UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021.
(Here is what I am up to now.)


Light Remodeling, Pt. 2

Here is the first lesson I have learned: $200 will not get you very far when prepping a garage to be a convertible studio. But it's possible, in a very no-frills way…

First of all, thanks so much for the many cool suggestions in the comments of the first post. I know I am going to get to some of them as future funds permit.

My very first order of business was to get all of the crap off of the floor. That, as it turns out, is free. But keeping it from crashing back to the floor would cost a little bit of money.

So for the first ~$60 of my budget I bought shelf 32 brackets and three sheets of 4 x 8' oriented strand board (OSB). Cheap, and did the job. And I once again have a useable garage floor.

This took 30% of my budget, but the results were worth far more -- and not just in terms of a studio. Going from a cluttered garage to an organized garage yielded major spousal brownie points. The general background stress level in the whole house improved. And any mention of the "studio" is henceforth associated with the Giant Garage Cleaning of 2011.

Gents (and I know most of you readers are gents) this is a classic win/win situation. Word to the wise -- an unprompted spring cleaning might do wonders.

She felt better about it. But I did, too. I now have a garage in which I can do lots of stuff -- not just shoot. Starting to feel like building something. Starting to feel a little like Tim Taylor.

So now I have a minimally functional space, and $140 left on budget for phase one. Next, comes ambiance.

Here's the thing: I am not going to turn the garage into anything glitzy on this budget, if ever. So that level of change gets bumped to another day.

More pressing: It is February in Maryland, and I decided I wanted to be able to use this space year-round. So right off of the bat I decided to devote some budget to portable, quick-shot warmth. Thus, $130 went to a portable propane heater.

Give it 20 minutes and it will bring the garage from bitter cold to … reasonably comfy. That took it instantly from an 8-month space to a 12-month space. Not glamorous, but a big deal to me.

For fix #2, I went with ambient light control. For $3 (pro-rated) I got black plastic with which to cover the two small windows when needed. Not stylish, but very functional. I can always upgrade this later to blinds as budget allows.

Finally, with the $7 remaining, I bought an iPhone-30-pin-to-AV cord from DealExtreme. I love that place for cords and other electronic doodads. If you've never gone, you are about to fall in love.

I plugged that into a 20-yr-old receiver and pair of 30-year-old Radio Shack Minimus-7 speakers, scrounged from the attic. Would have been ~$50 on Craigslist otherwise. But that got me infinitely variable music via the cloud. With an iPhone (or iPod Touch or iPad) and the free Pandora or Radio Paradise app, you are good to go.

Bonus points: Always tell anyone you are gonna shoot to bring their iPod. They can plug it right into the system for exactly their kind of music. And if I have to choose between killer music or white paint to amp the vibe of a portrait session, music wins every time.

So there is phase one. Two hundred bucks and some elbow grease gets the space from junk pile to studio-in-a-pinch -- useable 12 months a year, with tunes and total light control.

Style points? Not so much. But functional, if minimally so.

The above was from my inaugural, post-cleaning shoot. And classical violist Robin Massie-Jean was actually improvising right along with the jazz piped through the old stereo. (Music FTW.)

So what's next? Well, that's where it gets interesting, with all kinds of possibilities. Here are some of the plans, in likely order and with prices attached.

For $30, the next addition(s) will probably be one or more hand-painted backdrops. In this space, I will have to create the setting in some way or another. (Unless the shoot is for a portrait of a garage.) Going the DIY route here gives me max control and uniqueness at minimum cost.

For <$100, a good floor scrubbing, followed by floor paint and sealant. Gotta research what will stand up to car fluids, tho. Next would come the wall paint. But prep will be a bear. And depending on how valuable the space becomes to me, I could totally see splurging on this great suggestion, made by several people -- a high-lift garage door conversion.

Price-wise, won't be cheap. But that was an eye-opener -- I had no idea you could do that! Built for people who want to have a car lift installed, they also work great for facilitating light stands and booms.

This would give me near full use of the vertical space. What a great idea, although not in the initial budget. I'll probably roll it into a new garage door opener purchase, as ours are pretty rickety now.

It is a good future goal -- if and only if it turns out that I use the studio a lot. But I get to shoot in meantime for only $200, and we got a much more useable garage as a bonus.

Thanks for the great ideas, all. I cannot wait to try more of them. Will report back as it happens.


New to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Got a question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist
My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto