The best way to start with DIY photography lighting is to get down to the basics. This means using a simple flashlight as your main light source.
Trying to control its output with modifiers is a great learning process.
This article will take you through some easy and inexpensive DIY projects.
You can try them at home, with a flashlight and a light modifier done out of re-purposed items. You’ll have most of these at home, while some will require a trip to the hardware store.
6. Piping Bag Tips for DIY Photography Lighting
Piping bags are great tiny light sources. When placed in front of a flash light, they give you greater control of light direction.
Their tips have different shapes, which will offer you different lighting effects.
You’ll be able to point your light with great accuracy, like what you can see in the following product shots.
I used a flashlight with a piping bag tip with a narrow oval shape for the light ray in the background. This photo was taken in a simple studio setup. I didn’t use the typical white background of product photography. The textured black one adds interest to the image.
And I also used a white fill card with a hole for the lens to cast the light on the ring.
It makes for a fantastic DIY flash diffuser. And it’s great for close-ups.
5. Table Tennis Balls
These balls are one of the cheapest photography lighting equipment solutions for better lighting.
They’ll soften the harsh light that comes out of your flash and help you avoid harsh shadows.
Cut an X shape with a knife on the ball and slide the flash through the opening.
The white plastic is semi-translucent. This allows light to pass through but scatters it in the process.
It creates uniform homemade photography lighting with soft shadows. Like in this image below.
I created the overall light with a flashlight and a table tennis ball diffuser in my photo studio.
Moving the DIY diffuser from the back to the front of the image created a backlight effect. And it cast soft shadows on the front of the image.
Balloons are a great option for creating a DIY lightbox effect.
You can control the size of the light effect by controlling the size of your balloon.
This transforms the small light beam produced by your DIY photo lighting. It becomes a big and soft light source.
It can cover a bigger area, and even a portrait image. If the model is able to stand still like in this following image.
You’ll need a long exposure due to the low light output of a flashlight.
I created the lighting effect using a flash and a big inflated white balloon during this photo shoot.
Placing the balloon on the top left side of the model created soft shadows on the side of the nose and under the chin. This was a simple and easy lighting setup.
It’s great for portrait photography, and upon closer look you can see the catchlights in the model’s eyes.
3. Fiber Optics
In DIY studio lighting, you can use this type of materials to create a “light brush”. You can use this as a light painting tool.
To create a simple light brush, take the top part of a cheap heart-shaped table lamp. Attach it to a flashlight with some black tape.
You now have a light brush and you can achieve many different light effects with it. My personal favourite effects are the ones done with long exposures in a dark room.
This creates light paintings like the ones Man Ray did in the 1930s. I tried to recreate this style in the following image.
I created the DIY lighting effect by slowly moving the flash with the fiber optics. This was a 10 second exposure.
The white balance on the camera was set to tungsten, hence the blue light effect.
2. Star Wars Toy Lightsaber
This kids’ toy is actually the base for a great DIY photography lighting tool.
It only had a small red light and some bad Darth Vader sounds. After dismantling it, I glued the plastic rod to a flashlight. This created a lightsaber worthy of a true Jedi.
And a fantastic DIY studio light.
The plastic rod contains the DIY photography lighting. This allows it to sweep through a wide area during long exposures.
It works great on reflective subjects like the metal chain in this next image.
To create the light effect, I swept the DIY light-saber from the front to the back of the image. This created soft reflections on the metal without shiny hot spots.
I also placed a vertical white card on the left side of the image.
This helped create a uniform reflection on the image. It also emphasised the background stone and water droplets‘ texture.
1. Coloured Cellophane and Plastic Bottles
For DIY photography lighting, you can use color gels. Place them in front of the light source to get colored effects.
You can’t compare cellophane to genuine color gels when it comes to color rendition.
But it is a great cheap option to use with flashlights.
Place these colorful pieces of cellophane inside a plastic bottle. This creates a color mix light source. It will create ambience and depth, as you can see in this next image.
To create the colored light effect, I placed a plastic bottle with two cellophane sheets inside over the scene.
Then I moved it slightly to the back to create a shadow effect.
That’s it! Now all you have to do is just release the DIY maker that lives inside you and give these DIY photography lights a try.
I’m sure you will get great results and learn a lot along the way.
We have a great tutorial on creating a DIY Lightbox you should try. And if you want even more DIY photography ideas, check out our Fun With Photoelasticity post or our DIY Cake Smash Photography article.
And here’s a cool video on more DIY photography lighting ideas!