Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Working Studio For Less $$$

So you've been taking photos outdoors or near windows to make use of natural available light. But now you're wanting to explore other kinds of portraits with backdrops and controllable lighting - after all, it's not always sunny or nice out!

The problem is that, like most photography equipment, back drops, stands, and lights are very expensive, and can take up a lot of space. If you're like me with only a dorm room to work in most of the time, space is a luxury.

These two factors combined are enough to make a person just give up entirely, but wait! There are a few great ways to make your own studio gear on a budget.

Lighting is a doozy - it's expensive and it takes up a lot of room. A "standard" softbox can run you anywhere from $60 to over $150. I've seen them range to $200 all the way up to over $5k!
Then you need a good power source, and a place to store it when you aren't using it. All in all for a student or anyone without a dedicated studio space, having full on pro lighting equipment can be a huge headache and just not a workable idea.

The wonderful thing is that you can still get great lighting that is much lighter, portable, and best of all CHEAP! Same for backdrops.

The above was taken using just one small clip desk light placed behind the subject, , the kind that you might find at wal*mart. There was also normal light from the ceiling fixture lighting the subjects front. When you shoot using normal indoor lights you generally will need to tweak things in photoshop to get rid of the orange tone that the lights give off.

This photo was taken using just two clip lights from walmart that cost $6 each. I used energy saving lightbulbs in them - they last for a long time, don't heat up, and give off a pretty clean (non-orange) light compared to normal bulbs. I clipped them to a chair and a bureau to position them and had them plugged into normal outlets. The background is a blank off-white wall.

That photo was taken using one clip light, and a white blanket as a background (photoshop was used to make the background smoother). Blankets and thick or doubled up sheets can be good background if you have no blank walls, but if they wrinkle they can look very tacky, so be careful and iron them beforehand if at all possible.

For more powerful lights you can get floodlights from a hardware store, and set them far back from the subject or hang something in front (not on or over, always be careful of fire hazards) of it to diffuse it. The good thing about floodlights is that you can get them for cheaper than 'real' lights, and they can take a bit more of a beating if you have to move them around a lot or store them. You can also use white pieces of foam core board or silver baking sheets as reflectors to bounce light onto your subject.

With back drops I would suggest trying to get a real back drop if you can... it will be a lot easier to take full length photos, as regular sheets won't be long enough. I found a used backdrop with a 10x20 foot black piece of muslin on craigslist for $100 - to put this in perspective, the cloth alone can retail for about $75, and the support system can sell for $200. I've also bought my camera for hundreds less than I would have normally paid, as well as a telephoto lens that I didn't think I could ever get. Craigslist is a great place to get cheap equipment if you know how to look for deals, what questions to ask, and how to avoid being scammed or taken advantage of. Next time I'll go over ways to get the most out of craigslist to expand your collection of camera gear.


Anonymous said...

also cool tip -
one can also use poster boards of varying shades of white/off white/ and other colors to give different amount of reflection for better lighting onto a person or surface

Anonymous said...

You are once again a champion of the penniless photographer... I commend you on your problem solving approach to achieving results without allowing cost to be a factor that stops you achieving.

stephanie elizabeth said...

thank you anonymous! :)
that is a really good idea, I'll have to try that out