If you are just getting into photography or have been around a long time, we all know by now that photography gear isn’t cheap. I remember when I was a freshman in college, my teacher reacted to the groans about how much archival paper would cost and said: “Welcome to the most expensive major on campus!”
That’s the truth.
However, the same teacher taught me how to be resourceful. Unless you are wealthy you are going to have to start slow. In college, there was no way I was going to be able to afford lights, let alone the endless softboxes, reflectors, lenses, props, and backdrops I wanted and needed. I mean, I could barely afford to live in a house with less than four roommates. As creative people, we have to think creatively.
The best part of not starting off with a tool that will make it easy for you is that you are given a way to learn that thing in and out, from top to bottom. I did not learn to light merely by reading a few books, I had to experiment. I shot outdoors in direct sunlight, realized that the shadows were super weird on my model’s face and then had her face the other way. Then I realized, overcast and shade are actually totally awesome when it comes to portraits (just don’t expect a super interesting sky). My teacher told me about reflectors, and then I got my own on eBay for $20. I learned that by bouncing sunlighting onto my subject’s faces, I could control the color of the light (also known as color temperature or warmth). These all drastically changed how my photo looked and the mood it conveyed.
Shot with 100% natural light and the gold side of a reflector. Model: Judy Cox
This inspired me to do more. This and the fact it was getting very cold outside and my models were starting to hate me. I mean, you can only ask for someone to stand outside without layers, covered in some weird, cold material I was obsessed with at the time, and have them come back to shoot again. The whole situation starts getting pretty dire when it came to finding people for photoshoots. So, I took my shooting inside.
Shooting indoors can be a real challenge if you don’t have lights, but we often don’t realize…we have light, just a different type than we think is needed for photography. While I love my lights there are legitimate ways to shoot indoors without professional grade lighting. I started with the first natural thing – window light and desk lamps. Desk lamp light pretty much sucks, but you get enough of it or move it the right distance away from your subject (also keep an eye on that white balance!) you can create some good images.
But…what other things that emit light in your home?
Flashlights. Candles. Christmas Lights. Your fridge. Your oven.
Shot with fridge light and moonlight through a window over the sink. Model: Alan.
What kind of things do you have in your house that can help modify, or change that light to do more of what you want it?
Sheets. Aluminum foil. Paper with a design cut out. Plastic wrap (bonus points if you have different colored wrap).
Shot with one green and one yellow bulb in clamp lights that I bought from Home Depot.
The biggest thing to remember is that not everything is going to look good, but you just have to try different things. One object will look amazing with your two desk lamps pointed at it, but that other object will look a little weird. Experimentation is where you will really start to learn the principles of lighting and go on to create better imagery, with intention, and that’s art.