Building a studio
I had to face facts. Setting up backgrounds in the living room and trying to fight with the challenges that posed wasn't working.
Granted after working in a photo lab and seeing everyone else's mistakes, I should have seen it coming. When the area you are shooting in is covered in yellow wall paper (that needs to go) and has a redish yellow wood floor, you are going to get a lot of yellow cast into your photos. Not to mention the daylight balance flashes I use just make everything look dingy.
So I am clearing out a space in the basement where everything is more neutral and set up something more permanent.
During all of this, my wife suggested that I write a blog about setting up a studio.
The long and short for any tips I have would be: whatever works.
I have worked in, set up, and built studios and that was always the biggest thing. Find something that works.
Tearing down and setting up in rooms that we already had established as something (mainly the living room) wasn't working. Moving couches, tables, and whatever bin of toys Thing 1 decided to dump in the middle of the room took too much time. And considering my kids are one of the primary things that I shoot in my off time, time was of the essence. I tried setting up in the garage for a client, but getting the cars out of the garage (and making sure that I had the forethought to disable the garage door, so it didn't knock everything over when one of the cars wanted to come back in), making sure that the floor was clean, and basically unpacking everything, didn't leave me a lot of time to make sure that everything was set right. In my defense, it has been a while since I have had to do a set up like this, and it was mostly correct. But I did forget little annoying things. The c-pol I use to shoot cars was left on, so I lost a few stops. I would have preferred to shoot in raw to have more to work with in editing.
A lot of the little things are caught over time. You get a feel for when your flash drops off at certain powers with different accessories, so you have a good estimate on where you start with flash position, aperture, and shutter speed. But having a studio takes a lot of that out of consideration, because you have more control as to how everything interacts and you know that everything will come together in a more consistent way.
Plus I get to do more cool things for my studio that I would not get to/ want to do where I know I am going to have to tear it back down. I have had floor remnants sitting in my basement for years. I'm not entirely sure why we kept them. But building a more permanent space gave me a chance to build out a small patch of floor that looks better than concrete and can easily be switched out if needed. I can mark where I have my background stand and good lighting positions, so I can easily set things back up when I need to and know that all the settings will still be true.
In terms of equipment, the same holds true: whatever works.
One of the pieces of equipment that has stuck with me the longest is my flash. Even after switching from Canon to Sony, my little Canon 430EX has worked well for me. It isn't the greatest, it isn't the most powerful, but I am familiar with it. I knew how well it was going to preform in most situations and how to compensate in camera. But after thousands of flashes, I know it does not have too much longer until either the bulb or the capacitor fails. And lets face it, with it being over 10 years old, it is probably chewing through batteries faster than something newer will. But with mono lights being more cumbersome to transport, setup, and find power for, it made figuring out where to go from my old faithful flash more difficult. Having a dedicated space made the decision easier. With a constant source of power, I wouldn't have to worry about the extended recycle times as the batteries drained and I wouldn't have to avoid using my flashes at full power to extend the life of my batteries by a few shots.
But even a dedicated space will have it's own challenges. The cealing may be to low. Things still may need to be moved to make space. But one of the real challenges in photography is to keep tweaking the process until you find whatever works.