Use These Do-It-Yourself Photography Lighting Hacks & Setups To Get Professional Results For Dirt Cheap

Photography equipment, especially lighting equipment, can be incredibly expensive.

A standard studio lighting setup can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. This includes everything related to lighting equipment: the light sources themselves, modifiers to control the spread of light, and grips or stands to provide support and maneuverability.

Enter these 28 awesome DIY photography lighting tricks you can use to create the same effects and equipment for far cheaper!

There are so many different lighting effects that you can reproduce on the cheap to get nearly identical results as those with professional studios. Not only are these effects often indistinguishable from those made with expensive equipment, you can create most of them for less than $50.

Below we’ve linked to 27 different DIY photography lighting ideas and some fantastic resources that you can use to create the professional effects you want – without breaking the bank.

1) Reflective Umbrella

Image via hans.ning, Flickr

Image via hans.ning, Flickr

Image via hans.ning, Flickr

This helpful piece of photography lighting equipment is incredibly simple to make! If you have an old umbrella lying around this is the perfect use for it. You simply get some reflective spray paint from your local hardware store, and lay newspapers down to cover your working surface – preferably outside to get the most ventilation.

It’s a good idea to wear clothing that you won’t feel bad about getting a little paint on. Shake the spray can for a couple minutes to mix the paint thoroughly, then position yourself and the umbrella upwind to begin spraying the inside.

Make sure you spray an even layer to cover the inside fabric, but not so thick that the paint seeps through to color the other side. Small imperfections won’t affect the reflective qualities of the umbrella, so don’t worry too much if you get some small drips or uneven texture.

After spraying, make sure you secure the umbrella somewhere to dry so it doesn’t blow away or get covered in dust. If you need you can apply a second coat once it’s dry to the touch. And there you have it! A normally very expensive piece of lighting equipment you can easily make at home.Cost:

Cost: 

  • Less than $15

Materials:

  • Umbrella
  • Reflective Spray Paint
  • Old NewspapersTools Needed:

Tools Needed:

  • A well-ventilated space for spraying paint

 

2) Softbox Spiderlite

Image via Alex Campagna

Image via Alex Campagna

Our next DIY lighting equipment tutorial comes from Alex Campagna, who created this perfect diy softbox out of a few materials from the hardware store. The finished product is lightweight and very sturdy – enough to withstand some hectic photo shoots far into the future!

Cost:

  • $35

Materials:

  • 4′ x 8′ sheet of black corrugated plastic (also called Coroplast (about 20$ and you can get it at your local sign maker or hardware store)
  • Roll of STRONG aluminum foil
  • Spray adhesive
  • Aluminum tape
  • Some wood to make the frame
  • Some material for the diffuser panel (like a piece of ripstop nylon)
  • A couple of “L” shaped metal brackets

Tools Needed:

  • Knife
  • Scissors
  • T-50 stapler + staples

 

3) Pringles Can Snoot

Image via Caroline Mockett at Cazphoto

Image via Caroline Mockett at Cazphoto

Often used in theater, a grid spotlight can help you focus in on a specific area within the greater whole of a scene. This creatively cheap version of a grid spot for shoe-mounts flashes creates the same effect as expensive professional spot lighting equipment – plus it’s fun to make!

According to Michael Zwang, DIY-photog, and writer at Petapixel, you can adjust the effects of this snoot by changing the plastic straws that make up the inner grid: black straws focus light more directly, whereas grey or white straws create a more diffused effect.

Cost: 

  • $5

Materials:

  • Empty Pringles can
  • Package of plastic straws
  • Duct tape to cover hard edges

Tools Needed:

  • Sharp scissors or razor cutter

 

4) Bounce-Wall

Image via Lighting Academy

Image via Lighting Academy

Flash lighting tends to produce hard edges and flat, unflattering light. This simple bounce-wall is the perfect counter to that unflattering light, and you can make it for less than $1 USD! This guide is in German, but the steps are fairly easy to work out from the photos. The final product reflects and diffuses flash lighting – perfect for weddings and outdoor events where lighting is less than ideal.

Cost:

  • $1

Materials:

  • Wire hanger
  • A piece of cardboard
  • Aluminum foil
  • Clothespins
  • Duct tape
  • Adhesive
  • An old tripod or adapter screw

 

5) Light Table

Image via Creative Live

Image via Creative Live

Andrew Scrivani was frustrated with his expensive, bulky light table – so he decided to build his own. For less than $60, this DIY photography light table is lightweight and perfect for photographers wanting to conserve studio space. Using a light table allows light to penetrate and illuminate the subject placed on top of the table. This is commonly used for still life, product, and food photography. Now you can get the same cool effects without the large, expensive equipment!

Cost:

  • $60

Materials:

  • 1 sheet of acrylic #2447 sheeting (¼” with protective backing); cut to the table dimensions you want
  • 4 lengths of 1×2 pine lumber (cut to table dimensions)
  • 4 metal corner braces
  • 16 screws (to fit corner braces)
  • 10 self-drilling screws
  • 10 washers

Tools Needed:

  • Power drill

 

6) Flash Grid

Image via Strobist

Image via Strobist

Shared by Flickr user Gut Mann via the blog Strobist, this diy light-focusing device is a cinch to make and does the job well compared to professional grid spots. The corrugated cardboard focuses light on the center of your frame while creating a vignette-like effect as the edges fade with a nice gradient. Just add some black spray paint or tape around the edges and it’ll blend with the rest of your setup. If you want a sturdier piece of equipment, you can opt for some corrugated plastic cut to size.

Cost:

  • Less than $5

Materials:

  • Some corrugated cardboard (the thicker the internal cavity the better, and you won’t need much. Just keep your eye out for a biggish box designed to hold something heavy. That tends to be the thick stuff.)
    Glue
  • A rubber band

Tools Needed:

  • A ruler
  • A box cutter or razor knife

 

7) Light Leak/Hazy Vintage Photos

Image via user jssdvdmcgrady, Reddit

Image via user jssdvdmcgrady, Reddit

Our next diy trick can be done with a simple plastic bag and some markers if you want color effects. User jssdvdmcgrady from Reddit shared this simple hack for adding your own light leak effects to photos while shooting to get that cool vintage look. You simply take a plastic bag and cut out the bottom unevenly so that the bag is open on both ends. Then you can manipulate the bag over your lens while shooting to get some interesting light effects without the use of post-processing software (just make sure the center of your lens remains clear). Pretty neat!

Cost:

  • Less than $1

Materials:

  • Plastic baggie
  • Colored markers

 

8) Salad-Bowl Beauty Dish

Image via Todd Owyoung

Image via Todd Owyoung

This diy beauty dish complements any portrait photographers toolbox for captivating images. The light is less direct than a flash bulb but not quite as soft as a softbox, and perfect for portraits. Most professional beauty dishes are expensive but this tutorial from DIY Photography shows you how to make your own that will do the job just as well.

Cost:

  • Less than $60

Materials:

  • Metal Salad Bowl (or plastic if you want drilling to be easier)
  • Electric box for plaster walls
  • A Round wall guard – 12 cm across.
  • 3 machine screws (8 cm long) and 6 bolts
  • 3 small springs – 8 cm long
  • Epoxy glue
  • Velcro
  • White and black spray paint

Tools Needed:

  • Drill
  • Dremel
  • Sandpaper
  • Box cutter

 

9) Light Tent 

Image via Darren Rowse, Digital Photography School

Image via Darren Rowse, Digital Photography School

Darren Rowse over at Digital Photography School has put together a great tutorial for fashioning your own custom light tent – great for product photos or any shoot where a clean, white background is key. These normally run around $100 but for far less you can construct your own with some very basic materials and a little free time.

Cost:

  • $5

Materials:

  • A box (size depends on how big you want your lit area to be)
  • White fabric (this could be any fabric, as long as it covers the entire box – even old t-shirts could work! USers suggested white nylon or white fleece work especially well)
  • Masking tape
  • Glue stick
  • White Bristol board
  • Lighting (Darren uses ‘Daylight’ bulbs from the local hardware store)

Tools Needed:

  • Scissors or box cutter
  • Measuring tape

 

10) Smartphone Ring Light

To get those flattering ring-light reflections in the eyes and diffuse away shadows, you would normally have to invest in a super expensive ring light for your studio. This tutorial from Simon Ellingworth over at DIY Photography shows you how to make your own for relatively cheap. Now you can create your own and get those same flattering portrait effects for less than $20!

Cost:

  • Less than $20

Materials:

  • LED camping light
  • Cheap phone cover
  • Heavy duty Velcro
  • Optional: matte black aerosol paint for light (use masking tape to mask the holes from the inside and stop the LEDs from getting sprayed)

Tools Needed:

  • Scissors

 

11) Four-Way Reflector


Another great diy photography lighting equipment tutorial comes from Tyson Waggener at Digital Photography Department. Using a photo reflector you can get great natural reflected light on your subject even in bright sunlight. Standard photo reflectors run around $40 but you can easily make your own for less, and customize it to get the effects you want!

Cost:

  • Less than $30

Materials:

  • Two foam core boards (price varies by size and thickness)
  • Spray paint (gold, silver, or black depending on your preference)
  • Duct tape

Tools Needed:

  • Box cutter to cut to size

 

12) Foam Snoot

Image via F / 1.0

Image via F / 1.0

A little more durable than a cardboard snoot is the new and improved craft foam snoot via Ed Zawadzki at F/1.0. Using just two sheets of craft foam and some velcro, he’s created an adjustable photography accessory for quite cheap. You can narrow it down to the width of a pencil or keep it wide enough to serve as a bounce card – well worth the 30 seconds of effort it takes to make!

Cost:

  • $5

Materials:

  • 2 9″x12″ sheets of craft foam (thin, neoprene like foam material – flexible yet rigid enough to hold it’s shape) one white, one black
  • 4′ of velcro strips

 

13) Shopping Bag Light Modifier

For a great soft light look no further than Good Light! Clips tutorial using a simple white shopping bag to get the desired effect. All you need is a speedlight to place inside the bag and you can capture looks like the pros with much more expensive equipment. Did we mention this costs less than $5 – or it’s completely free if you have a white bag laying around from your last shopping trip.

Cost:

  • Less than $5

Materials:

White fabric shopping bag

Equipment Needed (to pull off the effect):

  • Speedlight
  • Portrait lens

 

14) DIY Photography Light Studio Set Up

Image via Brittany Bailey at Pretty Handy Girl

Image via Brittany Bailey at Pretty Handy Girl

Now a bad weather day won’t ruin your chances for great lighting. With this easy diy photography light studio tutorial from Brittany Bailey over at Pretty Handy Girl, you can capture great product or food shots all day long. Check out her thorough tutorial to make the setup for yourself. Best of all, your portable photo studio can be stored away easily for future use.

Cost:

  • Less than $40

Materials:

  • 3 – 30″ x 40″ Foam Boards
  • White Poster Board
  • 2 Clothes Pins
  • 2 sheets of Tracing Paper
  • Packing Tape
  • Roll of White Craft Paper
  • 2 Lamps (clamp style or a bare bulb lamp)
  • 1 CFL light bulb
  • 1 Incandescent light bulb

Tools Needed:

  • Xacto Knife
  • Metal Ruler
  • Scissors

 

15) $500 of LED Panel Power for $70

Want a powerful, even light source for your next project? Look no further than this handy tutorial from MAtt at DIY Perks to build your own professional-looking LED light panel – for less than $70! This is definitely a more involved project than most of our other tutorials, but the finished product is well worth the effort.

Cost:

  • $70

Materials (check out the video notes for tips on where to buy some of these):

  • 3X NEUTRAL WHITE 5050 LED STRIPS
  • STEP-DOWN VOLTAGE REGULATOR
  • CAMERA SHOE ADAPTER:
  • XT60 CONNECTORS
  • 22k POTENTIOMETER
  • Sheet of 6mm MDF
  • Sheet of 18mm MDF
  • 2x aluminium tubes or wooden dowels
  • Switch
  • Magnet wire
  • 6.8k resistor
  • Small & medium wood screws
  • Sheet of plexiglass
  • 2 awg wire
  • Small fan

Tools Needed:

  • Scissors
  • Craft Knife
  • Drill
  • Hacksaw
  • Regular Saw
  • Chisel
  • Wood glue
  • Clamp
  • Multimeter
  • Soldering iron and solder

 

16) Tin Foil Product Lighting Hack

Photographer Andrey Mikhaylov is the creative mind behind our next super-easy tin foil lighting hack. With just a single source of light, you can create some amazing background effects using only a piece of tin foil and your imagination!

Cost:

  • Less than $5

Materials:

  • Cardboard or large, flat surface for background
  • Tin foil

Equipment Needed:

  • Speedlight
  • Flash trigger
  • Black, glossy surface preferably for your subject

 

17) Ring Light

Freckles by The Photo Fiend, 500px.com

Freckles by The Photo Fiend, 500px.com

Another more involved tutorial comes from 500px ISO. Though the end result – having your own ring light for professional looking portraits or film – seems well worth the time and effort. This diy light ring makes for some amazing shots with that signature ‘catch light’ in the eyes. Click the link above for the full tutorial and build process.

Cost:

  • $50 – $100

Materials:

  • 14-gauge household wiring (approximately 10 ft)
  • Standard light sockets x 12
  • 24″x 24″ plywood. I used 1/4″ fir, 3/8 would be stronger
  • A light switch. I decided on a 600-watt dimmer switch
  • 12 light bulbs. CFL or incandescent work fine. Keep in mind incandescents run hot. Make sure you don’t go over the wattage that your switch can handle. I used regular 40-watt household bulbs.
  • Power cord
  • Small bag of wire connectors
  • Zip ties
  • Bracket and spigot for mounting to a light stand
  • Electrical tape
  • Electrical box

Tools Needed:

  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Wire cutters and strippers
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Box cutter
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • String

 

18) The Sun-Blaster (powerful 1000W-Equivalent LED Light for $40)

Small enough to be used with one hand, this powerful little LED can give your photos some intense illumination. Not only that, it has a dimmer for flexible brightness control and works with batteries or a simple AC adapter. There are countless uses for this kind of light – check out the handy tutorial from DIY Perks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c–5c3Egv4E) to see the full parts list!

Cost:

  • Around $40

 

19) Flash Bouncer

Image via user kotoezh, Instructables.com

Image via user kotoezh, Instructables.com

Shooting with a flash, as we mentioned earlier, has some pitfalls that you can easily avoid the diy-way! A simple hack uses a business card to produce a softer, more diffused light from a flash photograph – simply insert a business card (or any sturdy cardstock paper) over your flash, and voila! No more harsh shadows or washed-out faces.

Cost:

  • Zero / < $1

Materials:

  • Sturdy cardstock (a business card type material works well)

 

20) Simple Sunglasses Filter

Image via Wix

Image via Wix

We couldn’t resist including the oldest diy photography lighting trick in the book: the sunglasses filter. Whether you’re going for a vintage look or simply want to cut down on the sun glare during an outside photo shoot – this is your perfect diy tool.

Cost:

  • Free (if you already have sunglasses)

Materials:

  • Sunglasses (polarized or non-polarized – both will work as a neutral density filter)

 

21) The $1 Beauty Dish

Image via DIY Photography Stuff

Image via DIY Photography Stuff

Another great diy tool for professional-looking product shots is the $1 Beauty Dish from diyphotographystuff.info. From simple household items, you can construct a piece of photography lighting equipment to create near shadowless lighting against a simple background.

Cost:

  • $1 (or less!)

Materials:

  • 2 x polystyrene dishes
  • 2 cocktail sticks
  • A small piece of foil
  • Double sided tape

Tools Needed:

  • Box cutter
  • Scissors

 

22) Make-Shift Tilt Shift (with Vaseline!)

Image via Wix.com

Image via Wix.com

Want to add a romantic vibe or interesting depth of field to your next shoot? Then check out this absurdly simple way to get a tilt-shift effect – without dropping the dollars for an expensive lens. To avoid mucking up your camera with Vaseline, I recommend you get a cheap UV lens filter from eBay for $5 or so. Cover the lens filter with a plastic baggie and secure with a rubber band. Cut a small hole in the center of the plastic to allow for a center of focus, then smear some Vaseline on the plastic – the more Vaseline, the greater the effect. Have fun!

Cost: 

  • Less than $20

Materials:

  • Used UV lens filter (you can find these on Ebay for $5!)
  • Vaseline
  • Plastic baggie or plastic wrap
  • Rubber band (to secure bag in place)

Tools Needed:

  • Scissors

 

23) Toilet Roll Macro Lens

Image via Wix.com

Image via Wix.com

Create a simple-as-can-be lens extension with a toilet or paper towel roll, and you can use your regular lens to capture macro shots like the pros. First, affix the toilet roll to your camera body with sturdy tape. Make sure to line the inside of the roll with something black to block any gaps or light leaks that may happen between the roll and your lens. Then you simply attach your lens to the end of the roll – but reversed so the front part goes into the tube (and make sure it’s secure with tape). Now take some macros to your heart’s content!

Cost:

  • Less than $5

Materials:

  • Cardboard Toilet paper roll
  • Tape
  • Black neoprene or black take to block out light leaks

 

24) Cutout Bokeh Effect

Image via DIY Photography

Image via DIY Photography

The bokeh effect is created by an out-of-focus background (mainly characterized by those bubble-shaped lights and colors you often see). But you can create your own version of bokeh in just about any shape imaginable with this photography hack. You start by measuring the size of your lens (a little past to prevent light leak) and cutting out a circle to fit from black poster board. Make a mark in the center and draw or use the stencil of your choice to create the custom shape you want to use for the bokeh effect. Tape the cutout to your lens and find some places to try it out (night lighting works well) and create some cool art.

Cost:

  • Less than $5

Materials:

  • Black poster board
  • Tape

Tools Needed:

  • Scissors
  • Ruler

 

25) Starbucks Lens Hood

Image via Wix.com

Image via Wix.com

To avoid that annoying lens flare that can interfere with your subject, try out our next diy photography lighting trick after finishing your next latte-to-go. Use the sleeve from your coffee to slip around your camera lens to shield it from the light (and shield your wallet from unnecessary photography expenses).

Cost:

  • Less than $5 (or a good latte)

Materials:

  • Coffee Sleeve
  • Tape (if needed)

 

26) Bubble-wrap Lightsphere

Image via Artur Gajewski, Instructables

Image via Artur Gajewski, Instructables

Never buy those fancy flash diffusers again once you try this sweet diy bubble-wrap Lightsphere and enjoy the results! Photographer Artur Gajewski devised this diy lightsphere that produces the same effect as the Gary Fong lightsphere, for potentially less than 0.01 percent the cost!

Cost:

  • Less than $1

Materials:

  • Bubble-wrap (or you can use this custom IKEA drawer mat )
  • Tools Needed:
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Ruler

 

27) DIY Photography Backdrop Stand {PVC Pipe}

Image via Christina Weedon, Dandelions on the Wall

Image via Christina Weedon, Dandelions on the Wall

This list wouldn’t quite be complete without a decent tutorial on how to make your own photography light stand to hold your newly created lighting equipment. Did we mention it’s under $20? This handy tutorial comes from Christina at dandilionsonthewall.com. She uses PVC pipe from her local hardware store to craft this inexpensive yet sturdy piece of essential lighting equipment.

Cost:

  • Under $20

Materials:

  • 3 10-foot lengths of 1-inch, schedule 40 PVC pipe
  • 2 90-degree, slip-in elbows {that means without threads}
  • 8 T-Shape slip-on connectors
  • 8 Slip-in end caps

Tools Needed:

  • Hacksaw (or pipe cutting tool)

Go Out And Conquer

There’s something really satisfying when you’ve made something useful yourself instead of buying it from somewhere else. Especially when you can get the same professional photography lighting result while spending a fraction of the money for it.

You get to decide how far you want to take your new DIY ambitions – creating an entire studio setup with these tutorials, or just using one or two ideas for special occasions. Some lighting equipment may be worth shelling out the cash for if you know you’ll use it often or it will really propel your business forward. It’s really up to you. Which is why it’s so much fun!