The question of how much space one needs is one of the biggest issues to address when planning to setup a new photography studio. But to answer this question you actually have to start with another question first: What is it you will be shooting in your studio primarily?
If you are just planning on shooting food, products, and/or small objects you may get away with using a relatively small space. Perhaps even smaller than you might think. But if you will be shooting a lot of people and portraits then the equation can change considerably.
The simplest way to calculate how much width you will need in your studio is to first measure the width of what you will be shooting.
Single Half Torso Portrait: If you plan on shooting a single person cropped around the waist or just above the knees with enough room for them to extend their arms out at their sides then you will need approximately 4 feet of width for the subject. Then add to that approximately another 1 foot on each side for the backdrop to extend beyond the edges of their body. So that is a total of 6 feet for the subject and backdrop. Then you need about another 3.5 feet on each side of the backdrop to be able to place your lights in various positions and angles to your subject so that you can create a variety of lighting effects. So all together you need roughly about 13 feet or about 4 meters wide for a single portrait.
I took a standard roll of pure white seamless studio paper from Savage which comes in 9′ wide rolls and I cut it down with a hand saw into two pieces. I ended up with one 5.5′ roll which I use for single portraits and one 3.5′ roll which I use for food and products. The 5.5′ roll for portraits is a bit narrower than the ideal width, but it works fine as long as the subject doesn’t extend their arms out too far on the sides of their body. For most standard commercial and business portraits arms are either as the person’s sides or folded in front of their chest anyway so a lot of extra width on the sides of the subject isn’t so necessary.
By the way, click here if you like and you can get a 9′ wide roll of the same Savage Pure White Seamless Studio Paper I am using for less than $65 delivered to your door and with free shipping from Amazon. It is nice to be able to order this online and get it delivered to wherever you are because it is difficult to pick it up yourself from a shop because it is 9′ long, unless you have a pickup truck.
Full Length Body Portraits: For a full length single portrait from head to toe the same width will be required as a half torso portrait, but a longer length studio area will be needed to be able to stand further away from the subject in order to get all of the subject into frame.
Food & Products: When shooting food and products a table or surface of about 4′ wide is good. Add to that 3.5 feet on each side for lighting and you can get away with 10′-11′ of width and perhaps even a bit less if you are working with a smaller table.
Group Portraits: The amount of space required for group portraits can be a bit trickier to calculate as it will depend mainly on how many people you plan on shooting in your group. If you are planning to shoot say up to 5 people in a group then you can use the standard Savage 9′ seamless paper backdrop. Then add to that 3.5′ on each side for lighting and that gives you a required width of about 16′ for group portraits.
Now to calculate the required length it is a bit more challenging.
Food & Products: The amount of length needed for food and products usually isn’t so much. You probably want to be able to step back a maximum of about 3′ from the table or surface area you are shooting on. Then a depth of about 4′ is usually enough for shooting food, products, and relatively small objects. So a total of 7′ in length should do it.
Single Half Torso Portrait: The calculation for length on single half torso portraits can be a bit trickier depending on how much of the person’s torso you want to be able to capture, how far away from the backdrop you want to be able to place the subject, and how far away you want to be able to stand from your subject. I am not going to get into a lot of detail here, but I like to have the person far enough away from the backdrop to avoid causing shadows on the backdrop from the person’s body and to have the subject far enough away from the backdrop to be able to blur out any imperfections on the backdrop itself. Also, to prevent the light that is used to illuminate the backdrop from bouncing back onto the subject and causing softness at the edge of the skin, the person also needs to be a fair distance away from the backdrop. And lastly, I want to be far enough away from the subject so that I can shoot using at least a 100mm long portrait lens in order to avoid being too close to the subject and causing optical distortion to the shape of the person’s face. So ideally I would like to have about 12′ in length between the subject and the backdrop. Then I would also like about 14′ between me and the subject to work with in front. So 26′ total is the perfect length.
I have over a 35′ long studio space to work in so I am lucky. But many people can make do with shorter studios for single portraits. A minimum of about 6′ behind the subject and 6′ in front of the subject, give or take a bit, can still work. So ideal is about 26′ in total length and minimum would be 12′ in total length.
Group Portraits: Group shots get a bit more challenging. The reason is that a standard studio paper backdrop is only 9′ wide. So if you have a big group, and they are spread out a bit to nearly the edges of the paper backdrop, then you may need to back up further away and zoom in more in order to get all the subjects to fit onto the backdrop in the photo. So, for group shots the distance behind the group of 12′ as used for single portraits is still fine. But you may need to be further away in front of the group as I said so 20′-24′ space in front is ideal. So for the ideal length for group shots you are looking at is a 36′ long space.
Full Length Body Portraits: The ideal length for a full length body portrait is the same as for group portraits since you need to be further away in front of the subject. So the ideal length for a full length portrait is also a 36′ long space.
Single Half Torso Portraits: Ideal: 26′ Long x 13′ Wide / Minimum: 12′ Long x 12′ Wide
Full Length Body Portraits: Ideal: 36′ Long x 13′ Wide / Minimum: 26′ Long x 12′ Wide
Group Portraits: Ideal: 36′ Long x 16′ Wide / Minimum: 26′ Long x 15′ Wide
Food & Products: 7′ Long x 11′ Wide
So that should help to give you a general idea of how much space is needed to setup a studio that matches your needs. If though you are planning to shoot cars, boats, planes, and helicopters you will probably need a lot more space than what I stated above, but I will save that for another blog post. 🙂