My Ghetto Photography Studio

At the beginning of this year, I made it a point to become a better photographer so I went back to school. Since then, I’ve learned tricks like how to get better exposures by avoiding the flash and working with long exposures. Afterall, having some kick ass gear means having to learn some kick skills to go with it. Though I’ve always been into taking pictures, mainly for my work with Futurelooks, I’ve only recently begun to explore the posibilities.

I learned a lot of things from my photography class. I even got to shoot real models with studio strobes and lights. However, the most important thing I learned from my teacher, Syx Langemann, was how cool ghetto lighting setups were. From the tips that I was given during my 10 weeks, I was able to build my own ghetto studio.

Shooting in the Ghetto…

Only shutters. No guns. Welcome to my ghetto studio.

My main light setup comprises of a pair of Halogen Work LIghts that I got from Princess Auto. These lights were on special for $25 bucks and put out 1000 watts with two 500 watt lamps. They extend to just over six feet tall and give a surprising amount of adjustment. I’ve diffused the light with a $3 fluorescent ceiling panel and used a few clamps from an $8 combo pack from Home Depot to fix the panel to the halogen lamps. Since halogens get really hot, I’ve stuck a fan on the wall to flow cool air around them. I don’t even use strobes or flash inside because most of my subjects don’t move and I like to be able to see exactly what my shots will look like.

The backdrop that I’m using is a $40 Levelor pull down blind that is white on one side and gray on the other. I chose the blind because it was easy to roll up and easy to clean and reuse. Studios normally use rolls of coloured paper, but I didn’t want to kill anymore trees (and the rolls are heavy). Also, with a gray backround on one side, I can backlight the backround to any colour I want by using cheap gels and some cheap lamps with reflectors, available for about $10 bucks each at home depot. The bottom of the roll where I place the products that I shoot is protected by a clear 18″ x 24″ plexiglass sheet. I originally went with a large piece of glass that I robbed off a photo frame from the Dollar Store for $5, but the glass had a weird green tinge that showed up in my shots. The plexi is totally clear and doesn’t have the same problem. It was about $10 bucks.

The only thing that is a REAL piece of photography lighting equipment is the Cameron 30 inch Silver/White reflector that I got for $40 bucks. I’m actually going to see if I can use an automotive sun reflector instead to keep it truly ghetto, but I might hang onto the reflector because it folds up nice and compact.

The Results…

Here are a few shots from my little ghetto studio…

Both shots were done with my Nikon D80 tethered to my laptop. The advantage of tethering to my laptop is that I can see my shots as I take them as this drops my files directly to my laptop, versus writing them to the memory card. I have Adobe Bridge opened up and can look at the pictures exactly as I’ve taken them, allowing me to recompose or change settings in case I don’t like what I see.

With my Nikon, I need to use a piece of software called Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 to take advantage of this feature. This software lets you totally take control of your cameras settings and even allows you to hit the shutter right from the interface. It runs about $69 for this software, but you can download a free trial to see if its for you. Canon shooters get a version of this software free with their DSLRs.

Things To Consider With Ghetto Lighting

The total cost for my ghetto studo setup was about $126 bucks, which is ghetto cheap. However, there are things you need to consider when using this sort of setup.

For starters, you’ll definitely need to use a custom white balance. Halogen lights tend be very yellow and this requires you to custom white balance at the beginning and after about an hour later since the lights get yellower once they get nice and hot. For white balancing, I just use the whitest possible card stock that I can get from Staples. I just put a small black “X” in the middle in pen so that the Auto Focus doesn’t throw a fit. Beats $20 – 60 for some of those “Digital” gray cards that have been floating around out there.

Speaking of hot, if you have small children or pets, you want to keep them away from your lights because they get hot enough to burn you. On the other hand, if you’re shooting food, at least it will stay warm while you do your thing, but watch the melty cheese and ice cream.

The other thing that you need to keep in mind is that with an indoor lighting setup, ghetto or otherwise, metering can be an issue. Getting yourself a light meter can save you a lot of time. I’m finding that I’m doing lots of exposure corrections in Photoshop or using a lot of exposure compensation on camera because the meter in the camera is having a hissy fit in this type of environment. This is why professionals in studios always use a lightmeter. I plan to pick one up when I’m in Taiwan for COMPUTEX as they aren’t exactly cheap around here at $300 for a good one. I’m sure I’ll be able to get one for less than half that like the Sekonic L-358.

So there you have it, my $126 (less, if I ditch my Cameron 30 inch reflector for $5 sun shades) ghetto studio. I hope this inspires you to come up with some of your own ghetto setups and some cool looking pictures. Happy shooting!