Having a dedicated studio space at home is a luxury, even if it just a corner of a room with a white wall. However, having a space at home allows you to be creative whenever inspiration strikes. For me, that space is my converted garage studio. It only measures 6.5m x 3m, but with some careful design decisions I am able to make the most of that space and shoot most of my portraits just as I would in my full-size studio.
Despite my relatively small space I am still able to use my Sony Alpha 7R III or Alpha 7R IV cameras with my favourite FE 85mm f/1.4 GM lens to shoot the vast majority of my portraits. I also have the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens just in case I do need to shoot slightly wider due to the space.
Making the most of small space
There were many small decisions to be made, each designed to make an efficient and comfortable place to work. Most importantly we had to manage the light in the space and how it would work. Our garden is south facing, so light comes in through a window in the garage most of the day, but we added another window to really make the most of it.
With space being a premium the main lights are mounted on two wall boom arms. I also set up my Sony Alpha 7R IV to shoot wireless flash, which allows the camera to work seamlessly with my remote flash system. I use the Profoto B10 lights, as they are small and can be battery operated or mains powered, so are easy to work with.
The boom arms make a huge difference as they are so flexible when it comes to positioning them. One arm is actually mounted a little further forward than the other, which means that when it is fully extended it can be behind the subject as a rim light or backlight. Then the other arm can go the opposite way as the main key light. Occasionally we will still use a light on a stand if we need to, but the boom arms just give us that height and movement, without taking up any floorspace.
All of the backgrounds are hung as high as possible, and they can be rolled up out the way when not in use. Again, this means there are no background stands taking up valuable floor space.
Getting the best from my subjects
I like to move around and work as freely as possible within my studio space. I love to use Eye AF on my Sony Alpha 7R III as it allows me the freedom to compose and move, knowing that the subject’s eyes will always be sharp. I hate being tied up with tripods, flash cables, power leads or tether cables.
I really recommend having some grids for your lights. You can get them for reflectors or the front of softboxes and they will really help control where the light hits. Lighting gels are also useful to transform the colour of a background - I use the Profoto OCF filter kit as they work with Profoto B1 and B10 flash heads.
With white walls you need some kind of ‘black fill’ to block out light bouncing off the walls. You can use something like a collapsible pop-up black background or V-Flat painted black. Whatever you use it will really help you to shape the light when you are working in a smaller home space.
My final tip is that you don’t need a lot of lights. With two flash heads you can shoot a crazy amount of different portrait genres and get some great shots. That said, it does come down to what you are shooting: some of my favourite shots are taken just with one light.
"There is a moment when taking a portrait that the connection is made and the subject lets you in. That’s the moment you take the shot that documents who they are, whoever they may be"