Introduction: Mini Studio
This guide will walk you through creating a small flexible studio space for working with chromakey on a limited scale and budget. The recommendations here are more on a prosumer side and total around $6000. A minimum of $5,000 is a decent overall budget for this type of space and functionality. There are plenty of ways to save money by shopping/selecting different brands.
Step 1: Selecting a Space
The first and most critical aspect to your mini studio is space selection. Unless you are fortunate enough to be building a new space, there will always be compromises. Consistency and convenient access are critical to a mini-studio.
- Ceiling height & room length are deciding factors. Recommended minimum dimensions 10' x 14' x 8'. Allowing for over head lights and mics for your talent and diffuse lighting of the green screen are major advantages.
- Temperature extremes & humidity - sweaty people just look worse in HD ;)
- Interior/Exterior noise - those nice new microphones will be even better at flushing your production by recording a restroom across the hall. Know the environmental sounds. Carpeting will assist with in-room acoustics.
- Power - reliance on batteries is not a friend to a studio work flow. Use an uninterruptible power supply to protect your shiny new equipment and long term problems.
- Access/Security - You want a space where others are not going to interrupt production (door ways) or change things such as light positions. Small changes can yield problems for your productions. Consistency and convenience are critical to a mini-studio.
Step 2: Set Up Your Green Screen
There are many green screen solutions out there. Here are some factors & recommendations:
- Wrinkles make shadows. Shadows make different values of the color "green" that you want to remove. The more even and consistent the color of green you use, the better your screen will do its job.
- Have adequate distance for separation of your Talent (subject) from the green screen. If the side walls are too close or a bright color, they may reflect green values back as shadows on your subject. The same can happen if the backdrop is too close to the talent.
Note: Painting the side walls are adding a black drop cloth can prevent green "casts" on your subject. It can also double as an acoustic treatment.
- $110 - Super Collapsible Background - 8 x 16' - Stays wrinkle free due to the fabric being stretched in a flexible frame.
$66 - x2 - Impact Air-Cushioned Light Stand (Black, 8') to hold the screen up on the sides.
$100 - Sandbags or weights of some sort are needed to hold the light stands in place. You will need a number of these for the studio here is a kit option with 6. Digital Juice 30 lb Sandbag - Empty (6-Pack Pro Kit)
$16 - Impact Gaffer Tape (Black, 2" x 55 yd) - For taping down green screen skirt and over loose cables in the studio
$30 - (10x) Bessey Steel Spring Clamp (Black, 2 & 1/4 x 2") - invaluable for holding screen in place to light stands
Step 3: Lighting Your Green Screen
At first the cost of all of the lighting may surprise you. However, having an adequately lit space with the ability to flexibly modify the lighting of your subjects is critical to having a quality production. It can actually save you money on camera and lens equipment. Good lighting means you could use less expensive lens and camera technology with good results. Poor lighting will compromise your product.
A green screen that is lit correctly will prevent the need to struggle with removing "green" halos from around your talent in post production software. Lighting is critical and a wise place to spend on for quality options.
- Use LED lights to minimize waste heat, power use, and for maximum safety (cooler to the touch.)
- Using the same color temperature value (e.g. 5600K) and manufacturer on all lights will minimize color inconsistencies.
- Consider using a green screen planning tool for measuring the light values and planning distances. Here I used an application called "set.a.Light 3d" which is very useful for planning photographic shoots in your studio. It allows you to select camera values and lighting, rendering the environment and allowing you to test shoot 3d subjects from with in the software.
- Place your lights behind the Talent position and light the screen as evenly as possible to ensure as consistent value of green as possible.
Step 4: Lighting Your Talent - 3 Point of Lighting
Your Talent will be lit following the principles of 3 point lighting.
Hair/Rim Light - is used to separate the talent from the background. This light is mounted on a "boom" stand that allows it to be placed over the talent's head.
- Key Light - is the main source of light usually placed at a 45 degree angle from the talent.
- Fill Light - is used to fill in the shadows on the opposite side of the talent. Shadows that are produced by the key light.
Step 5: Place the Hair Light
The hair light will be suspended over and slightly behind your talent to separate them from the green backdrop. The first image shows the talent with no light. A hair light is then added in the second image, and in the third we see the hair light is on and lighting the back of the head and shoulders of the talent. This light will need to be adjusted at times for the size and positioning of the talent. Be sure your light's boom stand pole is weighted appropriately for safety. All the clamps should be tightened securely and checked regularly to avoid any accidents which could injure your talent. This is the most dangerous light to place.
Step 6: Place the Key Light
In image one you now see the key light placed in front of our talent. The second image shows the new light's output. Note, there are now shadows on the left hand side of the talent's face.
Step 7: Place the Fill Light
In the first image we have added the "fill" light to fill in the shadows on the left hand side of his face. The scene is now fully lit. The third image shows the entire set up with the camera placement.
Step 8: Studio Audio - Sound Equipment List
Other than light, the most critical aspect of your studio will be sound recording, monitoring, and control. Having an overhead shotgun style microphone that is mounted to a professional boom stand will allow for the most convenient capture of your talent. No need to make contact for clipping on wired microphones etc. They just walk into the space and at most you adjust the boom a bit. Again, an overhead item comes with safety concerns and so you do not want to use flimsy/cheap options for your microphone boom stand.
A multiple audio channel field recorder is recommended for audio capture. You may be tempted to use the camera's internal microphone or to plug your mic directly into the camera. However, it is well documented that these types of cameras have poor audio amplifier technology and you are bound to have "noise" in your microphone recording if you do this. The field recorder also allows for multiple mic inputs and use as a stand alone unit to do field recording of audio. No need to bring everything else along.
- $245 - Rode NTG2 Battery or Phantom Powered Condenser Shotgun Microphone
- $200 - Ultimate Support MC-125 Professional Studio Boom Stand
- $20 - Kopul Studio Elite 4000 Series XLR M to XLR F Microphone Cable - 20' (6.1 m), Black
- $250 - Tascam DR-60DmkII to Camera Essentials Kit
- $26 - Tascam PS-P520E AC Power Adapter
Step 9: Audio - Assembly
- Place the foam cover on the shotgun microphone and attach the XLR Cable to the Shotgun Microphone.
- Connect the mic to the lowered Microphone boom stand
- Connect the other end of the XLR cable to your Digital Audio Recording device.
- Connect the Digital Audio Recording device to A/C power source.
Step 10: Studio Camera
Camera selection is multi-faceted and highly open to interpretation of specific needs.
- In general a camera that has a "cropped" sensor (smaller) versus a full frame sensor is going to be less expensive yet still deliver good results for your mini-studio and any basic use for remote shoots and photography.
- Having a camera with interchangeable lens options will give you flexibility for various use cases.
- Having removable media will allow for multiple user workflows.
- A camera lens with a wide aperature (low number e.g. 1.8) can capture more light and is recommended if you plan on doing any remote shooting or inside photography outside of your studio.
Step 11: Tripod With Fluid Video Head
A tripod with a "Fluid" video head is necessary for performing smooth pans and tilting of the camera. The fluid filled video head allows the camera to be moved in all directions with out any bumpy/jerkiness to the motion.
Step 12: Camera Mount for Field Recording
Being able to quickly remove your camera and audio equipment from the studio can be invaluable for field recording use cases. This camera "cage" with associate accessories will allow you to quickly take the camera out for a remote shoot off site. The camera cage has many 1/4 x20 threaded and unthreaded holes where you can mount gear you need for a shoot. 1/4x20 inch screws are an industry standard for Audio/video gear.
Step 13: Mounting the Digital Audio Recorder
- Mount the Digital Audio recording device to your camera (or camera cage).
Step 14: Teleprompter
Having a teleprompter is key to improving production processes and quality options for your studio productions. Through the use of an old or used iPad you can save hundreds of dollars on adding this option to your studio.
- $220 PROMPT-IT Maxi Teleprompter or $160 - Teleprompter works with Ipad Android iPhone Tablet Prompter Beam Splitter Glass
- $300? - Mobile Device - iPad (any model) used is fine.
- $90 - ikan ELITE-REMOTE Bluetooth iPad Teleprompter Remote
- $20 - Teleprompt+ 3 App Software
Step 15: Computer & Software
You will need a computer capable of reading SD media cards that has audio/video editing software. Hard disk space and RAM are key factors to storing and editing video. At least 8GB of free RAM memory and 1TB of disk space is suggested as key decision points.
- $30-$60/month - Adobe Creative Cloud Subscription to "all apps"
- Budget $1500 for a computer