When you start to break out of using only the available light and start looking towards adding your own lights, it can get quite expensive rather quickly. Whether you’re shooting stills or video, quality lighting kit is just expensive. But it doesn’t have to be.
There are ways to create fantastic lighting looks on a much lower budget using commonly available cheap lights. In this video, Brent from ShareGrid, along with ShareGrid member Casey, shows us how we can create a fantastic lighting setup for portraits or interviews for less than $100.
Clamp/Work lights – $9 each ($27 total)
These have been a staple of inexpensive DIY lighting setups for years. They’re readily available, they can be found for around $9 each just about everywhere. You can get them for even less if you shop around.
They’re not pretty, they’re not sophisticated, but they are a light source. How well they work for you will depend on how you use them.
Foam Core Boards – $20 total
This is one of the cheapest ways to turn that hard, harsh light from work lamps into a nice soft light source. Instead of pointing your work lamp directly at the subject, you aim it toward the foam core board. The board itself then becomes the light source, much larger than the work lamp, providing a nice soft light on your subject.
You can easily see the difference here between direct light vs bounced off the foam core.
Shower Curtain – $10
The shower curtain is often called the poor man’s softbox. Yes, it’s not really a box, but a shower curtain is large enough that it can pretty much completely cover the light projection of a work lamp. You will want to be very careful, though. While most shower curtains can handle hot water just fine, tungsten and halogen light bulbs do get much hotter. So, don’t have the curtain too close to the light, or it will probably melt in the heat.
Poster Board – $5
This isn’t much different from foam core, except that it’s thinner. This means you can bend it to reflect the light in a different way than foam core. It’s also easier to cut holes in if you want to use it as a gobo. Here, it’s simply used as a reflector to help provide a little fill on the shadow side of the subject’s face.
Christmas Lights – $5-10
Christmas lights can be tricky if you’re not careful. There are many types out there that are prone to flicker. You can read more about that particular issue, and how to resolve the problem here. But they can be very handy to produce just an extra little bit of light over on the fill side, and they’re not that expensive if you buy them out of season.
Parchment paper & window screen – $1 + $8
One of the problems with clamp work lamps is that they’re not dimmable unless you get fancy with your wiring. We’ve already spoken about the harshness of light coming out of these, but there are other ways to diffuse the light besides a shower curtain. Parchment paper can also act as a nice diffuser, and as a bonus, it’s heat resistant, so it’s unlikely to melt or burst into flames. To solve the brightness issue, window screen material can make a fantastic “neutral density” type filter to help lower the amount of light hitting the paper, and thus your subject.
A mirror – $15
So what do you do when you run out of light sources but still need to add another subtle rim light to your subject? Well, you can use a mirror and reflect light back from somewhere else. In this case, a mirror bouncing the key light back toward the side of the subject’s hair gives it a nice glow.
It all comes together to make a fantastic result that you’d immediately believe was shot with a lot of fancy, high end equipment.
Of course, in the video, they are using a very nice studio space with neutral grey walls. And they’re using hundreds of dollars worth of light stands and grip gear to mount everything, but you don’t need to spend that much to hold your lights up in the air.
They’re clamp lights, so they have a built-in mechanism that allows you to attach them to just about anything. Do you have a pair of ladders? A shelf? A door frame? There are many ways to attach these lights up high that doesn’t require buying any extra kit.
And if you want to get creative, you can always make your own stands to clamp things to using PVC pipe.