How to Build a Portable Potrtait Photography Studio

Written by miguel cavazos
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How to Build a Portable Potrtait Photography Studio
Carry plenty of extra batteries for portable flash units. (dSLR camera flash mounted as a slave image by dinostock from

Portable portrait photography studios allow photographers to create studio quality portraits at various locations. These studios simplify preparation for work on location because the photographer uses the same equipment and requires the same amount of space each time. Similar to standard studios, portable studios enable photographers to consistently deliver the same quality of work without additional preparation. Portable portrait studios are built with the principle of minimising space requirements and easy assembly. Most commercial collapsible sets are easy to set up, take down and transport in small vehicles. Collapsible set pieces that minimise space requirements include illuminated backgrounds, bounce umbrellas, light stands and background stands.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • 1 bounce umbrella
  • 2 battery powered slave flash units
  • 2 collapsible light stands
  • 2 collapsible background support stands
  • 4 multipurpose vice grip clamps
  • 1 5-foot by x 7-foot collapsible illuminated background or larger
  • 4 35-pound sand bags
  • Umbrella clamp adaptor
  • Hot shoe flash transmitter

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  1. 1

    Extend both background support stands to match the height of the background.

  2. 2

    Assemble the illuminated background by using the manufacturer's instructions. Collapsible illuminated background systems are suitable for portable portrait studios, because the strobe is placed inside the background. This minimises the space requirements, because the subject can stand much closer to the background without casting a shadow. It may be necessary to complete assembly of the collapsible background system flat on the floor.

  3. 3

    Prop up the finished background system, and align the background support stands on each side of the background. Clamp the background to the background support stands with two multipurpose vice grip clamps on each stand. Position the clamps about 2 feet from the top and the bottom of each stand.

  4. 4

    Lay one sand bag across an extender arm at the base of each background support stand. The sand bags provide necessary support to prevent your background from falling over, and are especially helpful for setting up outdoors.

  5. 5

    Fasten the one flash unit on the key light stand. Extend the key light stand approximately 6 feet. Position the key light approximately 45 degrees in front of and to the right of the subject, and lay one sand bag across an extender arm at the base of the key light stand for additional support.

  6. 6

    Open the bounce umbrella until it is fully extended and locked. Insert the staff of the umbrella into a wedge on the strobe, stand or umbrella clamp adaptor on the key light, and fasten it securely. Umbrellas are inexpensive and provide a portable source of broad diffused light for portable portrait studios.

  7. 7

    Fasten the other flash unit on the background light stand. Extend the background light stand to match the height of the insert sleeve on the collapsible background. Insert and position the light according to the background manufacturer’s instructions, and lay one sand bag across an extender arm at the base of the background light stand for additional support.

  8. 8

    Attach the hot shoe flash transmitter to the camera’s hot shoe.

Tips and warnings

  • Carry plenty of spare batteries for your flash units.
  • It may be necessary to have an assistant or helper when setting up and taking down the studio, depending on obstacles presented by the location. Having someone else present can help reduce set-up anxiety.
  • Make sure the hot shoe flash transmitter is compatible with both flash units, and the camera is positioned within range to trigger the slave units.
  • Accidents happen. Always carry liability insurance when exposing others to photography equipment.

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