The Quick Beginner’s Guide to Using A Photo Studio

At some stage in their career, every photographer will have need and use for a photo studio. It is the place where the photographer has almost total control of what is being photographed. Some are intimidated by the studio. This posting is for those photographers and by the end of it, you’ll probably understand and love the studio more.

Lighting is Key

Here are the basic rules:

– The larger the lightsource in relation to the subject or the closer it is, the softer the light will be. This is why bouncing light off of something also makes it softer.

– The narrower (smaller) the lightsource is in relation to the subject or the further it is from the subject, the harsher the light will be.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for catching the mistake, Sander.

So what is hard and soft light? Hard light can be used to photograph textures in objects or to show the rolling contours of a landscape. Using soft light, however, would leave the photograph looking flat and uninteresting, but for portrait photography, soft light is, more often than not, the ultimate goal. As a point of reference, products would generally look great with hard light, while a beautiful female would best be shot with soft light. Also be sure to figure out what color light you are using. Cooler light is better for products, warmer light is best with skin tones.

Because of the fully controlled environment, users can also shoot whenever they want and recreate any scene they prefer.

I use Empire State Studio in midtown Manhattan. They’re great and very affordable. If you want to book a session with them, email them at and PLEASE tell them that Chris Gampat sent you.

In the image above, there is a black background on the right and there are three lights—one of which isn’t very visible but is essentially just another strobe being fired into an umbrella.

These were all used to shoot the image above. Notice how the shades were closed to block off any natural light from coming in. The reason for this is because I was trained in the old school of cinematography and photography. What does that mean? It means that you shut off all lightsources and add one light at a time until you get the desired results. I’ve done shoots like this often enough to know what to do by now though.

If you’d like to see some results from an external flash with a clear Gary Fong Lightsphere Collapsibe, you can go here.

Notice how large the octobox is? Since it is that large, it gives off a softer light. And since the strobes are being bounced off the umbrellas, they do the same as well. Part of all this, obviously, is controlling your shutter speed and aperture to create the image that you want. For beginners, this will take some keen observation and trial and error. For more advanced users, they’ll be able to nail it one one or two shots.

As a rule of thumb, always try to shoot at your lowest ISO setting.

Backgrounds and Subjects

Here’s rule #1: never put your subject directly against the background. The reason for this is because when you’re shooting, you need to be able to separate your subject from the background using depth of field. As a general rule, try to keep your subject 6 feet away from the background, if that isn’t possible, manipulate the studio to work for you. This means moving the subject three feet away from the background with you moving back more, shooting wider, etc. More on this in the problem solving section of the article.

We’ve got a number of resources on this:

Quick Tips for Studio/Location Headshot Photography

The Best Budget Lenses

Tips for Shooting Headshots and Social Networking Portraits

Learner’s Tips for Shooting Great Portraits

Some other tips:

– Always make your subject comfortable and try to get them into the exact mindsets that you’d like. This can mean cracking a joke or two and using the studio’s audio system to play music. This would be a good place to say that one should always thank the studio manager/owner.

– Always overequip yourself. You never know what will go wrong on set.

– Always be aware of your surroundings. This can surely include cables and couches. If allowed, try to tape down cables.

Problem Solving

Running equipment checks before you leave home and before you begin the shoot is absolutely essential to any photo shoot. Some problems I’ve encountered are:

– A dirty sensor. The workaround was some extra photoshopping and working to ensure that they didn’t appear in the first place.

– Shutter dial not working on my 5D Mk II. Thankfully, I had the vertical grip on the camera and that dial was working. I just had to change the way I was using the camera a bit.

Loads of problems can happen on a studio set though and it will be up to you and your technicians to work through them. Strobes and lights may die which may require more photoshopping or bouncing lights off of different areas.

Also, double check with the studio manager beforehand to ensure that all the equipment is up and working correctly before the shoot and also check in with the client and manager to ensure that the gig is still on.

– Always be creative with your problem solving.

Please Support the Phoblographer

We love to bring you guys the latest and greatest news and gear related stuff. However, we can’t keep doing that unless we have your continued support. If you would like to purchase any of the items mentioned, please do so by clicking our links first and then purchasing the items as we then get a small portion of the sale to help run the website.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.