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Thread: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Asheville, NC

    Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    I can't quite walk to retirement but I can sure get there by car. Insomuch that I can see it on the horizon, my wife and I are starting to contemplate this new chapter to our lives. Our last goes off to college this fall and we have 18 acres to build a house and two small simple studios (my wife is a glass artist and I have no desire to share a hot-shop). The studio I am imagining is North Light in the tradition of a 19th century studio space where the light is controlled/diffused by canvas with pulley's etc. I much prefer natural light to studio lights. Of course the studio would have to include a darkroom but for the purposes of this thread I am interested in portraits/ideas on the studio space itself with its concentration on a shooting space plus what ideas that would be indispensable to a working studio. I would love to see your studios if you currently have access to a dedicated shooting studio. Examples posted here much like the darkroom portraits thread would be optimal. If no photos what would you make sure to include in the studio space?

    The limitations:

    1,200 sf maximum(400 for darkroom give or take) so shooting space could be as large as 800 sf give or take.
    Common materials to keep cost at bay.

    The Goals: Space to be able to shoot from life size head and shoulders to full body with a 20 x 24 camera using lenses from 550mm to a 37 inch Dallmeyer 8D.

    Questions that come to mind;

    How to configure the square footage length and width wise?
    How tall should the walls/ceiling's be?
    What are the things to definitely avoid?
    What must be included in a good working studio?

    Are there modern or old pieces of literature that go into detail on the various types of North Light studios that would show examples?

    Links to modern studios is fine as long as it doesn't exclude natural light.

    What would you want in a shooting space? I've included one below to get the ball rolling.

    Thanks in advance,


    Moderators: I didn't quite know where to put the thread please feel free to move if you so choose.

  2. #2
    Exploring Large Format Exploring Large Format's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2019
    Seattle, WA

    Re: Studio Portraits

    Good for you! I'm semi-retired, but super re-newed to photography, and totally new to LF. I've got studio + dry darkroom + wet darkroom all in one two-car garage. Envy the light you're going to be working with! Not much wisdom that I can share as an inexperienced newbie.

    But, with a Beginner's Eye, and totally enforced by necessity, I've come to appreciate my all-in-one-room format. I'm certain if I'd had the space, I'd have dedicated individual, walled-off spaces for lots of good reasons. However, studio victims (subjects) dig the enlarger, the sink, really: the exposed process of it all.

    So do I, now. I have curtains, so not all exposed. But it is a holistic workspace.

    May not be your cup of tea, more of a necessity-as-mother to play with.

    Sent from my SM-G981V using Tapatalk

  3. #3
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Re: Studio Portraits

    I love the studio in link, have looked at it many times

    Monty, do that, if possible!

    My second wife, RIP, was a Painter, I converted an existing 2 story wood shop into her studio, adding intense daylight Chroma Tubes, as she liked to work at night. Painted it all neutral white with sprayer. In snow the windows glowed like a spaceship.

    I had another space.

    Now retired on SS, bought a cheap rural house specifically for the 10 ft ceilings and long living room. I can shoot from 35 feet into 16 feet wide. Darkroom in a bedroom.

    Covered windows, 4 strobes, 4 LED panels and big flash bulbs

    I put a 16X40 ft Amish Shed in yard, I may use that too, I could convert to...

    My existing covered porch is useful depending time of day, faces west 28 X 8'.

    Plan to add roller shades.

    However I am messy and need to move big cameras to use them, all on wheels.
    Last edited by Tin Can; 20-Mar-2021 at 14:33.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Charlotte, NC

    Re: Studio Portraits

    Celling hight is needed to get a birds eye view, which has resulted in many great photographs of models and simple overheads of models laying back in repose.

    IMO, 15 ' is a good hight to work from and a light rail wit a solid camera arm, articulated, seems ideal.


  5. #5

    Re: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    Lots of good images of daylight studios here:

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2001

    Re: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    I've moved the thread to "Style & Technique" and given it a new title that more clearly conveys what you're interested in.

    < removes moderator hat >

    It's wonderful that you will be able to do this - I hope someday we'll be able to see what you come up with. In the meantime I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's ideas, links, etc.

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Aug 2001
    SF Bay Area

    Re: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    Sounds wonderful, Monty; you are going to have a lot of fun!

    I'm also a fan of natural light for a studio. Have you considered including skylights?

    Looking forward to hearing the progress of McCutchen Studios.



  8. #8
    Tin Can's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2011

    Re: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    Wow great collection

    Some remind me of Greenhouse and Mark Ostermanís observation of color of wall paint used is very important

    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Greenberg Motamedi View Post
    Lots of good images of daylight studios here:

  9. #9
    Do or do not. There is no try.
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Massachusetts, USA

    Re: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    Monty, one thing you may need to take into account in your studio design is your latitude. I suspect the split between roof-based and side-based windows will be very different in North Carolina and North Dakota. It's also seasonal, so you may want a system of adjustable blinds for roof-based windows.

  10. #10

    Re: Designing a studio space for natural light portraiture

    Monty, I've been looking into constructing a natural light studio as well.

    Here's a fantastic book from 1902 that's filled with diagrams and instructions. Download a PDF and then start around page 53 -
    Photo lighting : a treatise on light and its effect under the skylight, including chapters on skylight and skylight construction, window lighting and dark room work.


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