10 creative ideas for studio photography at home

Marianne Stenger
1st January 2021

With shorter days and often less than favourable weather, wintertime is the perfect opportunity to learn the ins and outs of studio photography from the comfort and warmth of your home.

Whether you want to shoot portraits and headshots or experiment with product photography, a simple home photography studio set up will greatly expand your creative possibilities. Some basic items that will go a long way for your first home photography studio kit include a tripod, remote trigger, lights, a reflector, softbox or umbrella, and a couple of backdrops.

Of course, investing in the right equipment can be quite pricey, so it’s a good idea to experiment a bit before you spend your money. So if you’re interested in gaining some studio photography experience from home, give some of these creative ideas a try.

1. Design your own “set”

If you’re serious about learning the ins and outs of studio photography, it can help to create your own dedicated photography “set” using a well-lit area along with some props from around your home. This will become your ‘go-to’ spot whenever you want practice or try a creative new idea.

Your set could be as simple as a blank wall and a stool near a large window, or you could get more elaborate with plants, furniture, a couple of different backdrops, and a few lights. Of course, how you choose to design your set will also depend on the type of photographs you intend to create. Food and product photographers, for example, could probably fit everything they need on a simple folding table set up near a window, whereas portrait photographers might want to add a greater variety of props, backgrounds and furniture.

2. Experiment with different light sources

Lighting is a major part of studio photography. After all, one of the most important benefits of shooting in a studio is having the ability to manipulate the direction, intensity and colour of the light. Even if you don’t have access to professional studio lighting, you can experiment with the different light sources you have at home to create some interesting effects.

For example, large windows are an excellent source of natural light and can even be used to replicate the look you’d get when using a softbox. You can also experiment using a simple desk or table lamp as a light source for your portraits.

Keep in mind that the narrower the light source is, the harder the light will be. So, the light from a large window would fill in more of the shadows and result in a lower contrast image than the light from a desk lamp, which would create a higher contrast image with more dramatic shadows.

3. Create your own backdrops

Using a backdrop is the simplest way to give your portraits a more professional look and minimise post-processing time, because you’ll have no unwanted distractions to deal with. Fortunately, backdrops are easy to improvise yourself using a plain wall or other items such as bed sheets and curtains or even a roll of sturdy paper.

The type and style of backdrop you choose will depend on what you are photographing, but remember that in general, your backdrop should enhance your subject rather than distract from it. When in doubt, stick with simple solid-coloured fabrics with a smooth texture. 

If you don’t have a backdrop stand, a curtain rod can come in handy for hanging your backdrop, and a set of dumbbells or other heavy objects can be used to weigh your backdrop down at the bottom.

4. Collect a variety of props

Once you have your DIY photography studio setup, it can be fun to start collecting a variety of props to use in your photoshoots. Props can add context and character to your photographs, although, the type of props you’ll want to use will depend on your preferred type and style of photography.

Charity shops can be great for finding unique-looking props such as large empty picture frames, mirrors or vintage furniture and homeware. If you want to keep things a bit simpler, you can go for items like bubble wands, plants or books.

5. Design a DIY lightbox

If you want to photograph products or still-life objects, using a light-box is an effective way to get good lighting and a clean background for your images. Professional light boxes can be pricey, though, so if you want to experiment with one before actually spending money on it, you can build your own DIY light-box using a cardboard box.

You can find tutorials on YouTube that will guide you through this process, but the idea is to cut out rectangles on three of the four sides of your box. These openings will then be covered with white fabric or tissue paper so they become the “windows” that let light through. On the inside, you can use a piece of white poster board curved inside the box to create a seamless backdrop.

6. Use a foam core board as a reflector

Using a reflector is a great way to bounce more light on your subject and fill in the shadows if the light is a bit too harsh. Reflectors aren’t too expensive, but if you want an even simpler solution, you can use a large sheet of white foam core instead. All you have to do is position it opposite your light source so it will reflect the light onto your subject from another angle.

7. Make a simple flash diffuser

On-camera flash tends to throw harsh and unflattering light on your subject, so using a diffuser can be a great way to soften this effect. A flash diffuser works by spreading the light over a larger surface area, which creates softer lighting.

Making your own diffuser to experiment with at home is easy. One of the simplest options is to use the bottom half of a milk jug or other translucent plastic container. Just cut around the edges of the container to get it down to the right size, fix it over your flash, and you’re ready to start shooting.

8. Experiment with shadows

Shadows can add a lot of drama to your photographs, and one of the benefits of shooting in your own home studio is that you can more easily manipulate light and shadows to create a variety of interesting effects. So why not experiment a bit?

Start by simply observing how the position of the light affects the shadows and contrast in your images. What changes when you move the light to the side, behind or in front of your subject? Once you have a better idea of how the intensity and direction of the light will impact your photos, you can try some creative effects. For example, you could place something like a sifter, colander or wicker basket in front of your light source to cast interesting patterned shadows on your subject.

9. Try soft focus lens effects

Although creating tack sharp images is probably your main priority most of the time, soft focus photography goes in the opposite direction. Soft focus is technically a lens flaw, but many photographers have begun deliberately using this technique to add a dreamy glow to their images while also reducing the contrast of fine detail and giving the image a smoother effect.

There are a number of ways to achieve this effect, one of which is to use a soft focus lens or filter. If you don’t have access to a specialised lens or filter, you can use a cheap UV filter and apply a thin layer of Vaseline around the edges. This will give your images a soft blur while still maintaining a sharp centre. Alternatively, you can fasten a piece of gauze or cheesecloth around your lens to create a similar effect.

10. Go abstract

Abstract photography can be fun to experiment with at home because it’s more open to interpretation and allows you to play around with different effects and subjects. Even ordinary household objects can become visually appealing when photographed in unexpected ways.

For instance, you can move in closer and capture the pattern or texture of an object; use artificial light to highlight certain details or areas of your subject; or create intentional blur by moving your camera or the subject while taking the photo.

For more photography tips and inspiration, why not take a look around on the Bob Books blog? If you’d like to create your own professional-quality photobook, whether as a family heirloom or professional portfolio, we have a variety of options for you to choose from.