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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 20 of 20

Live Shoot: the Ultimate in DIY

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

20. Live Shoot: the Ultimate in DIY

Lesson Info

Live Shoot: the Ultimate in DIY

So I think what we'll start with is a three-light setup, and then we will go with a gobo after I do a three-light setup. So, we are also going to need to close the shades. Okay, I can do that fine. Cool. (curtain rings rattle) And why am I closing the shades? Well, I don't want to compete with all the ambient light. Can we shut that one over there too? Yeah, absolutely. I don't want to compete with the ambient light. See the problem is, is the ambient light is almost the same brightness as these guys. So, shut out the ambient. Okay, cool. So we're going to do a three-light setting. Where's my clipboard? I'm just going to pick one. So I've got a variety here to choose from. So we'll do basically one key, one fill, and one background light. And so, for that background light, here's what I'm going to do, so one key, one fill, one background light, and for that background light we'll use a gel. So I'll show you why a white backdrop can sometimes actually be very beneficial, because...

we can actually gel the background. That's pretty cool. All right, so we have more space here, so what I'm going to have Jake do is I'm going to have Jake stand about five feet away from that background. So go ahead and just stand here for me for a minute, be my placeholder. No tripping; tripping is not allowed. And then I'm going to grab some reflectors. And Kenna, I'm going to use you as a reflector holder, so if you would, would you grab one of the reflectors. Just pick one you like. Is this too small? No, that'll work. Bigger's always better, but let's try it. I can go get that one. Well let's just see. Let's just see what happens. And I'm going to, go over here. So have you basically, yep come on in nice and close. All right, Jake come forward, nice. All right again, Jake's a tall guy, so I've got to get the lighting up there. And as I'm setting this up, this is a good opportunity for me to talk about the height of your light stands. Make sure you buy light stands that are at least six feet and up to eight feet tall. I won't even buy a light stand anymore that doesn't go up to eight feet; otherwise it's just not really useful. You need it to go high so you can hold lighting equipment, lights themselves, reflectors, all that stuff. All right yeah, so that's going to come over here, cool. And then what we're going to do, you know what? Jake, since you are so tall, I'm going to have you sit on a stool. So if we could have someone grab a stool, do we have one? We have an apple box. Apple box, we've got one out here? There it is. Cool. All right go ahead and move over a little bit. I'm just going to position this myself. So you're going to end up sitting about like this, okay? Okay. Cool. And after all that talk about height I'm now going to drop everything down. So Mike, where do you generally put the height of the light relative to the subject? Great question. So go ahead and grab a seat and I'll explain. Again, for me, it's all about catch lights. I'm always trying to find a nice catch light in the eyes, so if the light is too high, if the light is way up here, you lose the catch light under the brow of the eye. So I bring it down till I get a nice catch light, but then I don't bring it much lower. Especially for women, a lot of women hate this; men hate it too but not as much as women: women hate the double-chin look; you know, they don't like this, and so keeping your lights higher helps hide that chin, it creates a nice little shadow underneath there. So about, what's the right term? Maybe head height and then down ever so slight. So the base of your lighting equipment should be about nose height, then maybe down six or eight inches from there. Great, thank you. Cool. And the last one that we'll do is we'll throw one more ground light in here. And I need one more extension (hums). I think this'll make it over. I hardly ever try to make the model work, but-- Oh, I got it. Okay. All right so I'm going to gel the background, and you'll see here, with no gel on the background you can see kinda what it looks like. Then when I use the gel, we've got the blue and we've got the red, so in this case we'll just use that. Looks like we don't need the gaff tape. Cool. So, we're good. Now did you want this at the same height? Or, where are you going to move that down to? Let's see, because you don't always want the key and the fill to be the same. Let's just see what we got. Okay. So, we'll keep it at this height. And I'm going to again, close counts, so I'm going to move this stuff in. Cool. Ooh that's nice. All right Kenna, would you do this for me? Would you just kind of, move it away and move it back? Yeah. Nice. I think we'll take one with and one without ... Great, perfect. Just so people can get the effect. All right (claps hands), I lost my camera, there it is. (Kenna laughs) Okay, white balance. Okay, white balance, white balance. I'm just going to guess! (laughs) I'm just going to set my white balance, everybody, for around 5,000 Kelvin, let's just see if that works. Because I know that the manufacturer told me that these lights are 5,000 Kelvin, so I'm going to set my white balance for 5,000 Kelvin. Okay, I'm going to have you actually move that way three inches if you can. And I want you to turn your knees into either one of the lights. So kind of move both legs that way, great. Yeah, nice. You ready? Mm-hmm. Here we go; one, two, three (shutter snaps). And again (shutter snaps). Okay, a little test shot. As I always say, with digital it's great because you can take a shot and you can take a look. So these photos, as I'm looking at them in Lightroom ... Cool. I'm just going to go to the develop pane here real quick, and add a little bit of vibrance just to see what happens as I pump up the vibrance for the background. Not necessarily looking at his face now, I'm just looking at the background. And I'm thinking that gel for the background should probably be a different color. What color are your eyes? Brown. Brown? I wanted you to have blue eyes. Didn't you wear your blue contacts today? (laughs) I'll pull these out here so everyone can see what's going on. This is the Rosco Pack. Rosco is another name of a gel company. And these gels are nice and big; they're 12-inch square gels. So let's just see what happens when we throw a purple. Because I don't know, you look like a purple guy today. And we had purple out, so we'll give it a try. A lot of times if the person has blue eyes, I'll throw in a blue gel; it provides a nice little accent. Okay, cool. Looks like gravity is doing what we need anyways. Great. Okay I'm going to try that again. (clicks tongue) With the fill? Yeah, with the fill. Yeah and so, as I'm looking at this I'm realizing that purple is not vibrant enough for this photo, so we're going to need to move it up. But that's okay, we'll give it a try. (clicks shutter) Ooh that's kind of a sly look; where'd you learn that one? From all over. (Mike laughs) Allright cool. Nice smiling (shutter snapping); do that smile again. Good, nice gentle smile. And, if we look at it here in Lightroom, and that purple actually gave it a nice hue. Let's do the same thing again, this time with no gel. So I'm moving kind of fast here just to show you guys how flexible all of this is in the do-it-yourself studio. Yeah Kenna great, you can pull that gel off. So now, no gel in the background. Okay, we'll bring in that reflector, cool. (shutter snaps) Nice look. Add some exposure because now the background's a little bit brighter. (shutter snaps) Last one here. (shutter snaps) Cool. And now with the white background, I notice we're getting some funky reflection over his shoulder, and what I'm realizing is that's not on the backdrop; that reflection over his shoulder is lens flare. Or maybe it is; maybe it's just on my computer screen. Oh yeah it is, hmm; not quite sure where that's coming from. Good. So that's a nice looking, bright photograph. Jake you can see yourself there. So you can with just a real quick switch, a real quick change, we've gone from a nice colored background to a white background. All right, I think it's time to try a gobo. Let's do it. Don't you think? Yep. Okay, so this is a ton of trial and error here. Who knows if it's going to turn out well or not. Kenna you get to pick the gobo. Oh, okay. You get to choose. And the color. Oh. (gel rustles) What do you got? Is this too light? It's pretty light. It might be too light. Why don't we stick with the purple? Okay, purple. Gaff tape is the photographer's best friend. Oh, except it's not long enough. I'll pick a different one. Okay, tell you what, we can tape over that other gobo position, so it doesn't influence the photo. Okay. Does that make sense? Yeah. Okay, so we'll gaff tape this on there. Oops. (tape crackles) How does putting on these gels affect your exposure? Yeah, it drops your exposure down, you lose oftentimes like a stop. And so that's a big issue with these continuous lights; you know, we're already dealing with fairly low light levels and so putting a gel on there drops it down even more. So sometimes it gets very frustrating trying to balance all the brightnesses together. Okay I think that's going to work for you. Do you want one more piece of gaff tape or are you good? No, I think that's good. And again, this is just a piece of a cardboard box that you cut up? Exactly. Cool, okay so what we're going to do is we're going to incorporate flash into this; I'll show this to the cameras. So this is a wireless remote flash. I've got this one set up to be on channel 1 group B, for anyone that cares. And so what I'm going to have Kenna do is when she holds this, this is like this weird dance that we have to do; it's like, how far away, how close? You know, how close to the background, all of these things. Oh, we should've used another piece of gaff tape. But it's always very difficult to know how close you should be. So this may take three or four times to get it right. But I think in the end you guys will like it. Okay, now Kenna this flash has a little receiver port here in the side, just make sure you don't cover that up with your finger. Okay. Cool. So I'm putting this against the backdrop? Yeah, so we're going to just experiment, so we're going to have Kenna basically stand here. And we'll shine that, let's start it there. And so you're holding this, yeah, you've got it exactly, you basically want the surface area of the flash to fill the surface area of this. Because it's, okay. Yeah and if you go too close then all the light just goes through one little segment; you want the light to hit all segments together. Okay. Well let's see what happens. And I am about a couple feet away? Yeah. I'm going to have you move your feet back. Yep, now rotate towards me a little bit. Yeah right there, perfect. And I'm going to go to manual exposure because that gives me some consistency overall. Someone asked earlier in the day about light metering, so this is where maybe I would use a handheld light meter and I would just literally go in to Jake here and figure out what his exposure is and then try to get the flash to match that exposure. But, we're just going to guess. And that's the fun thing about digital, we can just guess. Alrighty, so here's our first test. Here we go, one two three. (shutter snaps) Oh, I need to pop the flash, I forgot. So what I'm going to do here is I'm going to go to my bracketing of flash and I go to make sure channel one group B is turned on, and it is; I have it set for manual exposure at 1/2 power. I know most of you aren't looking at the computer, but I can see the exposure on Jake's face is fairly good, except I realize I need one more human-powered light stand. Any volunteers? So Jamie can come over. Where did that other, oh there it is. So grab that reflector; it's okay, go behind Jake. And I'm going to need you to hold that reflector basically right here. Yep, perfect. Great. All right everyone, here goes nothing. One two three. (shutter snaps and camera beeps) All right, these are you flash scene. Oh you know what? Batteries? I hear beeping; it's because my other flash out there in Flash Land, I have no idea where it is currently, is firing. I forgot to turn that one off. So I'm going to turn channel 1 group A off. Trial and error, okay now we're good to go. Everyone stay in positions, one two three. (shutter snaps) Okay did yours go, Kenna? Yep. Cool. Let's see what happens. All right, so if we go to Lightroom, if we go to the computer real quick, what we've got is we have an exposure ... Cool. We don't have a great exposure. So the exposure on Jake's face actually looks okay. You know, we're looking fine. We've got a nice catch light, or a couple of catch lights in his eyes; we've got that little pinpoint thing that I'm going to try to cover up with my hand, but the problem is the background, right? It's way too bright; it's overexposed. So using my camera here, I'm just going to dial the power down. Kenna doesn't have to do anything because this is the wireless control system here. So, it was at half power for that back flash; I'm going to bring it all the way down to 1/8 power. All right, everybody back to your positions, cool. And Jamie I'm going to have you lift yours up even higher. Yeah great. Here we go, one two three. (shutter snaps) (camera beeps) Okay let's see what we got. Oh cool; it's getting better. It needs to be even darker though, agree? It's a little bit too bright right now. Oh, and I'm noticing one more thing Kenna. Yeah. Your light is really spilling over onto him. So let's find a way, maybe you can use your fingers, I don't know, or in the flash itself, there's a little flag. Yep. Pull that little flag out. Yeah, sweet, that's great. So we just want to kind of prevent that light from shining on Jake, so just do like that angle there. Okay, nice. And I'm going to reduce the power down to ... This is fun. I'm going to reduce the power down to, let's go down to 1/32 power, so I'm going to really drop it down. All right, here we go. Come over this way a tiny bit. Cool man. (shutter snaps and camera beeps) Oh I forgot to block that little flash; it's going to be perfect. One two three. (shutter snaps) No, that didn't make it. That's one of the things we're always dealing with. (camera snaps) Communication. Okay. Oh cool. So, with a little more experimentation, maybe Kenna can, you can actually see her hand in there. (Kenna laughs) But that's okay, we can probably crop that out. In fact let me do that real quick. That has a really nice look to it, a really nice effect. And maybe if we take one more, what we do is have Kenna lower it down just a bit. You want to try one more? Sure. All right, one more for grins and giggles. Okay, positioning ... All right everyone ready? Here we go. (shutter snaps) Nope, didn't make it. I'm going to deal with that little point of light later on in Photoshop. All right Jake here we go. (camera clicks and beeps) Ah cool, there it is. There you go. Let's go full screen, full frame. And you can see there's a gobo; we've done nice with the lighting. You know, we can do a little bit more drama here with the lights in the foreground, get a little bit more shadowing detail on his face. But overall I'm liking the look of that. So, fun, really fun. Super fun. Yeah. All right, well let me summarize. Great. Thank you Jake, appreciate it. Turn these off. I'm going to head back to my table. Okay. I'm going to pull this out. (shades rustling) Yeah let's open up the house shades. So, where have we come from, where have we been, and where do we go next? DIY home studio, right? DIY home studio, do it yourself. You've seen today how we can really take really inexpensive stuff, you know, this is a $30 light, that's a $35 backdrop. We've got $10 backdrop stand; we've got $10 backdrop material. I'm using foamcore and cardboard and tissue paper and tape, and we can really create some dramatic, impressive photography. It just takes a little bit of ingenuity, a little bit of trial and error. You can see today that nothing went well, or nothing went perfect on the first time. Almost every shoot we did today I had to try something and modify it a little bit. And that's just the nature of photography. I mean just photography in general you're going to do that, but even more so I'd say with do-it-yourself photography. There's a lot of variables here, you know, the heights of these things, the color temperature, the types of lights you're using. But I hope I've shown you at least some ways that you can very easily get into high-end professional photography and you can build your portfolio, you can use this stuff on your website. Those model photographs we shot earlier today, those are great, you can sell those images, we can use them professionally in just about any campaign. So, just get cutting, get using tape, get using cardboard; you're going to love it. All right Mike, well thank you so much. I want to make sure that everybody at home continues to follow you. Where is the best place that people can check out all the things that you teach and all of that? Great, so start with my website; my company is called "Visual Adventures," but my website is, and then of course I'm on Instagram. My Instagram is mikejhagen, that's h-a-g-e-n, and you can find me on most social networks with "mikejhagen."

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!