Guest blog and photos by Isabella Porto
Step Up Your Selfie Game
My name is Isabella Porto, a photographer currently based out of New York City, who has been doing photography for five years now. Ever since I held my first DSLR camera, self-portraits were my favorite way to get creative. Taking self-portraits allowed me to do the two things I loved: taking photos and modeling. Because I was the one both photographing and acting as the subject, I had total control of hair, makeup, wardrobe, lighting and angles of the images. Having creative control in all areas of the images allowed me to achieve the look I desired every time, as opposed to explaining my vision to someone else and hoping they understood what I meant. I mostly shoot studio self-portraits but the equipment I needed, (or at least THOUGHT I needed) would have cost me thousands of dollars, but I didn’t let the cost stand in my way of creating my artistic vision. Thus, I began DIY-ing my home studio.
It started with me setting up in my room, draping a white sheet on my door and sticking my camera on a tripod in front of me. It was a pretty sad set-up, especially because I didn’t even have a wireless remote at the time. I would have to guess where the focus of my camera would be using my hand as a focus point, since my arm couldn’t reach the shutter button to start the self-timer from where I needed to stand. Nonetheless I kept at it and over time, with just a few minor upgrades, my in-home studio set-up has become better than ever before while still remaining super simplistic and affordable.
I upgraded from using a blank wall and a bed sheet to poster board from the dollar store and although the poster board did the trick for a few photos, it was much too small a background to work with. I started to look for actual backdrops and after comparing prices among manufacturers, Savage Universal proved to have the best deal and quality for backdrops. At $32.00 a roll, the price is unbeatable due to the fact that Savage supplies you with twelve yards of seamless backdrop paper which I know for myself I will never run out of.
Unlike the bed sheet I was previously using, I didn’t have to spend time editing out wrinkles or shadows in the background since Savage’s backdrop paper is seamless. Even though poster board was a better alternative, like I had said before, I only had a 2’ x 3’ space to work with which hardly ever filled up the frame. With Savage’s 53” backdrop, I never have to worry about photoshopping the edges of my images where the backdrop failed to fill up the frame.
Here’s what my home studio consists of now:
–Savage’s 53” roll of seamless backdrop paper
You might have noticed an element missing from the list: lighting. For years I used cheap umbrella lights off Amazon which I eventually upgraded to soft boxes until one day, I stumbled upon possibly the best lighting set up I ever could want: natural light! That’s right, no soft boxes, no speedlights, no umbrellas, I only ever use natural light for my self-portraits (and clients too!). Depending on the style I am looking to achieve in my images, I occasionally will use a softbox to light my images but 99% of the time, I use natural light from my windows. Not only does natural light make it less time consuming for me to set up my studio, it lights my images in a way no artificial light could and on top of all that, it’s FREE! If I had a dollar for every time someone complimented or asked about my lighting, I’d be a millionaire. Because it’s not too common to shoot with natural lighting for studio photography, I’ll let you in on what I have found to be the best time of day to shoot. I have found shooting mid-day anywhere from 11:00am to 4:00pm is best depending on the season and weather, though for me personally, shooting on sunny days has been better due to more light entering my home. Shooting mid-day for me gives beautiful lighting that in turn, helps the colors of my makeup, clothing, and backdrop pop out from the image.
Lighting is crucial to an image, but so is color which is why I rely on Savage’s backdrops to help set the tone of my self-portraits. When I am developing a new self-portrait concept, I decide on the hair, makeup, and outfit I’d like to shoot and then match the backdrop color to those elements. Color theory is a huge part of photography and it’s important to know which colors induce different moods for the viewer, as well as how colors can change the tone of your image. For example, if I want to shoot a look that is more beauty focused, I might choose a neutral background color such as a tan or beige backdrop. If I’m looking to do a more editorial look, I might lean towards a black or grey backdrop. Editorial can also be really colorful though and in one of my latest self-portraits, I used Savage’s Sky Blue Seamless Paper to tie in the white wig and hot pink eyeshadow I wore.
Simplicity Is Key
After five years of photographing myself and others, self-portraits to this day are what fulfill me creatively and I couldn’t be happier with the simplicity and affordability that is my home studio now. My studio has seen some upgrades but even still, those upgrades are never too expensive and after how far my home studio set-up has come, I can easily say I won’t ever go back to using bed sheets and poster board as backdrops.
If it wasn’t clear by now, I am all about working with what you have and for the longest time, that’s what I did until little by little I began to make minor upgrades. Between my backdrop, backdrop stand, tripod, and lighting, my set-up costs under $150! It just goes to show that by no means do you need a ton of expensive equipment to achieve your artistic vision. If you are able to get creative enough with your environment and put in the work, you will always find a way to produce the image you desire.