Even the pros have to work under a budget. Try these simple but cost-effective DIY techniques for lighting any photo shoot.
Improper lighting is one of the most common reasons for photo rejection. Even if everything else in the picture is perfect—the composition, the colors, the focus, the theme—a badly lit photo just won’t sell. On the other hand, a dynamic lighting setup can transform a good photo into a highly marketable one.
The right equipment is a studio photographer’s best friend, but you don’t need to shell out thousands of dollars to create the perfect moment. Truthfully, sometimes the simplest techniques can produce the most successful images.
We asked thirteen photographers from around the world about their behind-the-scenes lighting secrets. Below, they share their best tricks for creating inexpensive lighting that looks like a million bucks.
1. “If I work indoors, I use—wait for it—a makeup artist’s lamp.”
Image by Vagengeim Elena. Gear: Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera, Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens.
If I work indoors, I use—wait for it—a makeup artist’s lamp. Yes, that common ring lamp that makeup artists use when applying makeup. The lamp has a bright light, but it’s not blinding. The color temperature of the LED light intensity can be conveniently adjusted, and the lamp is light and mobile. I can create the lighting I need just by moving, lifting, or tilting it.
2. “I use monolight flash lights and LED continuous light, depending on what kind of shoot I’m planning.”
Image by Stokkete. Gear: Hasselblad H5D-40 camera, 80mm f 2.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/800 sec; f6.3; ISO 320.
I use monolight flash lights and LED continuous light, depending on what kind of shoot I’m planning. It’s easy to find inexpensive kits with two monolights and a reflective panel. You can create many different light setups with these simple pieces of equipment, and it’s great for beginners.
3. “Having two hard lights on hand can give you a ton of options.”
Image by Maren Caruso
Having two hard lights on hand can give you a ton of options. Bouncing or hitting your subject directly with the source can give you completely different looks. If you want to mimic natural window light, for example, a single hard light bouncing off of a white card can accomplish this with a very simple setup.
4. “When I’m on a tight budget, I like to bring along a small mirror…and a small LED panel.”
Image by Laura Jarriel
When I’m on a tight budget, I like to bring along a small mirror (about the size of a piece of paper) and a small LED panel. The mirror and LED panel will let you fill in shadows or highlight certain spots. They are also not expensive at all! The LED panel I have is 3″ by 5″ and has a dimmer switch to allow for better control over the amount of light it gives.
5. “For portraits, I use natural light from a window and a fill flash when needed.”
Image by John Andrus. Gear: Nikon D5100 camera, 40mm macro f2.8 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/50 sec; f22; ISO 100.
I have a wood and fabric lightbox. I use it with small lamps indoors, or I take outdoors on a sunny day to shoot products. Simply make a wood frame and cover it with thin white nylon or cloth.
For portraits, I use natural light from a window and a fill flash when needed. If you don’t have a fill flash, make or buy a cheap reflector. For more aggressive lighting, I use a backdrop and two cheap white umbrella reflectors with my flash unit pointed into the umbrella and the umbrella set at 45 degrees or so to reflect light back at my subject.