Setting Up a Home Studio for Portraiture

You don’t need to rent a warehouse to practice portrait photography. In fact, you can produce stunning effects in your own home. All you need is a bit of space and a trip to the hardware store.

Finding Space for your Home Studio

Most portraits involve the use of depth of field to accentuate the subject and separate them from the background. In order to have enough separation between the background and the subject, you need to have enough space to work with. In particular, you need enough room to provide 5 or 6 feet between the subject and the background. In addition, you will need enough room to stand at a comfortable distance from the subject. This distance depends on the scene and the lens, but for a typical head shot, you would need at least 7 feet between your camera and the subject. This adds up to a minimum of 15 feet for you home studio depth.

A typical home studioWhen considering the width of your home studio space, you will need to provide for your lighting equipment to be out of the frame of the photo and far enough from the subject to provide for the proper amount of light. This depends on the type of lighting equipment you are using. Generally, you should be able to do a lot with a space that is at least 10 feet wide.

Typically, you will want an area with neutral colored walls and no windows. If there are windows, you could block them or simply wait for nightfall.


Now that you have found a space for setting up, you can begin to plan your sitting area. The most important aspect of this is to have a way to hang your backgrounds behind the seating area. There are several alternatives for doing this. Some have constructed or purchased a background stand. If you do not have a way to attach your background material to the wall or ceiling, this may be necessary. A simpler solution might be to mount hooks on the wall that will support a wooden or metal rod. Once this is hung, you can clamp material to the rod with common A clamps found at the hardware store. This setup also offers the convenience of removing the entire setup after each session. If you are building your studio in a garage or basement, you may have open ceilings which allow for clamping materials to ceiling joists. Finally, the least intrusive option would be to set up in an area of your home which already has attractive furniture or trim that can be used as the background for your photo. This is a bit trickier and limits you to a particular style of photo. Many people have been very successful at simply having their subject lean against a wall or door opening and being creative with depth of field. If you do hang background materials, they can be hand painted muslin, or simple pieces of fabric store remnants that provide the color and texture you want for your photo.

Furniture and Props

The next consideration for the home studio is props and furniture. Depending on the goal of the session, you may find some quite ordinary household furniture to be quite effective in a portrait as a prop. For example, a wooden chair turned backwards can be used in a powerful pose. You may own a couch that has a particular color or texture that lends itself very well to a certain mood. For a clean, simple look, a kitchen stool can be a great seat for your subject since it has not armrests or seatbacks to get into the frame of the photo. All of these things are wonderful additions to any home studio.

Now that you have prepared your sitting area, you will begin placing your lighting equipment. Though the actual equipment is outside of the scope of this tutorial, there are some details to consider when you choose your location. For example, be sure that there are plenty of electrical outlets nearby (particularly if you are using moonlights or hot lights). Another handy item is a mirror for checking makeup and clothing. Finally, it’s always a good idea to have gaffer’s tape and extra clamps handy.

Now you’re on your way to some great photography experiments. To get more ideas for creative home studio lighting or ways to build your own homemade lighting equipment, be sure to check out other areas of

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