The best way to start with DIY photography lighting is to get down to the basics. This means using a simple flashlight as your primary 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 photography lighting projects. Some of them are helpful for off-camera flashes, and some improve the light of your camera flash.
You can try these DIY photography lighting projects at home, with a flashlight and a light modifier made out of repurposed items. You’ll have most of these at home, but some will require a trip to the hardware store.
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13. DIY Diffuser
If you are using a big light source and want softer light, you can create your own diffuser. It really isn’t complicated or difficult.
Take a large picture frame and remove the canvas or the cardboard from the back so that only the frame remains. You can also create a rectangular frame using plastic pipes. Then stretch a white curtain/fabric across the frame, and nail or staple it.
This creates a sort of softbox, but one where you can control the light. If you take the flash or lamp closer to the diffuser, the light will be harsher. If you go further, then it will be smoother.
12. Use Poster Boards as Reflectors and Flags
One of the most basic pieces of lighting equipment are reflectors and flags. Reflectors bounce off light from the light source back onto the subject. This helps smoothen out harsh shadows.
Flags, on the other hand, do the exact opposite. They block out light to darken specific areas of your subject. This helps give moody shadows to your photos.
The simplest and cheapest reflectors and flags are white and black poster boards, respectively.
Since a black poster board is non-reflective, it won’t bounce back any light, making it a perfect flag.
11. Fairy Lights
Fairy lights make a great DIY photography lighting source that is really easy and versatile. Incorporating fairy lights into your photographs lets you light up your subject in a very creative way. Because fairy lights come in different colors and temperatures, you can choose what effect you want.
The model can hold the fairy lights, or you can string them behind her. Placing fairy lights in front of the lens can create a dreamy foreground.
By blurring the image, you can create a beautiful bokeh effect.
Fairy lights are great for photography because unlike other light sources, they can be visible in the image without looking odd.
10. Flash Diffuser
Wondering how to get soft light with the flash on your camera? The answer is a flash diffuser. This makes the light from your flash much smoother and balanced. The best part is, you can make one on your own for very easily and for almost no cost! All you need is some white paper, white adhesive tape, a hollow tube (like an empty chips can), and scissors.
Just follow this super quick and easy DIY flash diffuser tutorial to create this amazing piece of equipment which will help you take beautiful photographs.
9. Ring Flash
Right flashes produce some really good lighting, but boy can they be expensive. Not if you do it the DIY way though. You just need some materials from your home and a little bit of time.
This is a really detailed tutorial, although it does require you to use your flash off camera. That’s not hard, though.
Find it here the tutorial here – DIY Ring Flash
I’ve seen a number of DIY softboxes. Most are made from cardboard, wire, and fabric or other random items. None of these look very good or are very strong.
Andrew (the writer of this guide) wanted something that would hold up to some abuse, and that didn’t look like it was assembled from old boxes.
If you want to create one of these, you should check out our DIY Softbox guide.
7. Beauty Dish
The beauty dish is probably my favorite lighting modifier because I love how the light falls off the subject, in a really soft way.
I recommend them to everyone, but they’re not always the cheapest thing to buy. That’s where Todd Owyoung comes in from IShootShows. He’s written a hugely detailed guide to building your own.
Check it out here – DIY Beauty Dish
6. Piping Bag Tips for DIY Photography Lighting
Piping bags are great tiny light sources. When placed in front of a flashlight, 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, as you can see in the following product photography lighting shots.
I used a flashlight with a narrow oval piping bag tip for the light ray. This photo was taken in a simple studio setup. I didn’t use the typical white background of product photography. The textured background adds interest to the image.
I used a white fill card with a hole for the lens to cast the light on the ring.
5. Table Tennis Balls
Table tennis balls are one of the cheapest DIY photography lighting solutions for better shots.
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 DIY 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 picture.
Balloons are an excellent 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 lighting source.
You’ll need a long exposure due to the low light output of a flashlight.
It can cover a bigger area and even a portrait image. If the model is able to stand still like in this following image.
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.
3. Fiber Optics
In DIY photo 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 fiber optic 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 photo 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 lightsaber 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 emphasized 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 lighting 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.
It is fun to experiment with lighting while shooting, but you aren’t limited to just that. If you want some really cool lighting effects, like sun rays, light trails, lightpaths, and more, you can always explore in Photoshop.
There are some things you can do on Photoshop that you might not be able to do in real life.
For example, if you don’t have a tripod to take a very long exposure but want bold light trails, you can stack various images together and merge them into one image.
Or, you can add in light paths as if you were light painting.
If the lighting in your photos wasn’t good enough, you can always add a luminosity mask or a gradient tool to even out the lighting or brighten the image.
That’s it! Good photos need good lighting. If you want to experiment with lighting in your photos but don’t want to splurge, this is your opportunity. There are plenty of DIY photography lighting accessories that you can create in a low budget. Try them out, and you can drastically improve your images.
I’m sure you will get great results and learn a lot along the way.
To get the most out of your photos, take a look at our Wow Factor Photography course!