Professional photographer Khatleen Minerve explains how she has been able to take studio quality portraits outdoors, using a “homemade” setup.
She decided to use natural light instead of studio strobes, but I see no reason why you couldn’t use this setup for flash photography as well. Not a lot of equipment is needed, and you may already have some of these at hand. You can definitely set this up without breaking the bank, and upgrade later when you’re willing to invest more.
Here are the things you will need:
- Backdrop stands
- Backdrops or seamless fabric
- Scrim (and its stands possibly)
- Clamps or clips
When it comes to backdrops, you can find good ones like the Savage seamless background paper or the muslin reversible background online for a good price. But for those who want to experiment on a whim without investing too much, consider the cheap alternative that is fabrics. At the start, I did consider buying backdrops in store, but it turns out they were not so cheap in Mauritius where I live and the ones that were in store were particularly ugly. So, I went to a fabric store where I found some amazing suede-like fabric or velour as it is also called. It is available in an array of gorgeous colors from grey to pink. I bought some five meters of blue, green, coral, grey, and black fabric, all for $125 roughly. I even got the shop owner to stitch across one end of each fabric so that I could insert my bar and have the fabric hang without any trouble. And last, to hold the fabric in place on my stands, I bought some clamps to use along with the backdrop clips I already owned.
When setting up for an outdoor studio, I would strongly recommend you find a place where there are no high buildings around to project shadows or where windows around won’t reflect strong lights during the time you are shooting. Find a spot with little wind where the sun will shine all around. If you want to achieve a sharp and dramatic look with the harsh sunlight, it’s best to place your backdrop and stands in a spot where the sun is shining on the left or right side. The shadows can always be softened a bit with a reflector or diffuser, and the direct sunlight can be diffused with a scrim placed above.
Shooting outdoors or with only natural light comes with a few disadvantages. You will have no control over the weather. Even if the forecast for the shooting day was a sunny one, you might still have overcast weather, and if you were looking for harsh sunlight for a dramatic look, you will be stuck with a softer look. It could also rain or it could be extremely windy. In the last scenario, one thing you can do is use sandbags to keep your stands from crashing on the ground. But for the rain, there is nothing much that you can do. So, choose your shooting day wisely.
I’ve been using the same setup and suede backdrops for my personal projects for a couple of years now, and while I have grasped how to use them effectively, I am still surprised sometimes by how an outdoor studio can help me learn more about natural light itself.