My „Lab“: Setting Up A Micro-Photo-Studio

Shooting Alluring Women Portraiture At Home
My „Lab“: Setting Up A Micro-Photo-Studio

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.

1 - Dan Hostettler On Location Photo Shoots & Big Photo Studios

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’).

2 - Dan Hostettler Home Photo Studio - Layout & Measurements

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.

3 - LIVE Photo Shoots - Sexy Art Nude Impressions

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…

4 - Testing Concepts, Lighting, Posing in Home Photo Studio

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.

5 - Small Home Studio Photo Shoot Impressions

“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?

6 - Tight Spaces - Setting Up A Small Home Photo Studio

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.

7A - Painting Handmade Photo Backdrops - Preparation & Manufacturing7B - Painting Handmade Photo Backdrops - Hanging In Photo Studio

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…

The Gear

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.

8 - Photo Background System, Clamps, Manfrotto, Helpers

9 - Movable Helpers - Barrel on Wheels, Shooting Trolley

“Movable” Helpers
  • 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.

10 - Shooting with Speedlights

Lighting
  • 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”.

11 - Photography Lighting Modifiers - Reflectors & Grids

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 🙂

Costs

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.

12 - Back Office

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:

13A - Contemporary Alluring Portraiture by Dan Hostettler
13B - Artistic Nudes With A Fitness Girl by Dan Hostettler

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!

14A - Few Successful Photo Shoots Done - Selfie Session
14B - Model Suzzi - Private Affairs - Outtakes

SESSION Replays Shot In Dan’s Micro-Photo-Studio

SESSION REPLAY: “Private Affairs” feat. Suzzi

5 Sets. 5 Films. 105 Min Runtime. FullHD
Shooting Observation. Personal project “Private Affairs”. Dan shoots in his private place a new style of series: Portrait Nudes. Mixing portraiture photography elements with alluring nude photography elements.
Dan is experimenting with his own painted backdrops and a simple lighting approach. Goal of this series was to find a specific lighting style and image looks that would eventually evolve into Dan’s aspirational portfolio. On Set: Suzzi Q Suzzi.


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SESSION REPLAY: “Private Affairs” feat. Michaela

5 Sets. 5 Films. 95 Min Runtime. FullHD
Shooting Observation. Personal project “Private Affairs”. Dan shoots in his private place a new style of series: Portrait Nudes. Mixing portraiture photography elements with alluring nude photography elements.
This time Dan was collaborating with a model of different shape, height and hair color. Having various subjects in front of your lens is important when you’re exploring the core of a new visual concept. Goal of this personal work was to level up Dan’s aspirational portfolio.


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Dan Hostettler

A traveler at heart, inspired by women, working along Swiss precision. Dan is a mediapreneur, photographer, author of several books and founder + Editor in Chief of SexyWomenPhotography.com.

Being a successful photographer for more than 15 years Dan got internationally published and featured on/in GQ Online, The India Times, FashionONE TV, FotoTV, GoodLight Mag, amongst many others. Dan is currently residing and working in Prague, CZ.

Dan will talk about his projects, provide insights in shootings & concepts, produce webinars, create Academy content, explain styles, emphasize the importance of working with models and any other exciting topic he discovers along the way.

Do you have your own kind of “lab”? How and where do you develop and test new ideas?

12 Comments

  1. Nice article and all the problems are nearly the same here. Only that I have to remove everything after the shoot and that my biggest room is completely yellow – no big deal for black/white but for color.

    Would you mind to prepare a more detailed article about painting backdrops? I think this would be interesting for many of us.

    Regards, Frank

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hello Frank, yeah NOT removing the stuff is what it’s all about for me. Sometimes I am pottering around for day until I got I was looking for. It’s a process I can’t force (when exploring new concepts) so any “disturbance” like removing the settings would be deadly…

      Backdrops: As mentioned in the article I will write a detailed “report” incl video documentary for the soon-to-be-live Academy section. Some future content (tutorial-ish) and LIVE and tuts and shooting replays etc will soon be available in the Academy here on SWP. And heck, somehow I will (have to) find time to put that DIY backdrop project report together… 🙂

      Best,
      Dan

      Reply
  2. Phototar

    I also would like an article on making/painting backdrops. I almost bought a used backdrop at a camera show once but didn’t; it was only $65 for the 20×20. I could kick myself in the butt cause I didn’t.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Hello Phototar, thanks for reading!

      Yeah regarding backdrops: I will write a detailed “report” incl video documentary for the soon-to-be-live Academy section. Some future content (tutorial-ish) and LIVE and tuts and shooting replays etc will soon be available in the Academy here on SWP. You will get a note via the “Weekly News”.

      $65 for a 20×20: Agreed, kick yourself – that was a hell of a good price (for a unique piece) 🙂 DIY is fun and very rewarding but not exactly less expensive than $65…

      Cheers,
      Dan

      Reply
  3. It was so cold when you were painting backdrops that you grew fur on your face!

    I like the inspirational message as well.

    Well done.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Thank you, Jim- motivating!
      I was countryside for a few months, working on projects, articles, concepts, my portfolio, 2018 prep, upcoming SWP Academy programming & prep and a whole lot other stuff. Every now and then I traveled back to Prague for shootings, meetings etc. But basically I was like 4 months outside Prague. Wintertime, got/is cold. Some huge rooms, difficult to heat (and very expensive just using heaters)…

      So a fur, some “ugly” warm clothing and a loooot of wood (for 4 fireplaces) did the trick 🙂

      Cheers,
      Dan

      Reply
  4. Allen Moore

    We love tight spaces! Forces us to think outside the box when it comes to how light is used and modified. A couple of years ago, I had an assignment for a lingerie manufacturer. The client wanted both editorial/lookbook style images as well as straight catalog photos (featureless background). We had only one day to shoot 20 outfits. Because of the editorial component, we rented a hotel room. We shot the editorial stuff first, then moved the furniture out of the way to set up the backdrop for the catalog material.

    Normally, when shooting catalog-style in the studio, I will use a 7-foot PLM with diffusion sock; it produces a wall of light that works well with fabric. But a 7-foot PLM in a hotel room? Sure, why not!

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Sometimes it literally (correct use of the word here…) forces me to think outside the box, meaning to stand in the room next, peer into the setup mess and thinking about “what to adjust”….

      Your shooting example: That is great! Valuable insights into the (pre-)planning thoughts and the shooting order.
      I am sure it was a lot of fun circling around a 7-foot PLM… 🙂 (PLM > https://goo.gl/chmcck)

      Well done, Allen!

      Reply
  5. Very nice article and very useful. Thank you for sharing your ideas and problems as well. The idea with a barrel on wheels is great.
    Regards, Simon.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      Thank you, Semyon!
      “Barrel on Wheels”: I have to credit my photographer friend Werner Tschan (https://studio-ltd.com/) for this because I actually have seen that 25 years ago in his studio back in Bern, Switzerland (where I was born & worked for a while).

      All those “little” things are just great for having your stuff organized and highly movable – and it comes in handy even in large spaces. You don’t have to move all the stuff piece by piece…

      Best from Prague,
      Dan

      Reply
  6. mr.muliebris

    Thanks for this article! Perfect timing for me as I was trying to figure out how to configure a small space at home. Most ingenious – your shots of the lighting setups are inspirational. I frequently replace a backdrop in Photoshop, but I’ll have to have a go at painting some real ones.

    Reply
    • Dan Hostettler

      You’re welcome, MrM – thanks for reading!
      If you would have some more square meters available you can even shoot a 4-Light setup conveniently…

      Regarding backgrounds: If there is no “real” reason like specific composites or a client wishes a color change on the backdrop I personally would go for the “real thing”. But of course this depends on the assignment(s):

      > If doing catalogue work or lookbooks then a change (of color) might be necessary.
      > If you are shooting artsy stuff and backdrops are an artistic enhancement or even composite elements (http://www.loriana.com.au/#/personal-work-series/), then shooting in front of a monochrome, easy to replace backdrop is key.

      But for portraiture-ish work I would go for an “as-complete-as-possible” setting in-camera. Might make it less easy but that’s what the fun’s about. Isn’t it?

      🙂 D.

      Reply

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