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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 5 of 20

Camera Settings For Low Light

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

5. Camera Settings For Low Light

Lesson Info

Camera Settings For Low Light

All righty. Turn this off. And I'm gonna go to my clipboard, make sure I covered everything I needed to cover there. We did. So, we've got one more thing to talk through before we get into doing some portraiture, and that is camera settings. Camera settings are important, it's important that you are all knowledgeable about setting the camera up, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, all those things. So I'm just gonna take you through a quick scenario of setting up the studio and talk through some concerns that you may have around the home studio versus maybe a little bit more of a professional studio using strobes. Okay, so I'm gonna grab my camera and just talk through some of the stuff. So, like I said before, in the home studio the light levels are typically lower. So you're talking, your shutter speeds are typically gonna be in 30th of a second range to maybe a 60th of a second range. So one of the ways that we increase shutter speed is to increase your ISO. So one of the downsides is the...

higher your ISO goes the more noise you get, the more grain you get in your photograph. So, typically I recommend maybe a full frame camera for in home studio work because full frame cameras typically have lower noise at the higher ISO levels. So what am I talking about? I'm talking about ISO 800, maybe ISO 400, all the way up to maybe ISO 1600, and it just depends on what your own personal pain threshold is with noise. Some people see a little bit of noise and they freak out, and they're like, "Ah! I can't stand noise in my photographs." Other people are like, "Yeah, "I don't mind noise. Noise is cool. "Gives me a gritty look and I think that looks awesome." So whatever your personal threshold is for ISO use the higher level of that, okay? So today, we'll see how this works out here in a few minutes, but I'll probably be shooting ISO 800 or maybe even higher. Okay, so along with that, you probably know your aperture also impacts how much light comes into the camera. So when you're doing portrait work, you have to be careful about focus, right? So you have to focus on the eye of the subject. Now, when you're dealing with people, that person is oftentimes moving forward and backward, even if they're not trying to, they're moving a little bit. So some of you may go out and buy like a 85 millimeter f/1.8, or an 85 millimeter f/1.4. And you may say, "Oh shoot! This is cool. "I can shoot it wide open, I can shoot at 1.8." Well, you're depth of field at f/1.8 is so narrow that if your subject moves forward just a quarter inch, or a few millimeters, you're gonna lose focus on that front eye. So, sometimes you have to use a smaller aperture. And what I'm getting at here is if you wanna shoot f/5.6, or if you wanna shoot f/8, or even f/11, then your shutter speed goes way down in the home studio. Then you definitely have to be on a tripod, and your subject needs to be just rock solid. Your subject can't move hardly at all. So, my recommendation? Maybe start at f/4. Start at f/5.6, something like that. Start there for your aperture. How about your shutter speed? Well your shutter speed's gonna be dictated by however much light you have in the scene and as we get started here in a few minutes you're gonna see that the closer my lights are to the subject, the faster the shutter speed I can use. The farther my lights are away, the longer my shutter speed's going to need to be. So, get those lights close, you can use a faster shutter speed. All right, what else do we have to think through? Well, every camera has the most important settings on the outside of the camera. So like this one has the ISO button here, it has white balance, we talked about white balance a little bit earlier. So make sure you make a conscious decision about your white balance. For me, today I'm gonna use a custom white balance. I'll show you how we do that once we start taking photos here in a minute. Your shooting mode, this is your program mode, your shutter priority, your aperture priority, or your manual mode. Well, I don't really have any recommendation here other than use what you know, use what's comfortable to you. I typically work in aperture priority, that's my go to. In the home studio sometimes I will shoot in manual mode as well because a lot of times in the home studio things are slower, I have a little bit more time to think through. All right. So, today we'll start out, I'll be in aperture priority mode. And then exposure compensation, make sure you zero that thing out, so you just want your exposure compensation to start out at zero. As we get into this, I may be moving my exposure up and down, but that's this little plus and minus button there. Okay. How about auto-focus for the home studio? Well, your subject's typically not moving, whether that's a tabletop subject or even a portrait subject, you're typically just wanting to focus, hold that focus and recompose. So that's called single servo focus, and so that's what I'll set here today, is single servo focus. So for camera settings, that's about it. Again, high ISO, a bigger aperture, like f/5.6 to f/5.4, and then your shutter speed, just be watching that shutter speed very carefully. You know this, that if you shoot with a long shutter speed, and you're trying to hand-hold it, it's gonna be a blurry shot. So use some support for your camera. Right on. So, we are now at a good transition. We're ready to start taking studio pics. And so I would hand it over to you real quick to see if there's any questions I need to answer before we do that. One question that had come in and I don't know if you're gonna cover this later, was about modifiers and diffusion, and things that you could use outdoors in addition to indoors, so maybe if you had a home studio you you photograph sometimes out in your yard as well. Good. Well the big key with taking your gear outside is durability and wind resistance. Most people aren't going to shoot out in the rain, so you don't have to worry so much about rain resistance, but the key is durability. So I'll walk over here real quick. I just don't wanna trip on the cable. So, durability. Well these lights are durable. These are actually construction work lights. So these are designed to be incredibly durable, to take on the work site and drop in the mud, fantastic. So use these, they work anywhere in the world. And then your diffusion source, your panels or your foam core, you can just throw that away if it ends up getting damaged. Wind is the next big thing to worry about in this scenario, so you have to find a way to make sure that stuff doesn't fly away. So using something like a camera bag, a lot of times, let me grab this real quick and I'll show you what I do. I'll have a light stand. By the way, you're gonna need to buy a light stand. This is just one of the things. I mean, you can do a do-it-yourself light stand, you can make them out of PVC, great. You can just literally piece PVC together and pfft, put a pole up and now you're got a light stand, but I don't recommend it because PVC is pretty flimsy, so buy a light stand. A little digression here, but these light stands you can buy online, you can buy them on Ebay, Amazon, Adorama, B and H, any of these stores sell them, and you can get them for 30 bucks apiece. So buy a light stand, or multiple light stands. It's money well spent. But the point I'm making here is that outside, even with a commercial light stand, you're gonna have to weight this thing down. So a lot of times what I'll do is I'll take my camera bag, and a little cord, like a paracord, and I'll just hang it on one of these knobs, and that holds the whole thing down in the wind. That's important, that's the most important consideration when you go outside. But all the stuff will go outside. With the caveat that some of the cardboard box stuff doesn't really travel well. Like this cardboard box example that I'm gonna show later on, that ain't going anywhere. In fact, after today. I actually looked at this light this morning, it sat here all night long, it's already starting to sag and fall apart so (chuckles) after today this cardboard box thing will probably just be thrown in the garbage. The exterior of it. Yeah, good question.

Class Description

Getting started in photography and looking to go beyond natural light? Not every piece of equipment needs to hurt your wallet. Join Mike Hagen as he shows you how to create your own do it yourself home studio. He’ll show you to create a $10,000 DIY photography studio on a budget and how to utilize and still create quality looking images. 

 You’ll learn:

  • How to find and create grip equipment by shopping at your local hardware store 
  • How to create a tabletop studio in your home 
  • How to put together and light a portrait studio on a budget.
You don’t have to have your own studio space or purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment to build your portfolio of images. Join Mike as he gets you expanding your portfolio so you can gain the clients to eventually purchase the gear you want to own!

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

DIY Schematics

Lighting Diagrams

Product List for DIY Home Studio

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I was so glad to see Mike! He taught my first DSLR class (Nikon D70 - then Nikon D300). I love his presentation style. It is so clear and he takes care of showing details that get in the way of actually 'doing it'. And I like the way he emphasizes good manners when dealing with a model. Well done Mike!


I've watched this class a few times when it's been on-air and I realized I really need to just buy it. I find Mike so likable and engaging, and I love how he talks you through the shoot while experimenting. Sometimes the experts show you the perfect way to do it the first time but it leaves you not really able to troubleshoot when you are doing it yourself. I already own a lot of gear that his DIY equipment is emulating, but it's really artistically inspiring to see his creative approaches.


This course is fantastic! You don't need a lot of money to start a studio or go on location. Mike shows some great easy hacks anyone can use to create a studio and create professional photographs that will earn you the money to then purchase more pro equipment. I got some great ideas I'll be using on my next shoot!