Wow. I've got quite a backlog of posts I've been meaning to type up. I'll be keeping this short though, even though my point is pretty important.
My point is pretty simple: if you've been holding off on setting up a basic studio, don't. I set up a studio in my garage a couple months ago and it has helped my photography a ton.
And all it cost me was $30 for a half-width roll of white seamless and $3 of stuff I had around the house.
When I first started getting more serious about photography, I was all about natural light. Sure, maybe because natural light was the only thing I had to work with, but I was all about using natural light. Who needs flashes, strobes, or a studio?
Then, I discovered Strobist, and switched to being all about on-location, off-camera flash. Studios are evil and predictable; the real interesting stuff was going on outside of the studio.
Now I've compromised my morals and started doing studio-style work.
And I'm loving it.
Ultimately, all photography just comes back to shooting light into a scene and collecting it on an image sensor (whether film or digital). Sure, natural light gives a certain look, strobes give a certain look, but ultimately it is all light. And the best place to play with light and control it is in a studio setting.
Which is why I've learned so much with my garage studio.
For example, it never really hit home that it's possible to have dark shadows on a subject in front of a pure white-background. I learned that on my first day!
All along I thought a studio was out of my reach due to expense and complexity. Turns out it wasn't. All you need for a studio is a room and a background. And since a half-width roll of white seamless only goes for $30, the background part is very inexpensive. And I already had a garage!
Here's the setup (light placement is not identical to the shots of my daughter on this page because I was moving things around a bit). The real key to the DIY studio idea is that you can do a lot with just a single off-camera flash or even a few lamps or floodlights. The important thing is having a space and a clean background to work with. And white is the best background of all since you can turn it pretty much any color or shade (see Zach Arias' white seamless tutorial for details).
For home studios, most shops and online guides talk about expensive stuff like background stands and light stands and sandbags and various other items. In reality, though, all you need is the paper. As long as you have a wall that can take a little bit of abuse and a trusty roll of duct tape (or gaffer's tape if you can get it) you'll be able to get that seamless up. (Disclaimer: if you do stuff with models/subjects outside of your immediate family, make sure your seamless and lights are secure to avoid accidents and liability).
I just used some rope and PVC pipe I had around to hang my seamless from a rafter. Total cost... $3.
Here's the hung seamless:
I just cut the pipe (left over from a sprinkler project, but very inexpensive at any hardware store) to the right size, drilled some holes in both ends, ran the rope through, and tied some secure knots. The rope is just a clothesline we had out back :)
Here's the hanging detail:
Usually you'll want a clip of some sort (again, Home Depot has them for cheap) to keep the seamless from unrolling.
Trust me, even if you don't have pipe or clips or anything else, if you buy the seamless, it will get hung.
And you learn something new every time out. My first time, I realized that I needed to reduce the shadows on the side away from the flash. Enter a $7 piece of foam board from Office Depot... and the result was the "professional" Christmas shot of my kids. Nothing drives home the utility of a simple idea like a reflector better than actual experience.
So, if you are a budding photography student or raw hobbyist, do yourself a favor. Buy a roll of seamless, set it up, and start experimenting!