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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 10 of 20

Live Shoot; DIY Portraits

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

10. Live Shoot; DIY Portraits

Lesson Info

Live Shoot; DIY Portraits

Well, it's time to take some pictures. First thing I'm gonna do here is I'm gonna clean out some of this studio stuff and push it off to the side, and then we'll have our model come up and I'm gonna use my cardboard box for the first shot, and then we'll come back and bring these LEDs in for the next. Okay, so let's start gettin' the stage ready. I'm gonna have some folks take the softbox away, go ahead and come on up. We'll have you stand here, I'm gonna talk through the studio in general. And I'm just gonna talk through the space consideration, so we have more space now, and I'm gonna assume for this set that you all at home have a little bit longer space to work with, okay? So we're not gonna be confined to a little 10 foot by 10 foot box, so for you what I'm gonna have you do is I'm gonna have you actually be away from the wall. A good distance is about six feet, but because we got this whole studio to work with here, I'm gonna probably only do about four feet, okay? So how do you ...

measure six feet in real life without gettin' your tape measure out and lookin' like a dork? I just hold my arms out. You know, I'm six foot tall, you're five foot tall, so you know, a lot of times I'll just hold my hands out and then kind of stand in that spot, cool? But for this one, maybe we'll only be about four feet, so somewhere in this range. Right here? Yup cool. Alright, so we have her today wearing a little bit of an athletic setup, so I'm gonna do some neat things with lighting showing, kind of creating kind of a fierce look, you know, an athletic look. And then another thing I'm gonna do is show you how difficult it is to do movement with the home studio, and that's maybe for the future, a reason to go to flash and strobes, but for now at least, you'll see some of the difficulties with the home studio. Okay, so we're going to use my little softbox here, and I just have to be really careful it doesn't fall apart when I lift it up. Alright cool. I said earlier that you want your softbox or your lighting products to be about as far away from the subject as the length of the product. So this is only what, two feet? So that means I actually have to be in here pretty close. So, I'll have you move this way a little bit, get in the center of the light, of the backdrop. Cool, yeah, great. Nice. And before we start shooting, I'm gonna end up having them turn the house lights down. And it's DIY so I got cables, I got cords to deal with, so in this case, I'm just gonna warn you, don't step back. Okay. Don't fall down. And we'll plug this in. Okay, and make sure we're all tethered up, make sure that's all workin' for us. Power's on, yup, good. Okay, so CreativeLive folks, let's reduce the house lights. (knob clicks on) (knob clicks off and on (knob clicks off and on) (laughs) Houston, we have a problem. (button clicks on and off) Okay, I don't think this one's plugged in or turned on. (plug clicks in) There we go. (audience laughs) Switches. Okay, so there's two ways to work with this, one way is with the diffusion, and the other way is without. So don't look into the box, 'cause it's gonna be blinding here in a second. I just wanna show you how much brighter it is when you take the diffusion away. Right? So it almost doubles the amount of light. The diffusion really makes it nice and soft though. Okay, cool. Alright, so in a minute Kenna, I'm gonna borrow you to bring in a reflector. The first shot though I take is gonna be with no reflector, and just the box itself. Okay, so now exposure's gonna be an issue. My shutter speed's gonna be much slower here. I may need to do some exposure compensation because I've got a black backdrop, she's wearing all black clothes, so it's an overall fairly dark shot. Okay, I'm gonna have you turn your right shoulder towards me a little bit. A little bit more. Yeah, cool. And since we're doin' like kind of a sports theme, yeah actually I'm just gonna leave it there for a second. Getting a little diffusion panel into the photo. Oh it's a nice look. Alright, I'm just gonna take a test shot, one quick test shot. And let's look at it on our tether. Okay. So we can see here in the tethered photo that, I'll pull this off so people on set can see it. It's a little overexposed on her face right? So we're gonna dial in some negative exposure compensation, but in general, holy cow! That's a great lookin' shot! Look at that! Nice catch light in the eye, it's soft, looks professional, super cool! I'm so excited! Okay, so I'm gonna dial in some exposure compensation, bring it to minus exposure comp. So just so you know, I'm at ISO 800, I'm at f3.5, and my shutter speed is an 80th of a second. Alright, look right at the camera, serious looks for this shoot. (camera clicks) Alright, give me a little bit of a squint, kinda lookin' like you're ready to compete. (laughs) Alright? Aah! There we go, that's great! 'Kay you got the ball, you're ready to run the end zone. Okay, that's really competitive there. (laughs) Nice. (laughs) Yeah, so sometimes the words you use are the wrong words to use, and that's a learning experience too. Alright, let's look at a couple of those. Look at there, a little bit more of the fierce look, there we go. Great. Look at that catch light. Look at the overall quality of light on her face, where I'm gonna zoom in here on her eye just to show you the quality of that light. Fantastic, there is nothin' wrong with that. I could sell that all day long if I needed to. You know, there's a little bit of shine on her face, and so I've got a little bit of work to do with the exposure, but that's fine. Okay, Kenna let's bring over a reflector. This kind, or? Yeah, the big white one's great, we'll do that one, and then we'll bring in that gold/silver one in just a second. So the idea with the reflector is you know, you wanna supplement the light. You can move the reflector on the back, you can move it into the front. For this case I'm gonna bring it more in the front so I've almost got like a two light setup. Go ahead and bring it up, yeah, perfect. Come in close, real close. Yup, perfect. Now I don't know how easy it is to see with the camera system, but we got this little light area for the subject, for the model, and it sometimes feels a little constrictive, but you gotta get close. Close counts with lighting. Oh my goodness, that's incredible. It's a great lookin' shot. (camera clicks) Beautiful. (camera clicks) I'm gonna go vertical orientation. Great, and I'm focusing on her eye. (camera clicks) And last one here. (camera clicks) Okay, thank you Kenna. Sure. And will you remind people, are you using the 85 on this? I'm using the 85 millimeter, yup. Okay thank you. Okay, and then we're gonna bring over, as I talk about this lighting here Kenna, we're gonna bring over the space blanket reflector. Okay, I'm looking at these photos and they're lookin' great again. So these are with the reflector on the side, and let's look here on her eye. So you can see the key light, or the main light, got the nice, bright on the left side of the screen, and then the big diffuser that Kenna was holding on the other side. It just really softened the overall look. Really nice looking images. And then we compare that with the one without it. I mean the one without it's fine, sometimes though you do wanna bring in some fill. Once this white balance sets here, oh I forgot to set the white balance. Oh well, you all know how to do that. (laughs) It looks good anyways, so I think the white balance is great. Okay, let's now add in the space blanket reflector. This guy? Yup, that one. Cool. Alright Kenna, what do you think, silver or gold? I'm gonna go with gold. Alright, gold. So let's see what gold feels like. Okay. Alright Sidney, what does that feel like? What does that gold feel like compared to the white, does it feel any different? A little bit warmer. Okay. It feels warmer. Is it uncomfortable, does it feel okay? Great. No, feels good. Good. Alright, so here we go, this is the same basic shot with the gold reflector, I'll move back a bit. Oh my goodness that looks great. The gold adds a lot of warmth. Here we go. (camera clicks) Nice serious look right in the lens. (camera clicks) Okay, go ahead look towards the gold, go ahead and turn your nose, your whole face, there we go, and look. Well that's nice. (camera clicks) And give me a look at the gold. (camera clicks) And a look over my shoulder, in between the camera and the reflector. (camera clicks) (camera clicks) Okay, great. Let's see what that looks like. So the gold, you can see on that side of her face, we have a little bit of a white balance issue, I mean we did that on purpose, we did it so that we would warm the photo up, but we may need to re-white balance if it looks too orange, but I mean, sometimes the whole purpose of using a colored reflector is to instill or induce a warm effect. So I'm not necessarily upset about the look of that. How 'bout the catch lights in her eye, you know, we're always thinking about those catch lights. Well now we've got two catch lights. Okay, some people have a problem with that, some people really like the multiple catch lights. In this case both catch lights are, I'll say, kinda nice. You can see the gold reflector, the catch light's kinda even looks a little bit crinkly there, it's not square, or it's not perfectly round. So everyone's got their own little hiccups around catch lights. For me, I'd say it's okay. I would actually want it, if I retook it here, I'd want the catch light to be a little bit higher in her eye. So that's nice, great look. (claps) Okay, let's take the next segment here and the next one, I'm gonna bring out those snap on Home Depot lights. So if we need to turn the house lights on, just for a second, I don't know if that's easy to do. Great, and pull this off set. Goodbye softbox, you served us well. Alright Jamie, so we'll pull two of these Costco lights over here. You done with this one? I dunno, we might bring it back. Great. And this one is over here just in case, we may or may not use it. Okay. (claps) So this one, what I wanna do is, I wanna create a bit of a fierce look, and so, there's a number of photographers who do this look, and basically it's lighting on the backside, 'kay, lighting on the back, real bright lights in the back, with maybe a reflector, or maybe a second light up front. Just to show you kind of what a tough look looks like. So this one I want you to kinda get your testosterone pumping, roar, you know, so we're gonna fight, we're gonna have some funny facial expressions, that type of thing. Kind of a female warrior type of a look. Cool. And so we're just gonna light it from the background. We'll see how this works, yeah go ahead and turn that one on. And the cool thing about DIY lighting is it's continuous lighting, in other words, you get to see it in realtime as you're setting it up, so that really helps you understand what the final look's gonna be. Compare that or contrast that with flash, and a lot of times with flash you don't know 'til you've pulled the trigger. So a lot of times with flash, there's a little bit more back and forth. Okay, let me just take a look. Oh, cool. Cool. So I'm gonna move this one down a little bit so they're about equal heights, and I'll build this in realtime, so you guys can all see what my thought process is. I'm gonna start with no light in front and see what that looks like. And what I'm looking for, is I'm looking for a nice kind of rim off the side and a rim off of her face. So alright, let's go ahead and kill the house lights, stage lights, and see what we've got. Okay. Yeah, so I'll take a photo here, just so you all can see what this looks like. It's obviously not the final shot, but it's the building, we're building the photo kinda step-by-step. And to do this I'm actually gonna set my camera now for manual exposure, 'cause the camera's really gonna be, it's not gonna know what I wanna photograph. It doesn't understand that I haven't built the system yet, so I'm gonna just set my exposure to about a 60th of a second, maybe an 80th of a second, kind of where we were before, and here's a test shot. (camera clicks) Let's see what we got. Okay cool, great. So there's a starting point, right? It's a starting point. If I'm gonna shoot vertical here. Try that one more time. Alright, go ahead and put your arms kinda both arms at your side, and maybe even one foot forward and one foot back, and just kinda. (growls) Like flex your muscles, grip your hands together, make fists, they're out of camera, but that just helps me see the muscles. (camera clicks) Okay cool, I'm gonna back up just a little bit more. That was great, it was a good pose. Yeah, there we go. Okay, so all of you watching, you can see now that, let me get this out of the way so you see what's going on. Okay, there we go. So you can see what we're building. So the problem is of course, we don't have any light on her face. So there's a number of ways to fix that. Method number one is I'm just gonna try a reflector and see if that brings in enough light to get the job done. If it doesn't, then I'll bring in another one of my LED lights for the front. Okay, so Kenna, I think we've got a really tall reflector board, the one we had over the low studio area. We're gonna pull that over, and I'm gonna actually have Kenna just hold it here for me, just around right here, as close to her as possible, but just out of camera. Nice, so about right here. Like that. And if you would Kenna for me, just kinda pull it away, and bring it back. Oh my goodness, that's great. (audience laughs) Cool! Alright, so Kenna, go ahead and walk backwards six inches, yes, right there. Okay. Groovy. Alright here we go. And flex those, grip those hands, show me those muscles. (camera clicks) Oh, that look right there was fierce, I loved it! Alright, so now we're building it, but what we're gonna see here when it comes through is it's still not enough light, still not enough brightness in the foreground. So that was great Kenna, but you know what? We need more light, so we're still gonna use that. Oh, okay. We're still gonna use it, but we're now gonna bring in this guy, and we're gonna reflect off of that board. Alright, so we're gonna end up putting this about here I think, yup, about like that, I'm gonna plug this in. Turn this on. And again, I'm not pointing any lights directly at her from the front. Yeah, cool, so we'll come over this way, 'bout right like that. Cool. Okay, so take a peek at that look Sidney, that's the look I want. That was awesome. I want the mean, angry. (camera clicks) Perfect. (camera clicks) Okay, flex those muscles. (camera clicks) Awesome. One more. (camera clicks) Alright, cool. Thank you Kenna. You bet. I'll turn this off so I can see. (laughs) Really nice. It's a little off angle because I didn't straighten it, we can fix that in post though. That's a really nice looking photo. I'm gonna crop it a bit, just real quick, just to straighten it up. Yeah, cool. Um-hmm. And I'll go to full screen so you all can see it. Nice. Really professional looking image, kinda of tough look overall, three light scenario, so two lights shining off the background to give her that rim, one light reflected off a really tall, six foot reflector in the foreground. Again, let's look at her catch lights in her eyes. Oh, it's beautiful. Nice look, nice job. Okay. Let's do somethin' else, 'cause we got, I'll do one more photo shoot and then I'll open it up for some questions, okay? Alright, so, this next one, we're just gonna do two lights in front, and we'll do two lights in front, one light in back, and the back light again will be a rim light. So I'm just gonna leave this one here in the back, and I'm just gonna raise it up a bit, nice and high because we've got a nice, high ceiling now, which is cool. I'm gonna rotate this down. And we'll show you what two lights in front does for a photo like this. So this one we'll use the silver side of that Mylar. We use the silver on one side, and then maybe just a white-- Do we have to flip it? Oh yeah, we gotta flip it. You wanna try it, or you want me to do it? Let's see. Back side. You do it. Okay. (laughs) Oops. Yeah unless you built this stuff yourself, you're always like, yeah I don't know how to do this. Alright, so this is easy, because I use those neural nuts on both sides, I can just flip it around, put the stud in the back, and there we go. Okay. Turn this light on. Power it up. Gonna raise it up, again, I'm always thinking catch light, catch light, catch light, so it needs to be nice and high so the catch lights' a little bit higher on her face. And you know, like I said earlier, you all can use do it yourself light stands, you can make 'em out of PVC, but it's a pain in the rear making this stuff go higher and lower. So at least spend a little bit of money on your light stand. Okay, there we go, that's nice. And for this one over here, I dunno, maybe we just have Kenna hold it. I got a human powered light stand, why not use her? Payin' you the big bucks. Okay, oh yeah, we're gonna need a white board, forgot it. Sorry about that. I should've said so. Okay, so about like that. And close counts again. Okay, cool. Back up a little bit Kenna. The reason I had her back up is because the light was actually pushed right up against the surface, you need to allow a little bit of space for the light to spread onto the reflector board. Nice. I'm gonna have you come this way a little bit Kenna, towards me, yup, great. And because this is mostly gonna be a torso shot, I'm gonna use a bigger surface, I don't need to worry about lighting up down by her hips and knees, so yeah, I'm gonna rotate it 90 degrees. Right there, cool. And up about six inches, good. Okay great, nice lookin' photo. Nice lookin' light. Okay, so let's have you do this, this one yeah, we'll just do happy, I'm a happy person today. Just turn your body 45 degrees. Yeah, great. And that's good. So let's do an arms crossed type of a look. Yeah, bring your other had so your fingers, let's do one with your fingers out, and one with both fingers in. Okay. Okay? And since I'm shootin' with the 85, I gotta back up just a bit. Nice, it's a really pretty light. Here we go, one, two, three. (camera clicks) Let's see what it looks like on our screen. Cool. Go to full frame. Great. And let's do another one with both fingers in. Nice. (camera clicks) Alright. And the last thing I'm gonna do here, just 'cause I really need to show this. Kenna I want you to stay where you're at, but what I want you to do is, just to show you how difficult it can be to photograph movement in a studio, so don't trip on anything, okay? All I want you to do is kinda take your hands down like this, and I just want you to jump, okay? So that's what we're gonna do, we're just gonna jump, and I just want you to do it a couple of times, and just to remind everyone at home, I'm shooting at an 80th of a second, an 80th. So let's see what happens when you have her jump at an 80th of a second. Go for it. (camera clicks) (camera clicks) (camera clicks) (camera clicks) (camera clicks) (camera clicks) Okay, cool. Alright, I think that does it. Feel free to grab a seat if you'd like. Awesome, thank you. Thank you. So let's get these photos loaded. As they come in, we'll go to the grid view here. Start out. Yeah, so this one's perfect, this is, once it loads here. So we see an issue with the blurriness of the photo because as she's moving, the shutter's open for an 80th of a second. So anyone here who, anyone watching today, if you do sports photography, you know that you need to be at about a 1,000th of a second to freeze the action. Well the only way to get to a 1,000th of a second in the studio is to do that with strobes, with flashes. So it's hard to do movement and action in the studio with these hot lights. You just don't get the shutter speed that you need. You know, one of these actually looked like it turned out. Well the one where she's down and not moving turned out, that one there, almost, here we'll go back to that one, that one there almost turned out, and the reason why is because she's at the top of the movement, she just reached the apex of the jump, and now she's comin' down. So my overall comment to you is don't try to do movement and action in a home studio unless you're using strobes. So there we have it, a bunch of different lighting conditions, professional, high level stuff with $50 to $100 worth of lighting equipment. Cool. Kenna. One was from Bear who had asked, will a diffused umbrella work the same as a softbox. Yeah, totally, well, I'll say it works similarly. Once you get into I guess higher end lighting equipment, you're always thinking about what's the specific effect and look I'm after? If all you're trying to do is make the photo look softer and gentler, you know like I said earlier, diffuse, diffuse, diffuse. If all you're trying to do is make a big surface of light, then an umbrella's a great way to do it, and it's really inexpensive. You know, an umbrella, a nice size umbrella, maybe like a 30 inch umbrella should only cost maybe 20 bucks, maybe 30 bucks if you buy it from a discount retailer. And it looks nice. Umbrellas actually look nice. But now, once you get more into your photography, you're gonna start paying attention to things like, directionality, you know an umbrella, I often refer to an umbrella as a light grenade, and the reason why is because light goes everywhere. Whoops. Light goes everywhere. (laughs) And my lights do fall everywhere. But light goes everywhere, you don't have any ability to control it, you can't really guide the light. Whereas a softbox, a softbox lets you control it. I want the light here, and I don't want it to spill over the edges. Another thing I like about softboxes is the catch light. Catch light is clean. An umbrella, a lot of times you have the ribs, you know the ribs of the umbrella and you don't get a real clean looking catch light. You can get over that by shielding the front of the umbrella with a diffusion material, but umbrellas oftentimes are an inexpensive way, but maybe not the finest or the best looking way. Alright, another question, this is from Edgar Coleman who had asked, is there a reason that you're not using a light meter? Does one need to have a light meter? Great, you know, I brought a light meter today and I have it in my camera bag, and I typically travel with a light meter. You know, with digital these days, there's a couple of things. I hate to use the word lazy, but maybe it is, maybe I've just gotten lazy over the year. With digital you can just take a shot and take a look, and you can look at your histogram and see if you've got any highlight clipping, and so it's made, it's a lot easier for me to work these days without a light meter. That said, if I get paid by a client, if I'm being paid by a client to do really high quality work, and they're payin' me a lot of money, yeah, then I'm gonna use a light meter. And I think it makes good sense to use a light meter. Yeah, so I always bring it with me, but I'd say anymore I use a light meter maybe 5%, maybe 2% of the time. Another thing, again, that we can DIY, or don't have to necessarily always invest money in. So thank you for that. Let's see, okay, another question is from Jamie, can we go back to white balance just a couple of questions still about white balance? Great. One was, do you need to change your white balance every time you change your lighting scenario? Yeah, technically you do. So there's a couple things about white balance. The first thing is if you forget, like literally I forgot to do it here, okay? Was the photo terrible? No, the photo wasn't terrible. But I should've done a custom white balance. So I recommend shooting RAW. Everyone should be shooting RAW, I don't care what camera you're using, RAW gives you the flexibility to change white balance later on if you need to. So RAW is your first line of defense, but the second thing really to get to her question is, is that yeah, you should be doing a new white balance any time you change the light. So what I should've done here, in this last photo scenario that I shot, set up the lights, get everything fixed, and then I should've done my white balance off the gray card or off of a white sheet of paper. And then, if I changed things up, if I go to a different bulb, or a different light, or different whatever, you gotta do another white balance. But worst case scenario is you didn't do any of that, and you just fix it later in, everyone always says, fix it in Photo Shop, right? So you can fix it in LightRoom or Photo Shop.

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!