High End Photography Lighting on a Budget

Many photographers dream of having a studio space along with a professional lighting kit. A decent set of studio lights can cost a good $1,000 and that’s just for two lights. However, there are ways to overcome the lack of resources and equipment if you have a limited budget.

One option is using natural light, and the best thing about it is it’s free! All you need is a room with a window. There are numerous ways to control the light but let’s start with the basics. With your room with the window, try blocking out all sources of light that may be coming in other than through the window.

If you want to photograph a person and create portraits, set up a chair facing the window, or the person can be standing. Now turn the person so they’re at a 45-degree angle to the window. This will cast a shadow across the face which can be more interesting from having the person facing the window and light source straight on. This type of lighting is commonly call “Rembrandt Lighting” because Rembrandt painted many of his subjects with a light source going onto the subject’s face at an angle. A simple blanket can be used for a backdrop. Alternatively, you can put a table in front of the window and do still life photography. You can move the table around so it’s not directly in front of the window or change your position to take advantage of the light and shadows that are created.

You can take this to another level by going to a big box store or an art supply store and purchasing a big square of foam board. Get one that is white in color, but you can use any color you want depending on what you want to accomplish with a particular project. Now with your person or still life, you can stand to the side and use the foam board to reflect the ambient coming from the window onto your subject. You may want to brighten up the subject, create more interesting shadows, or reduce the existing shadows.

Now you are controlling the light and manipulating it to enhance the look and feel of your subject. You can get some stands and use more than one board and experiment with how you can use the light to accomplish whatever you want to create. And that’s where colored foam board or even paper can be used to create various effects.

You can cut holes or slats in the foam board (or use cardboard) and put the board in between the subject and the window. Slats can create lines of light and shadow for an interesting effect. Trial and error and experimenting will provide many types of possibilities.

Natural light is of course available outdoors. Again, you can use your foam board or a reflector to control the light on your subject. Cloudy days can make for very good portrait photography. The light is softer and more even. You can utilize a popup tent or even a tarp to put your subject in the shade on a sunny day and again use your foam board to control how the light is used. Strategies for controlling the light are endless. As you gain more experience, you may discover new ways to create unusual and interesting ways to utilize the light.

Studio lights are nice to have but that doesn’t mean your photography is limited because you are lacking in resources. The natural and ambient light is all around you and the price is right. All you have to do is reach out, grab it, and create images that are special, unique, and professional grade.

Images via Dreamstime Stock Photos

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