Steven Brokaw Photography

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Studio Setup - And That's How You Do That

I shoot out of M10 Studio in Indianapolis.  Myself and 3 other photographers make up the studio.  Because we all use it, I normally cleanup / takedown my equipment after each shoot.  That means I need to setup the studio before each shoot.   Generally, I do this the day before a shoot, so I'm not rushed for time, and I never want a creative team to come into the studio thinking I'm not ready to go.

Anyway, today I set up the studio for an agency shoot tomorrow and thought I would share my "normal" setup procedure.  Why you ask, well not sure, but thought I would write a blog post about it anyway.   One of the reasons is to reinforce that doing a photoshoot is more than just pushing a camera shutter release.  Just like a model who needs the eat right, work on his/her posing, stay in shape, etc. or a MUA who needs to practice their looks and keep their inventory stocked, there is more to a photoshoot than meets the eyes.

So here I go.  First is the studio shooting area as we normally leave it.  An empty area that has fairly reasonable dimensions.  You'll note we have a neutral grey wall.  That works really well for quick head shots or portraits without a backdrop.

M10 Studio's shooting area

M10 Studio's shooting area

Next step is to setup up the background stand, and load up a 104" roll of background paper.  Since I almost always do this by myself getting the paper out of the tube and onto the stand, and then raising the stand is sometimes tricky.  However, after a few years of doing this it's become routine.  I'm using a Savage background stand (a fairly inexpensive one that has seen it's better days) and all of our paper is Savage Seamless.  For my shoot tomorrow I'm using a 104" Super White 01.  

To avoid the roll, unrolling while I raise the bar I use a large alligator clamp clipped to the end of the roll so it can't unroll.  I add 3 or 4 other clips at the bottom of the paper to add weight when I release the clamp (while standing on the ladder) so the paper unrolls.  I then go up and down the ladder to pull the paper out.  An assistant would be uber for this step.

Savage background stand setup up.  I tape the joints do the bar doesn't collapse when I slide the paper on.

Savage background stand setup up.  I tape the joints do the bar doesn't collapse when I slide the paper on.

And up it goes

And up it goes

Savage Super White unrolled.  I tape down the paper and add a sandbag until the shoot.

Savage Super White unrolled.  I tape down the paper and add a sandbag until the shoot.

I normally roll the paper out about 6-8 feet from the sweep and add a fairly wide sweep.  this means that the model can only stand about 2 feet away from the back of the paper.  If they go back any farther....down comes the paper or they punch a hole in the paper.  I leave a sandbag on the paper until the model steps on mainly to give people a warning that the paper edge is there.  I know, stupid, but I can't tell you the number of times people kick the end of the paper and tear it.  I use standard blue painters tape to hold it down.

Once I get the background up (which is the first thing I do) it's time to set up the lights.  I normally shoot with 1 light or two.  I always set up the key light first.  For this shoot I'm using a large KUPO C-Stand.  In this shoot I've mounted an Elinchrom D-Lite 4 for the key.  The D-Lite 4 is a 400W studio strobe.  I really like this strobe because it weighs very little, is durable (as long as you don't drop it and don't mess with the bulb) and most of all there is an internal Elinchrom Skyport receiver.  I consider this a very basic strobe.  I have better strobes but I generally start with one of my D-Lite's.  

I then add a diffuser.  For this shoot I want a large light source and a wide dispersion so I'm adding an Elinchrom Rotalux Midi-Octa 53" octagonal light bank.  Think of it as a round soft box or a deep large beauty dish (although each produces a different light)

The D-Lite 4 is light enough that I don't need a counter weight for most of the setups.

The D-Lite 4 is light enough that I don't need a counter weight for most of the setups.

Hmmm, although I don't need a sandbag or weight on the arm, I should have put one on the leg.  I hope when I get back to the studio it' hasn't fallen over.

Hmmm, although I don't need a sandbag or weight on the arm, I should have put one on the leg.  I hope when I get back to the studio it' hasn't fallen over.

Next is the second light setup.  For this setup I'm going to be use a second background so I want another key light.  For this I'm using a Manfrotto light stand with a pivot arm and a second Elinchrom D-Lite 4 studio strobe.  You'll notice I added caster wheels to the stand which makes it SOOO much easier to move it around.  I have added a sandbag on the leg or this unit will go over.  If needed I can use this light as a key for the second background or as a fill light for the main setup.  All I need to do is add one of my modifiers based on my lighting need.   I consider this setup as fairly light weight.  Adding a large modifier or extending the strobe out too far is a risky proposition. For my heavier needs I use a C-Stand or my big Manfrotto super boom.

My second light setup

My second light setup

Finally, for this shoot, and what I normally do is set up a second background.  However, for my second background I traditionally use just a 54" Savage Seamless mounted on a standard C-Stand.  You simply slide the paper roll on the C-Stand arm (the paper is about 12 inches longer than the arm, but I've found it's OK).  This is a really quickee setup that goes up quickly and breaks down quickly.  I use this almost exclusively for 9x12 crops or head shots.  It's challenging to do a full body shot with this setup because I don't do a sweep.  

Here is the setup with my second lighting setup with a 17" Elinchrom beauty dish.  You'll notice I have to add 3 sandbags to the background stand's legs or it's going over.  This background setup is naturally unstable.

Studio Setup-9.jpg

Here are the extras I normally use in a normal setup / shoot.  Except for the items I've talked about and my cameras there is the rest of the gear that I normally bring to a shoot both for the shoot and for setup.

  • A Lastolite Professional EzyBalance Calibration Card which is a small folding, pop-up grey card (always used),
  • X-rite Colorchecker Passport color calibration card,
  • Seconic L-358 light meter (always used),
  • Large alligator clips purchased at Lowes versus a camera store,
  • Various rolls of tape
  • My box of accessories including the Elinchrom EL-Skyport triggers / receivers, various cords, tools, Elinchrom receiver for my Elinchrom 1200 RX strobe, etc.
My standard shoot kit

My standard shoot kit

OK, that' about it.  The whole setup like this normally takes about 1 1/2 hours.   If I had some help it would take maybe 1/2 the time.  I've got this down to an art form so I actually enjoy setting up because it gives me a chance to think about the shoot.  It takes about 1/2 that time to take things down.  

And there you go.  I'm ready to shoot.

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