A few years back I started researching and putting together a photography studio equipment list, I needed to get a simple little photography studio off the ground to shoot some fashion work. Surprisingly, and this probably entirely depends on what you plan to shoot and expect from your studio, but I was able to get it done quite cheaply.
In hindsight, I wish I had just bought this kit. As it provides all the equipment a beginner needs to get started with a studio photography set up. Instead, I ventured out onto my own with softboxes, muslins of different colors and learnt about wobbly backdrop stands.
Now I don’t proclaim to be a professional studio photographer by any means, but if you’re looking to get started in setting up a small studio and practise working with lights, models and backdrops then this is a great place to start.
It pays to think long and hard about this one because getting a collection of them can take up quite a chunk of your budget. Think of all the photography scenarios that you will be doing in your studio and what color will suit the results you need.
I opted for a black muslin backdrop and have found that it was great at isolating the model and products, but it was also made the shots too dramatic. I probably would have done better with a white backdrop.
To decide what you’d like, take a look at a few studio photos and pay attention to the backdrop they are using and the color they have.
There’s a few options when it comes to the type of backdrop you can get:
- Seamless Paper
- Other (Cotton, Velvet, Vinyl etc)
Muslin is a very versatile, lightweight photography backdrop that is popularly used for portrait photography (see above). It does not wrinkle as easily as other types of photography backdrops. Because of this and its ease of transport, it’s a very popular backdrop when shooting outside of your studio.
Muslin can come in a wide range of sizes like most other backdrops, ranging from 8ft x 5ft to 30ft x 30ft. These costs between these can vary widely from dirt cheap to prohibitively expensive. On the smaller side you’re probably looking at paying around $20 and at the larger end, it’s probably going to set you back over $2000 for a top of the line large muslin photography backdrop.
Muslin is my first recommendation for a beginner looking to set up their first photography studio – I’ve had a great experience with mine. It’s easily accessible, comes in a range of colors and patterns and is easy to work with.
These are the results I got with this cheap black muslin backdrop.
Canvas photography backdrops were once the bread and butter of studio photography. They are durable and high-quality, offering fantastic details. This is particularly where their strengths lie – photographers mostly use them now when some kind of detailed pattern is involved. However, they have been overlooked in recent years due to their cost and weight as compared to muslin as a backdrop.
However, they have been overlooked in recent years due to their cost and weight as compared to muslin as a backdrop. Many photographers now preferring to opt for a muslin solution to a canvas one.
Seamless paper is often the preferred backdrop of your higher quality fashion studio photography outfits. It offers a crisp, flat color profile for the background with lesser chances of wrinkling or creasing as compared to muslin or canvas.
It’s an affordable option with prices starting at around $30 for a roll of 12 yards x 107 inches. The one caveat with using seamless paper as a photography backdrop is that it must be treated with due care. Remember it is still paper, and paper can be torn and punctured if not looked after correctly. It’s for this reason that seamless paper does not make a good backdrop if you plan on working with a portable studio. Keep it at home.
There’s plenty of other options when it comes to which photography backdrop you should get. Cotton, vinyl and velvet are some of the more common varieties. Vinyl is a good choice and a popular option among professional studio photographers as they are heavy duty and easily washable meaning you’re going to be able to use the same backdrop for almost your entire career.
Size Of Your Backdrop
Pay attention to the dimensions of the backdrop before purchasing. What kind of photography do you expect to do in your studio? Is it portrait shoulders and above? Then you could easily do this with a 10ft x 10ft backdrop.
Is it portrait shoulders and above? Then you could easily do this with a 10ft x 10ft backdrop.
If it’s the whole body then a 10ft x 20ft is probably the minimum you would want.
I have been using the 10ft x 20ft backdrop and this works well for whole body fashion shots, it can seem a little small at times, but it’s manageable.
You’re going to need a support structure in order to hold up your backdrop. These can range from thousands of dollars for high-end products, but for the entry level buyer, something like this one is cheap, portable, lightweight and easily gets the job done.
A fully professional photography studio outfit probably has more lights than you can count on your fingers. If you’re just getting started I think that’s a little bit of overkill. If you want to keep a cap on your spending then the option really comes down to getting some entry level softbox lights or umbrella lights. Do prioritize spending on your lights though, as these are a crucial item on your photography studio equipment list.
When using lighting in a studio it’s important to think of it in terms of it’s four significant characteristics:
Each light modification device has its own advantages and disadvantages, but I’ll just cover the softbox and umbrella for now.
Softbox lighting modification uses as the name suggests ‘soft’ light similar to that which might flow in through a window in the afternoon. Softboxes are useful in that they provide you with more directional control over the light. The light is pointed toward the subject and transmitted through a diffuser panel which creates the soft effect.
While they provide more control over the lighting they can also be more challenging for beginners to use as they require a degree of understanding of how to control light.
If you’re brand new to lighting then using a reflective umbrella is probably a smart option.
Umbrella lights are perhaps the most popular choice for studio photography lighting. They are no frills to set up, highly portable and easy to use making them a great choice for someone beginning in studio photography equipment. There are two types of umbrella lights used in studio photography: shoot through and reflective.
These are similar to softboxes in the sense that you point the light in the direction of your subject and the light is transmitted through a diffuser which spreads the light. However, they provide less directional control of the light compared to softboxes as the light is spread over a much larger area.
These are slightly easier to control compared to the reflective umbrella lights and produce a very broad and soft lighting. They give you a greater ‘wrap around’ of light on your subject and are usually used in much closer proximity to your subject as they are associated with some degree of light spill.
The shoot through umbrella lights shown above is one of the best-sellers on the market and a great price for entry level buyers.
Reflective umbrellas shoot the light into a reflective material that is then bounced back in the direction of your subject. These are associated with less light loss and can be a little more difficult to set up for beginners.
Their main advantage is when photographing a large space or a large group of people, in this scenario you wouldn’t be able to get a shoot through umbrella close enough to provide enough lighting. A reflective umbrella, on the other hand, would be able to provide the lighting in such an example.
You’re going to need extension leads that supply power from the wall socket to your lights. It would probably be wise to invest in a power strip as well that won’t limit you to how many power sockets you have on the wall.
If you’re buying everything from scratch it’s worth looking to get it all in one kit. You’ll save a lot of cash this way to put towards your glass.
To sum up there are a few basic things you’ll need to jot down on your photography studio equipment list:
- It’s recommended to go for a muslin backdrop 10ft x 10ft minimum or 10ft x 20ft if you intend to go for full body shots
- Backdrop support equipment – get something with half decent reviews
- Lighting – shoot through umbrella lighting is a great place to start for beginners or go softbox lighting if you want more control and are confident with arranging lights.
- Cables and power strips to run the lights and charge batteries
- A model
- Some studio space
Then you’re good to go! Get out there with your photography studio equipment list and start collecting the gear you’ll need or just order it all in a kit.
I’ve been photographing for 13 years and have a penchant for 35mm and medium format film. Black and white street photography is my go-to. My work has been featured in online and print media through a few publications like Shutterstock, Brooklyn Resource Mag, Off The Rails and Collective Quarterly.