How a Virtual Studio can Supercharge Your Portrait Business

  • 5 min read

Portrait photography can be an expensive business. Aside from the requisite gear, there is always the question of location. Will you buy or rent a studio you must then furnish and purchase props for? Or will you rely on mother nature, who can throw a fit and change your plans with a few well placed rain clouds? 

And if you don’t want the added expense of a traditional studio, you may use space in your home, and just cope with the limitations of sharing living and working space or building sets when you need a change of scene.

But there is another option, one where you can create work in any setting that inspires you, at any time of day, with any lighting conditions you can imagine, with whatever props you like. 

Enter the 3D studio.

The computer graphics industry has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last decade, and we’ve finally reached a point where photorealistic 3D rendering is within the grasp of everyday photographers. 

While the benefits of 3D are clear for people who work in product photography or make fantasy composite work, the idea of including CGI in a portrait photography business is a little harder to reconcile because we don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of work.

You might not be sure whether something like CGI is right for you and the kind of work you want to create. Is learning a whole new skill set worth it? It takes a little while to learn and master, like any technique or software, but the creative and financial incentives for portrait photographers are really exciting. 

Before we look at the benefits of having a virtual space, let’s talk about what “shooting” in a virtual studio looks like.

Once you have created a portrait of your client, you can essentially composite them into a virtual studio. You choose the studio space that best fits your needs or the client’s wishes, then use the photo you’ve taken as a reference for the lighting, camera angle, and CG props you want to add. You make those alterations to the 3D space, render the backplate, and then composite your photograph into the scene before finishing up your traditional post production process.

CGI Portrait Combo by Nicole York and Dustin ValkemaCGI composite portrait by Nicole York and Dustin Valkema

 

You can also prep and the light your virtual studio in advance, and then set your photography lighting and angle to match. If you have a process set up, you can repeat it with multiple clients quickly and easily. The workflow is customizable and absolutely up to you!

Now that we know what the general process is like, let’s look at a few of the reasons having a virtual studio could be the best thing to ever happen to your portrait photography business.

Ultimate Flexibility

Even if you had a dedicated studio space, you’d be limited to the confines of that space and your budget. With CGI and a “virtual studio,” you could create any studio situation you can imagine.

The inside of a castle, a traditional photography studio, a Victorian home, you can transport your subject into any space you can imagine, without having to travel or build a set.

With traditional compositing techniques, you would have to create or buy a backplate, and then light your subject and angle your camera to match the space you photographed. But with a virtual studio, you can adapt the space to fit the lighting you designed for your subject, and alter the 3D space to fit your photograph.

A virtual studio works no matter where you shot your subject, no matter what light you used, no matter what angle you chose. And you’re never locked into a single studio space. You’ve got a world of possibilities available, rain or shine.

CGI Composite image by David Parish and Dustin Valkema

No Storage Required

Not only are 3D props generally cheaper than physical ones, they don’t require physical storage space. This might not sound like a big deal until you think about everything that needs a home in your studio space.

Backdrops, chairs, stools, apple boxes, stands, ladders, and hundreds of other props you might love to own, but would have to store and care for.

Virtual studios and virtual props allow you to have endless spaces and more props than you could dream of, for a fraction of the cost. And, you’ll never have to worry about finding a place to store them, or replacing them when they break.

No Rent

One of the biggest drawbacks to having a traditional studio space is the money it takes to obtain and maintain it. Not only is there rent or a mortgage, but the associated utilities and upkeep. With a virtual studio, however, the only cost is the initial build time or the purchase price of the model.

Once you create or own the asset, you can use it in countless ways, including making adjustments to the model so it fits your purpose. You could own several virtual studio spaces to give your clients endless options, without spending a dime more than the cost of purchase or creation.

CGI combined with traditional portrait by David Parish and Dustin Valkema

More Income

Studio spaces cost money. Travel costs money. Props cost money. And, if the 2020 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the ability to move freely isn’t always in the cards.

Owning a virtual studio means that you can shoot anywhere, from your living room if you’d like, and still give your client a finished image that looks like it’s been taken in a high-end studio. You are relieved of the burden of renting a space.

Not only will you save money on travel, time, and space rental, but you’ll have the ability to offer your clients their choice of studio space. You can give them a highly customized photo experience and charge them accordingly. 

Creative freedom

The best part about having a virtual studio is the creative freedom. Nothing can hold you back from creating exactly what you want, where you want it. If you want a castle library, you don’t have to travel to photograph a backplate, or search through hundreds of stock photos.

If you can’t afford to rent the space you want, you can shoot in your garage and fine tune your virtual studio. Can’t afford the perfect prop? There’s a virtual prop for that.

When you master this skill set and have a virtual studio, the only limit is your imagination.

 

CGI Composite portrait by Nicole York

 

In the tutorial CGI for Photographers, Dustin Valkema guides you through building the foundation you need to begin your 3D journey. If you want to learn more, check out the course. It includes a pre-built, versatile, Hollywood Oscars-style CGI studio,  and 28 hours of content that will get you well on your way to running a virtual studio of your own.

 

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