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Travis Manley

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Photo Studio III: The Saga Concluded

Well, if you are wondering what I have been up to lately I have been working my butt off getting this project finished. We started this project back in April and are just now wrapping it up four months later. As fun as it has been I'm really looking forward to being able to spend a couple weekends not worrying about the next phase of construction and maybe do a little camping and hiking with my family.In the first two blog posts in this set I talked about how we built a shed to store most of what used to be in the garage, in part two I talked about how we took down the garage door and framed in the opening. The final phase was a whopper and consisted of adding electrical outlets and lights, adding insulation, adding drywall, painting, staining the concrete floor and adding baseboard and trim. It makes me tired just writing this all down, luckily I had a lot of help from my family and friends.

There was only one light in the garage, a crummy looking exterior light fixture in the middle of the ceiling that wasn't powerful enough to light the space. There was also only two outlets, not really a great setup for what I was going to need. I did a lot of research and decided on can lights for lighting. I didn't want something that hung from the ceiling and might get in the way of me taking photos later.

Installing can lights

My father in-law helped me install the 12 lights and five new outlets. It was another really long day. It was great to actually get a good look at the room with the new lights, it wasn't looking so much like a cave anymore. We also added a couple of exterior lights to the front of the studio on either side of the french doors.

With that done it was insulation time. We had talked about trying to do it ourselves, but thought we might actually save a little money and get it done better/faster by hiring a company to come out and do it. Because a insulation company buys in bulk they can get a better deal on material. We had a couple insulators come out and give us quotes and it looked like it was going to be a little more to pay someone else to do it (about $100) but we thought it would save us some time and they would probably do a better job...Long story short I wish we would have just done it ourselves. The guys who came out to do the insulation made a bunch of mistakes and ended up holding up the drywall because we had to wait for them to finish.

Insulation going in

Lucky me my dad is a drywall master and was able to get all the drywall done over a weekend. After the drywall was done the guy he works for was nice enough to make a few trips out to spray two coats of primer and texture on the walls for free!

Drywall finished

With the walls ready to go we got started painting. I had a really hard time picking colors for the studio, I think I about drove my wife crazy obsessing about it. Here are a few things I found when researching what colors are good for a studio. White is good if you want your walls to bounce light back onto your subject. Black does the opposite and absorbs light. Bright colors aren't good because they can cast color onto your subject.

Primer and paint

If this studio was strictly going to be used for photography and nothing else I would have whitewashed floor to ceiling, however the room is also going to be an office for my wife and I so stark white would be a little too "clinical" for us. Other options would have been to use curtains in the area I'm going to be shooting.

I chose to go with white on the ceiling so I could bounce light off it if I wanted and 18% grey for the walls and painted one wall that I wont be shooting around a little darker grey. 18% grey is a great neutral color and pretty close to the color I had in mind for the studio in the first place.

The floor was another hard choice. We originally were going to go with a wood laminate but, decided to stain the concrete floor that was already there. We had been wanting to try concrete stain for awhile but didn't have a good spot for it. Concrete stain looks great and is much cheaper than laminate.

One problem we ran into was the concrete footings around the floor, they stuck out a few inches and got gradually deeper from the back of the room to the front. My father in-law came to the rescue again and made some custom baseboard that could fit over the top of this.

Two coats of concrete stain and sealer

Here is what the studio looks like pretty much finished. There is still some work to be done, but the bulk of it is finished. I plan on posting some new photos after a month or so once I'm settled in.

(little messy, sorry)

My assistant's (wife's) desk

My desk

Here is a rundown of some of the expenses for this part of the remodel. (approx)

Flooring (stain, sealer) = $200
Paint = $100
Insulation = $500
Drywall = $300

Originally we had estimated somewhere between $1,500-$2,000 for this project and it ended up costing around $3,000. Keep in mind $3,000 was pretty much just material, most of the labor was done by friends and family.

I strongly encourage all you photographers out there working in cramped little corners of your houses to build, or convert an existing room into a studio. Having a designated work space is very important to a efficient work-flow. Rather than spending twenty+ minutes setting up all my gear for every shoot everything is ready to go when I need it.

This is the third and final post about the process of converting my garage into a photo studio/office. Here are the links to the first two parts.

Part #1
Part #2

If you have any questions about this post
please email me at


  1. Wow...looks like a lot of work, but I'm sure it's already paying off. Great Job. The concrete stain looks wonderful. I use a very small room in my house for my studio and I am very jealous of your studio..grrr.

  2. Thanks for the comment. The concrete stain was a pain, and I dont think we did it right. It came out more like paint and is already peeling up in a few areas...oh well. live and learn right?

  3. looks great and i agree having a designated space has to be a real asset.. someday i will have that. my disorganization and lack of space makes it a chore at times and i am too frustrated to shoot by the time i get set up.

    enjoy your space..

  4. Hey thanks Denise,

    I hear you. I was getting so frustrated setting up all my gear for every shoot I was'nt shooting as often as I would have liked. Now if I have an idea for a shot I can get to work right away without losing all that time setting up.

  5. That is quite a final step! Let me say though, the finished product looks great! All of that hard work has really paid off. The color scheme is great! The gray walls are set off by the brown floor and they are both set off by the white baseboards and trim! Thank you for sharing this process of transformation!

  6. Hey thanks for the comment. The baseboard was really tricky. There were some concrete footings that we had to work around. We ended up using crown moulding and baseboard nailed togeter to make a "cap" to cover up the footings.

  7. Found this through a google search and just wanted to say thanks for sharing your process. I'm looking to convert our garage and wanted some inspiration. I also appreciate you breaking down the cost b/c it gives me a better idea of what we're looking at!

  8. Like I said before, this came out awesome. Right now I have a very rough studio space in our newly cleared out basement, but I still need some things like backdrops and stuff. That wall rack is pretty sweet, perfect for clipping on muslins, painted backdrops, paper, whatever. Where did you find that thing? Good choice with the color, I think white might have been a little too institutional for me, too - but man if you ever wanted to shoot a lot of white seamless, white walls would be a huge help. Could always custom fab some large white panels tho instead, or use white panel board ($11) Great job on this - it looks so prefessional you could start booking clients to come in for some portrait sessions!

  9. The wall rack is from Home Depot. It cost less than $10, it is just a rack you would use in your closet to hang clothes. It works great but im thinking of replacing it. It worked fine in my old (smaller) studio space when I was always shooting around 5-8 feet away from it, now that I can get much further back and am using backdrop lights I need something that wont show up in my photos.

    The one big problem with my studio is the low ceilings (only 8'). If I get too far away from the wall you start to see the ceiling in my shots. Its not an issue for sitting poses, but for full body shots it is.

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