How To Build Great Video Or Photo Studio Gear With Cheap Household Items

Christian Cawley 11-10-2012

build photo studioYouTube – it sits there, in your browser, throwing new videos at you from big stars like Rihanna, clips from classic comedies, trailers for new movies and the thoughts of Evelyn Smythe, a history professor from Oxford likes to share her thoughts with the world.


It is in this last type of YouTube video that the future of television is at stake – broadcasting by “amateurs” (which should read “non-industry newcomers”) who are shaping the watching habits of millions. They’re doing this with a range of equipment, from simple webcams to more expensive digital video cameras.

The expense of setting up a YouTube TV station or indeed getting started with any home video or photo project is potentially constrained by your budget. However thanks to some basic household equipment and an understanding of what you do and don’t need, you can build your own equipment, from studio lights to an autocue!

Backgrounds & Chroma

One of the first things you’ll need if you’re planning to build a photo studio or a small TV studio is a background. When you’re attempting a polished result, a background is extremely important.

A quick browse of online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon will reveal that backgrounds need to be setup with elaborate frames – but do they? Well no, not really. A simple wooden curtain pole is good enough, and as long as the pole is longer than your intended studio area, it should enable you to hang a suitably sized background from it.

build photo studio


For a background drape, you can use a plain white background (perhaps lit from the other side) or you might prefer to use a green background for chroma (colour separation, the fabled “green screen” used in cinema and TV for special effects ranging from newsroom backgrounds to battle cruisers and dinosaurs). The cheapest way is to check your linen cupboard, but if you don’t have anything suitable a trip to your local bedding store might be in order.

Using a video editing application (for example, Wax Create Impressive Videos With Wax 2.0 [Windows] Read More ) you will be able to add backgrounds into your videos, while GIMP can be used to add interesting backgrounds to a green screen photo.

Create an Autocue

If you’re planning to address the camera, you’ll need a script – and for reading this, it’s best that you have an autocue. But these cost hundreds of dollars, don’t they?

build your own photo booth


Well, yes they do – but we can find a way around this!

There are several ways you can build your own teleprompter. One is using a smartphone app, onto which the script is loaded. You would then combine this with a bit of cardboard as described here in order to hold the phone and display the script. Alternatively, use your tablet computer…

Note that you will need an app to display your script – they’re around $4.99-$9.99 on iTunes, although there are free options for Android – but you might take a different approach.

Probably the most straightforward is Easyprompter, which enables you to paste your script into your browser, adjust the size and speed, and then use your PC as a teleprompter. While this might be difficult if your PC is also being used to record your video, worry not – the website can be used on a tablet or phone!


Lighting The Studio With a Coffee Can

Lights, camera, action!

build photo studio

Wait – what about the lights? There are many different ways in which you can use household gear to create lights suitable for use in a photographic or video studio. Thanks to international agreements for CO2 emissions, the use of LED and halogen lamps have become more and more widespread, and these bulbs can be used in conjunction with custom lighting rigs.

Probably the best example of how you can make a set of low-cost studio lights comes from goldenpizza on YouTube, whose awesome instructional video on building coffee can studio lights is worth watching.


In addition to the lamps, you’ll probably need some method of reflecting light onto the subject. In video and photography this is usually done with a dedicated screen with a reflective surface that can be easily packed away when not in use. In a low-budget studio you might not be able to stretch to this, but you should be able to introduce large pieces of card – A2 or A1 size – to do the job. Note that they will need to be carefully positioned beforehand if you’re working alone.

Don’t Let a Low Budget Stop You!

To build a studio with the equipment here should cost you in the range of $50 maximum. If you take the cheaper options, you might be able to get things up and running for under $10 – perhaps even for nothing at all if you have the necessary equipment to hand.

What you need to remember, of course, is that a low budget shouldn’t stop you from building your studio. Dreams can be lived in the digital age, and the intelligent use of technology can attain the desired results thanks to your chroma background, teleprompt and coffee can lamps!

Image Credit: Television Anchorwoman via Shutterstock, Grey Studio via Shutterstock

Related topics: Filmmaking, Photography.

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  1. The Signal
    June 12, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Don't forget the usefulness of clamp on bowl lamps from any hardware store. You can put photo lamps in them and stick them anywhere,

  2. Mac Witty
    October 13, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Thanks for the light tips - you can never get too much light indoors
    Lighting is key - a boring video will get worse whit the lack of light

  3. Alex Perkins
    October 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Lighting is key in videos although it's nothing if the video is boring.

  4. Adrian Rea
    October 12, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Oh as an aside, in a set up at work to photograph computer components we have two mini lamps either side but the halogen build give a warm slightly yellowy, I am hoping to replace them with daylight bulbs to improve realism and true colour. Just a though.

  5. Adrian Rea
    October 12, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Very cool article and love the autocue/teleprompter vid. Looks like I will try to do something similar with an old laptop set up.

  6. Mike
    October 11, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    awsome little tutorial especially for makeing youtube videos thanks for the article gonna have to try and make my own little video studio

  7. Kyle
    October 11, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    This is absolutely amazing how you have done this. I do a lot of videos, i won [Broken URL Removed] and i am always doing videos for youtube and vimeo on it and always wished i had a teleprompter. This will work great!