Photography

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location

Excerpt from Mastering the Model Shoot

10 Tips

Okay, so it’s possible to work in tight spots, but what about your own studio? I can almost write an entire book about this, but I’ll keep it short and simple for now. So, here are some quick tips about your studio:

1. Realize it’s always too small.
Whatever you build, make, or remodel, within a few weeks you’ll get used to it and it will be too small. We’ve remodeled our studio several times, and every time it got bigger, and every time I thought that it would be good enough for the coming years. Very soon, we realized we are like goldfish—we adjust to the bowl. So when you think that it’s big enough and you have the option to build larger, do it.

2. Create open spaces.
In the past, our studio contained several rooms and the shooting area. Over time, I found that it worked much better to remove all the walls and make the whole studio floor plan totally open. We moved our makeup room to the side, removed the stairs and put them in the back (they now double as a posing area), and our relaxation room is now on the second floor, where we had room to spare. This means that when I need more makeup area, I can do that, but when I’m shooting, I can use all the room, creating whatever look I need, without being limited by a wall from the makeup room.

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

3. Length and height are crucial.
The length of the studio is vital. The more you can get, the better. By moving farther away, we can use longer lenses, meaning our angle of view is smaller and we can better place the model on a seamless background. When moving back far enough, you can even have a model jumping with her arms and legs stretched, without her leaving the seamless. When you can’t move back and are forced to use a shorter or wider lens, you’ll quickly see the edges of the seamless.

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

Height is important because you will have to hang your seamless or canvas and, in most shots, it’s very pleasing to shoot from a slightly lower angle up. When you are using a lower ceiling, you’ll run into space problems, meaning you will see the seamless system in your shots.

4. Which color for the walls and ceiling?
You might think that black is best, but nothing is farther from the truth. Working in a black room for a while is very depressing. However, working in a completely white studio is a disaster when you want low-key shots or good control over contrast. It’s best to use a studio with medium gray walls—a good solution against light spill, but not so dark that it feels depressing after a long week’s work. The ceiling color depends on the height. It can be white if it’s high enough, but it’s better to go for something darker. Regardless, most of the time, light reflects back easier from the walls than the ceiling when you take into account the angle at which you use your strobes (mostly aimed down).

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

5. Don’t forget airflow.
Airflow is often forgotten, but very important. We work with makeup artists, and they love to use hair products in spray cans. We love using smoke during our shoots. And, of course, when I teach a workshop in summer, it can get a bit smelly. Until recently, we used a big heater in the winter and ventilated the room in the summer. The main reason we did not install an air conditioner was the size of the room and the budget. But, we finally decided to go for an air conditioning system, and I have to say, we should have done it years ago. During the mornings and evenings, I use it to ventilate the room. During winter, it heats the room, and in the summer, it’s very cool. So, make sure you calculate this into your plans.

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

6. Controlling the light.
Make sure you are able to darken the studio. Nothing is more frustrating than working in a studio where you can’t see your modeling lights because there is too much ambient light. So, invest into some good curtains that darken the room. You’ll thank me for it later.

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

7. Seamless paper and canvas are…boring.
Well, no they aren’t, but sometimes I’m just so bored with them. So, several walls in our studio are painted or covered with wallpaper. This gives us a lot of options and looks like a number of different locations.

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

8. Use fabric as a prop or background.
The fabric store is your best friend. Buy fabrics that have curves, structure, are translucent, etc. They make great backgrounds or you can shine a light through them, creating lots of new “locations.” They don’t have to cost much money, but they rock.

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

9. Get second-hand items as props.
Charity and resale shops can be your best friends. You can often buy second-hand vintage clothing, old chairs, and other goods for next to nothing and use them as unique props. Of course, you can buy a posing chair, but for that money I can buy a lot more props that also look incredibly cool in a photo shoot. Also, look at demolition companies or junkyards. Often, the people working in these places love images of models (in lingerie) and will give away “junk” in exchange for some nice images using that piece. I usually return the junk after a few months and get new stuff, and they get new images. Now that’s recycling!

10 Tips for Making Your Studio a Location
—CREDIT: FRANK DOORHOF

10. Last but not least—powerrrrrrrr.
There is no light without power, so make sure you have enough outlets in your studio—one every 4 to 5 meters is ideal—and get the good ones that don’t break. Also, get extension cords you can throw around the studio to have power everywhere you want. I use four-outlet units, so I never run out of outlets. They are cheap, so don’t forget them.

For more information on Frank Doorhof’s Book Mastering the Model Shoot, click here

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