Light Remodeling, Pt. 2

Here is the first lesson I have learned: $200 will not get you very far when prepping a garage to be a convertible studio. But it's possible, in a very no-frills way…

First of all, thanks so much for the many cool suggestions in the comments of the first post. I know I am going to get to some of them as future funds permit.

My very first order of business was to get all of the crap off of the floor. That, as it turns out, is free. But keeping it from crashing back to the floor would cost a little bit of money.

So for the first ~$60 of my budget I bought shelf 32 brackets and three sheets of 4 x 8' oriented strand board (OSB). Cheap, and did the job. And I once again have a useable garage floor.

This took 30% of my budget, but the results were worth far more -- and not just in terms of a studio. Going from a cluttered garage to an organized garage yielded major spousal brownie points. The general background stress level in the whole house improved. And any mention of the "studio" is henceforth associated with the Giant Garage Cleaning of 2011.

Gents (and I know most of you readers are gents) this is a classic win/win situation. Word to the wise -- an unprompted spring cleaning might do wonders.

She felt better about it. But I did, too. I now have a garage in which I can do lots of stuff -- not just shoot. Starting to feel like building something. Starting to feel a little like Tim Taylor.

So now I have a minimally functional space, and $140 left on budget for phase one. Next, comes ambiance.

Here's the thing: I am not going to turn the garage into anything glitzy on this budget, if ever. So that level of change gets bumped to another day.

More pressing: It is February in Maryland, and I decided I wanted to be able to use this space year-round. So right off of the bat I decided to devote some budget to portable, quick-shot warmth. Thus, $130 went to a portable propane heater.

Give it 20 minutes and it will bring the garage from bitter cold to … reasonably comfy. That took it instantly from an 8-month space to a 12-month space. Not glamorous, but a big deal to me.

For fix #2, I went with ambient light control. For $3 (pro-rated) I got black plastic with which to cover the two small windows when needed. Not stylish, but very functional. I can always upgrade this later to blinds as budget allows.

Finally, with the $7 remaining, I bought an iPhone-30-pin-to-AV cord from DealExtreme. I love that place for cords and other electronic doodads. If you've never gone, you are about to fall in love.

I plugged that into a 20-yr-old receiver and pair of 30-year-old Radio Shack Minimus-7 speakers, scrounged from the attic. Would have been ~$50 on Craigslist otherwise. But that got me infinitely variable music via the cloud. With an iPhone (or iPod Touch or iPad) and the free Pandora or Radio Paradise app, you are good to go.

Bonus points: Always tell anyone you are gonna shoot to bring their iPod. They can plug it right into the system for exactly their kind of music. And if I have to choose between killer music or white paint to amp the vibe of a portrait session, music wins every time.

So there is phase one. Two hundred bucks and some elbow grease gets the space from junk pile to studio-in-a-pinch -- useable 12 months a year, with tunes and total light control.

Style points? Not so much. But functional, if minimally so.

The above was from my inaugural, post-cleaning shoot. And classical violist Robin Massie-Jean was actually improvising right along with the jazz piped through the old stereo. (Music FTW.)

So what's next? Well, that's where it gets interesting, with all kinds of possibilities. Here are some of the plans, in likely order and with prices attached.

For $30, the next addition(s) will probably be one or more hand-painted backdrops. In this space, I will have to create the setting in some way or another. (Unless the shoot is for a portrait of a garage.) Going the DIY route here gives me max control and uniqueness at minimum cost.

For <$100, a good floor scrubbing, followed by floor paint and sealant. Gotta research what will stand up to car fluids, tho. Next would come the wall paint. But prep will be a bear. And depending on how valuable the space becomes to me, I could totally see splurging on this great suggestion, made by several people -- a high-lift garage door conversion.

Price-wise, won't be cheap. But that was an eye-opener -- I had no idea you could do that! Built for people who want to have a car lift installed, they also work great for facilitating light stands and booms.

This would give me near full use of the vertical space. What a great idea, although not in the initial budget. I'll probably roll it into a new garage door opener purchase, as ours are pretty rickety now.

It is a good future goal -- if and only if it turns out that I use the studio a lot. But I get to shoot in meantime for only $200, and we got a much more useable garage as a bonus.

Thanks for the great ideas, all. I cannot wait to try more of them. Will report back as it happens.


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Blogger ell0361 said...

Hey Dave,

I've used UCoat IT, on a few floors now and it's always held up really well. Looks great also and apparently it's good enough for Leno

Thanks for the knowledge,

February 21, 2011 12:39 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

For floor painting, when you get around to it, I can recommend Sherwin Williams Armorseal 1k, a waterborne urethane floor paint. It is darn near indestructible, and comes in a ton of colors. Resistant to oil, acids, gas, and whatever else you can spill on it. It costs about $90 a gallon, but one gallon can cover about 150-200 sq. ft., which is likely enough for your garage. You need to order it from a Sherwin Williams store directly.

Being waterborne, it is about the most protection you can install without subjecting yourself to serious health considerations. Naturally you don't want to get it on yourself or eat it, but you won't need to evacuate the house or get a scuba system just to roll it on.

February 21, 2011 12:45 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

Great start. I did my garage a couple of years back and won major WAF (Wife Approved Factor). For the floor, go with RaceDeck (or equivalent). It may bust that $100 budget but it turns that garage into one helluva room!

February 21, 2011 12:52 AM  
Blogger bmillios said...

For the floor - check out epoxy-based paint. Comes in any color. You can sprinkle a bit of sand on the paint when it's wet for increased traction. Car fluids mop right up.

The only downside is that concrete is hard on the back, and on anything that slips out of your hand. Maybe a roll of vinyl handy to put down for you to walk around on when the studio is a studio for an extended period of time, then rolled up when the car comes home to roost.

February 21, 2011 1:03 AM  
Blogger Edward said...

Jesus Dave don't you know you can't use that propane heater inside your garage? two words!

carbon monoxide

we can't have the head strobist himself suffocating in his garage now can we?

February 21, 2011 1:40 AM  
Blogger mikko said...

Regarding the garage floor, have you considered epoxy coating it? It seems to be quite popular coating for garages and actually I read about a family that had coated the floor in their house with it as well. Can be done in any color, it's easy to clean and resists oil stains.

High-gloss white epoxy has been used in car showrooms as well, and it would be great for white on white shots in studio as well. You'd probably need some black fabric to block the reflections when shooting black on black shots, though.

February 21, 2011 3:22 AM  
Blogger K said...

Very good use of the $200.Gives me a ton of ideas...hmmmm...

February 21, 2011 3:47 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi David

When I converted my garage for putting some computer racks in, I found exterior emulsion paint and a spray gun the best way to do the walls. I had cinder-block construction, and the spray got the paint into the many holes very well, without needing so much as I would have used with a roller.

I also decided not to actually bring the car in again, (but we have rather different weather conditions in Britain than you do in the frozen south) and used 2x8 loft flooring chipboard with a coat of standard floor paint as sealant to kill the cold, and put a little spring underfoot.

I also filled the walls with redundant kitchen cabinets (have you noticed that the ladies always want a new kitchen shortly after they move in?)

February 21, 2011 4:36 AM  
Blogger Ian Pack said...

Good luck with your conversion and thanks for sharing during what is a busy time for you.

I did something similar many years ago and it was well worth the effort to create a dedicated shooting space. Now I'm spoilt as I have access to a large drive-in studio with a white corner cyc - luxury!

I suppose there's nothing to stop you describing you studio as "drive-in" ;-)

February 21, 2011 5:36 AM  
Blogger Ian said...

There are several very good DIY garage floor coverings. The one thing that is essential when doing this is proper preparation of the floor. Otherwise, the first time you drive the car off the newly painted surface, it will peel off. DAMHIK :)

The end result is well worth the effort.

February 21, 2011 6:32 AM  
Blogger Indigo said...

But only one question. Where is the hype about the 3,5mm jack being superior in the audio world? My samsung can't plug into your sound system, or someone's android phone with Spotify. Can I still be a Strobist customer if I decide to whore to Google instead of Apple? Or heavens forbid, Microsoft? Proprietary jacks were uncool, remember :)

February 21, 2011 6:36 AM  
Blogger matshageeikemo said...

Hi Dave,

As far as I could tell no-one has brought up that Zack Arias did this some time ago on his blog. It's definitely worth the read.

White Seamless Tutorial

It's a five part series, where he builds up a pretty sweet studio, just using a roll of white paper, two hinged wooden plates used as gobos, and some white shiny flooring (which really is not needed). Pretty basic, but he gets amazing results from it.

And it all packs/rools away pretty easily.

February 21, 2011 6:37 AM  
Blogger Boaz said...

Dealextreme has a referral program (log in, and look for "referrals" in the "my account" page. With the volume of traffic I'm guessing your site gets, you just might be able to get you electronic dooh-das for free from now on by using a refferal link.

February 21, 2011 7:39 AM  
Blogger Lou said...

Very cool David! Glad to see it's starting to work out after the cleaning process hehe.

I'm getting ready to move out from my situation from my roommates and get my own place again, and even before you started posting these, my criteria was that the house had to have a 2-car garage for exactly this purpose. Needless to say, these posts=amazing.

Howabout a BTS shot of the studio all set up? :D

February 21, 2011 8:08 AM  
Blogger David said...


Just use a 3.5mm to RCA cable. It's even cheaper.


The heater is designed for garages -- and ventilated.

February 21, 2011 8:41 AM  
Blogger John said...

A vented propane heater should be perfectly safe. That said, a carbon monoxide detector would be peace-of-mind for $35. Reviews:

February 21, 2011 9:02 AM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

I was worried about that propane heater also. What is the brand and btu on it? I need heat for my garage, but didn't want to knock off my models

February 21, 2011 9:12 AM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

For light control, I used some black upholstery velvet that I got on eBay. It has a white backing. I put the white side out, against the window and the black side in. Having the white side out means that it reflects the sunlight and doesn't get hot. In your case, you might want the white side in so the black side will absorb the sunlight. Either way, black on one side, white on the other, works well for light control and would have other uses around the studio. I think that the velvet I got was around 52" wide and sold by the yard.

February 21, 2011 10:22 AM  
Blogger Bill Giles said...

With respect to the Carbon Monoxide threat from the unvented propane heater. I have used them for years and never had any Carbon Monoxide register on my detector. On the other hand, I ran my gasoline generator in the garage for a few hours, when we lost power and had 35 PPM CO registering on the detector when the power came back on. I have a hatch in the garage ceiling that I open to let the exhaust out, but the wind was coming from a direction that pushed the exhaust back into the garage. A CO detector with a display is definitely worth the cost. 50 PPM is the normal action level, but more than 25 PPM is not good.

February 21, 2011 10:28 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

A great start for $200 ... I would like to see more ideas on this to get to a more complete studio. Some ideas that I've thought of: How to get ambient light into a windowless garage (skylight tubes perhaps?0, space-saving backdrop systems (, or ideas for walls that look great as backgrounds. I'm probably not the only one out there that want's to do this. Great thread David - thanks.

February 21, 2011 10:47 AM  
Blogger infrar3d said...

When I had to buy a new garage door a couple of years ago, I went with a roll-up door rather than a standard garage door. Because they don't take up any of your ceiling space.

February 21, 2011 10:56 AM  
Blogger TravisD said...

The canonical online sounce for all things garage related is really -- there are many threads there on the do's and dont's of garage flooring (and other issues). Last thing you want to do is spend good money on a floor coating only to have it peel up due to surface prep issues. As I understand, there's several gotchas to worry about - water (testable with a piece of plastic sheet and some tape), contamination (oil/grease) and concrete issues (spalling/dusting). Remediation of these might range from "good cleaning" to "ball mill" (ouch!) to "use a different covering, like porcelain tile".

February 21, 2011 11:39 AM  
Blogger nlsphotos said...

I've been wanting to do something similar but haven't been able to do much research.

thanks for the link to the DIY on the high lift garage doors.

February 21, 2011 12:05 PM  
Blogger ranoi said...

Hi David.
I've been looking for diy stuff as well and i found on home depot some canvas that is usually used to cover the floor when you paint.

They range form 12-30 [ish] dollars, depending on the size of the sheet and it's sturdy, not too heavy and you can probably paint it if you wanted to... although the creamy-grayish color and textured canvas could also yield some interesting results.
They also have some big5 gallon buckets for about 38 bucks and even though they're the economy brand, they did work well on interiors.

Itching to see you in Albuquerque next month!
Enjoy the brownie points! ;)

February 21, 2011 1:18 PM  
Blogger cflamme said...

David, Here is a link for the best garage floor paint you can get. It's pricey, but you do the job only once...and it stands up to oil, gas, cleaners, etc... Check out some of the other floor coverings they offer as well...


PS: Looking forward to meeting you and Joe in Vegas. I'll be on my way back home from my own cross country tour!

February 21, 2011 4:48 PM  
Blogger cflamme said...

David, Here is link to the best garage floor paint you can buy:

It's pricey, but you do the job once and it will stand up to anything.

Looking forward to meeting you and Joe in Vegas! I'll be traveling back home from my own cross country tour!



February 21, 2011 4:53 PM  
Blogger ------------------------------- said...

I just bought these great shelf/rod brackets (Item #186946) at Lowe's for $6.50 and mounted them 7.5' up the wall. Works great with my 12' rod for holding one of my 9ft seamless. No more superclamps on my Bogen lightstands and freed up a ton of floorspace.

Also just built an inexpensive seamless paper rack up the wall with 24 of those $2 rubberized oversized bike hooks. I know you're not supposed to store 9ft seamless horizontally, but I put the hooks on the wall at 8" increments vertically and the hooks are only about 4ft apart from left to right on the wall. That should prevent sagging.

See you on the FlashBus Tour in Raleigh!

February 21, 2011 5:01 PM  
Blogger Ken Norton - Image 66 Media said...

I think you might be able to negotiate that $60 back for the shelving. That could easily be justified as a non-photographic home-improvement project with the spousal unit.

Now you have $60 more to spend!

February 21, 2011 6:40 PM  
Blogger starrlight said...

Maybe return the propane heater and get two of these flat-panel convection wall heaters.
You could set them up on a timer to kick on very early in the morning, or even just run them fulltime. Very inexpensive to run.

February 21, 2011 7:07 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

Rent a commercial paint sprayer to finish the walls once spring comes. Empty the space, mask the doors and windows with contractor paper (cheap). Prime the walls and by the time you finish cleaning the unit it will be dry enough to put on whatever color you want. Especially easy if all one color. I did my garage after renovation in 2 hours. Oh... and to run a propane heater don't you need to open the door?

February 21, 2011 7:38 PM  
Blogger david said...

Very useful post, David, thanks.

You might consider indoor/outdoor carpet?

As far as the budget, one assumes that after your bus tour to sell-out crowds, money will not really be an issue anymore.

February 21, 2011 8:27 PM  
Blogger brandimengel said...

Dude, you opened Pandora's box talking about garage floor coverings. You may as well have just said "Nikon makes the best cameras but I won't buy the new model that's not introduced yet because it won't do HDR fast enough." ;>) Seriously, though another floor issue is heat. Park hot tires on a cold floor in the summer and it will pull most coverings right up. No need to post this one, just wanted to give you a heads up, one garage guy to another. Here's some pics of me moving an entire garage.
Looking forward to seeing you in Indy.

February 21, 2011 9:54 PM  
Blogger gordonj07 said...

David, you got a model No. for your cable from Deal Extreme?

February 21, 2011 10:23 PM  
Blogger mein said...

had a thought abt a cheaper option for garage door fixing. At moment your door goes from vertical to horizontal via 90° joint. Could change to a 45° joint and keep all other equipment. Door would still be low near the wall but would touch the ceiling by the time it reached the middle of the room. giving room for lighting etc.

February 22, 2011 2:32 AM  
Blogger udijw said...

is it me of are you slowly "slami"ing your way into strobing the entire house?

February 22, 2011 3:01 AM  
Blogger Surly said...

Ooops, that comment from brandimengel was me. I was signed in as the wife.

February 22, 2011 6:56 AM  
Blogger HKM said...

Armstrong Excelon Vinyl Tile (HD or Lowes). It's cheap ~.75 sq/ft, easy to install for a DIY like yourself, easy to keep clean, and looks great. Just put a coating of polish (easy as mopping) as a sealer. You'll regret DIY painting regardless of brand or type unless you have it professionally installed with a guarantee. Besides, if you don't prep the floor correctly, you'll have a mess in short amount of time.

February 22, 2011 9:37 AM  
Blogger Lennart said...

Just a small, if somewhat unsympathetic, remark about tight budgets.

Just like buying eBay remotes, only to buy a set of PocketWizards sometime later, is more expensive than buying just the PocketWizards right away, the OSB fiberboard for the shelves might turn out to be a waste in the long run. The board will easily and permanently bow, soak up any liquids spilt, is hard to paint for the same reason, and has an unpleasant smell. Despite the bigger investment, plywood might have proven to be a far more affordable and durable choice in the end.

I am on a tight budget myself, and I am often amazed at the way people spend their money (continually paying loads and loads of "noob taxes"). I'd rather save my money and wait a bit for an extra lens or, for that matter, a new coat of paint in the house, and be done with it for a long time. Also, reusing stuff (like wood :P) can be key when on a tight budget. In any case, by choosing wisely and consistently, you can easily afford things other people on the same budget could never.

Budgetting is always a matter of personal choice, but I feel that in general, a pay-as-you-go stategy and tight budgets don't mix too well. Being a long-time reader of your blog, I know you think about it the same way. I just wanted to point this out anyway.

February 22, 2011 12:31 PM  
Blogger BobK said...

I recently turned my garage into a combination music and photo studio. I didn't get total "it's just for me" out of it as I had to store some household stuff-but they went into a wall of cabinets with doors across the fully water-proofed and insulated garage door. I used thick insulation R32 or something like that on the door and used heavy black plastic to seal it right down to the floor. I was lucky to have a chimney flu inside the garage so I installed a small wood stove and run a radiant heater set at 65 degrees all day which cost about $350 and +-$30 per month and use the wood stove to really warm it up. Carpet takes the chill off the floor (remnant) The one tip I have is, I would use a garage door seal that you stick to the concrete that prevents anything like rain, snow, bugs etc. from getting in. You can drive on it too. Learned the hard way on that one. Worth the $70.

February 22, 2011 4:52 PM  
Blogger Happy said...

For the floor, Costco currently stock very reasonably priced workshop cushion flooring (in the UK, I guess they'll have it in the States too) that links together so you can cover as much or as little as you want in whatever shape you want & move it around too. It's something you'll probably need whatever you do with the rest of the floor since standing on concrete sucks the heat out of a body remarkably quickly & makes the feet ache into the bargain. Looking good already, I wish my garage was that high.

February 23, 2011 8:59 AM  
Blogger kevin said...

I probably missed it, but not from lack of re-reading.

Your ceiling is 12', but what are the dimensions of the shooting space itself?

February 23, 2011 1:19 PM  
Blogger Darin said...

I used the same propane heater for a full winter in a 6' x 10' 1969 travel trailer (low budget ski bum!). I never had carbon monixide issues because it's made for indoor use.

To help keep your cost down more in the long run, it's well worth getting the adapter + hose to use a 5 gallon propane tank with it. If you go this route you need to get a filter too, my heater permanently fouled later that spring. Big savings in the long run through, and better for the environment than those little disposable tanks.

February 27, 2011 10:18 PM  
Blogger Derek Von Eville said...

I cleaned out my garage last year and was using it for some studio work on a tight budget. It worked great until I had to leave the country for 7 months for work. I came home to find the "studio" filled with my wife's collection of junk to sell at a spring yardsale. I use contractor grade black trashbags to cover my windows. It's not pretty but it works and is cheap as dirt.

March 12, 2011 2:59 PM  
Blogger JC said...

Hey Dave, We haven't seen any more info on the new studio yet. How is it coming?

I would like to know what you would change or add. I am finishing my basement and need some ideas!

April 18, 2012 2:22 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Have not needed to make any changes yet, but next will be a bog one: High roller doors to claim the rest of the vertical space.

April 18, 2012 5:17 PM  
Blogger Joseph Sorrentino said...

I'm getting a 2 car garage!!! Any updates?

October 21, 2012 9:46 PM  
Blogger David House Sr. said...

Hey David,
I ran across an unrelated post that reminded me of your Garage Studio project. Specifically your Garage door Vertical Extension. I think I saw you mention "new doors" at one time. 30 years ago I installed garage doors and have done exactly what you want to do without new doors. A garage door company can easily (And pretty cheaply) extend those vertical tracks and move the springs up. I'd hate to see you go to the expense of new doors if not needed.

Door companies make track extensions for DIY, I think you and a local buddy could handle on a weekend. But I'd get a quote from a local door company to see if it's worth it.

Here is a detailed DIY, if you are interested. If I missed your "Part 3" sorry. I did search. :)

Best wishes!
Happy Shooting!
David Sr.

May 16, 2014 10:57 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Awesome tip, David. Thank you very much!

May 18, 2014 8:35 PM  

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