photo areas having gigantic measurements of 300m2, including 8 strobes, 20 light modifiers and so forth – for then shooting three-quarter-framed model pics.
Don’t get me wrong:
- a) I grant every one of you anything you can dream of and afford to work with,
- b) I would love to have such a huge space to just be messing around myself.
But I don’t have the necessary liquid funds; I am just an average working photographer – an “on location shooter”, as said – so having such a non-commercial shooting space is pure luxury to me.
My little box on the other hand forces me to use less gear because distances are short and lighting directions limited. Yet I found that this limitation is actually a blessing. And what a tremendous one indeed! I have to come up with lighting arrangements in a much more precise and thoughtful way because I am bound to the use of max 3 strobes and some additional fill-in techniques like bouncing off of a surface in the same scenario. But having 3 lights in action is not bad either, right?
Additional Project: New Backdrops
At the time I knew I would give my lab a go, I also decided to bring in an additional aspect: having dedicated, hand painted backdrops for my future portrait studio. Personally, I think this is a must-have: If one decides to create their very own shooting styles and image looks, unique backdrops are a part of the whole setting (or should at least be considered this way).
I never had the intention to paint those pieces myself! But after doing some research, my findings were:
- a) prices from the Grand Cru suppliers are astronomical,
- b) some bad pre-sales experience/support with B-league suppliers.
So I decided to “f**k it, I will do it myself.” – and suddenly, I had a new challenge at my hands! Oh man, this took my entire “lab prep” to a whole new level! Painting handmade backdrops yourself actually is a completely different adventure. It’s not only a lot of fun and very rewarding, it also really adds to the uniqueness of your personalized image looks.
In the first phase, I painted three backdrops. More are lined up for production within the next few months. You may think of the first backdrops whatever you want but they definitely already heavily influence my visual concepts. I will create a full report, documentary and detailed “how to” to be read in the upcoming Academy section.
A little spoiler upfront: It is absolutely worth every darn setback that will inevitably happen along the way…
Background Support & Co
Even though I just told you that my gear is now permanently installed – it actually is not. All of the parts are still movable, all setups and helpers are based on an “easy-to-be-relocated” approach. No holes drilled, no background hook fixtures.
- Barrel on Wheels. For stowing away all of my light stands, I have built a barrel on wheels. That’s perfect for moving all the stuff across the place without lifting and/or scratching the floor.
- Shooting Trolley. I just use an inexpensive hair stylist trolley. It offers a few drawers where I can put in the things I always need beside me during a shoot. On top is a little space where I can put my camera down.
- Speedlights. Until now I used my speedlights, although I only have 2 of them. For a third light I would have to activate one of my monolights.
The speedlights are smaller and weaker than big strobes, which both is an advantage in such a small space. Read more about my speedlight equipment here: “My Small Flash Units”.
- Light Modifiers. The most important parts are the modifiers anyway. I am able to use my octobox, stripbox, small softbox, umbrellas and standard reflectors.
I can’t combine my big octo on one side with a big umbrella coming from the opposite direction due to the limited space, but as mentioned before I just have to plan my lighting setups differently – I am still achieving (almost) the same results.
More info about lighting gear (especially the modifiers) can be found here: “My Little Kit Of Light”.
Grids, Reflectors, Flag Panels
Very important are the additional (very inexpensive) light helpers.
- Grids are a must-have in such small spaces in order to limit and control the light beams in a very precise way. They help to avoid unwanted light bouncing off of the walls and also restrict “parasitic light”, as Johannes Dauner, CEO from Elixxier Software (watch “Invest In Talents. Not Gear.“) calls unwanted light that tends to spill around.
- Flag Panels. The same goes for flag panels that can be produced by simply painting a foam board black on one side (while the other side, the white one, can serve as a reflector). I place these black panels everywhere I need to limit the light fall off or in order to create a negative fill.
- Reflectors. White foam board panels (available inexpensively in every DIY market) serve as reflectors/fill-ins producing a soft lighting quality.
In conclusion: I still can take all of my studio gear out of my lab, for example, using the Autopoles on location. Or creating just another temporary setup in our living room for the next LIVE show 🙂
That’s a short paragraph because no additional investments were necessary for the lab and gear. All gear comes from my commercial sexy women shooting activities and other parts such as the barrel and shooting trolley I brought back to service from temporary suspension. I already used those tools in a former studio here in Prague.
The only actual cost I have is a monthly rental fee of $100. The room belonged to our neighbors and as they had to scale down their rental costs we took over and integrated the space in our own flat. Et voila.
Office Work & First Shoots
When I am not laboring away on new looks or progressing with my portrait-studio-leap, I use the lab as regular office space. Can’t shoot all the time, right?
Most of my new SWP concepts and content ideas are born here. My retouching work is carried out and – last but not least – the regular back office madness takes place here, too.
But more importantly, I already did a couple of shoots here. Related to my “finding & defining new looks that I will use for my female clients”, I invited a few model friends over (on different days), MUHA Aneta (read “The Look Maker”) kindly supported me with the obvious and we got some trials done. 3 people, remember?
Here a few impressions that are speaking for themselves:
My Lab Is Here To Stay
Having a dedicated space for messing around is gold. No matter how small it is.
I am now taking my chances to prepare my upcoming leap. Plus, I love having a space that I can actually devote to you and SWP, too. I will do some shootings, experiments and create specific new content for you right here in my lab.
My upcoming live streamed Q+A Sessions, for example, are one format I consider to produce in my lab – sometimes containing just my humble self, and sometimes a guest and me.
In conclusion I can say that my lab is my bubble. Every now and then, I need such a bubble. I am like this… – My bubble is here to stay!