How to set up a small photography studio

How to set up a small photography studio

Shooting in a small studio can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. There are a number of things you can do to make working in limited space easier and more effective, which is what I recently showed when I set up a small studio for a friend’s business.

I recently helped out a friend who wanted to start photographing his own products for his company, but he faced two main challenges: he didn’t know anything about photography and he didn’t have a lot of space.

After giving him a crash course in photography I offered him advice on how best to set up a small studio for his business. The company had a small room adjacent to their main office, which I knew they’d be able to use for their photographs. Their aim was to photograph bottles of wine on a white background for use on their website. These images were to be used as both single images and group shots so it was important that each image had the same lighting and was in the exact same position.

Before we started photographing, I advised them to paint the walls of the space white and the ceiling black. This minimised the amount of light bouncing off the ceiling but didn’t black out the entire room.

I also sent them a list of recommended equipment that they would need. This included:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Laptop
  • Flash trigger
  • Tethering cable
  • Four lights
  • Modifiers (2x standard reflectors, 2x softboxes)
  • Lighting stands
  • C-stand
  • Roll of diffusion material

With everything ready, I was then able to set up their studio. Keeping in mind that they had little photographic knowledge but needed every bottle to look the same, I had to find a balance when it came to the lighting — something that would look good but wouldn’t need any adjustment. This was tricky as they had red wines, white wines, different sized bottles and varied labels — everything was different.

The set up

I started with the background lights, which were two lights with standard reflectors. These were placed parallel to the back wall and turned inwards to create the white background. The power settings on these two lights had to be exactly the same to achieve that pure white background they wanted for their images.

Once I was happy with that I focussed on lighting the product. For this I used two softboxes pointed directly at the bottle to create a strip of light down the side. Because the light was then exactly the same on either side (which didn’t look very nice) I placed a roll of diffusion paper in front of the one. This softened the light and created a lovely soft, even highlight on the one side.

In the video below I show you a similar principle to what is explained above, but while photographing a bottle with clear liquid.

    Once the lighting was finalised I made sure to mark where everything went. This meant that even if someone came in and knocked a lighting stand or the camera, they would easily be able to correct everything and return it to the exact same position. I also made a mark on the table to show where the bottles should be placed. This also saved time when it came to removing and replacing bottles as it was easy to see exactly where the bottle should go.

    The layout of the studio and placement of the lights, camera and bottles is shown in the diagram below.

      Portrait by Tom Oldham

      By creating a small, simple studio setup the company’s product images have improved dramatically. They’re now able to easily to photograph their hundreds of bottles of wines quickly and efficiently, and achieve great results (which you can see below):

        Wine bottle product photo
        Wine bottle product photo
        Wine bottle product photo
        Wine bottle product photo
        Wine bottle product photo
        Wine bottle product photo

        Photos taken by

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        1. Thanks Karl, this is going to help me so much as I have been trying to set up a space in my small home base office/ studio. Now the fun begins, hubby won’t be happy, but I will.

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