Recently, I had the unique opportunity to build a small photography studio in an unused garage, with my now studio partner. For the last while now, I’ve been renting studios, and I had forgotten some of the little things when it came to owning a studio for personal use. Atop of the high expenses of having a studio and getting it outfitted with lights, modifiers and other pieces of gear, there are a lot of little things that you never think of until you need it. So through my “whoops” moments of not having what I need when I need it, here is a list of pieces of gear you should have for your shooting space, which cost less than $25.
The most visible piece of gear on this list is gaff tape. For those who are thinking “Wait, what’s gafferx tape?” Think of it all of the power of Duct Tape, without leaving a sticky residue. Popularized in many film sets, gaff tape has become the industry standard for quickly taping things down (such as cables), without having to worry about creating a mess later.
Recommendations: Not all Gaff Tape is created equal, and some work better than others. My current favorite is a simple black gaffer tape from Savage Universal, available for $17 for 55 yards.
If you’ve ever seen the BTS of a professional fashion shoot from Vogue or GQ, you may have seen that the backs of clothes are often lined with clothes pins. While it’d be nice to have all clothes fit your clients and subjects like a glove, that’s not usually the case, and clothes pins can always make for a failsafe way to tuck clothes and keeping it looking natural.
Super Short Light Stand
Often when we’re buying light stands and C-Stands, we opt for the 12’ or taller ones, because why not? However, the downside of having large light stands is that they do a terrible job getting close to the ground. A boom arm on a light stand or C-Stand can correct this problem, but sometimes it’s just easier to find a small light stand to do the job that you never thought you’d need. Having a super short light stand is more valuable than you might think, and often forgotten.
Recommendations: 3′ Impact 2 Section Lightstand
I’m often surprised with how many people who have never heard of cinefoil, when it has been a key component in my studio for years. Essentially, Cinefoil is essentially aluminum foil that is matte black and has a lot of really fantastic uses in a photography studio. Need a snoot? Just quickly make one with some Cinefoil. Need to create a flag to stop the bouncing of light off of a white wall? Cinefoil. Need to turn your 36”x12” softbox into a 12”x12” softbox, Cinefoil can even do that. Heck, even in my studio, I used it to black out a pesky window.
Recommendations: Roscoe Matte Black Cinefoil 12″x 50′
Black Cards & White Cards
Black Cards are nothing more than just large sheets of black or white paper, typically found at hobby shops. Using these cards, you’re able to quickly make bounces of small flags to help shape the light while in the studio. These cost no more than $12 for a pack of three of foam board (recommended for its sturdiness), and will have a million of uses to help shape light.
In the example above, I literally just blocked out a light with a black flag, and then cut a tiny slit in it, to give an incredibly narrow beam of light across his face.
Recommendations: Elmers Foam Board
Pretty self-explanatory, though you never can seem to find your scissors when you need them. Scissors are an absolute necessity when you need to remove stray fiber from clothes, or need to quickly create some light shapers using cinefoil or paper.
Boom Arm Pivot Joint
This is one thing I always forget that I have, but when I rediscover it, I find a million different uses for it. At only about $10, these little brackets have a lot of practical use. Most notably, I use them for reflector arms rather than for a boom set up. By attaching them to a light stand holding your key light, you’re able to get gorgeous clamshell lighting, without using more than a single light stand, giving you a mobile solution, that you can use instudio and on location.
6” A Clamps
6” clamps have an incredible amount of uses in the studio, from holding black/white cards to various mounting options, to working as a light stand themselves. A tip I discovered a few years ago, is that most A Clamps also have a small hole in the handle, under the rubber piece, allowing you to effectively mount a spigot pin, and attach a variety of lighting gear to it. That said, sizes vary, and sometimes it’s just easier to drill a slightly larger hole into the unit to ensure nothing will fall off.
Allen Wrenches / Hex Keys
Most light stands and tripods are held together using small fasteners that are adjustable using an allen wrench or hex key. You can expect these joints to be tight and without much give, but the moment that pin loosens, you can expect the gear to immediately become frustrating and borderline unusable. The fix is simple but is often ignored and left to many weeks of frustration if not taken care of at the time. I try to keep a set of hex keys in my storage locker, to make sure if my C-Stand or Tripod starts losing its tension, I can fix it immediately and move on.
While sandbags are more often attributed for outdoor lighting, since you have Earth’s elements to deal with, but sandbags serve a huge purpose in the studio as well. For one, if you’re using C-Stands, with a grip arm attached, it’s easily for the system to get off balanced, and tip over. Having a few sandbags in the studio will help secure everything in place, and reduce the risk of an expensive or dangerous error because someone tripped over a cable.
This is just the list of products I’ve found that I need upon building my personal photography studio. Obviously, there are a million different things that are unmentioned and certainly, have their place in the studio. If you have additional suggestions as to what all photography studios should have that are inexpensive, feel free to list them in the comments below.