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Dollar Store Lighting for Photographers on a Budget

One of the simplest and most inexpensive tools you can use to light your portrait subject is a 20×30 inch white foam poster board. Too often new photographers get caught up in having to have the best gear and lighting equipment when sometimes you can get similar results without spending much money!

These pictures were shot by illuminating the subject with a simple white foam core poster board that was purchased at our local dollar store. Each shot shown was taken with the same exact exposure (f 2.8,  1/400, ISO 250), the only thing that changed was that a white board was added to reflect light back onto the subject.  The sun was behind the subject at about a 90-degree angle and the white board was positioned directly in line with the sun in order to reflect the light back.  The board was placed about 3 feet away from the subject to maximize the amount of light reflecting back.

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As you can see the image without the DIY reflector fill card is muddy and dark which typically is fixable on the backend; but you should always go into Photoshop or Lightroom with the best possible exposure and lighting. Keep in mind, as a rule of thumb you are much better off with a slightly underexposed image than an overexposed image since you can open up shadows, but cannot typically bring back detail from highlights. One of the greatest benefits of using a fill card or reflector is the “catch” or “sparkle” you achieve in the subject’s eyes. Nothing can ruin a picture more than flatness in the eyes.

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These particular examples were all backlit since it is one of my favorite types of portrait light, but experiment with the sun directly on one side or have the sun in front of your subject and bounce the light back to create a stunning backlight! You can see a diagram of our setup below.

I use simple fill cards for many other different applications, like when I’m photographing products and food, they are essential in my opinion. The black poster boards have great uses as well, but we’ll save that for another time or another post!

The final images were processed using MCP Photoshop Actions from their Fusion set. It’s a great set of simple and effective actions that produce beautiful results!

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Carolyn Devine is a Los Angeles-based photographer whose work is inspired by the environment around her.  Her love for nature is obvious in her work, whether it’s photographing families, fashion, or products. This natural style is what people are drawn to and what she is known for.

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