What Do You Need for a Mobile Photography Studio

Producing high quality portraits in different environments can be challenging. There can be issues with lighting, backgrounds, even models! So, how do we have the best chance of creating strong portraits – we take our equipment with us. What do you need for a mobile photography studio? Read on.

Single light portrait

This portrait was shot with a single light to the right of camera

Here I have outlined the minimum gear you will need to have a mobile studio. Sorry, if you were hoping I’d give you reasons to buy thousands of dollars worth of new gear! I have taken the opposite approach – and will show you just how affordable it can be to have simple mobile equipment which will allow you to shoot strong portraits in different locations. As you will see this set up is best suited to indoor conditions where you are trying to generate professional quality light with the minimum of fuss and effort. First, we need a light source. The simplest way is to have one external flash unit. Not the pop up flash on the top of some cameras, but a separate flash unit. This will enable us to control the level and direction of light in any situation. Most readers of Beyond Here will already have an external flash unit, but if you don’t, you should consider getting one. You really can’t produce excellent quality portraits using pop up flash. Once you do have an external flash unit, you will have flexibility in how you light your subject.


flash photography

A flash unit and radio trigger mounted on a light stand

Once we have a light source we need to know how to use it! For simple portraits we want just one light, but we will need a light stand to put it on. Once we have a light stand we can position the light anywhere relative to our subject. At the online camera store I use, you can currently buy a 1.8m light stand for $30. Light stands are very handy, and pack up to a manageable size to carry. Mine fit inside a small bag, making them easy to transport.

Ok, we have a flash unit and a light stand. What’s next? The light produced from a single flash unit will be harsh. To create high quality portraits we need something to soften the light from our flash unit. For this, I mainly use a shoot through umbrella. A 33 inch umbrella at my favorite online store is currently $35 (though they are often much cheaper than this. Bring on the sales!) When we fire the flash through the shoot through umbrella it will produce a soft, flattering light.

flash

The umbrella fits into the swivel adapter

To mount the camera and umbrella we need a simple adapter which fits on the end of the light stand. If you haven’t done this before, it is this piece of equipment which often gets overlooked. It is often referred to as a ‘swivel umbrella adapter’. The current price at the online store I use is $34. Look out for them in your camera store.

The final piece of the lighting puzzle comes with having something to fire the flash while it is off the camera. A simple option here is a radio trigger (I wrote a separate post here about how to use flash triggers). To make radio triggers work you place one in the hot shoe of your camera, and attach your flash unit to the other one. When you press the shutter button the trigger on your camera sends a signal to the other trigger, and fires the flash. Cool eh? A pair of radio triggers is currently just over $100, though you can get them for half this price when they are on sale.

With this small amount of equipment you are now ready to go. The equipment is easy to carry, with the light stand being the bulkiest item.

(If you want to be able to control your background as well, you can buy a ‘pop up’ background. I have one of these which is black on one side and white on the other, cost $100. It is useful, particularly for shooting corporate portraits on a black background. If you are not ready to buy one, look for a plain wall to use as your background and position your subject 2-3 meters from the wall.)

So there you have it – what do you need for a mobile photography studio – in a few easy steps. Note, this set up works very well in indoor situations. If you are using it outdoors, be careful with the shoot through umbrella. Even a small amount of wind will catch the umbrella and blow your light stand over. Not a good look!

Thanks for reading ‘what do you need for a mobile photography studio’.

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