When I became a photographer, it was immediately important to me to make sure that I delivered high quality, professional images without losing money on the projects I put together. With backdrops starting at $50 (and that’s for paper, which will eventually have to be replaced) it’s no secret that props, backdrops, costumes, and other items that could make your photograph even better than it already is are expensive to obtain when you’re just starting out. Fortunately, there are ways to create these things for yourself, and often crafting your own props and backdrops is more cost-effective. Here are a few tips to help you DIY a fabulous photo studio!
Make Your Space Inviting
My home, as wonderful and as spectacular as it is, is only 600 square feet. Let’s face it, most people’s dining rooms are bigger than that! I don’t have a lot of room to shoot but somehow I make it work. The biggest thing to remember when preparing your space for clients to come in and be photographed is to utilize your space to its full potential. I made sure that my space had plenty of variety, painting patterns on one wall, using a neutral grey on another, and coating yet another wall in a gorgeous sapphire blue (protip: jewel tones, such as ruby, emerald, and sapphire look great on everyone!) so that I could move my client fluidly from one wall to the next and get tons of variety in my images in a very limited space.
In addition to making sure I have lots to choose from, I also made sure that my floor was nice and open, allowing clients to move freely and be comfortable in the space. Client comfort is paramount! Before a shoot, I’ll even run to the grocery store down the street and purchase an inexpensive bouquet of flowers; it helps my clients feel more at home and really encourages them to get comfortable with my space.
Get Creative with Your Backdrops
Truthfully, I’m not at the point in my career yet to afford one of those breathtaking Oliphant backdrops that I salivate over every time they come across my Instagram feed. Instead of just yearning for one, however, I studied their process through the various behind-the-scenes photos and tried to apply their techniques to my own drop. You can purchase a canvas drop from Lowe’s or Home Depot for as little as $20; grab some paint from the “oops” section to give it a nice color, or leave it natural (I’ve done both, and I love both!)
The great thing about this technique is that you can tailor your shoot to the vision you have for your specific client. For example, if you have a woman coming in with a vintage, tea-stained dress, a nice powder blue canvas with touches of a cream color would look stunning, but that wouldn’t exactly work with the client I have displayed below; I painted her canvas a darker color so that the moodiness of the portrait would be matched by its backdrop.
In addition to making canvas backdrops, it’s also super easy to create stunning V-Flats. These are polystyrene boards that you can paint to whatever color you prefer (make sure you use flat paint so that it doesn’t reflect in your images). It takes about a quart to do a full V-Flat and about an hour of your time. I like the look of V-Flats in images where I don’t want texture to my background; these are great to drag out for headshots and other images where clarity is paramount.
Bonus points for these things because they pull double-duty (paint one white and use it as a giant reflector for natural light) and they store really easily because they’re flat.
Craft Something Unique to Wear
I personally have always been in awe of those who can make their own clothes, and I have no problem getting my hands dirty and figuring out how to take my client’s experience to the next level. The easiest thing in the world to build is a giant tulle skirt that she can run around the studio in and toss around. Indeed, if your client doesn’t have anything in her own closet that makes her feel fabulous, put together something for her!
There are TONS of tutorials online that teach you how to make simple things like circle skirts and A-line dresses, but the tulle skirts are great because they’re no-sew and you can whip them up in a flash. Paired with a bustier, silk top, or sequined bodice, putting your client in a poofy skirt will make her feel fabulous—and it will show in your photographs. Each skirt only costs me about $25 to make, and I love watching my clients’ eyes light up when they see that I’ve made something just for them!
Go That Extra Mile
These are just a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over my few years spent as a professional photographer. There are tons of ways to make your photos pop and come to life, and you certainly don’t need any of these things to make a good photograph. But going that extra mile, really providing a quality service by paying attention to every last detail, is what is going to keep your clients coming back year after year.
Have you ever made something custom for one of your shoots? Let us know in the comments!
Thank you Blair Toombs for contributing this article.