Lower the cost of living! Make a DIY photo studio at home for peanuts

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Watch Video: Build a Home Photo Studio for Peanuts

With a cost of living crisis, runaway inflation, sky-high gas prices and an unprecedented fall in living standards to consider, for many of us shelling out cash for a kit photography or a trip to a professional portrait studio just isn’t a priority right now. But there are ways to create outstanding portraits without the high cost.

In this project we challenged ourselves to do high-end studio portraits on a shoestring budget of just $90 / £75, which was basically enough to buy two cheap second-hand flashes and a green leaf for the backdrop.

We supplemented this with a few items found around the house – an old garden bag, a broken umbrella, trash can liners and aluminum foil – to build our own home photo studio.

The key to studio lighting (opens in a new tab) is to enlarge and soften the light source so that it becomes soft and flattering. This usually requires light modifiers (opens in a new tab) like umbrellas and softboxes, but these can be expensive – large softboxes and parabolic umbrellas can be very expensive. So if you want to save a little money and still enjoy high quality lighting, why not build your own? Along with our DIY modifiers, we also went with a green screen studio setup.

A green screen (opens in a new tab) might seem like a luxury for our cramped studio, but a chroma key sheet costs as little as $8 / £5 on eBay and its versatility means we won’t need to buy many other color backgrounds. Instead, with a simple number trick, we can turn green into any color, or add a whole new backdrop.

Discover the best lens for portraits (opens in a new tab) if you don’t know what to shoot with, as well as the best camera for portraits (opens in a new tab) if you want to improve your equipment.

1. Craft a Speedlight Stand

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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We wrap a small piece of cardboard around the end of the speed light, leaving an overhang. We tape it in place, then cut each bend and lay out the sides. Then we take a bigger sheet of cardboard, make a hole for our fast light tube and tape it to the sheet.

2. Prepare the bag

(Image credit: James Paterson)

We used an old garden bag for our DIY softbox. We make a slit in the bottom center to run our fast light tube through, then we fit the cardboard sheet to the base of the bag. For additional reinforcement, we pass thick yarn around the edge of the bag.

3. Line with foil

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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We cover the sides and the base of the bag with foil. Then we take a white polythene bag (we used a roll of pedal bin liners) and cut a piece to fit inside the bag. We tape it halfway up to make a first layer of diffusion, before a second layer of polyethylene is glued to the front.

4. Attach a bracket

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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Attachments can be tricky. We used the plastic gear light bracket. This one has a thread in the bottom that can be screwed onto a tripod plate. We glued the bracket to a cardboard tube on the back of the flash, so we could mount our DIY softbox on a tripod.

5. Cover an umbrella

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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Our parabolic umbrella is made from an old golf umbrella, tin foil and polythene bags. The inside of the umbrella is lined with kitchen foil to make it reflective, and trash bags are taped over the opening to diffuse the light. The speed light is attached to the stem of the umbrella and tilted upwards to bounce off the foil.

6. Hang the umbrella

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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Whether it’s made of aluminum foil and an old umbrella or a real one, a parabolic umbrella provides nice, wide, soft, yet direct illumination. As such, it’s the perfect modifier to place on a subject for top-down lighting. Fired at a lower power than the main light, it fills in shadows and creates a soft capillary light.

7. Just fill light

(Image credit: James Paterson)

A fill light should give an underexposed subject. We leave our softbox off and only turn on the hanging umbrella. With the exposure settings locked (manual mode, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO100), we tweak the flash output until a soft fill like this results.

8. Only the main light

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Next, we turn off the fill light and turn on the main light (our DIY garden bag softbox) and aim it at the face. We want this light to give us a properly exposed subject, so we adjust the flash power manually until it’s right, at 1/4 power here.

9. Key and fill light together

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Finally, we turn both speedlites on and light them together for balanced key and fill lighting. By building the lighting one flash at a time, we get a better idea of ​​how they will work in combination and ensure they harmonize with each other.

10. Change your background

(Image credit: James Paterson)

A green screen can be turned into any color you like with a few simple Photoshop skills. (opens in a new tab). Just make sure there is no green in the subject (like the green balls here) or it also changes color.

If you like using Camera Raw/Lightroom, head to the Color Mixer panel, grab the tint target tool and drag on the green background to change the color. In Photoshop, the most effective tool is the Color Range command. Of course, most of the best photo editing software (opens in a new tab) will give you what you need to edit that way.

Use it to select the greens, then switch to any color you want with a Hue/Saturation layer (or any other adjustment layer you want). If you want to completely remove the backdrop (which is useful when stitching multiple frames together), in Photoshop, press Cmd/Ctrl + F for the Find menu, then use the Remove Background quick action.

This article originally appeared in PhotoPlus – The Canon Magazine. If you are interested in Canon, check out the best canon camera (opens in a new tab) and best canon lenses.


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