Build a home studio for peanuts
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I was really happy to once again join 4Challenge, an intrepid group of cyclists that rode over 300 miles to raise over £20,000 for a local Sheffield hospital as their photographer. As part of an awareness campaign we shot a bunch of rider portraits at the start which could be used as part of a rider's presence on social media.
It was also the first outing for my ultra-portable studio kit. I think the pictures demonstrate that it's possible to achieve 'the studio look' without big studio budgets, and in a pretty small amount of space.
If you want to try to replicate the look and feel of some of these images, there are a couple of options. If you already have a simple kit with a simple flash gun or two then you are some of the way there already! There's only three items on your shopping list: You need something that can trigger the flash to burst when it is not connected to the camera, a way to hold the flash in place and an attachment called a modifier which causes the flash's light to illuminate the subject in the way that you want.
A trigger comes in multiple parts, one for the camera and one for the flash gun, or in a multi-light setup, one for each flash gun. Having one allows you to decouple the flash from the camera, meaning much more natural and flattering lighting for your subject. When buying a trigger, do look for one which allows you to connect it to an inexpensive hotshoe flash as well as a studio head in case you want to upgrade. You're also looking for one which will allow you to attach the trigger (and flash) to a standard lighting stand or tripod. This trigger from Neewer fits the bill and is my recommendation because it also comes with a variety of wired attachments that can connect you to different types of flash heads as well as standard 'hotshoe' flashes. Remember you will need Plenty of batteries.
To hold the flash in place you can use your standard tripod with the above trigger. If you don't have one, a Dedicated lighting stand is likely going to be less expensive than buying a tripod just for this use, and be more flexible - given a studio head is small and light, and doesn't need to withstand vibrations, a lighting stand can be taller and weigh less than a tripod.
As for a modifier, I suggest two for your small home studio: a diffusion softbox and a beauty dish.
If you only have one diffusion softbox, the general rule is 'the bigger the better'. The larger a softbox is the more gentle the result, so in the case of portraiture the larger the softbox the more like natural light the light becomes. There are dedicated flash gun diffusers sold but they are small and I recommend not to use them. The largest soft boxes are built for big studio flash heads so you would need an adapter such as this one which converts between the Bowens S ring and a small flash (the S ring is a bayonet attachment for studio flashes). You can then attach any studio softbox and this 80cm softbox should be the perfect trade off between room size and effect. When shooting, experiment with moving the light closer to and further away from your subject - but as a general rule, the shadows become more harsh as you move the flash and softbox further away from the subject.
The beauty dish is an excellent modifier for portraits. This modifier begs for experimentation but as a general rule it creates soft light with a lot of 'shape'. It's widely used to emphasize strong facial features and the tool which gives the classic 'cosmetic ad' look in beauty photography. You can make the light more directional and harsh by adding a honeycomb grid to the modifier. This beauty dish comes with a removable grid and will attach to the same Bowens ring adapter above so is perfect.
You now have the kit needed to shoot studio portraits on the go. This portrait was shot in a normal living room with only a single speedlite flashgun and softbox, mounted on a tripod, and positioned to the left of the model:
If you want to extend your simple kit there are a couple of extra recommended items for the kit list - a background and more powerful lights (flash heads).
Working with portable flashes can be frustrating. There are drawbacks to shooting with them - long recycle times (the time it takes for the flash to be ready to fire again), little control over how bright the light will flash, and the relatively small amount of flight generated by each flash. If you shoot regularly you will want to look at more powerful studio heads. The Godox QS line is a bit of an investment with their 600W Studio Light priced at a little over £200, but it's an excellent unit for regular use and very few other options can approach the QS line for quality at this price. For smaller studios or fill in flash, there's a 300W version coming in at about £130. Since you bought the S-ring modifiers to use with speedlights you don't need to replace them, and the trigger mentioned previously can also drive these lights with the large jack (like a headphone socket) adapter.
Lastly, a background is a great way to make use of smaller spaces. Paper or Vinyl backgrounds are suitable - paper makes less 'shiny' reflections but vinyl is more durable. I would recommend you use a grey background if you only buy one, such as this vinyl one since you can make them white (by overexposing them) or very dark (by underexposing them) - or a different colour altogether (by lighting them with a flash that has a colour gel in front of it). The blue background in this shot was produced with the grey vinyl background linked to from this article :