A persistent challenge photographers face when working in-studio is avoiding monotony. This can be especially difficult when shooting in the same space with the same tools and the same props over and over. One way of keeping your studio work fresh is by customizing the equipment with which you are working. This article covers a handful of do-it-yourself projects that can add a little extra character to your studio without requiring a large budget or extensive building experience.
Paint or Stain Your Apple Boxes
Are you tired of providing free advertising for Kupo or Matthews when posing your sitters on an apple box? An easy way to make your posing device more neutral is by simply painting it. Not only will this erase unwanted advertising, but it can also add significantly to the aesthetic of your shots.
Fashion photographers working with bold color palettes can match their environment or provide a splash of contrast by painting their apple boxes. For a more subdued effect, you can also consider staining your apple box. Most wooden apple boxes are receptive to staining, transforming your simple studio accessory into a furniture-quality prop.
Read: A hand-painted apple box is just one of the many accessories we recommend in our guide on building an affordable home studio.
Build Your Own Posing Table
An old studio I used to rent had an antique wooden posing table that was equal parts practical and beautiful. After months of fruitless searching for my own table, I decided to create something that could produce a similar effect without spending a small fortune at an antique shop. The resulting posing “table” makes use of common studio items and is much more easily stored than an actual piece of furniture. All you need are three items: a pancake apple box, a light stand with a reasonable minimum height, and a wall plate with a ⅝" receiver. Center and secure the wall plate to your apple box, mount it on your light stand, and voilà! Staining the apple box can provide a close approximation to the look you would get with an antique surface.
Dye Your Own Backgrounds
Tired of the same old fabric background colors and designs? Make your own! Start with a white muslin backdrop that already has loops sewn into it for mounting on a background support. A wide range of dye colors are available at art, craft, and specialist stores. Make sure you pick out a dye that is compatible with the material you are using. Once you become comfortable with the basics of dyeing fabric, you can experiment with creating gradients or patterns for more creative shoots. Search online for tutorials and inspiration.
Read: If you’re looking for inspiration for your next creative shoot, check out this retrospective on the trials and triumphs of long-term portrait projects.
Make Your Own V-Flats
One of the most useful tools for controlling light on any set is a V-flat. Depending on their size and intended use, V-flats can be made of a variety of materials. Sheets of ½" thick foam core are most commonly used since they can endure the abuse of set life better than more delicate materials. Conventional V-flats consist of two 4 x 8' boards hinged together with gaffer tape. While you can use solid white or black foam core, the most versatile V-flats use reversible foam core with black on one side and white on the other. Check your local art supply store before considering buying online, since shipping 8' boards can be a challenge. Don’t be afraid to get creative with materials. Foam core is ideal because it is sturdy and lightweight, but you can achieve the same results with a variety of building materials as long as they can provide a matte white and/or black surface. Go to the hardware or craft store and get creative.
Once you have gathered your materials, building your V-flat is simple. First, lay down your boards side by side with a gap equivalent to the thickness of your boards between them. This will allow them to open and close like a book. Run one strip of gaffer tape down the middle and then an additional strip on either side of the center strip for reinforcement. Do this on both sides of your v-flat and you are good to go. If all of this seems like too much of a hassle, consider V-Flat World’s Foldable V-Flat, a more portable version of the standard V-flat.
Customize Your Scrims
Another invaluable studio tool that can be easily customized is a scrim. These can be purchased prefabricated, but many photographers and filmmakers opt to create their own with their preferred media. You can pick up a scrim frame and test it with different types of diffusion materials to see exactly what will work best for the kind of photos or videos that you are creating. The nice thing about using a frame is that you can swap different types of diffusion in and out by simply cutting sheets of diffusion to size and either clamping or taping them into place when needed.
Build a Seamless Background Holder
You can never have too many colors when it comes to seamless background paper—until you have to find somewhere to put them all. When stored efficiently, rolls of seamless don’t take up a lot of space. The key is coming up with a way to keep them both out of the way and accessible. Check out this Explora article for detailed instructions on how to build a seamless storage rack on the cheap. Depending on how many rolls you need to store, you can adapt the design. Rolls on the long end may require a top and bottom rack in order to better stabilize your paper.
Do you have a favorite DIY studio project? Share your ideas in the Comments section, below!