Friday, December 26, 2008

The new studio - before

That first shot is how it looked when we took possession. The second was after I pulled up the carpet - in fact the nail strips are still down and those lines are from the first pass sweeping up years of fine dirt that had filtered through the carpet. Remember, this is a "before" picture, you should be thinking "has potential" not "holy crap that's ugly paneling."

It's always hard to judge distance in a room without any furniture but it's a decent size. Click to see them larger - you can see there's a bench that runs along two walls. The soft wood floor was a surprise - I was expecting concrete and to add my own floor.

Here's some thoughts on a basic studio space. This isn't intended for somebody wanting to shoot fashion editorials with huge sets - we're talking art nudes, portrait work, that sort of thing.

Space: A standard roll of seamless paper is 107" wide (call it 9 feet). In Europe I'm not sure what they use but let's imagine there's some comparable size that's around 3 meters or a bit less. That's pretty much your minimum. Your maximum depends on how far you want the modifiers to be from the model. I usually want them pretty close so the lights are often right along the edge of the paper, maybe sticking out a foot or two. I don't remember the exact dimensions of this room but I took a little seamless with me at some point and there's plenty of space on either side along the smallest dimension. In terms of length it depends on how far you want to get from the model but the further you can get the better. You could probably make do with a square room but a room 1.5 or 2 times as long as it is wide is nicer.

Ceiling height: Taller is better. Some styles involve hanging a huge light source right over the model. Photographers also like to store modifiers up high by pulling them up to the ceiling out of a shot. I'm not going to be doing any of that - unfortunately the ceiling is rather low here. They're higher elsewhere in the house, and if I absolutely needed the height I could probably take over that space, but just given the architecture in the area I knew going into it that if I wanted a dedicated space I was looking at the family room - usually the lower part of a split level, and those basically always have low ceilings. I basically just did the best I could here. Also note that the light fixture has to go - it's projecting into the space in an unfortunate way.

Color: Massive fail. You want the walls to be reasonably color neutral. People argue about how dark but basically some kind of mid or dark grey is popular. All that paneling will reflect light back into the space - it all needs to be primed and painted. (I went with a dark grey below the trim, and a light grey above. It keeps it from being totally cave-like but still should be pretty neutral.)

Floor material: Something firm (imagine paper over carpet and then walking over it in heels). Something not quite so hard and cold as concrete. Wood's pretty perfect, and it's OK that in this case it's probably fir. It just needs a very light refinishing, sealing, and we're good to go. If you're thinking about shooting in a garage you'll want to get some glueless floating floor material - $1.15/square foot at Ikea or even less if you don't mind hyper ugly.

Storage: It's nice to be able to store a bunch of stuff right there. This is a big win - the bench lids open, and there's the built in stuff in the rear.

Power: I calculate my studio strobes pull about 5A when they're recharging. 4 lights? That's 20 amps. Normal house circuit breakers are in the 15-20 range. If you can, put in at least two 20 amp circuits. That's what I did, in addition to the few outlets that were already there (which will probably be relegated to recharging batteries).

Privacy: Obviously an issue. Those wooden shutters would be OK but they'll probably get replaced at some point with something a bit more color neutral. Also think about the rest of the house - if you want to do a shoot while, oh, your wife's around maybe there should be a door that closes so that she and the model can stay out of each other's hair.

A bathroom/A place to change: Even nude art models sometimes don't want to dress/undress in front of the photographer, and in any case it's good to have a place to do the necessary. This has a really small half bath (that door on the right at the end). Hopefully that will be enough, and if not I guess they'll have to change in the kitchen or something.

A place for an escort to hang out: Oh, gosh, sorry, there isn't one. Guess they'll have to go to the cofee place down the street. They have free WiFi. Actually this is a slight problem because for the maternity shoot it's not unsual to bring a husband, and as it stands they'll pretty much either get to sit on that bench or I could bring down a resin chair or something. I'm going to have to think about this a bit.

Warmth: This can be a real issue with converted garage studios. This isn't that bad but it is the lowest place in the house and a bit cool - there's some things I can do in terms of insulation (including replacing the shutters with honeycomb blinds). Just remember that if you need a space heater to factor that into your power requirements.

Natural Light: It's always a nice option to have some kind of window - these are actually pretty nice if I wanted to have a model sit on the bench near the light. I'll have to play with this a bit. My current space has great natural light but it's hard to use (just a question of where it's coming from).

Natural Dark: If you want to do long exposure stuff or light painting it's nice if you can make the studio really dark. This is much easier than in my old place since the windows are smaller and I can reasonably temporarily put up some darkroom plastic if I have to. It's also possible to get honeycomb blinds with blackout material which works surprisingly well - if you get the ones that lower from the top you can drop them six inches if you want light in but still maintain privacy. They're really expensive though, so I'll probably be sticking with more conventional blinds and deploying plastic if I want it to be really dark in there.

So I think that covers the big stuff anyway. It's just a big empty box that you fill with photo stuff and a subject, after all. If I'm missing something drop me a note or comment and I'll add it. Again, we're not talking about a studio where you can drive in a car and light it from above - I can rent one if it comes to that - this is really for art nudes and portraits so please keep that in mind.

Tomorrow I'll post pictures of how it looked a couple of weeks after - mostly painted and with power, although the trim still needs to be painted and the floor hasn't been refinished yet.


Blogger Wirehead said...

I just moved apartments in the past few months and I think you've covered just about everything.

There are two bonuses to look for, The first one is a color-neutral wall at a useful location. The last place had a textured white wall behind the shooting space, so I didn't bother getting seamless and just did mostly black backgrounds and light paintings. The new place has vertical blinds behind the shooting space, so I had no choice but to get a roll of seamless and a stand.

The other one is interesting flooring. For me, that's checkerboard flooring.

2:37 PM  
Blogger San Francisco Nudes said...

I was planning on using seamless anyway it will block the storage area from view in this case. The floor being interesting is a good point but I'll just have to see how it looks after it is refinished. Most of the house has great floors so I can do some stuff outside the official studio area if I have to.

3:03 PM  

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