If you are a photo hobbyist, you probably drool at ads of the latest high-end equipment. This equipment can be confusing and expensive. You can achieve professional looking images without all of the high-end gadgets. Five factors go into your images: equipment, studio set-up, lighting, styling and post-production. Here are some low-budget photography solutions for each of these areas.
Before you buy a new camera, be sure that you know all that your camera can achieve. Photography 101 available on Lynda.com shows you how to get the most from your camera. If you must upgrade your camera, there is tons of used equipment online. Check out Ebay and Craigslist but do your research before purchasing and be prepared to bargain.
Camera lenses come both in fixed focal lengths and zoom. Prime lenses offer fixed focal length and a high maximum aperture (up to F1.6). Zoom lenses that offer a high aperture (above F4) are costly. Start with a prime, used lens.
A tripod is a staple. It allows you to shoot in low light, capture portraits and provides a stable base for your camera so you can set up shots as needed. Amazon’s 70-inch Pistol Grip Tripod ($64.99) offers lots of features and was ranked in the top 10 of best tripods for 2014.
A Basic Home Studio
Here is a list of the bare essentials that you will need to set up your home studio.
1. White Seamless Paper
To create a clean, seamless background, get a roll of white seamless paper. This will allow you to create a curved, continuous background and will reduce the amount of post-production work. Savage Universal offers 3 different whites to choose from: Pure White, Super White and White. The standard size of 53” x 36’ is a good one to start with although they also are available in 26” x 36’, 107” x 36’, and 107” x 150’.
2. Gaffer Tape or Clamps
Get at least four clamps — two to secure your seamless paper at the top and an extra two to hold reflectors or other items in place. Use gaffer tape to secure the roll to the floor.
3. Folding Table
Try a yard sale or local hardware store for a table. Ideally it should be square and at least 48” x 48” to give you some working room. Another option is to get (2) adjustable;plastic saw horses from Home Depot for about $25/each. Have them cut a 1” thick, 4’ square piece of plywood to place on top. This is perfect solution for small spaces or if you need to break down your studio in between shoots.
4. Foam Core Board
A low-cost way to create a reflector is to use foam core. Use white to bounce your light back onto your subject (and eliminate shadows) or a piece of black foam board to absorb light. You can find it at art supply or office stores. A Black/White Collapsible Backdrop can double as a background and reflector.
If you have access to a large window take advantage and set up your studio there. Natural light provides beautiful, soft event light. If you don’t have an area with windows, continuous lighting kits such as the 1000 watt quartz or 500 watt quartz 3-head kits provide an inexpensive and flexible lighting solution for products or portraits. The kits include three 24” x 36” softboxes with silver inner reflectors and detachable inner diffusers, three 4-section light stands, and a soft-padded carry case.
Check out two affordable books from stylist Susan Linett-Cox: Starting Your Career as a Photo Stylist: A Comprehensive Guide to Photo Shoots, Marketing, Business, Fashion, Wardrobe, Off Figure, Product, Prop, Room Sets, and Food Styling and Photo Styling: How to Build Your Career and Succeed. They provide clear and easy-to-follow tips and are chock full of resources for procuring stylist products and props.
Again, practice on your images and get to know software such as Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Bridge to help edit, organize and retouch your images. The software can be accessed inexpensively with an Adobe Creative Cloud membership starting at $9.99/month. Search online for blogs that discuss basic techniques or try sites such as the Digital Photography School that offers free tips and tutorials as well as low-cost ebooks starting at $7.00.