Ghetto Studio Tricks


I was “volunteered” (by my lovely wife) to take my daughter’s kindergarten class graduation pictures.

I was of course told the parents don’t expect anything “special” but if I was going to take my camera out of the bag, I wanted them half way decent! Geez, some of them know that I’m a professional photographer so my reputation was on the line too- I’m sure many of us have experienced situations like this. I’m not really a studio or children’s photographer but I was up to the challenge and I actually had a good time taking pictures of these kids, they’re so stinkin’ cute, how could I not have a good time?

This was a really good experience for me because I realized when doing this type of photography, you need everything consistent in regards to subject position, lighting, etc. This can be a challenge because kids can’t follow complicated directions, so I had to be systematic and simplistic in my approach to guarantee consistent results. For example I laid a strip of tape on the ground and asked each kid to touch their tippy toes on the tape. This would keep the subject in the same location and ensure that their shoulders would be square to the camera.

If I was going to get paid doing this type of thing I would set up differently, like using a posing chair so I could control the angle of body towards the camera, this would level shoulders horizontally too because kids stand differently. I could also adjust height too with a posing chair. I might even use a tripod!!! GASP!!! I would also use four lights and a darker more professional background but heck, I just wanted to knock this out in an hour so this is what I came up with…

My Budget Set Up

  • Two Strobie 130s – two very basic flash heads, manually controlled (less than $300 for two strobes)
  • Tiny Triggers– wireless flash system ($229)
  • Shoot thru umbrella ($20)
  • Basic light stand with umbrella mount ($50)
  • White Sheet from Target ($5)
  • Canon 5D mkII with 24-105L (I probably could have used my Canon G10 with the same results! LOL)

Here are my camera settings: ISO 400, 1/100, F5.6, at 105mm. I set my white balance to “shade” to warm up image.

I set my main flash with umbrella at 1/8 power and another flash pointed at the background to reduce shadow lines and brighten background at 1/16 power.

I’m glad I decided to do a studio set up because the day we shot was very overcast and all the available light would be very flat. Learning how to use your flash can guarantee a consistent light quality no matter where you are as long as you have a room to shoot in or some nice shade. A room controls temperature and eliminates wind. I can create this look nearly anywhere I go.

It actually took more time getting them changed into the cap and gown than it did taking the pictures, we had two gowns so my wife could get one ready while I shot the other. It was fun trying to get the kids to give me their most natural smile. This was a challenge but the smiles they gave me made this project so worth the effort!

If you’re on a budget, a portable, small studio set up like this can do the job. Don’t feel intimidated by some photographers using a lot of fancy and expensive equipment. If one has a good knowledge of light- how to control and modify it, anyone can create a nice image one can be proud of.



Camera gear rental by mail Professional Photographers of America Portable lighting on location More than a camera store Free to be me website builder Your photos look better here Canvas, Fine Art & Metal Grab, Glide & Click Camera gear rental by mai Professional Photographers of America Inventive camera bags for all your gears Award winning digital photographic filters Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Your professional photographic and press printing partner Premiere music license service for photographers

May 23, 2011 - 7:10 pm

Cheri De Haro - ; ) LOVE the sheet the way it’s draped! Awesome Scott – Ha – u are the Best!

May 23, 2011 - 7:35 pm

Vicky Johnson - Scott, you always inspire me and I always appreciate your words of wisdom when it comes to what one really needs to get a great shot!

May 24, 2011 - 10:59 pm

Anonymous - I wish you were around to do my kid’s grad pictures 😉

May 24, 2011 - 11:00 pm

Patty K. - Oh that anonymous one was me.

October 31, 2011 - 7:27 pm

David - I’m not surprised that you could make great photos with a “ghetto” setup, but I am surprised that there is such a thing as kindergarten graduation! (Yes, I’m single with no kids, so I’m out of the loop.)

February 25, 2012 - 5:41 pm

Christy cropper - So adorable! Love how easy this is and how great the results are. Thanks for sharing!

Your email is never published or shared.