In Pursuit of an Ultra-Portable Studio

Hi, Internet.

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.

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.

Out for a Spin

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.

Portrait of Justin Woo - Shot with an ultra-portable studio: one light and one stand

The Portable Studio

  • 2 x Godox AD200 medium strobe
  • 1 x Godox AD-B2 dual head/modeling light
  • 2 x Godox V860II speedlights
  • 1 x Godox X1-Pro wireless trigger
  • 4 x chargers (one for each light); extra batteries for the trigger
  • 4 x Matthews Mini Extendable Reverse Stand
  • 3 x MagMod MagGrip, 2 x MagGrid, and a bunch of color gels
  • 2–3 x Fovitec collapsible black/white 5’x6.5′ backgrounds
  • 4 x A-clamps, 6 x mini A-clamps
  • 2 x Westcott Apollo Strip softboxes
  • 1 x Westcott Apollo Orb umbrella
  • 2 x Canon DSLRs
  • 2 x Canon batteries, and charger
  • 1 x Sigma 50mm lens

The Ultra-Portable Studio

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The author

I bring 11 years as a professional writer and designer, as well as my feminism, ecological philosophies, and editorial aesthetic to photography. When no one's looking, I bring my sense of humor, too.

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