A Buying Guide to Home Photo-Studio Staples

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For most photographers, the home studio is the studio. Many of us don’t have our own separate studio or frequent access or the need to work at a professional commercial studio. And regardless if it’s time, accessibility, availability, resources, or even by choice, the truth is that it’s often a lot easier and more convenient to do our “studio photography” at home. Convenience and preference aside, one of the key differentiators of a commercial studio is its purpose-built design, and its array of available tools. Cameras, lights, stands, maybe a backdrop... they’re a given. But what about some of those smaller, easy-to-overlook accessories that commercial studios seem to have in multiples, but aren’t an overly common thing to own at home? This article covers some of the staples that might make your home studio environment that much easier and more efficient.

Clamps, specifically spring clamps or A-clamps, are one of those indispensable, do-all tools that don’t have a specific function but can handle a million general functions. Anything from holding up a backdrop or some seamless paper to holding a subject in place while photographing, clamps are the duct tape of the studio.

Wimberley The Plamp II
Wimberley The Plamp II

Gaffer tape is duct tape for the studio. Or, more accurately, gaffer tape does everything duct tape can do, but doesn’t leave the annoying sticky residue when it’s removed. If you’re taping up more sensitive items in a studio, or just things that have an appearance you care about, then gaffer tape is the way to go. Between clamps and gaffer tape, you should be able to hold up anything you need in your at-home studio.

ProTapes Pro Gaffer Tape
ProTapes Pro Gaffer Tape

Especially for tabletop, still life, product, and other close-up type applications, an air blower can be a highly useful accessory to have on hand. While I typically associate blowers with film scanning and camera cleaning, they can also help dramatically cut down on post-production time by blowing any small bits of dust from a subject. There’s nothing more annoying than photographing dark-colored subject matter and then having to dust-spot the dozens of inevitable flecks of dust that will show up upon closer review of the files. For tougher dust or less fragile items, you can also run a microfiber cloth over them to clean up any dust or fingerprints before taking the shot.

Giottos Rocket Blaster Dust-Removal Tool
Giottos Rocket Blaster Dust-Removal Tool

V-flats are one of those studio tools you’ll take for granted until you don’t have one and wonder why there isn’t an easier way to simply bounce some light on your subject or flag off a side for more dramatic shadows. While pre-made V-flats are available, and very nice to work with, this could also be one of those opportunities to make use of your gaffer tape to hinge together a couple of pieces of black and white foam core to make your own.

Nielsen & Bainbridge All Black Foam Core Board
Nielsen & Bainbridge All Black Foam Core Board

Another accessory that’s frequently taken for granted, until you don’t have one, is the humble apple box. Like a v-flat, it’s a very simple object and probably something you can fashion on your own or substitute, if needed, but having a proper apple box will come in handy more often than you might think, and it ends up being worth the investment. These simple wooden boxes do everything from propping up subjects to leveling light stands to even serving as a seat or stool.

Kupo 4-In-1 Nesting Apple Box Set
Kupo 4-In-1 Nesting Apple Box Set

If you’re working with larger lights or with your light stands at longer extensions, then sandbags are a must if you want to make your working environment safer and protect yourself and your equipment. Available in various sizes, shapes, filled or unfilled, pick the right sandbags for the lights and stands you have, and just get in the habit of having them anchor your stands as a good studio practice. They can sit on the bottom of a C-stand to help prevent it from tipping over, or on the edge of an arm or boom as a counterweight.

Impact Filled Saddle Sandbag
Impact Filled Saddle Sandbag

When tape and clamps are too large for the subjects of your photography, tacky wax is the next best thing for your tabletop shooting needs. This wax helps holder smaller subjects in place and, since it’s malleable, it can be as unobtrusive and inconspicuous as you want, making it perfect for jewelry, coins, or even philatelic photography applications.

Bard's Tacky Wax
Bard's Tacky Wax

For the portrait photographers, a dedicated posing stool and posing table can be the ideal purpose-built tools for getting the right shot. Rather than dealing with non-adjustable chairs and tables, and making your subject conform to those dimensions, having specific posing apparatuses can make your formal portraits look more natural because your subjects will be more comfortable.

Impact Posing Table and Stool Kit
Impact Posing Table and Stool Kit

As someone who finds printing an integral part of my studio practice, a cutting mat is an indispensable tool for my home studio. I keep this mat on top of my work desk at all times so I can quickly trim prints or papers with an X-Acto knife for sequencing and editing purposes. The mat keeps my desk surface clean, prevents gouges, and also prolongs the life of the cutting blades, and it just makes for a nice working surface around which I don’t need to feel so careful.

Dahle Vantage Self-Healing Cutting Mat
Dahle Vantage Self-Healing Cutting Mat

As a film photographer, with a majority of my studio time dedicated to scanning, another one of the indispensable accessories for me is a light box. Maybe not the most useful item for digital photographers (unless you’re using it for unique tabletop underlighting capabilities), but for film shooters it’s a crucial tool to help evaluate and review your film prior to scanning (or printing, if you’re still lucky enough to be working in a darkroom).

Porta-Trace / Gagne 1118-1 Stainless Steel LED Light Box
Porta-Trace / Gagne 1118-1 Stainless Steel LED Light Box

On the same train of thought, and applicable to both film and digital photographers, is a print viewing station. It’s a niche tool, sure, but if you’re someone who prints photographs for fine art or commercial purposes, it’s a tool that’s right up there with a colorimeter for calibrating your computer’s monitor.

Datacolor SpyderX Pro Colorimeter
Datacolor SpyderX Pro Colorimeter

I’m sure I’ve left off some of the critical accessories for a home studio—let me know, what are some of the must-have items for you in your workspace? Are there any items you can’t work without? What are some of the simple, taken-for-granted, but completely necessary objects you keep in your home studio space? Let us know, in the Comments section.

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