Creating a Mini-Studio in Your Home

Trying to break out of a rut?  Try some mini-photo shoots at home!  CMpro Jessica Holden is blogging today about how she creates a mini-studio in her home and showing you how you can too.  Thanks, Jessica!

creating a mini-studio in your home

by Jessica Holden

These days, when it’s too dark and cold and snowy (or, in my case, rainy) to do much in the way of outdoor shooting, it can be fun to get your creative juices flowing by making a little studio right in your home!

I have been doing this with my daughter for years and it is a fun way to spend an afternoon! We like to pick out the backdrop, clothing, and props together and then do our shoot.

First, scout out your home by looking around at different times of the day, taking notes on what light you have where and when. In our house, her bedroom (which has a south-facing window) has the most beautiful warm, sweet light in the late morning, and for most of the day on bright days I can also shoot in my living room and dining room if I stay near enough to the north-facing sliding windows. None of these rooms is decorated beautifully for photography or, let’s face it, even tidy enough on the average occasion to make for much of a pleasing background, but with some creative modifications, I can make a perfectly good home studio out of them!

My daughter’s room is my favorite room to work in because the quality of light in there is so buttery and soft. But she doesn’t have a lot of closet or drawer space, so it is most often a mess! We just work around that:

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

The window is to the right in this image, and I can soften or brighten the light by closing or opening the curtains as necessary. (If your room doesn’t have curtains but you need more control, then pinning up a white sheet across the window will work just as well to diffuse the light a bit!)

For backgrounds, I like to shop in the home decorator’s section of my local fabric store (especially when they have their 40% off coupons!) to find fabrics that inspire me. When setting up the shot, it helps to iron your backdrop as well as you can (and better than I did in this example!) to avoid shadows that form in the folds that are hard to fix in processing, especially when you are using a patterned backdrop like this. Then I tape the fabric smoothly to the wall using painter’s tape to avoid doing any damage to the walls.

When you’re all set up, place your subject to achieve the best lighting and background, and shoot! As always, watch for catchlights, turning your subject slightly more toward the window if necessary to get the catchlights to be nicely in both eyes.

Here are two examples from that setup:

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

For a more modern look, I like to use my living room or dining room and seamless paper. The light in those rooms is not as bright, giving me much less even lighting, which to me calls for the edgier, more current look of seamless. I have two rolls of seamless, and I most often use Thunder Gray. I tape it around a piece of foam board from the hobby shop, and prop that up on a stool or stepladder, depending on the height I need. Then I have her sit on the ground in front of it, adjusting her height and the foam board height with books as needed to ensure that her face is completely surrounded by the board to avoid having to clone in any backdrop in after the fact (though cloning with seamless is easy and works beautifully if you miss an edge!). I also sometimes prop up my reflector on the side opposite the window to add in a little fill light to the darker side of her face.

Here is the setup (notice the pajama bottoms? I pick my battles when she isn’t wholly in the mood
to entertain my desire for a photo shoot).

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

And here is the result:

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

You might also notice the hair dryer propped on a dish towel on the chair in the lower right of the set-up image. Sometimes if we want to go a little more fun, I grab that and we turn it on low to add just a hint of movement to her hair. The dish towel helps the dryer to stay put where I want it to control where the air flows. Of course, never leave the dryer on unattended. (Also in the following image I removed the reflector, which darkened the non-window side of her face for a just a hint more shading and drama.)

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

But what if you want to shoot more than just a head? Then you just need to find a larger blank wall by a window! For this I have also used both seamless and fabric. For ¾ or full length I prefer to use 54” or wider fabric/seamless. I sometimes need to remove photos from the wall temporarily as well (and sometimes they help hold down the background), depending on how large an area I want to capture, but the main idea remains the same. Tape your background down as flatly and smoothly as possible:

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

And an image from that shoot:

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

And finally, I have found that using a lighter-colored seamless allows me to easily alter the background if I so desire by adding texture to the image and then carefully masking out the subject. (I generally use TV Gray for this; white doesn’t work as well, and I find Thunder Gray is so dark that it hides the texture.) This just adds one more way you can get creative with your indoor studio!

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

And most of all, have fun—with this basic setup you can let your imagination run wild no matter
what the weather holds outside!

Creating a Mini Studio in Your Home photo

A native of the San Francisco Bay Area she calls home, Jessica Holden is a photographer, freelance book editor, and mom with an eye for capturing the everyday moments and ordinary things that make life extraordinary. She’s been married to her one and only for 15 years, and she’s an impossible romantic. Her daughter is the light of her life and, as you may have guessed, she’s Jessica’s favorite photography subject. Jessica is inspired by beautiful light and how it plays with objects. As a little girl she was mesmerized by watching her grandfather create masterful charcoal renderings of sun-streamed redwood groves; since she can barely sketch stick figures, she tries to achieve that same radiance with her camera.

Read all photography tutorials by Jessica Holden.

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32 Responses to “Creating a Mini-Studio in Your Home”

  1. Feb 23 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Thank you for this, Jessica! This is so inspiring!

  2. Feb 23 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Absolutely wonderful post…thank you so much for sharing! I love the variety of backgrounds (so simple to try, but they look so elegant and professional!) Thanks so much for the pullbacks. Beautiful job!

  3. Feb 23 2012 at 10:33 am #

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I am in the middle of making an at home studio, and you have given me inspiration! It's amazing what we can do with so little and you have shown us that in your beautiful images.

  4. Angela
    Feb 23 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Thank you for sharing Jessica! Love the photos, and I can't wait to see what I can do in this tiny and messy house :)

  5. Feb 23 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    Love this Jessica, I tried a home studio set up this week with the same background paper and you did such a better job! i'm going to try again though so thanks for all the tips. x

  6. Feb 23 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    These are fantastic tips ! Thank you so much for sharing with us, Jessica :)

  7. Feb 23 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Oh, Jessica! Not only are you a talented photographer but you are a great teacher too! Thanks for sharing the inside tips on your home studio setup!

  8. Feb 23 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    I love these tricks Jess! You show that it doesn't take a fortune in studio equipment just to have GORGEOUS shots!!! <3!

  9. Stephanie Sharpe
    Feb 23 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    Wow! Thanks for the tips! The pictures are delightful and these are great ideas for the dull dreary days of winter:)

  10. Feb 26 2012 at 12:16 am #

    Wow! What a great article!! Some wonderful inspiration here!! Fantastic!!

  11. Feb 26 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Cool! Great ideas!!

  12. Novella G
    Feb 26 2012 at 5:16 pm #

    Thanks for this! It's just what I need for my upcoming Easter photos. Very helpful!!

  13. JennyO
    Feb 27 2012 at 12:31 am #

    Thanks for the tips and inspiration Jessica!

  14. Feb 27 2012 at 4:15 pm #

    These are fabulous tips! Thank you!

  15. Feb 29 2012 at 2:49 am #

    This is really fantastic! I really need to try this with my girls. Thank you for these fantastic tips!

  16. Sharon Cooke
    Feb 29 2012 at 7:14 am #

    I know it took a lot of work to show us all these great ways to make the most of our all too lived in homes–and I'm really inspired by it. Thanks!

  17. Feb 29 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    Excellent tips! It helps so much to see your set up. Thank you for sharing this! ;)

  18. Karen Cox
    Mar 02 2012 at 8:08 am #

    Looks so easy. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Mar 02 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    This is awesome Jessica! I've got lots of ideas now. Wish I had your gorgeous girl to model for me. :)

  20. Mar 07 2012 at 6:26 am #

    This is so great! I just did a little self-portrait video shoot and could have used these tips! I will be incorporating them for the next one! Especially using the reflector to blow out my dark circle on my shadow side. : )

    Thanks! Jacinda

    PS. What I really want to know is how you got the book to stay on her head???

    • Mar 27 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      She just balanced it–LOL! She was quite proud of herself…

  21. Marilyn
    Mar 23 2012 at 6:40 am #

    Thank you so much for these GREAT tips! Your photos are beautiful! I feel so stupid asking this, but what exactly is seamless?

    • Mar 27 2013 at 9:09 pm #

      Seamless is heavy paper that you buy on a roll to use as a backdrop. You can get it from photography shops or online.

  22. Oct 15 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    I like looking through a post that can make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing me to comment!

  23. Oct 19 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    just what I needed thanks…

  24. Lucy K.
    Jan 10 2013 at 9:06 am #

    I had missed this post before. Thank you so much Jessica, I enjoyed it a lot! It’s fun to see how some of your well known pictures were taken! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Feb 08 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Unbelievable Jessica!! Those are gorgeous. I would never ever have guessed where they had been taken if it weren’t for the pullbacks. I so need to try this! Your daughter is just so incredibly precious.

  26. Stef
    Mar 18 2013 at 11:26 am #

    Cute idea and great pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    On a side note: Yay for “The neverending Story” book … one of my all time faves since I was a child.

  27. Ingrid
    Apr 30 2013 at 6:51 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing! This is GREAT!

  28. Michelle
    Mar 22 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    These photos are all amazing. I try to do most of my photos at home as well. Just easier, as I have a 5yr old and a 2yr old. I really appreciate you posting some of your great ideas, especially for backgrounds. Thank you for that!! Again, your photos are fantastic.

  29. Jocelyn
    Jun 12 2014 at 10:52 am #

    This is awesome!!

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