Small Studio, Big Potential
Around 10 years ago I invested in a wooden cabin at the end of my garden. Finally I got every portrait photographers dream, my own permanent studio and it was HUGE… then I started adding lights, props, an office and I realised it was small, very small!

Thanks to YouTube, I’ve invited millions of photographers into my studio and have been asked countless questions about my small home studio set up, so here are some answers.

How Small Is Small?
Don’t let the photos fool you, my studio is just 13 feet wide by 24 feet long. That sounds like plenty of space until you realise 6 feet of length is my office and shelving takes up 3 feet of width in places.

The ceiling is 8 feet high at the centre but drops to 6.5 feet at the edges. On paper, floor space might sound like the big limiting factor but I’ve found the lack of height is an even greater restriction on the lighting styles I can use.

What Are The Limitations?
There are obvious ones, like full length portraits are very tricky with anything other then a wide lens and there’s never enough space to store stuff. But there’s also the unexpected compromises, such as the need to use smaller softboxes; my go-to size is between 50 – 100cm (20 – 40in) diameter. I also shoot a surprisingly large number of images with people sitting down just so I can get my lights up high. I’ve become very adept cloning out stray light stand legs. Shift clicking with the Spot Healing Brush Tool is my secret weapon there.

Does The Limited Space Limit Your Style?
I may only have one wall to shoot against, but that doesn’t mean I only have the choice of one background. I’ve found working in the same space has made me very good at being creative, especially with backgrounds. When I change my background I’m in a whole new studio and ideas flow from there. Fabric, paper, smoke and coloured gels; I’ve used all sorts of things to create new backgrounds in my small home studio.

Where Did You Get That Textured Background From?
After years of working with a smooth white vinyl background, I needed to do something very different to save my sanity. Building a permanent grungy, textured background was the best thing I ever did in my studio. You can read the write up on the build on my blog. My D.I.Y. skills are basic at best, can’t even saw in a straight line. So if I can build this, almost anyone can!

Does A Small Studio Mean Small Lights Are Best?
It’s not the size of the space that dictates the power of the light, it’s the size of the modifier and how close it is to your subject. But in theory yes, I could shoot almost everything I do with speedlights. But having a slightly more powerful light means I can run it at a lower power for quick recycle times and super fast flash durations. Whatever flash you choose, get one that’s battery powered. With less room to run cables and often a forest of light stands filling the space, small studios can be a big trip hazard!

What’s The One Thing You’d Change About Your Studio Space?
My photography studio has evolved over time, but one thing has remained a constant pain: the heating and ventilation (or rather the lack of).

Do you like to use smoke in your shots? Me too. A lack of ventilation makes clearing the smoke a slow process, and as a result it’s ALWAYS held back for the last shots of the day.

In the winter my studio is freezing. Insulation in the walls would help, but that would make my small studio even smaller. Ever wondered why my models often wear coats and jumpers? Now you know!

You can see more of Gavin’s work at GavTrain.com, and follow him on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks Gavin – I really enjoy your simple yet memorable way of teaching – I’ve learnt a lot by watching your YouTube videos.

  2. Gavin is one of my favorites to watch for a “little inspiration”

  3. Gavin, you’re so tidy!

    I’ll see your 13′ x 24′ and raise/lower you 12′ 8″ x 19′ 4″. And my ceiling slopes from end to the other. And the door is on the wall at the high/shooting end.

    My office area and storage take up 6′. And there is too much in the room.

    Where do you store your backdrops? Props? Everything else?

    … I don’t market my portrait services much because I’m embarrassed by my cluttered, untidy studio. I’d love it to look like yours!

    • Yep that’s small and I had to REALLY tidy for the photo above :) Most of my work is shot against either the textured background, a roll of grey paper background or a roll of white vinyl.

  4. This blog post is brought to you by Adorama ……….. j/k :-)

  5. Thank you Gavin! You are a continous source of inspiration. I wish I can meet you some day to thank you for being the reason for me going into photography.

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