When we first think of studio photography, we imagine a lot of fancy (and expensive) equipment that not even a NASA engineer could understand. But, in reality, it is much simpler than you would imagine.
In this article, I’ll share everything you need to know about studio lights and gear— plus 5 tips to become a good studio photographer!
Let’s get started:
What is Studio Photography?
Studio photography is any photography done in an indoor, controlled space— i.e., the photo studio— where the photographer has complete control over the lighting and setting. It usually involves flashes and other artificial lights, although it can also work with natural light from a window.
This type of photography is often associated with the fashion industry. Still, it encompasses any situation in which you need to control every aspect of the shooting, such as in product, food, and portrait photography.
Why is Studio Photography Important?
Simply put, studio photography gives you absolute control over the environment and provides much more flexibility for your projects. That helps you understand the properties of light better and learn how to master, modify, and use it to your advantage.
What Do You Need for Studio Photography?
In studio photography, light is the most crucial aspect to consider. So, before anything else, you should focus on having a reliable, high-quality light source and a few light modifiers (reflectors and diffusers).
Light stands, tripods, backdrops, and at least a large table to organize your equipment are also vital.
There are different types of artificial lights that you can buy, so let’s take a closer look at each one:
Studio Photography Lights
These are the classic big external flashes you see in any professional photo studio. Strobe lights —or monolights— are the preferred choice among commercial photographers because of their high power and fast recycling time.
In general, strobe lights provide a lot of versatility for different techniques and styles but are the most expensive and bulkiest option.
If you prefer continuous light instead of flash, LED lights are your winner choice. They are easier to use and much more affordable for beginners, not to mention that they don’t heat up, so they are safe to use.
There are many types of LED lamps for studio photography; some even allow you to modify the color temperature or play with colored lights. However, while they have many benefits, they are not as bright and powerful as flashes.
Speedlights are the typical external flashes you can mount on your camera’s hot shoe, although you can also attach them to a light stand and trigger them wirelessly.
The best part is that they are cheap, portable, and versatile. Speedlights are the to-go choice for beginners who want to learn about studio photography light.
Studio Photography Equipment
1. Camera Tripod
A high-quality tripod for your camera will provide steady support to avoid shakiness and open up a new world of creative possibilities.
Keep in mind there are different types of tripods, and the prices will vary according to the materials, design, and tripod head.
2. Light Stands
Having multiple stands will allow you to create more complex and creative lighting schemes.
There are two major types of stands you can buy:
These are affordable and lightweight, making them an excellent choice for beginners. They come in different sizes and offer great support for small and medium lights and modifiers. You just need to check the dimensions and load capacity before buying so you can use them safely.
These are more rugged and resistant, designed for heavy, professional lighting equipment.
3. Light meter
A light meter is a device that measures the intensity of your light source to help you set the proper exposure values in your camera. It is a must-have tool for studio photographers— primarily when using flash or multiple lights with different powers.
4. Light Modifiers
Whenever you look for studio photography ideas to try, you’ll see everything depends on the light modifiers you use.
Every photographer has its favorites, but here are the most common— and practical:
Multi-Disc Reflector and Diffuser
This is the classic 5-in-1 rounded reflector you can buy on Amazon for a low price. It is the cheapest and most versatile alternative for photographers at all levels.
As the name implies, a softbox acts as a box that concentrates light and passes it through a translucent layer producing a soft, even light that is very flattering for portraits.
Like a softbox, an umbrella does a fantastic job at diffusing the light.
This is the preferred light modifier for portraits and fashion shots. It produces a beautiful, soft, and dramatic light.
These are white cards of different sizes that you can use to reflect light in more specific areas without affecting the entire scene. They are pretty popular in product photography.
No studio is complete without backdrops! Get at least one white and one black.
You can invest in either paper or cloth backdrops, but the decision will depend on your tastes and interests.
However, remember that fabrics can easily wrinkle, so be careful!
How to Set Up a Photography Studio
1. Prepare The Background
Prepare the background, leaving enough space available to work comfortably.
Take as much time as you need to assemble the backdrop stand and ensure it won’t fall off. Use sandbags or tape to secure the background to the floor or table.
If the background is fabric, hold it with clamps to remove any wrinkles.
2. Prepare Your Set and Lights
Prepare your lighting scheme and set. Try to have a previous sketch of how you want the set to look and where to put each light.
Of course, the setting, lights, and modifiers will vary depending on the project, but it’s best to keep everything as simple as possible.
Try not to leave too many cables on the floor and secure them with tape to avoid a tragedy.
3. Make Some Test Shots
Make a few test shots to ensure you get the proper exposure and the set looks good on camera. It’s the best time to make adjustments and decide what works and what doesn’t.
Now you are ready for the fun part! To have a more efficient workflow, have a list of shots you want to make and keep track of the time.
Also, always have extra batteries in case your camera or lights run out of power.
How To Become a Good Studio Photographer
1. Know Your Gear
Before even thinking about buying new gear, learn to master your current photography arsenal. That is the only way to know what you need to improve your photography.
Remember: it’s not about the equipment but the photographer!
2. Always Have a Plan
Plan every photo session before you get into the studio. That way, you’ll be more focused and efficient— trust me, when you work in a photo studio, you’ll realize there is little to no time to improvise!
Take the time to create a moodboard and think about the lighting scheme you want, what references you like, and what poses you want to try if you are working with a model.
3. Do a Test Before the Actual Shoot
Make sure you dedicate a few hours to test the lighting before the photo session. That will allow you to prepare your set much faster to get the work done in record time.
4. Keep Your Gear Tidy and Organized
Order is the key to success. Keep your equipment safe and organized in your studio, and record everything that goes in and out of it. This will help streamline your workflow and have everything you need close at hand.
5. Keep It Simple
You don’t need a big studio with lots of complex tools. Keep your workflow and lighting schemes simple without using so much equipment. This will also make it easier to move around the space to avoid accidents.
Studio photography seems pretty daunting at first, but it’s not that complicated once you know the basics— plus, it’s super fun!
Begin with the essentials: a tripod, a Speedlight, and a light reflector, and give yourself time to experiment. You would be surprised at how much fun stuff you can create with that.
Now, ready to take the next step? Check our guide on how much it costs to rent a photography studio!
Andrea Rodríguez is a photographer and bilingual freelance writer from Venezuela. She started her photography journey as a teenager, always exploring visual arts from different angles. Her personal work focuses on self-portraiture and experimental photography, but she has worked on photography projects for brands, businesses, and NGOs. Since 2020, she has balanced her passion for photography with writing, collaborating for photography blogs, and working as a ghostwriter for content creators.