I’ve been in hibernation the last six months, shooting a lot of buildings, but not as many portraits. That’s a lot to do with the story below.
Last summer, my girlfriend and I discussed where and how I would continue to shoot portraits after moving in with her, in Boston. I’d been shooting in my living room, she really didn’t want to run a business out of our apartment, and the space constraints were real. It was a pickle.
I’d already been influenced by Nick Fancher‘s book Studio Anywhere. Now I was thinking about building an ultra-portable studio.
Most portable studios are defined by a car. When I was in Albuquerque, my studio was portable: it could be stuffed in a car, though it would take a few trips to and from that car. It probably weighed around 80 lbs.. What I wanted was an ultra-portable studio: A full complement of gear I could put on my back, and bike to the shoot.
I spent a lot of September and October researching how to do that. I found compact, lightweight, high-performance light stands. I found collapsible backgrounds. I found a laptop stand for those times I can’t ask for an extra kitchen chair. I re-learned the value of the gear I already have. They key has been finding items that fit my workflow, and which can serve multiple purposes. My light stands can hold a medium strobe, a flash, or a background. My background can double as a reflector and flag. If I just need a splash of light on the background, I don’t need a whole separate stand for that.
My full, portable studio now weighs about 30 lbs.. It isn’t quite bikeable, but it does fit nicely in a roller bag. With Boston’s pretty good public transit system, the Metro area is easy, and for those rainy days, or locations too far out, I can Lyft or rent.
My ultra-portable studio weighs about 15 lbs., and it does fit on my back. Since it’s a distillate, I have to know before leaving the house exactly how I’ll light a shoot, which only makes me a better photographer.
I’ve taken the full portable rig as far as New Jersey, to work with my friend Justin. I’ve taken the ultra-portable rig to Rhode Island, to shoot with my mom. There’s no perfect gear—I’d love a 7’x5′ seamless background that folds to 6″ across—but even with occasional shoulder problems, this is very doable. The real test will come in April, when I board a plane back to NM, to work with Cloacas again.
Now, does it work? I’ll let you decide. Leave your thoughts in the comments.