I'd like to convert a room downstairs into a home studio to do mostly portrait/fashion/pet photography. I have a few strobes, softboxes, and stands, but that's it. What are the bare basics needed to get started?

  • 2
    You'll need a vacuum for all the pet hair.
    – reuscam
    Jul 19, 2010 at 16:54
  • 1
    I got a roomba for that:)
    – Alan
    Jul 19, 2010 at 19:06

5 Answers 5


Start with What You Have

"What kit do I need?" It's our eternal question, isn't it?

Most of the time, I tell people to just pick up their camera and get on with it.
However: this is one of the few times when, realistically, you do need a couple of bits of kit.

In a studio, the most important additional thing is a background. This can be a plain whitewashed wall (and you'd be surprised how small an area you actually need) or a muslin, paper, etc.

As for light: a window (in the right weather) gives a lovely light, and a reflector positionned opposite the window can do a nice job as a fill.

If you've already got multiple lights and modifiers then I reckon you're more than well-enough equipped to get going. Once you've done one or two shoots, you'll soon work out if some additional kit would help.

For info: I have been working in an occasional "home studio" for a while, with a muslin background, 2 strobes on stands with umbrellas. Sometimes I'll add one or two reflectors. I've had some nice results, but I could really make good use of a couple more strobes.

Scott Kelby has some nice tips for a small studio in his Digital Photography series.

This may be relevant: Strobist.com has a great series of tutorials on getting started with small-flash photography.

PS. I'm happy to talk makes and models, but you didn't ask for that so I've left out all the gory details for now. :)


I found Zack Arias' tutorial to be incredibly helpful, and extremely straight forward and easy to understand. I won't bother to regurgitate it here, I recommend you go read a bit.

  • That is a really good blog
    – Raj More
    Mar 27, 2012 at 19:38

The minimum equipment needed to take a decent picture is two light sources and a background, so either two lamps/flashes or one lamp/flash and a reflection screen.

The reason that you need a minimum of two light sources is that the images will look very flat if you have a single light source.

That is the bare minimum, everything after that is just to make the work easier. You might want more light, for example a separate light for the background, and a light meter can be very handy.

  • 1
    What about stools/stands? And could you be a bit more specific about backgrounds? A painted wall never seemed to work well for me...
    – Alan
    Jul 18, 2010 at 1:30
  • 4
    Pictures don't look flat because of a single light source. They look flat if the light is coming from the front and center with a hot-shoe flash. You can make excellent shots with a single flash. Jul 18, 2010 at 9:04
  • 1
    Why not? Plenty of images done in the studio are done with a single light source. Sometimes combined with reflectors, sometimes not. It all depends on the look that you want to achieve. Jul 18, 2010 at 20:00
  • 1
    I agree with Dave - plenty of famous and not-so-famous-but-amazing-nonetheless shots are taken with an on axis ring flash - and thats all. One light source for the entire effect. Silhouettes can also be done with one light. With a well placed window (1 light source) and a secondary flash for fill (2 light sources) you can achieve some nice shots, with budget for only one piece of equipment.
    – reuscam
    Jul 19, 2010 at 17:01
  • 2
    "single light source pictures are some of the most complicated shots to get right" brighthub.com/multimedia/photography/articles/16922.aspx "A portrait lighting system usually includes at least two light sources" studiolighting.net/portrait-lighting-styles
    – Guffa
    Jul 19, 2010 at 17:40

The basic minimum for flexibility and creativity are

  • two 500 Ws monoheads
  • 7' reflector (for hard light)
  • beauty dish (for semi-hard)
  • 4x6 softbox (for flat light)
  • incident meter
  • pocket wizards for triggering lights remotely
  • cooling/warming gels to adjust light balance
  • white, black and thunder grey seamless (I hate muslin, personally - it's impossible to keep smooth and makes photos look like they've been shot against an old bed sheet)
  • 2 white v-flats (4x8 foam core, scored in the middle) for fill
  • 2 black v-flats (for contrast)

The most expensive of these items is the 4x6 softbox - can run you $500+ for a very good one. Consider renting, or using a bed sheet as a scrim to diffuse the light.

With this kit, you will be able to do 90% of things and for the other 10% you should rent (e.g. ring flash).

Good luck!


You're probably going to want a background stand for holding paper or muslin backgrounds. You can acquire different backgrounds over time to suit your needs. If you don't need portability, you have more options about your background stand, e.g. you can make it yourself.

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