Tips for Shooting Beauty Photography in Small Studios without Losing Light Quality
Getting started in the realm of fashion and beauty photography can be tricky. When setting up studio lights that can take up a large amount of a room, space becomes a very valuable resource. I recently moved from the Salt Lake City area where space for shoots was abundant. I was lucky enough to shoot in a meeting room at my previous apartment complex had and had very few limitations space wise. My new apartment, while spacious, has changed the way I shoot and what I shoot completely. Below, I’m going to break down some of my favorite tips and tricks for shooting in a small space.
First, as with every shoot, you’re wanting to ask yourself, “What story am I trying to display in this image?” “What can the light tell the viewer about my intentions and the story involved?” “What is the image about?” Asking yourself a few brief conceptual questions before beginning the shoot can help you assess what direction you want to take the shoot in.
Selecting a light setup or modifier is crucial for understanding your limitations when shooting in a small location. If you’re using a beauty dish with a grid, you can worry less about spill on the background. If you decide to use a soft light like a large umbrella, you then have to worry about the light spill hitting your background. Say you want to shoot an image with a darker more dramatic feeling like this one below:
Depending on how you light the shot you can get varying results with the brightness of the backdrop. If you were to use a harder light either with a grid or without, the fall off of the light will be able to keep the background a deeper color. If you want to approach the image with a soft light like the one above, you have a few options to achieve a similar result. For my shot, I decided to flag both sides of the model Macy.
Doing this mitigated the light bouncing off the white walls in the apartment and backdrop and also added some more contrast to the image in camera. If you do not own black flags, you could hang a black sheet or have someone hold the black end of a 5 in 1 reflector.
Another trick I used to help deepen the background was bringing the model farther away from the background and my light as close as possible to the model. Due to the fall off of light this works really well to get your seamless papers the ideal shade for your photo shoot. In my image, I wanted the umbrella to be straight on. However, if you needed to darken the background even more, you could feather the light. You could turn the modifier of the light slightly away from the model and the corner of the modifier will be lighting her and the directional light from the umbrella won’t be hitting the background straight on.
Keep It Simple
When I originally started shooting beauty, I really loved to use a lot of lights, sometimes up to four. Now I’m limited to only using two strobes in my apartment. The change in size has really helped me to embrace one light setups. In a small space, you can achieve the look of images with two or three lights with a few simple adjustments. Hanging white cloth from either side of the model can help to bounce light. If you’re trying to achieve a bright even look, a simple bounce from below with either a silver or white reflector can add a lot to an image. One light is often all I need for the images I love to create. It allows for great shadows and a lot of depth between highlight and shadows.
One integral part to lighting in this new space that I have found the most difficult is the ceiling height. My apartment has standard 8 foot high ceilings which are great for daily use but can make getting the look you want from your light difficult. When shooting, I like to have my models sit on some wooden crates that are low to the ground. This brings their eye line lower, making it easier to achieve over head high contrast light that I love.
While a smaller space wasn’t a change I was looking forward to, this small organic change to my work flow has taught me a lot. I used to primarily shoot fashion. Having a smaller space has forced me into shooting more work outside of my comfort zone. I have completely fallen in love with beauty photography and the amazing versatility it allows in a small space. Experiment with your space and find the lighting techniques that work for your photography and vision.