Success: Professional Portraits in a Makeshift Home Studio

diy-home-studio-titleFor those who have been following DIYPhotography for a while now, you are well aware of the awesome photographic results that can be achieved with materials NOT purchased from your local, friendly photo gear retailer. For those who are finding this to be your first visit to DIYPhotography, may I please inquire as the exact size of the rock under which you have been hiding.

Photographer Cindy Lee had a specific request from a client for a white backdrop, but she didn’t have any on hand at the time. So, like all budding and resourceful geniuses, she decided to create a setup herself, testing it out in her living room beforehand.

The Backdrop

The backdrop is constructed from PVC piping, plastic joints, two pieces of plywood, clamps and a white, queen-size bed sheet — all items easily found in your local hardware store, Home Depot (where Cindy shops) or Capitalist Consortium (a.k.a. “Walmart”). Wanting to maximize usefulness and flexibility, she constructed the backdrop to be easily convertible from an 8’x8′ configuration to 8’x6′ for spaces with a little less headroom. We have a similar tutorial on this here.


The Lighting

The backdrop was positioned 2.5′ away from the subject’s (herself) back. A Canon 430 EX II speedlight (you can substitute a YongNuo YN-468 II instead to save money) was mounted on a tripod behind the subject and pointed at the backdrop at 1/2 power.

Another Canon 430 EX II speedlight was mounted on an umbrella pointed downward to subject left at approximately 1/8 power, and both flashes were triggered by Scott Robert Lim wireless triggers.

Raw image out of camera

Raw image out of camera

CHEAP-ASS TIP: Save money by substituting the YongNuo YN-468 II (currently $85 new) for the Canon speedlights and the RioRand 4-channel wireless triggers (currently $25 new) for the Scott Roberts. I use both (and have been for several years) and can attest that, for the money, they are excellent products.

The subject is seated on a small bench approximately 2.5′ in front of the backdrop, and the camera was triggered using a wireless remote (1/200 SS, f/3.2, ISO 100).

The Final Outcome


Honestly, the results are superb and rival images I’ve seen from large studios with thousands of dollars-worth of equipment, another beautiful testament to the DIY spirit! And, if you’re gonna selfie, THIS is the way to do it.

Cindy Yang Lee is a family and portrait photographer (and current graduate student) with a penchant for exquisite self portraits. You can follow her work on her website, Facebook, and her blog, and even tag along on Twitter.

  • Mike

    That’s agreat result and it shows you do not have to spend megapounds on kit. Keep up the good work at DIYPhotography!

  • Adam

    Great setup. I am curious though which software and plugins were used as well to add to the total budget of this photo. d

    • Allen Mowery

      According to the photographer, “…some overall base adjustments in Lightroom, then background and dodging and burning in Photoshop.” To make the cost even lower, you could use LightZone ( or darktable ( — both open source — as alternatives to Lightroom and Gimpshop ( in place of Photoshop, effectively achieving the same results.

  • Daniel Walldorf

    I honestly don’t see why you should use all this DIY stuff this extensively. The bed sheet is obviously not made for this and as you can see in the unedited photo, it looks crap. Why not just invest some 100 bugs in a proper background system? Or use a white wall with some distance to the subject to blow it out and have it appear pure white? DIY just for doing it yourself instead of doing it proper..

    • Allen Mowery

      I do see your point, but it is the final outcome that actually matters. If we were to simply be content with whatever we captured in-camera, all movies would be free of CGI (granted, a topic for great debate right there), The Walking Dead would look like the parking lot it was filmed on, and photographers like Joel Grimes ( would be out of a job. When producing work for clients, is the journey so important as the destination?

      • Daniel Walldorf

        That’s not what I ment to say. I think that if you took the exact same picture against a white wall it would look like the end result and you wouldn’t even need to fix the blown out parts that you get when using this DIY-solution.

        That’s why I said DIY just for the purpose of DIY because the result would even be better if you used DBSTDHY (don’t build shit that doesn’t help you :D) and just use what you already have (like a wall). Plus this isn’t even that much cheaper than buying a proper solution plus you can’t use it outside because it’s too light and will fly away plus you can probably only use it like 5 times until it’s broken and you need to get new PVC pipes.

  • Wolf

    I’ve used the bed sheet method a few times now and must say that it works really great.

  • John C
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  • Chris

    I think the eyes are a bit over done. She has the creepy demon eyes going on.

  • Daniel Walldorf

    Thumbs up for apparati! 😀
    Yea ok maybe there are situations where you might need to build something yourself. Even though I can’t think of many but it’s a valid point.

  • Successor

    For the sake of using on-camera flashes in the studio, the YN560III is a better choice IMO. It sacrifices the E-TTL for a higher guidenumber (58 vs 33) and has a built in radio reciever if you use the YN triggers (which cost like 20$). 3 of them are cheaper than a canon EX430 and i would probably go for the YN any time. The Godox/neweer v850 is also a flash that i would go for.

    I partially agree with the others about doing the job right. Not having the subjects edges completely surrounded in completely white backgrounds means a lot of time-consumeing post processing work. I should at least invest in another flash to light it up properly all over the screen, and maybe creating a sturdier frame made of aluminium pipes.

    • Allen Mowery

      I’ve been meaning to get myself the YN560 for a while…perhaps now is the time.

  • wahwahtremelo

    I put this to use…however instead of the PVC frame I used an inexpensive backdrop stand and in place of a bed sheet I used a $0.99 piece of cloth I bought from Salvation Army…my kit already includes YongNuo flashes and triggers, so this worked really well for an incremental $0.99 from my wallet…thanks for the inspiration. Also, I already use GIMP but had not heard of Lightzone until I read this…so I have expanded my post-production kit on the cheap, too!!! :-)

    PS – Daniel Walldorf, I have no white walls in my home…I’m from the Midwest where we only have tan, cream, and sand colored walls.