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How to Run an At Home Photography Studio in a Small Space

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Ever since I began my photography business seven years ago, I’ve imagined my dream studio. It’s a storefront with huge windows in a local arts district. There are natural brick and stone surfaces, nearby murals, and a botanical garden within walking distance. There’s even a giant waterfall with rainbows and unicorns.

Perhaps that dream studio will come to fruition one day (my daughter would love the unicorns), but in the meantime I’ll continue to run my photography business from a 150-square-foot space in my home.

That’s right: I run my entire business from a tiny office space in a corner of my home. I have backdrops, big lights and modifiers, a computer, a professional printer, posing boxes, print samples, and more in a space that is barely bigger than 12-feet-by-12-feet square. (There’s a small window that faces North(-ish), but it rarely gets bright enough for natural light photos.)

So how do I run my business and create professional portraits in such a small in-home space?

My Camera Gear Breakdown

For the last six years or so, I have primarily used a Canon 6D and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. My camera body is almost-ten-year-old technology, and the lens is based on technology that’s also about 10 years old. I mention the age of the camera body and lens to say that you don’t need cutting-edge, top-of-the-line gear to run your business. The best camera is the one you have. What’s much more important is how well you know your gear, your light, and your posing. Cameras don’t take pictures, photographers create them.

I also use a Sigma 85mm f/1.2 Art lens for tight portraits, but I’d estimate that I only create portraits with that lens about 20% of the time. The Canon 24-70 is just so versatile. And in a space as tight as mine, I have a little more freedom with a standard zoom lens like the 24-70. The 85mm limits me to a certain type of portrait–it’s a beautiful type, but it’s still limited compared to the 24-70.

I also have the Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro lens. I will use that lens outside at times, but it's mostly for fun macro photography. I love wandering around and finding little details to photograph.

I'll also say that the 24-70 is really the only way I can get a full-body photo in my studio, though the perspective isn't my favorite. Sitting as far away as possible, I still have to shoot at 35mm or so, perhaps even a little wider. I have to be really careful about distorting my subject’s proportions when creating that wide and that close. That's why so much of what you see from me in-studio is typically from the upper thigh or waist up. That composition just works better in such a tight space.

What Lights, Strobes, and Modifiers Do I Use?

All of my speedlights and strobes are part of the Godox system. I have two AD600 manual strobes (no TTL technology), a Godox V860ii speedlight, and a Godox V1 speedlight. I use the AD600s for 90% of my work. I use the speedlights when I need a third light for fill or accent, but that’s rare for me. I try to keep things simple, often using only one strobe and a V-flat to fill shadows.

Speaking of v-flats, I have three from V-Flat World. They’re pricey, but they’re easy to buy and move around. With a business budget, I’d say it’s worth spending the money and not going through the hassle of making one yourself.

When it comes to light modifiers, I split time between a 48-inch octobox and a 36-inch collapsible beauty dish. I also have a 1x3 stripbox that I’ll use for a side light or hair light.

To support all of this gear, I have two C-stands and a beast of a wheeled stand and boom arm from Matthews. I purchased the wheelie used, which allowed me to cut the cost in half (or more!).

As you can see in the photos shared in the blog, all of this gear fits snuggly in my space. It’s a tight fit and there’s not much room for guests, but it’s perfect for senior portraits, headshots, and small groups.

Should You Buy Used Gear?

Yes! Buy used! Camera gear does not hold its value, and photographers often make purchases on a whim thinking that they absolutely need this or that piece of equipment only to sell it soon after. As long as you don’t see structural damage or, in the case of lenses, moisture or mold, then you can’t go wrong with used gear. You’ll save yourself hundreds of dollars.

Photography becomes especially expensive when you start buying quality lenses. All of my lenses are used. I have saved at least $1,000 buying used lenses.

Go to your local camera store, join local buy/sell/trade groups, and buy used gear.

How To Hang Backdrops in a Small Space

I have five canvas backdrops in my studio, one Savage Universal dark gray and four hand-painted from Gravity Backdrops. The gray is 12-feet-by-9-feet and the Gravity backdrops are 5-feet-by-8-feet or so. The colors of the Gravity backdrops are brown with medium texture, blue with medium texture, warm gray with medium texture, and olive green with distressed texture.

The dark gray and brown are my most used backdrops–the brown complements just about every skin tone. The blue and green add a fantastic pop of color. The green is especially nice with earthy tones or a plain white outfit. (The warm gray is my least favorite. It just doesn’t read well with most skin tones.)

All of the canvas backdrops are hung with the amazing Impact Deluxe Varipole Support System. Varipoles are what make a studio in this small space possible. They are massive tension rods that are spring-loaded with rubber suction cups on either end. They don’t require any hardware for installation. You simply extend the pole from floor to ceiling and pull a lever to activate the tension. There’s no damage to your floor or ceiling, and they can comfortably hold a ton of weight. I have all five canvas backdrops hung using the backdrop hooks and super clamps.

Aside from the ease of use and load-strength, what really makes this system work in a small space is the complete lack of a floor footprint. The poles take up about four inches of space, and I have them extended about six inches from the back wall. A typical backdrop stand requires much more space. And the varipole system is affordable! The entire system is about $250–in the world of photography, that is a drop in the bucket.

The Rest of the Setup

I edit photos using a Mac Mini and ViewSonic monitor. I have a Logitech MX Master 2S mouse; it’s a few years old, so there’s probably an updated version. Either way, if you don’t have a nice mouse, get one. It makes hours of culling and editing much more comfortable. I also use a small Wacom tablet for finer skin retouching and other brushstroke adjustments.

When it comes to editing photos, I use Lightroom and Photoshop. Basic adjustments happen in Lightroom, and then the major retouching work goes on in Photoshop. There's too much to share here when it comes to photo editing. Maybe an editing series should be next?

Brand new to my business is an Epson SureColor P700 photo printer. For the entire run of my business, I have outsourced my printing. Over the next few months, I will fine-tune my printing and begin providing small prints using my printer. The printer is just another step in the custom, personal, professional service that I take pride in.

To round things out in my little studio, I have a giant mirror, a stool, a few apple boxes for posing, and a fan. The fan adds that extra touch to any client with long hair. (My seniors love it.)

I will say that the apple boxes (two full and one half, all painted with chalkboard paint) are the piece of gear that I would say I can’t live without. Clients sit on them, prop up feet on them, lay across them, just about any pose you can think of, the apple boxes make it happen. Scroll through the behind-the-scenes photos here and check out how the apple boxes are used!

Why I Love My Studio

The studio is my favorite space. It’s my comfort zone. I know every corner of it. I know how to work its angles and deal with its limitations. It’s a small space, but it’s my space. And I love it.

With so many photographers out there these days, a studio is one way I try to separate myself from the pack. Any photographer worth paying knows how to create a beautiful portrait at golden hour in a park or field. Not everyone can create a stunning portrait in a tiny office.

I especially like the reactions from the high school students who visit me for senior photos. The portraits featured in this blog are two of my students heading into their senior year. They also graciously agreed to create the behind-the-scenes material that I’ve shared throughout this blog. (I think I need to hire them as studio assistants–how great are they?!)

Neither of them had created photos in a studio before. They’re just used to using their phones, finding a spot outside, and seeing what happens. The care, attention, and quality of what we created blew them away.

Not only that, but the session was a confidence boost. With so much time spent looking at screens and social media and seemingly perfect people who are filtered and retouched and airbrushed beyond reality, it’s easy to understand the pressure teenagers put on themselves when it comes to their bodies and their sense of beauty.

When one of the girls saw her first few photos from the session, she told me the following: “WOW. I am so pretty; I haven’t felt this pretty in a while!! You’re so good. We will definitely be working together again. I’m so happy with these.”

That is what it’s all about. There’s nothing like seeing yourself with new confidence and seeing your beauty and worth in a single portrait. That’s why I do this. That’s what I love about photography.

Do you have any questions about my studio? Did I forget to describe something you saw in the photos? Wondering when you can book your next confidence boost? Send me an email at I’d love to talk to you soon.

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