Learn 9 DIY portrait lighting hacks in 90 seconds

Aug 29, 2023

JT Armstrong

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Aug 29, 2023

JT Armstrong

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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DIY portrait lighting

If your portraits are feeling a little bland or uninteresting lately, maybe it’s time to spice them up with some new portrait lighting hacks! The intricate dance of light and shadow is what give depth and form to your portrait. Light is what ultimately gives your portrait life, and it’s not something you can just “fix in Photoshop” later.

So here are 9 Portrait Light Hacks in 90 Seconds to get your creative juices flowing. Hopefully these DIY light modifiers will inspire you to create some beautiful portraiture and get creative with your lighting.

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9 Portrait Light Hacks

Remember portraiture is about Light AND Shadow. I can’t stress this enough. More light does not necessarily mean better light — there always needs to be a balance. Light adds life to a photograph while shadows adds mood and depth. Experiment with modifiers, angles and of course the distance of the light from your subject.

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 1: Prism

Prism is a great way to reflect or refract light especially for portraits. You can separate light into a rainbow of colors, or turn your image Black and White for a contrasty, moody portrait.

Amazon has some great Photography Prism packs for quite cheap:
4 Pack Optical Prisms Set
Fractals 3-Pack Prismatic Filters
Kaleidoscope Glass Prism Filter
6-Inch Crystal Prism (My Personal Favorite)

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 2: Mouth Wash

The real fun behind this concept is that most mouth washes come in Blues or Greens which create a radioactive looking light source. This is a quick and easy DIY light modifier you probably already have under your bathroom sink!

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 3: Plastic Bag

A great way to re-use plastic shopping bags is for a light modifier! Plastic bags are thin and diffuse your light source, creating a soft light, which is great for portraits. You can recycle AND create beautiful portraits with this DIY light modifier.

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 4: Placemat

There are lots of unique and inexpensive placemats available, and you may already have some at home. Placemats are great for balancing light and shadow, like I mentioned earlier. You can create fun, abstract patterns, and they’re easy to roll up or slide into your camera bag!

Here are a few placemats with unique patterns for one-of-a-kind portraits:
Vinyl Floral Placemat
Round Rose Hollow Wedding Mat
String Pattern Placemat

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 5: Water

Grab a clear plastic bag and fill it with water. Shine your light through the bag onto your subject for some unique light refractions. For some real wild light effects, you can add food coloring and glitter to the water. Mix it up and start shooting!

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 6: Sticky Notes

Sticky Notes come in a variety of colors, and you may already have some laying around your home office (or at work). The colored paper can add some beautiful color to your portraits, much like gels, and also diffuse your light source! Go a little crazy and try multiple sticky notes over a light for a rainbow of hues on your subject.

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 7: Colander

A colander or pasta strainer is another DIY modifier that many of us already have in our kitchen. If not, they’re pretty in expensive and I think it’s absolutely worth picking one up for a fun portrait photoshoot: Stainless Steel Colander.
Colanders can come in similar patterns to placemats, and a good one will last you even longer.

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 8: Fur

Yes, it’s fake fur! You can buy all sorts of craft fabric fur from your local craft store or online. I had some laying around for creating a DIY windscreen for a shotgun microphone, and thought it made a cool DIY gobo that I’ve never seen done before. Faux Fur Fabric is quite cheap, and if you’re into crafting (or know someone who is), you may already have some at home.

DIY portrait lighting

Light Hack 9: Paper Towel Roll

I typically save the cardboard tubes from wrapping paper or paper towels because my dog absolutely loves tearing them apart. However, they also work as a DIY snoot to focus light onto a small area. A snoot can turn a flood of ambient light into a focused beam which is more controllable. 

9 DIY Portrait Light Hacks: Final Thoughts

Don’t forget, shadows are just as important as light when it comes to portrait photography! I hope you enjoyed my homemade portrait light modifiers and are able to give some of them a try. Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (above) for new articles and videos. Be sure to Subscribe to my Run N Gun Photography Channel for more Tips, Tricks and Tutorials!

About the Author

JT Armstrong is an award-winning photographer, cinematographer, digital creator, and U.S. Air Force Veteran. You’ll find more of his work on his website Run N Gun Photographysubscribe to his YouTube channel, and connect with him on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter. Also be sure to check out his official shop for Lightroom Presets, LUTs, and other photography assets. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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