Creating Amazing Photographs in Small Spaces

Creating Amazing Photographs in Small Spaces

While the idea of having the best available studio and equipment remains, well, an idea or dream for many of us, creating great images in the comfort of your own home does not have to be.

Small Spaces, Big Images

This can be achieved by simply having a table top, some DIY equipment, and speed lights. You do not have to have the larger more expensive studio strobes, although they do have their own benefits and would suit a more professional outfit. Affordable speed lights can help achieve remarkable images while you learn to step up the game and learn lighting, all in a small space. The benefits of having speed lights are 

  • Cheaper to purchase and replace
  • Small enough to store at home 
  • Compact size which makes them perfect to carry around
  • Easier to position and place them in awkward places
  • They can produce enough light to shoot at f/13
  • Modifiers and accessories come relevantly cheap and cheerful.

When we think of luxury products or commercial product photography we normally picture great big studios with high white walls, and running with the latest in flash gear and high-end cameras. Who ever knew that you can achieve close enough results in a small space like your own home.

These images were taken on a day I was bored and decided to create some magic. Now I am by no means a high end retoucher, but some level of editing is usually required to create these images. 

In the image you can see I use strip boxes with speed lights, as you can control the light much easier this way, and it does not require as much space as a larger soft box. Clear fishing wire was used to hang the headphones, this made it easier to remove in post to give it the levitating effect.

Some of these images have been lit using one speed light in a strip box. For the reflectors I was using foam core boards. In most cases 2 or more speed lights were used with reflectors. I have been a studio based photographer for many commercial jobs, but there have been occasions where the client has had a request to use their premises for the shoot. This is usually the case with food photography, (I didn’t have a kitchen to shoot in) or delicate products that I prefer the client to handle, or larger items like furniture. The things you will need to shoot like this in a small space can be purchased from any DIY store, I used Amazon for the tracing paper roll. This is a list of items I keep to create these images;

  • A roll of tracing paper
  • Various size canvas frames. (Usually the cheap canvases, as I take the actual canvas off and wrap the tracing paper around it). 
  • Speed lights. 
  • Triggers.
  • Strip boxes.
  • Stands.
  • Colour Gels.
  • Speed light grids, barn doors etc.
  • Colour card for back drops.
  • White foam core or card to ask as reflectors.
  • Clamps to hold the boards. 
  • A reasonable height table.
  • Reflector.
  • Spray bottle for water.
  • Fake ice.
  • Clear fishing wire to hang items and easily remove in post later.
  • Black, white and clear Perspex sheet (for the in camera reflection).

The table I use is from Ikea. I purchased 4 of these when they were reduced from £150 to — wait for it — £4. Yes, you read that right, four pounds each. And these are the heavy solid wood ones, not the cheap light ones that you feel will break at the slightest drop. I grabbed four, as that is the most I could get in the car at the time. I usually have this tucked under the sofa and put the table together when I need to shoot. As it is mainly stored under the sofa it is not in the way and used for the purpose of photography only; just attach the legs and off you go. As you can see from the images, the lights are usually placed close to the table. This is so that I get the softest shadows possible, and have more room around the table for movement or to add any additional lights. I usually leave a space behind the table and wall, just in case I want to add a separation light. I start off with one light, and add more as I go along. I usually have a good idea on how I want the final image to look, but as someone who is starting out this may not be the case. Just remember to go slow and take one step at a time. Add one light at a time and watch the image build until you know it is ready.

To create images like the above I used a grid on the speedlight to control the light and direct it where I wanted it to go. I also used a black product table, of which you can see the outline if you look carefully. One speedlight was used and this was double diffused, first firing through an umbrella and then through the custom made canvas diffuser. This particular canvas only has the tracing paper wrapped once. 

The Vera Wang image was shot in a room which is roughly half the size of the main room. I used a small Ikea table and the same black product table as the cutlery image. I used two speed lights and plenty of white card reflectors. They make the ideal reflections in glass, and makes the reflection look more natural. I knew I wanted the white background so I used a speed light to light that. And the black table top to create the contrast between the two. And finally adding color in the form of the aftershave and the image is done. So the main light is the speedlight to the right of the frame, which is on a grid to direct light on to the Perspex sheet on the side to bounce soft light on the bottle, this is now the key light. The card on the right of the bottle is bouncing light to create the fill. Check the diagram to understand better.

Although you see two soft boxes, only one was used for the image. The one I used is an over head light in a tiny 20 x 20cm Westcott softbox. It just about holds a speed light. The diffusion was used only to bounce any light back if any. I used a macro lens to create the depth of field, as it compliments the lighting quite well. 

This is one of my all time favorite images. The Shloer bottle took some thinking and experimenting to pull off. I really took my time on this one as I wanted to create just the perfect image. The background paper used was a glittery pink color, but it did not show up as much as I thought it would. I purchased the fake ice and the glass just for this kind of image. The water droplets were created by a simple spray bottle using just water. I didn't feel the need to use glycerin that the professionals do. I just took my time with the lighting and placement, and when the stage was ready, quickly sprayed the bottle and shoot. A simple way to get the fresh, cool, cold looking bottle. 

The lighting is similar to what I mostly use for shots at home. I used 2 strip boxes, which were carefully positioned one by one to create the right amount of reflection. I wanted one reelection to go all the way down the bottle for definition and one just to highlight it. The label was angled to just fall in the middle of the two light reflections. It is much easier to create these reflection lines with the strip boxes than conventional square soft boxes. But if you do not have the strip boxes, then simply mask out areas on the square soft box, with a dark cloth, and you have a strip box. A third speedlight was used for the background to create the halo. A clear Perspex sheet was used to create the reflection. The idea was to create a good image in camera, which helps with post and reduce editing times.

For me the whole idea of having this space at home is so you can just shoot when you want. I have taken the best images out of boredom, and it is also a learning curve. Once you can learn how to light subjects, then it gets easier to light many other things. The process is not just for products. I use the same lighting techniques for weddings and portraits, and thank myself for taking the time out to learn, all within the space of a table top at home.

The best thing about the learning curve is that it does not have to be expensive. A pair of Yongnuo flashes and stands will cost you no more than $200 approx. Add a strip box and foam core card and you have your home studio setup. The rest of the equipment will either come to you through GAS, or you can add as and when you need to. The key thing to remember is practice. Take your time, build your style, and eventually you will create some amazing images.

You can watch this video where I build a complete set up to create this image for a client. Popcorn not required.

Imran Mirza's picture

Imran Mirza is a Dubai based landscape and studio photographer. His work has been featured all around the world by means of Windows Themes. He vlogs his travels on his growing Youtube channel, where he is also starting beginner photography tutorials.

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brilliant Imran I need to learn so much about lighting

Thanks Mark, I'm glad you enjoyed my first article.

Brilliant, lot of text and explanation! For people who can read and think.

Thanks Vladimir, the whole idea is to keep as much information so it is simple and easy to understand.

Thank you that this is not a video :))

There is a video at the end of the post. You have to click the link to view it. It shows how i achieved the last image you see.

This is great! Makes me want to get a small setup in my basement!

Thanks Rob and yes go do it! Its so simple and compact, you are living in a studio and don't even know about it!

Love the cutlery images - and the little black table :)

Thank you Robby. See the simple setup. Nice and easy. Took some air brushing though, that's why I chose matt finish ones not chrome.