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Garage Photoshoot: A Surprisingly Great Location For Portraits

It’s a common misconception that you need to have access to a professional photo studio in order to create great portraits. In this post, we’ll highlight a photoshoot done in my garage with one of my clients as an example of the results we can achieve by creating makeshift studio from scratch in your home!

close up studio style portrait of a woman with brown eyes and hair

What Are Garage Portraits Are, And What You Will Need To Create Them

As the term implies, these portraits are taken in your garage which I convert into a studio space. Absolutely anyone who has enough space, adequate control over lighting and reasonable influence over environmental conditions (like temperature) can have me create photos comparable to anything captured in a studio space.

Creating a photo studio at your garage is rather simple but has a few basic requirements we’ll need to create professional results. For best results, I recommend an area with at least 12′ (W) x 14′ (L) x 8′(H) of unobstructed working room. If your ceilings are higher, the space is larger, and we have complete control over the lighting, I’ll be able to create more diverse styles for you.

Although the above conditions are recommended for best results, the portraits in this post were actually created in a more confined space measuring 9′(W)x12′(L)x8′(H). This sized space is the minimum amount I need create professional grade studio portraits. That said smaller spaces like this will start to incur limitations in lens choice and light placement.

Garage where studio portraits were captured
This is my homely garage where all the portraits in this post were captured

The Makeshift Studio

Creating portraits in your garage is just like creating images anywhere else. What many laymen fail to realize is that the quality of your images depends more on the expertise of the photographer than the space they are created. In essence, studio portraits are created indoors in a setting where the photographer has total control over all elements that comprise a studio style shot.

So long as you meet the space conditions mentioned above, the garage floor is concrete, and you don’t have an overly messy garage, your space should be a perfect space to create professional quality studio style portraits.

Just the Right Light

In most instances garage portraits are created with the garage door closed so I can start with a completely dark space and thus a blank canvas to sculpt my subject. From then on it’s just like illuminating any other portrait except that all light will need to be created artificially from scratch using strobes and modifiers. These conditions allow for the most precise lighting for your final portraits because there is no ambient lighting to work around. With these conditions I am able to place the perfect amount of light on my subject for every shot.

Although the garage we worked in had some windows, they were dim enough to allow me to choke off the light with my camera settings and add the light back in using strobes. I kept the garage door closed and used 2-4 strobes and a custom built ring light to sculpt Aimee for the portraits in this post.

garage photo shoot featuring a woman in a flower dress on a black background

Soft Natural Light

In some instances I’ll opt to create portraits with an open garage door where the opening becomes my primary or secondary directional light source. As a primary light source I can create a flat lighting scenario, split lighting etc. depending on what shadow pattern I want on my subject. I usually further finesse these shadows using V-flats or modified strobes.

Creating photos with these techniques can be more complex as the look of the final photo will depend on the orientation of the garage in relation to the sun. As an example, a west facing garage would have open shade in the morning and the potential for harsh light as the setting sun enters the opening.

Under some circumstances having this harsh sun streaming straight into the opening can be striking and dramatic, but older clients will likely prefer that their photos be captured under less harsh conditions as it will be more flattering for wrinkles and smile lines.

Despite this additional complexity, using the garage door as a primary or secondary light source can create a fantastically large directional light opportunity that is flattering for any subjects skin.

The Backgrounds

The options for studio style backgrounds are endless. That said I usually photograph my subjects on white, black or muslin backdrops. For most of these photos of Aimee, I used black seamless paper to black out the background. I also used white v flats for the portraits below for instance to create a spotlight on the background and add interest.

Seamless paper comes in every color imaginable if you need more options and we can order whatever color you’d like if you have something particular in mind for your photo shoot.

Although we didn’t utilize them for this photo shoot, I also commonly use hand painted muslin fabrics hung on a backdrop stand for additional looks. These create a great scene if you want a textured look for your background.

dramatic low key portrait of aimee for her garage photoshoot
traditional rembrandt light portrait for Aimee's garage photoshoot
dramatic low key portrait of aimee for her garage photoshoot

How Do I Set Up My Garage Photo Studio?

Setting up a studio in your garage usually takes me about an hour so long as my car is a reasonable distance from the photo shoot location. The set up for the space depends on if you have a preference of style for your studio portraits.

Once I know the style you want, or if I can be creative with my portraits (which is best), I then set up the background and studio strobes as needed. I then assess what modifiers I should use to shape my studio strobes for the look I want to create.

I’m not into props but in most cases I’ll also bring an apple box to pose you on for your portraits. It’s a simple thing that allows for more posing options and helps make you more comfortable then standing or sitting with nothing.

dramatic low key portrait of aimee for her garage photoshoot
dramatic low key portrait of aimee for her garage photoshoot

What Types Of Garages Won't Work For Studio Photos?

I mentioned that residential garages and warehouse spaces are perfect for creating studio portraits. Parking garages or other public garages aren’t ideal because of the rules, disruption of traffic, and people. For these reasons I avoid using most parking garages for studio portraits.

That said, if you have a secluded area in your parking garage where you are not disturbed by cars, people and aren’t in violation of any rules, doing your photo shoot in your parking garage might be worth considering for the ample space and ideal environmental conditions they offer. If you want full sun portraits, a parking garage with a rooftop would be an ideal place to have this style of portrait captured.

Most parking garages have rules against photography so make sure you check with the authority of the parking garage to find out if setting up a temporary photo studio in a couple of parking spaces can be accommodated. It’s rare that a parking garage will accommodate a photo shoot so this is the first place I’d start my research if you’re considering a parking garage for your photo shoot.

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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