Everything you need to know about setting up a home photography studio.

March 17th, 2022
Everything You Need To Know About Setting Up A Home Photography Studio

Do you dream of setting up a home photography studio of your own? For lots of photographers, this is a major goal that would open up tons of opportunities. Being able to produce high-quality studio work from your own home means you can avoid transporting large, heavy, cumbersome equipment to a rented studio location. It also means having total control of your shooting environment. A photoshoot studio setup at home can definitely help your photography business thrive, and take your online photography portfolio to new heights.

There are certain kinds of photography that are best suited to a studio environment. If you shoot portraits or headshots, you probably do a lot of your work in studio, so setting one up in the comfort of your own home would be a huge plus. Portrait and headshot photography is an awesome way to make money as a photographer because there are so many potential clients out there. Everyone needs good portraits of themselves for LinkedIn and other social media profiles, so the gigs are just waiting to be snapped up!

If you set up a versatile home photo studio, you can also handle other kinds of portraiture. More and more people love seeing their furry friends looking their cutest in professional portraits, so pet portraits are another great way to make more money with your new home studio set. You don’t need a large home photo studio setup to do some super-cute newborn shoots. If you’re lucky enough to have room for a slightly larger home photography studio, you can handle engagement shoots and wedding shoots, maternity photo sessions, and family photos. Your portfolio is about to be overflowing with gorgeous images! So, how do you get started with setting up that home photo studio?

two photographers working in a large home studio

Home photography studio setup.

The first thing you should consider before buying a single piece of home studio equipment is: what is your goal for this photo studio setup? It’s really important to get clear on what your goals are for your personal photography portfolio, and what types of photography gigs you want to land. That way, you can make sure that you don’t waste time and money building a professional photo studio that’s not actually going to serve your needs.

For example, if you know you want to do large family photoshoots, that tiny spare bedroom probably isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need to clear out a bigger space or have an area of your home that you can convert into a photography studio for each shoot and easily tear down in between shoots. On the other hand, if your business is all about shooting tiny babies, they really don’t take up much space! That means you can use a small space wisely and still have an awesome home photo studio setup.

You’ll also want to give some thought to your own personal style. If all of the photos in your portfolio are sunny and naturally lit, it’s a good idea to make sure that your home portrait studio has plenty of natural light or that you’re prepared to do your research and get some high-quality home studio lighting that will help you achieve a similar effect. If you’re all about dark and moody photos with dramatic, low key lighting, you’ll need to consider a space where you can effectively block out any unwanted ambient light. The best portrait photography portfolios have a distinct and recognizable photographic voice and style, so it’s always a good idea to think about what your signature look is.

Remember, this home photography studio should serve you and your business needs, not hold you back! One other consideration before you start planning your photography studio setup is what your electricity needs will be. Make sure you choose a space that either has lots of reliable outlets or where you can easily reach with a good quality extension cord. Consider as well that running power cords all over your studio space will create tripping hazards, so if you’ll have people in your home studio you’ll need to consider how to manage that from a safety point of view.

studio light on light stand

Home photography studio equipment.

Now, on to the good stuff! Since you’ve figured out what space in your home is best suited to a home photo studio and fits your business needs, you can start thinking about what equipment to look for.

The good news here is that, no matter what your budget is, there are tons of seriously good options out there.

Home studio lighting setup.

One of the most important pieces of equipment in a home photography studio is, of course, the lighting. A basic home photography studio lighting setup can consist of just one light (either a speedlight or a flash), and a reflector, such as an umbrella. If you’re planning to get more advanced with home studio lighting, you’ll probably need to increase how many light sources you have so that you can achieve more complex lighting like a three-point portrait lighting setup. Increasing the number and type of light modifiers can really open up new lighting effects that you’ll be able to achieve from your home photo studio.

For the lights themselves, the two main options you have are speedlights and strobes, although there are also a lot of incredible continuous light options. They each have their own benefits and drawbacks, so, again, you’ll have to refer back to your own goals for this home photography studio.

Home photo studio speedlights.

Speedlights are great because they’re on the smaller side and tend to weigh less than strobes. If you need to take your home photo studio setup down between shoots, you might like being able to easily tear down and put away your speedlights. They’ll also be ideal if you have a very small space because they tend to be smaller themselves. Another huge perk? There are some perfectly good options available for really low prices. Brands like Yongnuo and Neewer make inexpensive options to get you started, and, if you’re willing to pay a bit more, you can get even more power and features.

Although they’re inexpensive, light, and small, speedlights do have some shortcomings you’ll want to consider before buying them for your photography studio. They’re definitely not as powerful as strobes, so you won’t get as much light out of them and will have to make up for it with your camera settings, which could result in slightly less crisp images. (A really great portrait photography camera will take care of that problem.)

They also take longer than your typical strobe to recycle between shots, which means you can’t shoot a big burst of shots in a row. That’s only a problem for certain kinds of photography, so it might not even be something you have to worry about. Unless you’re trying to capture a specific moment in a motion, such as a hair flip, for example, you probably won’t notice the slow recycle time too much.

A final point about this type of light is that, unlike strobes, they don’t come with a modeling light. A modeling light is a bulb located close to the flash tube that gives you an idea of how the flash will light the image when it does fire. You will end up knowing your home photo studio like the back of your hand, so this won’t be a problem in the long run, but it does mean you’ll need to do some experimenting to get a really good sense of the light your speedlights will produce. You definitely don’t want to be doing too much experimenting when you have an actual client in the home portrait studio!

Home photo studio flash.

If you choose to go for strobe lights instead of speedlights, your lights will definitely be more powerful. That’s great if you want to get the best quality light and clearest images possible. They’re also ideal for a photoshoot studio setup in which you want to be able to capture lots of little moments since they do recycle much faster than speedlights. This can be handy if you’re shooting bigger groups: it’s hard to get everyone to look their best at the same time, so, by getting more shots, you’re increasing your chances of nailing that perfect image! 

You’ll also get the benefit of a modeling light. Modeling lights are great to be able to visualize how the light from the flash will look on your subject’s face in the final image. It also helps with focus and will make sure your subject’s pupils are not too dilated. There is often not a lot of ambient light in the studio without the modeling light so your subject’s pupils can look very dilated. The modeling light will help make the eyes appear more natural.

Strobes are, of course, more expensive than speedlights, so that’s something you’ll have to consider when you’re deciding what your budget is for your home photography studio setup. They also tend to be heavier, so they will be more cumbersome to set up and take down. If you’re lucky enough to have a space you can dedicate solely to your home photo studio, that won’t be a big problem for you, and strobes might be a great choice. There are some portable, battery-powered options but these options have their own drawbacks and would behave similarly to the speedlight options already discussed.

Home photo studio light stands.

Don’t forget the light stands. These usually take up a bit of floor space, so if you know you’ll be working with three-point lighting, make sure that you have enough space for all three lighting stands. It’s important to remember with some lighting setups the lights are behind the subject so you will need to make sure to have space behind your subject as well as enough space in front for you to still shoot and get the framing you want. 

This is another type of home studio equipment that can really vary a lot in price. As a general rule, this is one piece of equipment in your home studio setup that you should probably spend a bit of money on. Although the stands may seem less important than other portrait photography accessories, cheap light stands can cause some serious headaches when you’re shooting. They can topple over and hurt someone, and you don’t want those lights you just bought to come crashing down either.

Invest in some heavy-duty, sturdy light stands for your home photography studio setup, and you’ll get your money’s worth for years to come.

Home photo studio backgrounds.

Your home studio setup should include a few background options that you can use again and again for different types of shoots. The first background to buy is a collapsible one that gives you the option of both black and white, since those are versatile and will work for tons of different portrait gigs. You might also want to get a background support that can hold your collapsible background as well as any seamless rolls you start collecting.

Home photo studio modifiers.

This is a fun part of setting up your home photography studio because modifiers can really take your images to the next level. There are tons of options to choose from, so instead of getting carried away and clicking “add to cart” on all of these, consider what kind of effects you’re going for and what kind of images will really be portfolio-worthy for you. Light modifier options include:

  • Metallic or white reflectors: Create the effect of having a whole other light in your scene. Reflectors will bounce the light onto your subject to fill in deep shadows and can also create either a cool glow or, in the case of gold reflectors, a warm glow that could easily trick the eye into thinking it’s sunlight.
  • Softboxes: These can help you diffuse light so that it falls evenly on your subject, creating an attractive and even look. Light from a softbox, as the name implies, is a beautiful, soft light that translates to a flattering way to light your subject. A softbox can be used to mimic window light or natural light so your subject doesn’t necessarily look like they’re sitting in a home studio.
  • Gels: Colorful sheets of gel paper change the color of your light sources. An orange or red gel will give you a warm glow, and a blue or green gel will give the image a cool cast; you can play around with different combinations of gels to get some really cool and artistic effects. The great thing about gels is that they’re relatively inexpensive, so you might as well have a bunch on hand in your home photo studio if playing with colored light is your jam.
  • Umbrellas: Like a softbox, an umbrella will help you diffuse and soften light. It’s important to note here that they typically have more contrast, and do not create as diffuse a light source when compared to softboxes. You’re better off using umbrellas if you have a large space; in a small space, they won’t contain light in the same way a softbox might. There are different types of umbrellas, such as shoot-through umbrellas, and reflector umbrellas. Each has a different quality of light so you’ll have to do a bit of research to decide which is the best fit for your style. Even better, there might be a photographer in your community who uses them and would be willing to “talk shop” or let you test theirs. 

Home photography studio kits.

After reading about all these different components of your home photography studio setup, you’re probably wondering if you’d be better off just getting a home studio set that contains all the necessary pieces. That all depends on your budget and goals.

If you skip the kit and buy the individual pieces, you’ll almost certainly end up paying more overall. Kits tend to offer lower-quality components, but you can find some seriously good deals. And, if you do your research, you’ll be pleased to find that there are actually some great options out there. If you’re a beginner and don’t have any equipment yet, a home photography studio kit can help you get up and running quickly. Then, you can add or switch out pieces of equipment as you go along and learn more about what you like and what works for you. Here’s a list of a few highly-reviewed options, but keep in mind that the options below are continuous lighting options (not strobes):

Chances are, once you start getting more and more gigs, you’ll find the kits don’t quite cut it anymore. But for someone early in their career, they’re an awesome option!

two photographers reviewing session proofs in a home studio

Setting up a home photography studio on a budget.

If you’re on a budget but the home photography studio kits just aren’t going to cut it for your home photo studio needs, there are lots of other ways to get a high-quality setup without breaking the bank. Second-hand options can save you a ton, and, as long as you get them from a trusted source (and hopefully with some warranty), you can save big bucks on powerful lights and other pieces of equipment that cost a lot more fresh out of the box.

Looking at refurbished options from retailers online or in your area is another way to avoid paying the sticker price for those high-cost pieces of home studio equipment. There are probably some things you can DIY as well—the internet is full of genius ideas for things like DIY reflectors, for example, which can make your photos look really professionally lit.

Another way to keep costs in check is to work with natural light, if possible. If you’re lucky enough to have a space with a reliable amount of daylight, lots of portraits will look stunning just using that available natural light, with no need for fancy strobes. You can even use DYI light modifiers to enhance the natural light and get creative with the final look of your images.

Small home photography studio tips.

If your space is extra-tiny, don’t despair! Small spaces, if set up properly, can still be perfectly usable photo studios. A few useful tips:

  • Keep extra lights to a minimum. Use window light whenever possible, so you don’t have to fill up precious space with light stands.
  • Make use of light modifiers, especially reflectors. It’s amazing how a couple of reflectors can make your portrait look totally filled with light as if you were using a three point light setup. Play around with reflectors and bouncing the available light and see what works best in your small space.
  • Choose the right portrait lens. You probably won’t want a zoom lens if there isn’t room to zoom, so a high-quality prime lens that allows you to capture your whole subject from the distance you have available to you in your home photo studio will do the job. You’ll need to consider how the focal length will affect your framing, as well as how your subject looks in frame. Keep in mind, 35mm is generally the widest you want to go when creating portraits in tight spaces; anything wider will have noticeable distortion of the subject’s body – unless that is the look you are going for! The decision of what lens to buy is an important one, and something you’ll need to research for the style, and look you want to achieve. 

photographer hanging printed proofs on studio wall

Extra tips for home portrait studios.

There are a few other things you can do, no matter what your space and budget, to make your studio a comfortable place to be. You want to make sure your clients leave raving so that you can get that valuable referral business, so make sure your studio has:

  • Water and light snacks: Photoshoots can be surprisingly exhausting, and having a hot light (or three) on you all day can get pretty uncomfortable. Make sure your clients don’t feel like they’re about to faint by having refreshments on hand.
  • A mirror: It’s nice to be able to quickly and easily do a once-over and make sure you’re looking good before a shoot. If it’s mounted on the wall, you don’t have to worry about it taking up space.
  • Some translucent powder: You don’t have to be a top makeup artist to make your client look a whole lot better by removing the shine from their nose and forehead.

Show off those gorgeous portraits.

Make sure you set up an online photography portfolio so that you can start booking gigs in that new studio! If you don’t have one yet, no worries. Look for a website builder that allows you to create the perfect website for your business in just a few minutes. Video and blog posts are an awesome way to create SEO-friendly content, and if you’re building a home photography studio that would make for an awesome video series. Look for a website builder that has built-in video hosting so that you can share your adventure. Client proofing is also a valuable feature for portrait photographers since it allows your clients to give feedback, select their favorites, and buy printed products right from your website.

Ready to build an online portrait photography portfolio that will kickstart your portrait photography career? We’ve got you covered. Start your free trial with Zenfolio today!

For more tips, check out this guide to building a portrait photography portfolio, as well as these handy tips for how to get started marketing your portrait photography business.

Now, it’s time to open your home photo studio for business—good luck!

Want more tips for portrait photographers?

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Amanda is a Content Marketing Associate at Zenfolio and the Owner/Photographer of Wild Orchard Studios photography. A BFA graduate from Maine College of Art and Design and professional Lifestyle Family and Branding photographer for over 10 years, she thoroughly enjoys drawing from her experiences to guide new photographers as they are starting out. Amanda lives in the wilds of Maine with her husband and two imaginative daughters. If there’s such a thing as too much dark chocolate, she hasn’t heard about it.

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