Studio Lighting Set-ups That Won’t Break the Bank

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Courtesy of Elle

It’s easy to believe that your budget is the roadblock between you and your ability to move improve as an artist. But we all know that’s not true.


Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the high price tags common in the industry, fashion photographer and CreativeLive instructor Elle Muliarchyk decided to think creatively and develop a new approach. Using simple household items and cheaper lighting alternatives, Elle created fantastic new ways to keep up with, and surpass, the current photography trends. She continued to shoot high fashion, all the while maintaining a low and reasonable budget.

Most people would not think to use a portable work light from their local hardware store as a tool for photography. Then again, Elle is not considered ‘most people.’ For under $20, she suggests using a work light and a frosted light bulb as a cheap and easy alternative to higher end strobes that can cost thousands. For an even lower cost set up Elle has a creative and effective solution. Clothes pinning or taping a plastic bag around the portable work light can produce the same effect as a frosted light bulb. Both choices can create softer light that work nicely, especially on faces. Though these lightweight work lights have to be held closer to the model than the alternatives, they can be moved easily, allowing you to find the perfect angles on your model.

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Courtesy of Elle

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Still interested in learning to light? Check out our Ultimate Resource Guide to Lighting.

Elle’s other high-fashion-on-a-budget tip? Using varying backgrounds. She attributes successful fashion photography not just to model posing, but also to environment. Using a white background can offer interesting shadows and gradations, or can be the perfect base to use a color gel on a flash. Another alternative to add more detail and interest to your background is to use an insulation blanket from your local sporting goods store. They can be found for under $10, and are the perfect item to create a sci-fi or pop art feel to your fashion shoot. Crinkling up the reflective blanket and hanging it as a background can create an interesting sparkle to pose your model in front of.

There are plenty of ways to use unusual and simple everyday items to your advantage in photography. Elle has inspired many people to think outside the box, while keeping your budget within arm’s reach. Being creative with your use of lighting and environment can only enhance your abilities and not punish your checkbook.

For more form Elle, check out her High Fashion, Low Budget course.

Still interested in learning to light? Check out our Ultimate Resource Guide to Lighting.

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Drew Evans

Drew is a Seattle-based freelance writer. He spends too much time playing music, binging on Netflix, and watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams.