Guide to Portrait Photography, Step Two: How to Build a Home Photo Studio

If you are serious about doing portraits, you need a home photo studio.

Building a dedicated photo studio in your home can be as complex or as simple as you make it.  Assuming--ok, ok, I know that assuming can get all of us into a lot of trouble--but I’m going to assume that you have a room that can be used as a studio. Studio construction depends to a great degree on what type of photography you will be doing in your studio, but there are some guidelines that apply to every studio and I will cover those in this article.

To begin with, you will need a room that is at least 16 to 18 feet long, the reason for that being that you need a minimum distance of 12 feet between you and your subject if you plan to shoot portraits in your studio. The second requirement for the room you choose is that it must have a minimum width equal to half its length. A 10 X 20-foot room makes an ideal small home studio. Preferably, the room should have a high ceiling to provide soft, even lighting. If you have a newer home, you will probably have an eight or nine foot ceiling, not ideal but we will be able to work with it. The shape of the room is important; try for a room with a simple rectangular shape.

If you are handy with tools and are comfortable doing home remodeling, all the better. If you aren’t, you will have two options; hire professionals or find a friend who is a DIY-er. For an ideal photo studio, you want a room as free of protrusions as possible. If there’s a fireplace, you will need to remove it. You need to remove the baseboards. If your "better-half" objects to you removing the fireplace, baseboards, etc, you can work around these obstacles--but removing them makes setting up your studio for a shoot go a lot smoother and a lot faster. No matter what, you will want to repaint the room’s walls and ceiling using a washable, flat, white paint.

Photo studios consume a lot of electrical energy. Ideally, you will be able to have a 60-Ampere sub-panel installed in the studio. If that’s not possible, you should have at least three 20A branch circuits run from the main breaker panel to the studio. One for a window A/C unit and two to feed the receptacles used for the studio lights. You will need plenty of receptacles on each wall. For a small studio, five or six duplex receptacles on each side wall will suffice. Each of the two 20A receptacle circuits should feed three of the duplex receptacles on each wall to make splitting up the lighting load easier.

Studio lighting, especially continuous studio lighting, generates a great deal of heat that becomes uncomfortable for your subject very quickly. Install a window A/C unit with enough BTUs to handle the heat generated. A good idea is to double the BTUs recommended for a room of that size.

Continuous lighting equipment, photofloods, is the least expensive so if you are operating on a tight budget, that’s the way to go.


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