The easy way to turn your garage into a professional home portrait studio

Tips & Techniques

At some point or another, most people who shoot portraits get the idea into their heads that it’d be quite nice to be able to shoot them from home. But how? Well, if you’ve got a garage, it’s relatively straightforward, as portrait photographer Pye Jirsa from SLR Lounge illustrates in this video where he does exactly that by turning his garage into a home studio that gives professional results.

The good news is that you can do it fairly inexpensively and it’s not a permanent irreversible change. If you need to use your garage as an actual garage for your vehicle, you can still do that. But when you want to shoot portraits, you can empty it out and easily set it up as a studio space for shooting portraits using just natural daylight.

How easy this particular setup will be to create really depends on the size of your garage. Obviously, some are much larger or smaller than others, but the principles Pye explains can easily be adapted to fit most sizes. Even if your particular garage limits you to head and shoulders shots rather than full length, you’re still going to be able to take advantage of some of these tips to help you get decent results.

The first thing you need to think about when using natural light in this way is the time of day. You don’t want to shoot in your studio when the sun’s blasting through the big open door, so depending on the direction your open garage door faces, there are more than likely going to be certain times of the day when the light will be pretty awful and your subject will be squinting. So, picking the right time of day is key.

But as far as setting the scene, it’s fairly simple. Start with the backdrop. Pye uses a hand-painted backdrop here, but you can use whatever you have available. And if you have nothing available, again, you can use inexpensive bedsheets. Just make sure to iron out any wrinkles in it first. You’ll want a background stand of some sort and there are plenty of commercially available options out there, but you can DIY something for that, too.

The placement of the backdrop and your subject distance relative to the open garage door is going to give you a lot of control over the light levels falling onto each. After all, if the main light source for your shot is that soft light streaming in through the big open garage door, it’s a bit like having a big giant softbox and light falloff resembling the inverse square law still sort of applies. The closer something is to that open door, the brighter it’ll be. The further away is from the open, the darker it’ll be. So, if there’s a huge exposure and contrast difference between your subject and background, you can move your subject a little further away from the entrance or bring the backdrop closer to it to even things out and get a good balance between the two.

If you want a little more control over the light and to be able to add a little more drama, you can add v-flats to the setup to help eliminate some of the reflected light inside the garage and add a little more shadow to parts of your subject. It’s not the only way to shoot portraits in your home garage, but it’s a simple setup that requires very little effort to set up, doesn’t require a ton of equipment or permanent modifications to your garage and can produce some excellent results.

Of course, this does assume that you live somewhere that has a decent amount of sunlight, too. Here in Scotland, the weather’s far too unpredictable to shoot portraits in a garage without having some flash handy!

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