DIY Photography Lighting

DIY Photography Lighting

You should know the basics before setting DIY photography lighting. Firstly, use a basic flashlight as the main light, control it with modifiers, and then realize your DIY photography lighting ideas.

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20 DIY Photography Lighting Hacks

There are several ways to play with lighting equipment, even when you are on a budget. Look through the following ways of making it for less than $50.

1. Bounce Wall

diy light diffuser

Tools and materials needed:

Cost: Under $1

This DIY photography lighting idea presupposes using a screen to bounce the light of your camera flash off which will result in a soft light. When the shooting is over and you can put the screen into a regular camera bag. The cost is also ridiculous, merely 99c.

diy light diffuser result Photo You Can Get with Bounce Wall

Such a DIY light diffuser is small cardboard covered with tin foil. To attach it, get a cheap wire hanger and bend it in the middle, covering each end in tape thickly. Push the tripod screw through the tape and attach the hanger to the camera. Finally, attach the reflector to the free end of the hanger using a clothes peg, adjusting the angle to about 45 degrees.

2. Burger Box Diffuser

diy light diffuser burger box

Tools and materials needed:

  • Flashlight
  • Burger box
  • Drinking straw

Cost: Under $5

Another DIY photography lighting idea was actually recently invented and used by a French professional Philippe Echaroux, who got interested in photographing strangers.

Photo You Can Get with Burger Box Diffuser

The challenge he took up was to shoot with his iPhone and use a McDonald’s Big Mac box for lighting. The straw was necessary for keeping the box open. If you want more light to reflect from the box, use a coat of oil that dripped from the fries on it.

3. Pringles Can Snoot

cheap photography lighting pringles can snoot

Tools and materials needed:

  • Pringles can
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape

Cost: Under $5

Working in a studio you can take advantage of a snoot for directing a beam of light where you need it. It is often used for highlighting hair, making the model pop from the background, and while taking hotspots.

cheap photography lighting pringles can snoot result Photo You Can Get with Pringles Can Snoot

For such DIY photography light set up, empty Pringles can and set the flashgun to shoot right through it. Fixing the two things together with some masking tape should be enough. There you have it!

4. Plastic Bag Light Leak

creative lighting photography ideas plastic bag

Tools and materials needed:

  • Plastic bag
  • Scissors

Cost: Under $1

One of the cheapest creative lighting photography ideas. You need to get a clear plastic bag and some markers if you want a splash of color. It is perfect for getting a somewhat vintage light leak effect that is a bit more controlled.

creative lighting photography ideas plastic bag result Photo You Can Get with Plastic Bag Light Leak

The essence of this DIY photography lighting trick is to cut an uneven opening in the plastic bag and then wrap it around the lens in a messy way making sure the center is clear. When you start shooting, shuffle the bag around a little to make the lights play but always keep the plastic away from the center. You won’t even need any image post-processing!

5. Milk Carton Flash Diffuser

diy flash diffuser milk carton

Tools and materials needed:

  • Milk carton
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape

Cost: Free

This DIY flashgun diffuser will change the way your photos look, giving them a softer, warmer touch of light. For this purpose, you need the translucent plastic of a regular milk carton, from which you will only use the bottom half.

diy flash diffuser milk carton result Photo You Can Get with Milk Carton Flash Diffuser

Before you cut the carton, make sure it’s big enough to go over the flash. Use some tape to fix the carton, about one centimeter away from the flash source.

6. Balloon Softbox

cheap photography lighting softbox

Tools and materials needed:

  • Flashlight
  • White balloon

Cost: Under $1

A common balloon can become a fun homemade light diffuser. Just spend a minute to blow it and then put it over your flashlight.

cheap photography lighting softbox result Photo You Can Get with Balloon Softbox

The effect given by the balloon will change with its size, so blow it up or down to see what works better for the shot. In any case, the narrow beam of light can be easily transformed into a bigger and softer one, also covering a larger area, which makes it ideal for portraits.

7. Paper Flash Diffuser

diy flash diffuser paper

Tools and materials needed:

  • Piece of paper
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape

Cost: Under $1

A simple and instant DIY flash diffuser can be made of a scrap of standard printer paper.

diy flash diffuser paper result Photo You Can Get with Flash Diffuser

Using the flash itself as a base, cut two slits on the piece of paper of a corresponding size, bend it over the light source and secure it with tape.

8. Color Gels

creative lighting photography ideas color gels

Tools and materials needed:

Cost: $7

If your budget is tight but you still want to go creative, then light effects DIY tricks are your lifesavers. It is more interesting if you get some color gels, but a cheaper version would be cellophane. When it comes to color rendition, the difference between the two options becomes noticeable.

creative lighting photography ideas color gels result Photo You Can Get with Color Gels

In any case, combined with a flashlight it can be used as a great homemade photography lighting tool. Put whatever color items you’re using into a clear plastic bottle, stick a flashlight into it and enjoy playing with a new adjustable color mix light source.

9. Flash Grid

cheap photography lighting honeycomb grid

Tools and materials needed:

  • Black straws
  • Masking tape
  • Sharp knife
  • Cardboard
  • Ruler

Cost: Under $1

A grid to go over a flash is a honeycomb structure serving mainly to direct the light beams. The light will be focused precisely and prevented from spreading around and going on the background.

cheap photography lighting honeycomb grid result Photo You Can Get with Flash Grid

You need to cut straws of a certain length and fix them together. Prepare a frame made of black card stock and insert your straws into it. Depending on the length of straws, you can get different DIY lighting effects for photography.

10. Custom Bokeh Shapes

cheap photography lighting bokeh shapes

Tools and materials needed:

  • Black paper
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape
  • Box cutter

Cost: Under $1

The bokeh which is so popular among many photographers is really a very cheap photography lighting effect. It is represented in the form of round spots of light in the image. But you can give your bokeh absolutely creative form using this hack.

cheap photography lighting bokeh shapes result Photo You Can Get with Custom Bokeh Shapes

First, you need to know the size of your lens, plus a couple of millimeters to avoid light leaking. You cut a circle of that size out of thick black cardboard and mark the center. There, you cut out the shape you want your bokeh to take using a stencil or just free-hand. This is your DIY photography lighting cutout that you can now tape to the lens and go experiment with. The night lights are a great subject for the first attempts.

11. Cardboard Shadow Effect

cheap photography lighting shadow effect

Tools and materials needed:

  • Cardboard
  • Scissors

Cost: Under $1

A great DIY photo lighting trick is to play with shadows. Cut some shapes in cardboard and let your flash or other light source go through it, leaving interesting traces on your model.

cheap photography lighting shadow effect result Photo You Can Get with Cardboard Shadow Effect

It is a great hack that costs little but allows you to take incredible stylish shots.

12. Fabric Optics

cheap photography lighting fabric optics

Tools and materials needed:

Cost: $15

If you have ever dreamed of playing with a light brush, there’s a rather inexpensive way to make one so that you can create expressive light patterns.

cheap photography lighting fabric optics result Photo You Can Get with Fabric Optics

To create this DIY studio lighting paintbrush you will need to find one of those cheap heart-shaped table lamps and take off the top part. The latter is to be attached to a flashlight, preferably with black tape. Slowly move the paintbrush with fiber optics in front of the camera to make a drawing in the air and try doing so with different settings of the white balance for varying effects.

13. Lightsaber

cheap photography lighting lightsaber

Tools and materials needed:

  • White sheet of paper
  • Flashlight
  • Scissors 
  • Scotch tape
  • Aluminum foil

Cost: Under $25

Another trick of photography lighting with flashlights requires minimal skills but can give your images a magical touch. To create a lightsaber, you need a torch and some regular paper that you will have to wrap around it. Measure your torch and cut the excess paper. Roll the whole length of paper around the flashlight and secure the bottom and side with tape.

cheap photography lighting lightsaber result Photo You Can Get with Lightsaber

The top opening should also be covered with a paper circle. To make the saber brighter, cover it with aluminum foil to intensify the light.

14. Light Tent

diy photography lighting light tent

Tools and materials needed:

  • Box
  • White fabric
  • Masking tape
  • White sheets of A3 paper
  • 3 desk lamps
  • Box cutter
  • Measuring tape

Cost: $5

If you’re a beginner in product photography, you probably wonder how you can recreate that look of a sharp and clear product on a completely white background. To implement your own light box photography ideas with minimal expenses, you will need to create a light tent or box.

diy photography lighting light tent result Photo You Can Get with Light Tent

Luckily, you will only need a box of an appropriate size, some cheap fabric, A3 sheet of paper and tape – that can all be easily turned into a great DIY photo light box.

15. Shopping Bag Light Modifier

Tools and materials needed:

  • Shopping bag

Cost: Free, or under $1

A beginner or an amateur, you are likely to be short on money, especially with how expensive items like light modifiers can get. Luckily, you can get an equal effect with the help of DIY photography lighting tricks. Regular shopping bags that are very cheap will perfectly soften and diffuse your flash.

diy flash diffuser shopping bag result Photo You Can Get with Plastic Bag Light Modifier

Direct the speedlight upwards and fit a common plastic bag over it, place the whole thing close to the model (two feet maximum), and there you have it, a soft glow with smooth transitions.

16. Ring Light

Tools and materials needed:

Cost: $25

A small secret of self portrait photographers that has a huge influence on the results is a ring light, so it won’t be a bad idea to get one. The problem here is the price – most well-made models cost about $200.

diy photography lighting ring light result Photo You Can Get with Ring Light

If you’re on a low budget, there is no way you’re buying one, but there is a choice of making a personal DIY selfie light ring that would give your eyes a lively sparkle and your face a soft glow. To learn how to make it, watch the video above and follow the tutorial.

17. Softbox

Tools and materials needed:

Cost: $10

To make a reliable and convenient DIY studio lighting softbox, you can get all materials and tools in the neighboring dollar store. Take measurements of your lights and cut 4 panels of the appropriate size, you can use cardboard or foam board. Repeat the same with sheets of aluminum foil and glue the two parts of each panel together.

diy photography lighting softbox result Photo You Can Get with Softbox

Lastly, attach your four panels together and your DIY photography lighting softbox is almost ready. A shower curtain, which in the photography world is called a poor man’s softbox, will be your light diffuser, but be careful with it. Though it can handle hot water without problem, lightbulbs get hotter than that and can even melt. So, make sure you secure it far enough.

18. Beauty Dish

Tools and materials needed:

  • White plastic bowl
  • Marker 
  • Box cutter
  • CD case
  • Double-sided tape
  • Scotch tape

Cost: Under $30

If you’re busy with making DIY photography lighting items, then it makes sense to create the most basic and essential lighting tool, the beauty dish. It is the middle ground between a bare flashlight with harsh shadows and a softbox, working best for portraits.

diy photography lighting beauty dish result Photo You Can Get with Beauty Dish

If set up correctly, a beauty dish will give a satisfying and flattering look to your model. Watch this video by COOPH that explains the least expensive way to do it. You will need a big white plastic bowl, a DVD/CD spindle case, and a reliable Stanley knife.

19. Four-Way Reflector

Tools and materials needed:

  • 2 pieces of white foam core 
  • Spray paint (gold, silver, black) 
  • Scotch tape
  • Box cutter

Cost: Under $30

Another indispensable DIY camera lighting piece is a reflector. They are not the most expensive equipment, costing around $40, but a handmade one will still be cheaper and also customized to your personal needs.

diy photography lighting 4 way reflector result Photo You Can Get with Four-Way Reflector

You can choose between black, silver, or gold colors, or use them all to have the full set.

20. Umbrella

diy photography lighting umbrella result

Tools and materials needed:

Cost: Under $10

A very useful and incredibly easy-to-make piece of studio equipment is a DIY photography lighting umbrella. You literally need some old umbrella that’s lying around and a can of spray paint.

diy photography lighting umbrella result Photo You Can Get with Umbrella

Get a reflective spray paint and prepare the area where you will work in, a place that’s well ventilated, covering the surface with newspapers. After you coated the inside, fix the umbrella to dry, preventing dust from getting all over it. A second coat won’t be a bad idea, just let the first dry completely.

Light Effects DIY Freebies for Photo Editing

Absolutely free and quick way to add some gorgeous effects is to download free image editing tools. Here is a nice set of 5 photo editing freebies that do a great job at mimicking some of the abovementioned lighting tools.

Free PS Action "Ultra Violet”

light effects diy color gels free photoshop action light effects diy color gels free photoshop action
 

If you don’t feel like fussing with the color gels, use this action to give a soft purple hue to images. It can be combined with others, like Matte or Pastel, for a perfect look in wedding and newborn photography.

Free PS Overlay "Motion Background”

light effects diy bokrh free photoshop overlay light effects diy bokrh free photoshop overlay
 

A layer of small colorful bubbles will create a joyful atmosphere in an image, imitating the most beloved bokeh effect. The free overlay looks the most flattering in wedding, portrait and landscape photos.

Free PS Overlay "Spiral Glow”

light effects diy sparkler free photoshop overlay light effects diy sparkler free photoshop overlay
 

The light paint effect can be substituted with this stunning overlay that sets a warm glow in the image center. The effect looks the most interesting in a portrait where the model was in motion, perhaps running or jumping. The effect makes the viewer concentrate on the person.

Free LR Preset "Soft Skin”

light effects diy soft skin free lightroom preset light effects diy soft skin free lightroom preset
 

Better than a softbox, this effect will smooth the shadows and soften the skin tones in an instant.

Free LR Preset "Pink Glasses”

light effects diy pink glasses free lightroom preset light effects diy pink glasses free lightroom preset
 

A stylish pink effect to spruce up portraits in Lightroom. In a cold photo, it will look especially complimenting.


Ann Young

Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a photographer, photo retoucher and of course, journalist. Here on FixThePhoto blog you can find all of my reviews, photography and photo editing tips, pricing guides, and photography experiments. read more