Podcast 251 : Planning the New Office/Studio

by | Jul 13, 2010 | Gear, Musings, Podcast | 7 comments

With the preparation for my move next week taking up so much of my time, I haven’t been able to get any photography in at all in the last month. I generally like to talk about things photography related that I’m involved with right now, and as I’m currently planning for my move, including creating my first office and small studio, I figured I’d share some information about my humble plans with you today.

"Office" of 10 Years

“Office” of 10 Years

As I mentioned last week, I have had very little space to use as an office over the last ten years. Housing in the heart of Tokyo is ridiculously expensive, especially when you consider the size of the apartments that you usually end up with. This is pretty much the extent of my work space at this point in time.

You’ve probably seen me sitting here in some of the videos that I’ve produced too, so it won’t be a surprise to many of you, but really, that’s it. I do have other gear strewn around the apartment of course. I have a camera and lens cabinet in our bedroom. There are light-stands, tripods and rolls of backdrop material in my hallway. There are die-pressed fine art folio folders in front of my television in the living room, as well as boxes of paper for printing out my images. As you can see in this image, also in front of my TV stand are a couple of boxes that are full of software, wires, so more printing paper, and other crap that we end up owning in the pursuit of our art.

When I’ve needed a large backdrop to create videos or do still life photography of larger subjects, I usually have to take over our kitchen for the afternoon, and even then, there is very little room to work. As you see in this next photo, even if I’m just shooting something like a book that I contributed a lot of assignment work and stock images too, I have to set up a small make-shift studio in my kitchen.

Makeshift Studio

Makeshift Studio

This has worked as necessary for a long while, but I have to admit it’s been tiresome. I remember someone once balling me out for being a photographer, and yet I was not able to simply provide a photograph of something that I had been talking about in an instant. If they had known how much trouble I went to do set up even a very basic studio, I’m sure they would not have felt that way.

It has also never been an option for me to actually have people come to me for portrait work. There was just no way I could bring someone to my make-shift kitchen studio, and ask them to contort themselves into all sorts of weird positions just to squeeze into the kitchen through the edge of my backdrop.

As you can see below, I generally arrange to take my gear to the customer, and set up in their living room, or hire a studio, and work there. These things are of course going to continue to be options as I build on my portrait work business, but it will be so much nicer to have the option of doing this work at my own home as well. Also of course, it’s not just portrait work. I enjoy doing product shoots, even if it’s just things to show you on the Podcast, and that will be so much easier with a little more space, and even the ability to leave a backdrop set up for multiple days when necessary.

Portrait Shoot Setup

Portrait Shoot Setup

All of this has played a big part in my making the decision to uproot myself from my center of Tokyo apartment, and move out to one of the cities to the west of the central Tokyo area. We’ve had the keys since June 30th, and have been slowly getting things sorted out, ready for our move on July 20th. Last weekend we were over there to receive a whole bunch of new furniture, as most of the stuff we are still using is old, and was very cheap when we bought it ten years ago, and although it has served us well, it really would not suit our nice new home, even if we took it with us. I also still have some things that I bought in the early 90’s, when I first came to Japan, like our washing machine. I’m amazed that it’s still running, though it’s going to finally be able to retire next week, and receive its 18 years of service badge.

I’ll probably put a video of our new place together later, as I am designing most of it with photography in mind, but that will have to wait until we’ve moved in and settled down some. Today let’s concentrate on my new office and studio space. It’s nothing amazing, and we are only talking two rooms, but it will be enough for me to do most things, with room elsewhere in the house to cover many other photographic eventualities.

On Saturday, my new desk, and a small moveable printer stand for my Canon Pixma Pro9500 printer were delivered, alongside an amazing little work table that I picked up. You can see both of these here, although the printer stand and work table will be positioned elsewhere in the final layout. I’m so looking forward to being able to put things out on a nice wide desk, and separate printer stand, as opposed to having to put everything vertical, in the corner of the living room, as I have for the last 10 years. I bought that old desk some 18 years ago too. It has served me well, but oh how I want it gone now.

Start of an Office

Start of an Office

You might be able to guess from the leg and roller design on the photograph here that my new work table has a totally controllable height feature. There’s a lever on the side that when you press, allows you to raise and lower the height, from anything from about the height of my desk, to about 25cms from the floor. This is going to be great for product and still life photography, because I can totally control the height of my product, and work at a comfortable height myself, rather than say having to get up really high to shoot down on something. Now, I can just lower the height of my subject instead, when necessary.

The other cool thing is that the surface of the bench rotates 90 degrees, and you can open it up to double the size of the work area. This is going to be incredibly useful for laying out prints when deciding on portfolio photo order. I also need a reasonable large area to work on when compiling my fine art folios, which have to be folded and glued together with various components, a bit like a factory production line. I have a large cutting board that I use for trimming prints too, that I will use on this work table, but I’ll probably pick up a large piece of thick transparent plastic the same size as the table, for overall protection.

Elsewhere in the new place we have selected a mid-tone wood. My wife hated the black and dark brown furniture that I selected when I was living alone in my early years in Japan. In this room though, I have gone for dark brown again, simply to reduce reflections. I have even ordered totally black curtains that will cut out most of the light from the window, and I am having a return built into either side of the curtains, so they fold back against the wall, minimizing the light that comes in through the window when the curtains are shut.

This is a south facing window though, and so will give some good light most of the day during the summer, and so I’ve ordered some plane white lace curtains as well. These have a reflective coating on the window side to reduce glare and to cut down on the heat that comes through the window during the day, and because they are totally non-patterned, these lace curtains will act as a nice diffuser for the light coming in through the window too.

Here’s a diagram of how I’m thinking of laying out the room at the moment, though this is of course subject to change as I actually start to use the room. You can see that it’s not a huge space. For the main room on the right, we’re talking some 257cm wide, by 439cm long. The elements like the desk and the new printer and backdrop etc. are all to scale though, so this will give some idea of how much room I’ll have to work in.

Office-Studio Plan

Office-Studio Plan

I have some smaller backdrops that will fit in here easily, but I also have a four section backdrop stand that can be used 6 feet, 9 feet or 12 feet wide. I will be able to comfortably use the 6 feet wide configuration as you can see in the diagram. If I push my chair under the desk I’ll be able to get a reasonable amount of distance between me and the subject too. During the day, I’ll be able to use the diffused light through the plane white lace curtains on the window, as well as my umbrellas and other lighting. If necessary, I’ll be able to shut out almost all light with the black curtains that I also have coming.

I’ve positioned my desk so that with the black curtains shut, there’ll be little light from the window to affect how images look on my monitor, and there’ll be no glare from behind either, which is important for color critical work. I’ll be recalibrating my monitor under these conditions, and although I’ll work with the curtains open for general office work, like book keeping, or marketing activities, when I’m working on photographs, I’ll close the curtains and be able to work in a consistent environment. Again, this is also why I chose dark colored furniture for this room.

If I need to use a wider backdrop, there is another room downstairs that I’m calling a study, in which I could set up a 9 foot backdrop, and at a push, I could do a 12 foot backdrop in our living/dining room, and because they are adjacent, joined by a large double door, I could also get a reasonable amount of distance between me and the subject if necessary. The beauty of our new place is that we do not intend to clutter it. We are buying stylish, yet mostly minimalist furniture, which in itself could become props for lifestyle shoots if necessary.

You’ll also see in my diagram that I am planning for a Canon imagePROGRAF iPF6350 printer. This is the 24″ wide model that I spoke about last week. I would like the 44″ wide 8300 model, but I seriously don’t think there’ll be that many times when I need to print that wide, unless I start my own printing business. I wouldn’t rule that out, as I love printing, but for now, 24″ wide will cover my current plans, and I don’t want to take up any more room than what you see here, with an even larger printer.

You’ll see that there is also what I’m going to be using as a storeroom sort of area to the left of my diagram. This is actually a walk in closet, which is 257cm by 210cm. Again, not a huge room, but I’m going to get some racking and make it possible to store all of my camera bags and sheet paper, as well as some of my archived prints along one wall. I’m thinking that my camera and lens cabinet will be going along the back wall, because this is the coolest part of the room. As this is basically an attic space, it gets quite hot during the day when the air conditioning is not on, but the back of this walk in closet is about the coolest part of the room. Depending on the how the large format printer fairs in warmer conditions though, he might find himself back here, and the lens cabinet in the main room instead. This might be how I do this anyway, but I’m not fully decided yet.

I have a large bookshelf in my current apartment that will be coming with us, and going along the front wall of the walk in closet. I’ll be putting all of the books that I don’t reference that often in the bottom left corner, so that I can put my printer table in front of that, but it’s on casters, so I’ll be able to move it out of the way to get at the books very easily. That reminds me, another reason why I chose this printer table with casters is because you have to leave a lot of room behind the printer when printing on heavy A3+ or Super B paper, which was always another pain in my current place. I had to roll the printer to the front of that horrible make-shift shelf that loomed over my head for the last few years. I’m so looking forward to getting moved, and set up in this new office space.

Another consideration is that my office/studio is upstairs, away from the main apartment space. This means that when I’m working, I’ll be isolated, and less susceptible to disruption. It also though means that I will have no contact with my wife, unless I go downstairs. This is going to change how I work to a degree. If you consider that I have always had my desk in my living room, there has rarely been a sense that I am out of reach. That has good and bad sides to it of course. When I really need to get something done, the odd question or comment can be disruptive, and being a man, I all too often answer without really thinking about it, or even having actually listened to the question, and get into trouble later for not listening. It has been nice to be close to my wife though, even when working, so in our new place, I’m going to leave my laptop downstairs, and work down there when it makes sense to do so. The whole place is a bit of a dream to us at the moment though, after the less than perfect conditions that we’ve had to get used to over the last ten years. I really am looking forward to getting moved into our new place, and I look forward to reporting back how things start to shape up, in the coming weeks.

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  1. John Driscoll

    Could you mention the brand of the table. I have seen nothing like that anywhere.

  2. Martin Bailey

    Sure John. I just checked on the store’s web site, but this is a Japanese store and Japanese web page. I’m not sure if this table is available in other countries.


    They call it a Living Table B2166, but this could just be a Japanese contraction of the term Living Room Table. A search for this shows a company in China also distributing the table, but I can’t find any Western distributors, at least not with a quick search.

    I also found the exact extent of the height, which is 27 to 75cm.

    I hope this helps.

  3. David H

    Now I am rather motivated to renovate our spare room in our absurdly priced place in Denenchofu to use as something other than road bike and winter clothes storage. I wonder how you got your wife to agree to all of that? And where did you find the black curtains? I have not been able to find any curtains that could block light effectively.

  4. Martin Bailey

    Hi David,

    You’re living in Denenchoufu!? You gotta be an ex-pat! 🙂

    The stuff that I bought for my office will be coming out of my photography budget, i.e. money made from photography, so it’s not a difficult negotiation.

    We got the black curtains made at IDC Otsuka Kagu (大塚家具) in Ariake. They aren’t cheap to have made, and the “return” costs extra, but they should stop almost all light, except for that that escapes from the top. I’ll let you know how it turns out in practice.


  5. David Lee

    Martin, congrats on the move. I can’t believe you managed everything you do in that small space for so long. The new space and layout should really help for awhile, until you fill it up with toys again. I hope you got the air-cons installed before you move in!

    Meanwhile, I have yet to furnish or even sit in half of our new place near Seattle. Three times the space we had in Tokyo, and we all still crowd together in one room most of the time! But this new backyard is something I can probably never live without again…

    Anyway, happy unpacking.


  6. Martin Bailey

    Hi David!

    Sitting in my new office/studio, although surrounded by unpacked boxes still, feels great. I will be getting a 24″ printer, but no other large toys planned at the moment. I’ve been waiting for the new printer for too long to hold off any more. 🙂

    I was going to reply a few days ago, saying that we have four air-con units installed, so no worries, but I figured I’d wait until we actually moved in. It turns out that they are all the same model, OK for up to 10 “jou” rooms. The problem is, our living room/dining room and kitchen, all one room, are 14 “jou”. The air-con set to 16 degrees only cools the room down to 28! We’ve been on to the agents that rented us the place though, and will probably get a larger unit installed soon.

    You’re new place sounds great too. I know what you mean about crowding into one room. I did that when I was back in England for three years from 97 to 2000. We had four large rooms and I still put my computer and desk in the living room so I could be near to the wife. 🙂


  7. David H

    Thanks Martin. If it works out well, I’ll try some too. (I live in Denenchofu ’cause my wife and I have—or had—more yen than brains.)


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