Let’s face it: the thought of taking an existing space and converting it into a studio can be daunting to say the least! As a newborn photographer, a studio is an absolute necessity. But creating the studio without spending a fortune (I’m talking gagillions of dollars here…gagillions) led me on a path that had very little instruction, so I had to blaze my own trail, getting creative along the way!
A Little Background
Hi! I’m Elizabeth. Owner of Elizabeth Moore Photography based out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I married my wonderful husband last year and had to uproot, re-locate, and re-brand my business. As many of you photographers who have gone through this know, this can be a business killer!
Moving to a new area outside of my old reach was tough. I’d be lying if I said it was a smooth transition. However, one amazing moment led to another once I started working on converting a spare bedroom into my studio. As a newly married couple, money was tight, so everything purchased had to go a LONG way.
The spare room started as a pretty standard 10 x 12 – white walls, two windows, and carpet (which led to a problem, more on the carpet later). My studio had to have different flooring choices, numerous backdrops that were able to be quickly and easily changed out, and the studio had to be able to accommodate a lighting system. How the HECK am I going to do all of this in 120 sq. feet!?
Cue my husband, who has an engineer brain, who figured out inexpensive work-around tactics that actually work BETTER than the expensive stuff!
This will probably be the most expensive single purchase in your studio. I knew I needed at least three lights: an overhead, and two fill lights on 45-degree angles. There are a million options out there for this kind of “kit”, but I have tried and tested about a half dozen of them until I found the one that blended quality with value the best: The CowboyStudio 2275 Watt lighting kit.
If you’re looking for a lighting kit that that can be transported all over God’s creation, then this kit is probably NOT for you (I haven’t had any issues in my studio, but the kit may not survive being moved around constantly), but for a permanent starting studio these are just good enough! The option to turn on each individual bulb on the fill lights is awesome, and gives you customizable light for your situation!
Here’s my two hacks:
- For the overhead light, you need counter-weight to go in the bags. I use 4 cans of the on-sale soup from the grocery store…cheap and heavy.
- Go purchase fluorescent bulbs with color temperatures between 3500-5000k for that natural “soft daylight” look. The 5500k bulbs the kit comes with put out too sterile of light for me, but everyone is different!
Lets break down the lighting cost:
- Lighting Kit — $230.00
- Soup Cans Counterweights – 4 for $1.00
- Replacement bulbs – 10 @ $8.00 a piece.
- Total: About $310.00
I specialize in photographing newborns, toddlers, and older children. Because of this, I have extremely limited time to be changing out backdrops and need to be able to do it quickly and easily. Luckily, there’s an inexpensive solution for this, also from Cowboy Studio: Three-roller wall mounting backdrop support system.
Side note: Fotodiox also has an almost exact system, which you can find on Amazon. However, I can’t speak for its quality, as I haven’t used it!
The little plastic chains are surprisingly easy to use, and work pretty well, even with heavy backdrops! Also, DO NOT forget to use large wall anchor screws to mount the backdrop system. No one needs embarrassment with a client, or worse: a lawsuit, because of a mounting system that pulls out of the drywall and falls.
Simply mount the two ends of the wall mount system a little farther distance apart as your largest backdrop’s width. If your largest backdrop is 6 feet wide, set the distance between mounts to be 6.5 feet apart. If you might be expanding to larger backdrops later on, make sure to keep that in mind when you mount the system, as it’s FAR easier to easier to accommodate smaller backdrops than larger ones in the future.
Speaking of the backdrop system, you also need to figure out how to hang your backdrops! This is where the crafty part comes in! The manual for the mounting system suggests using PVC or aluminum tubes as the cross bars to support the weight. I HIGHLY recommend PVC tubes. Luckily, I did the trial-and-error already, so you don’t have to!
PVC dimensions: 2” diameter Charlotte Pipe from any hardware store . Usually these come in 10ft. long segments, which you will need a handsaw or power tool to cut to the proper length. If you can find a store that will charge you by the foot, you will save some money. I had to buy one pipe for each backdrop, since my cut size was 6 feet in length (which meant 4’ of pipe was discarded).
How to mount the backdrops you ask? Simple! I used carpet tape from any hardware store. Both sides of the tape are sticky, with powerful adhesive, so you can hang anything from heavy vinyl to light paper backdrops without worrying about it peeling off. I found that using two strips of the carpet tape next to each other gives the best hold.
With this set-up, you can literally use anything as a backdrop. Wallpaper, construction paper, fabric, vinyl, muslin, and even carpet! You can find rolls of paper at local craft stores (great for seamless wall to floor backdrops). I just rolled the paper off the cardboard tube it comes with and onto the PVC tube! Also, vinyl is actually much cheaper in craft stores than it is online.
We ran into a snag while using the paper and fabric backdrops. How can you keep the material weighted down to prevent curling or wrinkling of the material? The answer came with steel rods! You can pick up these at hardware stores…just find the proper weight and length to match your material. Fold up the bottom couple inches of whatever material you’re using, use carpet tape to adhere it and create a “pocket” for the rod to slide in, and BOOM you’re done. You now have a weighted bottom to your backdrop to ensure little/no wrinkling, no curling, and a smooth roll-up and roll-down of the material!
Lets break down the backdrop system cost:
- Mounting System — $60.00
- Wall Anchors & Screws — $5.00
- PVC supports — $7.00 each
- Carpet tape roll — $9.00 each
- Backdrops – Varying costs (Vinyl was $20.00 for 2 yards each with coupon)
- Total: $100 + depending on amount of backdrops
Originally, I thought that this part of the studio project would be the most expensive. My old studio had beautiful wood floors, which were awesome for shoots. Unfortunately, my new space had carpet, and I mean bottom-of-the-barrel-cheap type of stuff. I thought I was going to have to purchase wood flooring and put it together piece-by-piece, but luckily my hubby found an amazing solution!
Remember vinyl flooring? That stuff that a few years ago looked so unbelievably hideous, and you would probably only use it for a mudroom or for the flooring of a camping trailer? Well, what used to be ugly has done some growing up! Vinyl nowadays comes in such a variety that you can find exactly what you want, even wood floor imitators…and it actually looks like REAL wood!
My husband went to the local discount flooring warehouse and snatched up some clearance items that had already been cut down from the full-size. Because of this, I was able to get 4 different 6 foot wide sheets of “wood” vinyl for less than 100 bucks! After cutting the sheets of vinyl to size, I actually had enough leftover to make a few backdrops too, one of which is long enough to be a seamless backdrop.
One problem with carpet underneath: when someone steps on the vinyl, the carpet pushes down, which gives a “sunken” look up on top. Solution: Plywood squares! We found these great connecting squares of plywood that have traction bottoms. You can buy just enough to fit the size of your space, and they’re cheap!
With this set-up, I can quickly and easily interchange flooring options for all of my clients. They can request one or two different flooring choices, and I just have those two options laying on top of each other!
Lets break down the flooring Cost:
- 4 discount vinyl floors — $95.00
- 2×2 Plywood connecting flooring squares – 9 @ $6.00 each (makes 6×6 foot square)
- Total: $150 with four flooring options
- BONUS: Baseboard Molding Hack:
My shooting style includes a bit of seamless backdrops and also ones with flooring/backdrop combos. I wanted baseboard moldings to imitate a real wall. Obviously, you have to fake this with no actual wall since you’re using a hanging backdrop.
The solution was pretty…interesting. But it was definitely a cool fix! Once you buy your baseboards and cut them to length, you’ll need to attach an L-bracket to each end of the baseboard with superglue (for maximum hold). The baseboard will want to tip forward at this point because of the top heaviness. To fix this you need to add counter-weights. My husband’s ingenious cheap solution?
Steel nuts! You can buy these for virtually nothing at any hardware store. Just superglue and stack them as high as you need to counter the weight of the baseboard. Once you’re done, you should have a freestanding baseboard that can just push up against the backdrop, imitating a real wall!
lets break the Baseboard Cost (though this is not mandatory and is definitely my style):
- 2 baseboards — $20.00
- Bag of L-brackets — $5.00
- Bag of 25 Nuts — $5.00
- Total: $30.00
As a photographer who specializes in newborns and children, I’ve accumulated ROOMS of props. Yes, I’m using rooms as a unit of measurement!
You can spend a fortune on buying props specifically made for photographers. Or, you can save a fortune by visiting local garage sales, antique outlets, and flea markets. For example, I found this absolutely stunning used saddle for about 10 bucks at an antique flea market. It took about 20 minutes (and a whole roll of paper towels) to clean it up, but it was totally worth it!
Also, many newborn photographers will splurge on a legitimate baby poser beanbags. These are specifically designed to help bring the best out of your shots! I recently purchased one of these myself as my business has grown, but did you know you can accomplish almost the same thing for a fraction of the cost?
Meet the Wal-Mart beanbag. For those of you outside of the US, Wal-Mart is this magical place where you can find any product you can imagine, for cheap. This includes beanbag furniture, where you can pick up a small beanbag chair for less than 20 bucks.
When the beanbag arrives, you will need to add more “fluff”, so I bought an extra bag of beans, which gave me the perfect firmness I needed! A couple of microphone stands I picked up at a flea market, a curtain rod between the two, and some clamps will attach your blankets/cloth so you can drape it over the bag. DONE. You have a perfect newborn poser with a simple, easy, and cheap backdrop system.
Lets look at the props costs:
- Props Cost — $50.00
- Beanbag poser — $18.00
- Extra “beans” — $16.00
- Mic stands — $20.00
- Curtain rod — $10.00
- Blankets/cloth — $20.00
- Total: $134.00
It’s A Wrap
I hope after reading this, you’ve gotten ideas as to how it’s possible to have your very own studio. You CAN do it yourself, and you accomplish it without breaking the bank! Of course, everyone’s situation is different…maybe you need to add more in the budget for additional backdrops, or perhaps you already have a lighting kit. Either way, the total budget for this project will change for you and my estimates should be used as guidance, not rule.
Here is breakdown of the entire studio cost:
- Lighting — $310.00
- Backdrops (system, supports, materials) — $100.00 +
- Flooring — $150.00
- Baseboards — $30.00
- Total: ~$600.00 (more depending on the amount of backdrops you have)
And for the newborn photographer:
- Studio: $600.00+
- Props/posers/blankets — $134.00
- Total: $734.00+
With just a few booked sessions, I have already paid for my new studio with all the props I need. The best part? I can actually call this space “mine”, and know that my own sweat, hard-work, and determination helped create my very own photography studio complete with everything I need for even the messiest situations….
Best of luck to you!
About The Author
Elizabeth Moore is a Lancaster, Pennsylvania based portrait photographer. Elizabeth specializes in newborn and child photography. Elizabeth is also a family, engagement, and lifestyle photographer. Elizabeth utilizes her Lancaster studio space or the great outdoors for her sessions. You can find Elizabeth on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, and on Google+. You can view more of Elizabeth’s work at Elizabeth Moore Photography.