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Essentials to beginning a photography studio

Darlene Kimbrell , Nov 19, 1998; 01:24 p.m.

In a few weeks I want to puchase the equipment necessary to begin an in home photography studio. After months of research I am still uncertain as to what equipment I need to use for portraits, children/family pictures, and outdoor family shots. It seems everyone has an opinion on which equipment is best. I do not intend to do weddings at this time, maybe later. I am looking for good quality at a reasonable price. I would appreciate any help I can get. Thanks!

Responses

Craig Shearman , Nov 19, 1998; 01:41 p.m.

You need the following: -- Two camera bodies with wide, normal and telephoto lens. (50, 80,, 150 mm in MF), plus at least two backs if shooting MF. --Tripod --Set of studio strobes, either monolights or packs and heads. At least two, preferably four, with stands, umbrellas or soft boxes, snoots, grids, barn doors, etc. --Backdrops -- either seamless, muslin or painted canvas, and support system --Flash meter --Stool for subjects to sit on, possibly other props, especially for kids --Film --Talent

Craig Shearman www.bcity.com/redcaboosevideo/

Marc T , Nov 19, 1998; 02:19 p.m.

Darlene,

One of the main decisions in setting up a studio is the lighting system. When I started my home-based studio, I invested a lot of money in a Norman 2400 Watt-second power pack with four heads and lots of grids, barndoors, softboxes, etc. This system is very nice and gives me a lot of flexibility, but it was pretty expensive and has a number of drawbacks: the main ones being that it takes a lot of space, is difficult to transport, and requires an outlet to plug into (and not just any outlet either - I've blown circuit breakers a number of times at various wedding sites which can be a little embarrassing).

What I've found is that many of the portraits you will probably end up doing will be clients who want the picture taken either at their home or at an outdoor location. I've acquired two portable (battery-operated) strobes which I find myself using more than the Norman outfit, and they were a lot less expensive. I use them in the studio (they are handy because of their size, weight, and I don't have to run cords to them), outdoors (on lightweight stands which also support the power packs), and on-camera (with an over-camera bracket and using a shoulder-strap for the power pack). They have considerably more power than standard on-camera flashes. For the price of my Norman outfit I could buy six of these portable systems. And the thing is, even if you choose to get a power-pack system, you will still probably need a portable system such as this for environmental portraiture. That's why I would recommend starting out with a portable one. What are the disadvantages? Well, mine have modeling lights but they are not as bright as the Norman power-pack lights and the battery can only run them for 30 minutes or so on a charge (they don't have to be on). If I wanted them on longer, I'd have to buy an adapter that lets you use the pack with a car battery (for studio use).

I guess I haven't mentioned which portable system I chose yet. I've got two Lumedyne 400WS packs. One I use with a standard Lumedyne head, the other I have a Quantum X2 flash unit which can run off the Lumedyne power packs and provides AUTO flash capability for those times you are shooting with the flash on-camera and don't have time to run around metering your flash (like wedding candids). I plan to add a power booster to get one of the flashes up to 800WS for the times you need a bit more power.

I haven't talked myself into selling the Norman outfit, because it does have its place. But I would recommend starting out with a portable flash system, maybe a softbox or two to go with them, and some reflectors/gobos for your first lighting equipment. That would give you a lot of flexibility to start out with, either out at the lake or in your client's home. And you won't spend hours breaking your back lugging heavy packs around.

P.S. Don't waste too much money buying backgrounds to start out with either. A couple of nice painted backgrounds can be good but people really seem to like environmental portraiture - maybe because it's not as easy to get at most "portrait outlets". A plain white paper background is handy too.

-- Marc Turner

s p , Nov 21, 1998; 11:08 a.m.

I would reccomend a more cautious approach.

Remember that everything you buy will eventually have to be paid for. You can decide to buy it on credit, but then you will be paying %18 or so on your purchase; the long lists of cameras, lenses, strobes, etc., all listed above will run into the thousands even if you buy used. You will be thousands in debt before you even find your first client.

I would suggest that you try to purchase as little stuff as possible at first. I'm afraid that until you establish a client list and a credit history as a photographer you won't be able to get you film on an account at your local pro shop so leave the availible balance on your Visa for that. Remember, a lot of your clients wont pay you right away but since you are a startup your vendors will want payment immeadiately. The same goes for processing and printing costs at your lab. Once you start working those lab and film costs will mount fast enough.

If you already have a 35mm SLR then make do with that as one of your cameras. Very few portrait clients seem to want or need 16 x 20 enlargements; get your feet wet with the lower paying clients by shooting 35mm. You can always move up from there.

Your best investment will be a good handheld light meter that can measure flash and ambient light. If you have one and know how to use it you can deliver accurate exposures every time. I use the Sekonic Flashmate l-308b which is great and costs around $250.00 For portraits I have used inexpensive strobes like Vivitar and Sunpak that you can mount on a lightstand with an adapter. Rowi makes a PC cord splitter that allows you to plug 2 flash PC cords into 1 camera PC socket. PC cord extensions(with a male PC on one end and a female PC on the other) to go from the flash to the camera are cheaper for outdoor daylight portraiture with flash fill than slaves. Indoors, flash can be bounced off a white ceiling, umbrella, white foamcore, etc. A tripod you probably already have. If you have the money for a medium format camera, I would reccomend one which can take a Polaroid back. I use my Hasselblad with Polaroid back to do tests for my 35mm camera.

I guess my list would be 2 flashes (like Vivitar 283), 4 lightstands, battery packs for flashes and modules, little adapters and things to mount flashes on stands, some diffusion to soften light, a big gym bag to carry all this stuff in, "A" clamps (from hardware store) to mount foamcore refectors to light stands. All that would probably cost already $800.00.

Add to that your meter and you have a total of around $1050.00. (These numbers are just my guess) I am assuming you already have a 35mm camera and a couple of lenses.

What you really need to do to start your business is get clients and a portfolio together. With your minimal gear listed above you can shoot friends, family, neigbors, etc., and get practice. I had my own darkroom and can still use a friends in a pinch; I find most people are willing to allow me to practice my portraiture skills if I promise them a nice 8x10 for their trouble. As you get satisfied customers, you can keep adding to the portfolio; just ask if you can keep a copy of a portrait as a sample; most people will be flattered.

There are other costs you will want to consider: business cards are very important. You will get a lot of business from personal referrals; if you can pass out a card saying who you are and what you do with a number people will start to call. I give out cards all the time; it is a cheap way to advertise yourself. I bought a rubber stamp with my name and phone number; every print gets stamped on the bottom corner on the back (hint: don't stamp in the image area (it may show through) and don't stack stamped prints till ink is dry). Even if they lose my card, they still know who took the picture and how to get in touch with me. I also stamp the envelope I put the pictures in for delivery. Some people have fancy matts with gold stamping, etc., too; those can be kind of expensive if you buy with your name custom imprinted.

Photo businesses and restaurants have a huge rate of failure; mostly because people love the craft of photography and cooking but they don't think ahead about initial costs vs. income over time or how they will find customers. There are a LOT of books on how to start a photo business; I think you will get more knowledge from part-timing your business at first and minimizing your initial investment, expanding your investment as you grow, or, better yet, consider assisting an established photographer for a while before you go off and start your own business.

T.K. Liechty , Nov 22, 1998; 09:59 p.m.

Darlene,

OK. I am a $2 man in a $5 world. Because of this I am also a MacGiver kind of guy. The following is how I built my studio. First I read everything I could find and filtered the most essential from it.

I aquired three flash units, no not studio but what you slide on to your camera. It's important to get the kind that have AC adapters. I shopped Pawn shops, second hand stores, swap meets and yard sales to aquire these units. I bought two of those little peanut slave units at under $5 each.

I bought two umberellas from a clearence store for $3 each and took them apart for patterns and got white sheets a sewed them together for white umbrellas (better if you can find white ones to begin with, hard in my area). I then did the same with black sheets to use as a removeable back for the umbrellas.

I had some aluminum tubing, inch and a half diameter, and I conected them to old office chair bottoms with the wheels for my stands.

I bought a second hand Wien WP1000 flash meter for $60 and a Yashica mat TLR for $35 at a swap meet. At the same meet I found a monopod that has fold out legs for my background light.

With this set up I have been able to learn much about lighting and I can do some pretty impressive photos. Most of all I am having fun and no serious out lay for equiptment. Little by little I can upgrade and get better equiptment to make the job easier.

So you can listen to everyone and still not know or you can jump in with both feet and have fun and learn something.

Brian C. Miller , Nov 23, 1998; 01:15 p.m.

Backgrounds: Use blankets and dyed drop cloths. There are backgrounds (Photek) in the shops which go for about $175. They have a velour surface and are painted on the other side. Those are blankets! They sell for $20-$50 at retail stores. Color selections, while limited, are adequate. Muslin drop cloths go for $15. Try an arcrylic paint on the blankets, and spot dye the drop cloths. Have fun being creative with the patterns. Hang them up with a curtain rod.

Flashes: I have found that my Vivitar 285 is OK for 9ft (stand to subject) at ISO 400 with an umbrella. The 285 is my only flash at the moment, and the next one will most likely be a Metz. Since your question was posted in MFD, I will presume that you are using a MF rig of some sort, so you'll be fine in this regard. The larger format will offset the grain of the faster film.

(If you don't have a MF camera, buy something and become familiar with it. Maybe start out with two Yashicas. If you can afford it, and its accessories, that's the one for you. Just buy the most recent model of whatever it is that you can afford, and use it. Nobody can tell the difference between camera models based on the prints you produce. Whenever I cropped my Pentax 6x7 prints square, everybody thought I had a Hasselblad.)

Umbrellas: I bought a 50-in. Photek umbrella for $60. The black fabric is removeable, and it comes with a white cover to additionally soften the flash. A stand cost $60, and swivel cost $20.

Reflectors: Car winshield reflectors come in silver and gold. Cover thick cardboard with aluminum foil and transparent white plastic for diffusion. Use foil-covered packing bubbles (it's sold as insulation at hardware stores) for portable, roll-up reflectors.

Flash accessories: A Lumiquest snoot cost $20, and Lumiquest ProMax system was $40 or so. Vivitar AC adapter was maybe $25. You can make the bounces and diffusers from cardboard, aluminum foil, and milk jugs if you like.

Posing stool: Wooden crate. Wooden stool. An old office stool. An adjustable chair without the back.

Props: Wood freight pallette. (Some places put out signs begging people to take these away.) Second-hand knick-knacks. Bottles. Book case with used books. Balls, balloons, cubes, newspaper, whatever strikes your fancy.

So there you go. Besides camera equipment, you will probably spend about $500 initially on flashes/umbrellas/stands/backgrounds if you buy it all new. Much less bought used or built yourself.

Tom Meyer , Nov 23, 1998; 06:46 p.m.

my vote is with stefans' recommendations. if you want to be a professional you do need to be able to look like one at the crucial moments. conduit pipe on office chairs could be quaint in some circles, but this is an image oriented business. and a vivitar 283 THROUGH an umbrella will give you 9 ft only if you use asa 800 film at 2.8 and don't mind really sharp edges to the shadows. you need a big light souce close to your subject to get soft-edged shadows.

listen to stefan.

T.K. Liechty , Nov 23, 1998; 07:57 p.m.

I feel I must respond to Mr. Meyer. Be fully assured that this is an imformational response and not an advisarial one.

Ms. Kimbrell used the term "begining" studio. To me begining doesn't imply full blown business. I could be wrong, I have been many times. However I can say that all the jobs I have done over the las 20 years the only impression that the client wants is what ends up on the film. Indeed most have no idea what is state of the art equiptment. After all low priced or high priced stands are in fact aluminum tubing.

My main flash is an old Honeywell 770 (that was included in the $35 Yashica camera) which bounced in the umbrella is f8 at 12 feet with ASA 100 film. The other two flash units are old Sears which I use for fill and background. The fill bounced is two stops under at 8 feet and the background is covered with a three stop ND filter to make it .5 stop over main.

I know that the impressional aspect of the business is with other photographers when involved in one-upmanship bull sessions. The client wouldn't come to you if he knew all about photograhpy equiptment.

Mine works for me and is a beginning in studio work. I fullly expect that it wouldn't be sutible for all. It is however an alternative to high intrest loans and time wasted waiting to save enough to start.

T.K. Liechty

Brian C. Miller , Nov 24, 1998; 09:13 a.m.

TK, it sounds like that Honeywell is one honey of a flash. My Vivitar 285 only gives me 9ft for f5.6 with ASA400 film, bounced by umbrella with silver insert in it and the soft liner over it.

When I was shopping for a flash, I wanted something camera mountable, so I settled for the 285 for about $125. There was nothing else as good at the used equipment shops.

I have recently started photographing coworkers and their kids at home. (Now that the holidays are coming up, it's amazing what people will do for a couple of free 8x10's) A 9ft range is minimum as far as I'm concerned, and so is the f5.6. So the Vivitar 285 is bottom line for me. It has a guide number of 120.

Darlene: You don't need the latest and greatest, just good reliable equipment. People can tell the difference between a Fifth Avenue photo salon and your converted garage or living room. They won't expect glitz and glamor, so you don't need to provide it. Just concentrate on producing the best portraits and images you can. Give the used stuff a coat of paint (not the camera :) and keep everything neat and tidy. People will talk to other people, and you will start to build a customer base.

Neil Cowley , Nov 11, 2001; 10:08 p.m.

Drop for a soft box: Response to Essentials

SAVE UP FOR A MONOLIGHT. Get at least a 500W monolight and make a diffustion screen until you can afford a softbox. I've used Tulle (a light screen type material - 80%transparent) Hung two sheets of it from the ceiling to floor (8' ceilding) and fired my 500W light off an umbrella into it. Don't get within 6-8 ft of it. Move your subject relative to the light, don't use a fill. Shoot away under gorgeous light with one setting, for my studio f5.6@125 iso100. Its simple, but powerful. Want to lower contrast. Point your TTL shoe flash at the cieling or behind you (don't create another catchlight). Make some kind of reflector and stand.

Definately get a real studio light though. The modeling lamp should be variable if you want it to grow with you. A 500W light will cost you under 500 dollars with the umbrella stand and case for travel.

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