Inexpensive Lighting Solutions

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Would you like to know how I composed this photo? I had the baby’s mom hold up a black blanket while the baby’s dad stood in front of it and off to the side, and held out the baby. We bounced the illumination of a clamp light off of the white lid of a pizza box. And this is how it turned out (here is the post I wrote about this photo shoot, if you’re interested).

Studio? We don’t need no stinkin’ studio!

Lighting solutions are all around you. You don’t need to drop a ton of money on softboxes and strobes and wireless remote systems. You just need to get a little creative, and be a little willing to sometimes look a little ridiculous in order to achieve the shot you’re going for. I mean, envision me holding a pizza box up above my head, turning it this way and that while I checked through the viewfinder of the tripod-mounted camera (the lens was a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM, by the way). It was handy, it was the right size and had the right reflective properties, so we shook the crumbs out and used it! My pride could handle it.

Here’s what to buy in order to equip yourself with a very inexpensive, very flexible lighting system:

- Four clamp lights, typically around $8 each. These can be found at your local home improvement store, or places like Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, etc. They look like this (go for the kind with the wider, shallower shade):

- Light bulbs of various wattages and types of softness. Choose different types of halogens and fluorescents, which have different light wavelengths and appear differently on camera. There are also bulbs out there that mimic full spectrum daylight quality. A pack of light bulbs, depending on the type you buy, can range from $3 to $20 dollars.

- Pattern-free, flannel or felt blankets in solid colors to provide backgrounds. These are available in a wide variety of sizes, and prices range from $5 to $20 dollars. Check your local linen store or avail yourself of the variety on Amazon.

- Foam board (also called sturdy board), in white and in beige or pale yellow (different colors reflect light differently). Large sheets of foam board (which are kind of like two sheets of poster board with a thin layer of foam in between) are available at your local crafts store (like Michaels), or on Amazon, and run about $4 per 20×30 inch sheet.

And there you have it! For under fifty dollars, you’ve got a light source, a background, and hand-held reflectors. All of the components are small enough to be taken anywhere, and flexible enough to be used in almost any circumstance. So don’t be afraid to get creative with your lighting solutions!

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  • kburrows

    This is very helpful, but what would make it even better (for us very beginners) would be a picture of what the scene looks like as the photographers is shooting…