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You Don’t Need a Studio for Pro Portraits — Make the Most of What You DO Have

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My name is Nick Fancher and I am a Columbus, Ohio-based commercial and portrait photographer. I specialize in lighting — specifically with the use of small flash in unconventional locations.

My goal is to show that you can often create high-quality photos without using a conventional studio… and while using minimal, affordable gear. You just need to learn to make the most out of your environment!

Here are some examples of photos I’ve made, followed by behind-the-scenes photos and descriptions of the setups and locations I used:

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As long as you keep your light from spilling onto the ground or background, it’s fairly easy to create an all-black environment.

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What do you do when you are shooting a vacation-themed editorial? Get a projector, some free stock photos and travel the world from the comfort of a long, dark hallway.

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All you need is a white wall, and pretty much every home will have at least one white wall.

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Don’t have a flash? Find a garage and shape the natural light. This dramatic portrait was shot with my subject in front of a black v-flat. You can control the light by placing your subject at different places in the garage.

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To make a small flash look larger and softer, bounce it off a nearby white wall.

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Cut a hole in your reflector to make a natural-light ring light. Don’t worry: the material is sturdy and the hole won’t spread. In before you reference Ghionis’ Sunbounce. This hack is free and can be operated without an assistant or stand.

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If space is tight and you want soft light, place the light behind or beside the subject and aim it at the wall in front of the model. Voila- large, soft light source.

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By placing your subject and light(s) right up against a wall or backdrop and firing the lights parallel to the surface, you can get some cool light ray effects.

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Shot with color gels on my flashes with the model standing on a tabletop for a clean, full-body portrait.

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So you may have heard of prisming, which involves holding a prism over your lens to get ghostly shapes and light in your photos. But what happens if you put a prism in front of a strobe? You get gorgeous, dappled light. 

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Many things can be used as a gobo (stands for something that goes between the light and the subject that changes the quality of the light), such window blinds, houseplants, or in this case, a chain link fence. In order to have more defined shadows, make sure to back your light away from the gobo (fence) at least 5 feet. Also, the closer the subject is to the gobo, the crisper the shadows will be.

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For this photo, I made a v-flat out of two black boards and fired my flashes into a white board and a red wall. The resulting light created this stylized final photo.

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If you’d like to add natural elements to your shots, take a black or white v-flat to an outdoor location and have your subject sit or stand in front of the v-flat while you shoot through plants.


If you enjoyed these ideas, my latest book, Studio Anywhere, features some of these scenarios. Many more scenarios will be featured in the upcoming sequel, Studio Everywhere, which will be out on Peachpit Press this summer.

If you want to stay up to date on what I’m shooting, follow me on Instagram or Youtube and make sure to tag your own #studioanywhere images so I can see what you’re up to. Happy shooting!


About the author: Nick Fancher is a Columbus, Ohio-based portrait and commerce photographer. You can connect with him on Facebook here. You can also find more of his work and writing on his website and blog.

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