Help on home studio

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Apr 26, 2009
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Just moved into a new house with way too many bedrooms...I plan to make one into a dedicated portrait studio (grandkids live nearby, want to be able to shoot them without having to setup and tear down everytime). I have a couple of questions.

1) The walls are currently painted a medium/dark lavender. I'm concerned about a color cast from the flash off the walls so I'm considering painting it a better color (see next question). That said, the room has fluorescent lighting that will probably require filters and/or post processing the white balance anyway. Is painting the walls overkill (i.e. fixable in post) or should I press with my plan?

2) Photographers know better than most that white is not always white. Can I just go with untinted paint or is there a better choice ("white card" gray for example)?

3) The room is 17" by 12". I currently plan to shoot the long direction with the backdrop on the narrow end. A question I've always want to ask but never have...whats the "normal" distance the subject should be in front of a backdrop? I know it depends on a lot of stuff (do I have a backlight, do I want the background in focus or not, etc...) .

4) The ceiling is only 7 1/2 feet high. I'm supposing I can make that work but I'm used to more vertical freedom. Thoughts?

5) There's a ceiling beam paralleling the planned backdrop wall, 9 1/2 feet away. That will limit how far back I can put my Key light...but closer is better anyway, right? I'm considering mounting a light on the ceiling (eventually) to minimize hassle. Thoughts?

Any other tips, recommendations, or warnings would be gratefully appreciated.
 
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#1: Turn off the fluorescent lighting and use other lighting, whether it's natural light, strobes or flash units.
#2: The shade of white paint on the walls and ceiling isn't important. A lot of times you'll be using other backdrops and ignoring the walls for background purposes.
#3: I don't do portrait photography, so I don't have a really good answer other than that, as you mentioned, it depends. Even so, I hope your room is 17' x 12' instead of the 17" x 12" you mentioned. :ROFLMAO:
#4: Plan shots that can be made with your limited height; don't try to do something that can't be done.
#5: The closer you can get to maximum flexible lighting options, the better off you'll be. Installing a light on the ceiling is an inflexible lighting option.

Have fun! I'm envious of your situation, as my makeshift studio that I use for tabletop photography is only about 6' x 8'.
 
Joined
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#1: Turn off the fluorescent lighting and use other lighting, whether it's natural light, strobes or flash units.
Room's in the basement with no windows. Turning them off is not an option. However, thinking about it some more I can probably just shoot fast to take the ambient light out of play -or- gel the flashes to match the room lighting.
#2: The shade of white paint on the walls and ceiling isn't important. A lot of times you'll be using other backdrops and ignoring the walls for background purposes.
Not so much planning to use them as background but rather more concerned about light spill from the flashes [or intentional light bounce]
#3: I don't do portrait photography, so I don't have a really good answer other than that, as you mentioned, it depends. Even so, I hope your room is 17' x 12' instead of the 17" x 12" you mentioned. :ROFLMAO:
Ha, well played.
#4: Plan shots that can be made with your limited height; don't try to do something that can't be done.
Just trying basic portraits, just want to make sure I'm not missing something that cold make all this a waste of time.
#5: The closer you can get to maximum flexible lighting options, the better off you'll be. Installing a light on the ceiling is an inflexible lighting option.
Fair point.

Thanks
 
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Walter Rowe
You can get fluorescent light bulbs in different color temperatures. They make them at "daylight". It will look very odd when you are just viewing them room because it won't look fluorescent, but it works. I also would not mount a light on the ceiling. As Mike said, that is inflexible. Get a lightstand, a boom, and counter weight. That lets you place a light above a subject at any angle without having the light stand in the image. Also, if you get studio strobes, many of the have modelling lights so you don't need your room lights on. The modelling lights also let you see the relative balance of your different lights before shooting so you can adjust and move the lights to suit yourself. Your ceiling height is going to be your limiting factor. Even with someone seated, you won't be able to get lights very high and out of the scene when softboxes are involved. Standing subjects will be nearly impossible. Softboxes stick way out in front of the strobe. Point the light down, and you have to raise the light up to keep the softbox a distance from the subject. Thus your 7.5 feet will quickly become an issue. I have 10' ceilings in my living room and it is an issue sometimes depending on height of the individual I'm shooting.
 
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Room's in the basement with no windows. Turning [the room lights] off is not an option.

As Walter mentioned, strobes have modeling lights. You could also create ambient light using inexpensive continuous-light lamps. I didn't realize ceiling-mounted fluorescent lamps can be at daylight Kelvin temperature, so Walter's idea about that is good.

My makeshift studio for tabletop photography is actually the center of a storage room. I photograph mostly glass, so I need a highly controlled lighting setup. I covered its two windows to ensure no outdoor light would enter the room. I always turn off the ceiling-mounted fluorescent light. My tabletop photography needs aren't the same as your portrait photography needs, but a lot of the principles are the same. After all, we'll both be using light to make our photos; no matter how hard we try to control the situation, the physics of light will rule our world.
 
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I would paint the walls either white or grey, this would eliminate the chance of color contamination. Use grids with your modifiers to help reduce spill in the constricted space.
 
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if I go with grey walls (white can be a bit intense for an entire room) I'm thinking I could take my Whibal grey card (once it's unpacked from the movers) and match that for color.

A thought regarding the low ceiling...If I paint the walls grey (and leave the ceiling white) could I just bounce strobe light off the ceiling/walls to get the angles required?
 
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If I was going to use the room only for photography, I would go with white walls and ceiling. If you're going to use the room also for other purposes, it's understandable that you might want to use a different color on at least one of the walls.

The purpose of bouncing the strobes off the walls and ceilings is as much about creating a larger light source as it is about controlling the angle of incidence.
 
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The purpose of bouncing the strobes off the walls and ceilings is as much about creating a larger light source as it is about controlling the angle of incidence.
I understand that, but if I can't get a light high enough and out of the picture, I'm looking for options that will make the room workable for a part time, non-professional studio. If it seems too challenging to overcome, better to make the decision now and use the room for something else (playroom for the grandkids or exercise equipment for example). Then the paint choice is less of an issue (We hoped to paint this weekend before the movers show up with a gazillion boxes).
 
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A comfortable posing stool and a variety of backdrops with a good pair of stands with a extendable pole are worth the money. Depending on the ages of your grand children, you might want a good rug to crawl around with them. Low angles can work well with babies and youngsters.
 
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If it is a dedicated studio, I would rewire the lighting, to eliminate the flourescent lights.
Maybe two sets of lights. #1 over the photographers position, and #2 over the subjects position.
While you are doing that, make sure you have enough power for strobes, multiple 20 amp circuits. With enough outlets in the proper location so you don't have to run extension cords all over (tripping hazard).

Trick: I saw a studio where the back wall was white, with a flash head positioned to illuminate the wall. That made for a HUGE soft light source. It wasn't used all the time, but it was there for the times when it would work.
 
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Just moved into a new house with way too many bedrooms...I plan to make one into a dedicated portrait studio (grandkids live nearby, want to be able to shoot them without having to setup and tear down everytime). I have a couple of questions.

1) The walls are currently painted a medium/dark lavender. I'm concerned about a color cast from the flash off the walls so I'm considering painting it a better color (see next question). That said, the room has fluorescent lighting that will probably require filters and/or post processing the white balance anyway. Is painting the walls overkill (i.e. fixable in post) or should I press with my plan?

I suggest multiple coats of primer.
I had to paint a bathroom that was painted purple. What a PiA to cover that purple ! It kept showing through the white primer, until I had about 4 or 5 coats of primer on it.

How bad this is will depends on the current medium/dark lavender.

SO . . .
First a dark gray primer. This is to kill the lavender color, so that you can put something else on it.
Then a medium gray primer. To lighten the wall.
Finally a standard white primer. This is to give the final paint a correct base color.
3 coats total.

A darker medium gray might allow you to do it in 2 coats; darker medium gray then white.

Go to a pain shop and talk to the paint guys, to get their recommendation.
 
Joined
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Lavender does not sound optimum, but I'd leave that job until last, after you have used it some. You learn a lot about what you need by using it. Some have even assumed black walls would be best to minimize reflections, but black makes an extremely dreary room. Wall hangings could hide the colored wall too. Normal white or beige walls really should not be a problem, and won't ruin the room for other normal purposes.

Because hopefully your main light is close (like maybe 3 feet for seated subject), so it is bright and any wall reflection involving much greater distance (to and from wall) will be insignificant brightness. The fill light will have to be back by the camera (for camera to see around it), but it is not aimed directly at a side wall.

You should turn the overhead fluorescent lights off while you are shooting. You're adding your other lighting that you control to do what you want. The modeling lights will be extremely adequate to light the room. Or just a table lamp would do it adequately too. Realize that a formal portrait will use like f/8 and 1/200 second for a proper photo portrait, and also meaning that it allows a test shot with with modeling lights on, and all necessary ambient lights on, but all flash disabled (for this test, disconnect sync from camera, OR dummy sync plugs or cables in all sync sockets so their builtin slave triggers won't trigger flash with modeling lights on), you should test to ensure a pretty BLACK picture to indicate that the ambient light is not any significant factor affecting your picture. A hint of ambient is no big deal, but the f/8 and 1/200 should not pickup any serious ambient, but the flash power is adjusted to be just right.

The 7.5 foot ceiling is the biggest problem. That will make standing full length very difficult to avoid seeing the top of the background and the ceiling above background. Shooting down from a high camera could help, but seems kinky. Seated portraits should be OK.

17 feet of room is about the least usable, but maybe a bit short to have many choices. For proper portrait perspective (noses not shown too large, etc), it is rather important to have the camera to subject to be at least 7 feet, and 8 or 10 is better. You need at least 3 or 4 feet between subject and background to have room to light it, and 5 or 8 is better (esp for colored filters to change color, or an overlighted white background that reflects to the subject). The background stand probably consumes at least 1 foot, and subject and photographer consume at least 2 feet each. That might be made to fit in 17 feet, but some compromises will be necessary.

But maybe try some of this stuff before committing too completely. It could answer some questions.

My offering is at my site at https://www.scantips.com/lights/setup/
 
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Joined
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The new house developed internet problems so I've been away for a while. First, thanks to everyone that has responded :) Second, note that the room painting has been accomplished (white).

If it is a dedicated studio, I would rewire the lighting, to eliminate the fluorescent lights.
Good idea but beyond the scope I want to tackle...yet. They're very well constructed flush fixtures, replacing the bulbs is probably a better option, but sounds like the light color will probably look goofy
#1 over the photographers position, and #2 over the subjects position.
That's pretty much what I have now, just fluorescent :(
...make sure you have enough power for strobes, multiple 20 amp circuits. With enough outlets in the proper location so you don't have to run extension cords all over (tripping hazard).
I have way more outlets than I need :)
Trick: I saw a studio where the back wall was white, with a flash head positioned to illuminate the wall. That made for a HUGE soft light source.
That's what I've been thinking all along. Angle the key light into the ceiling to create the big light source instead of a big modifier

WayneF, your website has been a wealth of information to me over the years; I'm glad you weighed in.

You should turn the overhead fluorescent lights off while you are shooting. You're adding your other lighting that you control to do what you want. The modeling lights will be extremely adequate to light the room. Or just a table lamp would do it adequately too. Realize that a formal portrait will use like f/8 and 1/200 second for a proper photo portrait
I haven’t tried it yet (other moving-in priorities) but I would think that a fast shutter speed would overpower the fluorescent lights, but a lower power lamp may be a better solution
The 7.5 foot ceiling is the biggest problem. That will make standing full length very difficult to avoid seeing the top of the background and the ceiling above background. Shooting down from a high camera could help, but seems kinky. Seated portraits should be OK.
I’ve pretty much concluded that as well
17 feet of room is about the least usable, but maybe a bit short to have many choices. For proper portrait perspective (noses not shown too large, etc), it is rather important to have the camera to subject to be at least 7 feet, and 8 or 10 is better. You need at least 3 or 4 feet between subject and background to have room to light it, and 5 or 8 is better (esp for an overlighted white background that reflects to the subject). The background stand probably consumes at least 1 foot, and subject and photographer consume at least 2 feet each. That might be made to fit in 17 feet, but some compromises will be necessary.
That’s some good info there, but I’m not clear on what you mean by “overlighted white background that reflects to the subject”
 
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I guess I just made up the term "overlighted". :) A normal colored background that you want to show (muslin maybe) might often be metered to be about the same as the main light metered on the subject. A middle gray plain background can be useful a few ways, made bright or dim or any desired value.

But high key with white backgrounds deliberately overexpose the background considerably, maybe by a couple of stops. Intentionally clipped overexposure makes them perfectly absolutely white. But this can reflect back to the subject, so distance is helpful. Same with using colored filters to change color on middle gray, the color can reflect back.

Such emphasized white would often use a light on either side of subject, to ensure complete coverage. In more normal situations, often the one background light is hidden low behind the subject, but unless there is a little distance, it can be hard to light a big enough spot on it. Only 2 or 3 feet to background can be made to work but is no fun, 5 feet is better, and 8 or 10 feet is luxuriously comfortable.

I don't know how extensive your fluorescent lights are, if like a modern office, or only a couple of them, hopefully not near the subjects position. Possibly you could swap ends in your room if that could be better. But the modeling lights are more than plenty to see things, and/or a table lamp can of course be added. If the ceiling lights are any issue, why consider anything other than turning them off?

As for using the fluorescent, magnetic ballast flickers and you definitely don't want them, esp not at 1/200. Electronic ballast and CFL won't flicker.

But yes, you're likely right. ISO 100, f/8 and 1/200 is a stop less than Sunny 16 bright daylight, and it should make the ceiling lights dim (maybe unless too close), but if any other light exists, why not turn them off to shoot? I don't understand why they would be important? Such extra light can affect the exposure, and white balance, but also can of course mess up your planned lighting and lighting ratio, etc. Unless they are essentially black with all flash disabled.
 
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