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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 17 of 20

Live Shoot: Natural Lighting With Modifiers Part 1

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

17. Live Shoot: Natural Lighting With Modifiers Part 1

Lesson Info

Live Shoot: Natural Lighting With Modifiers Part 1

We're all about using stuff that you have or stuff that you can build relatively inexpensively. Well, what's the least expensive thing that you have? Windows, right? I mean, windows are already built. You can find windows just about anywhere. You can find them at coffee shops. You can find them in your front room, in the kitchen, bedrooms, all of that. So today, this part of the segment, I'm gonna show you how to incorporate ambient window light and some of this DIY stuff that we've been utilizing. So we're gonna use these nice big, huge windows. Most people don't have windows this big in their house, but it's okay. It at least sets the example for what might be possible. So we're gonna use these windows as what I would call our key light. The key light is oftentimes the main light or the light that causes the effect on the subject. So we'll use these windows as the key, and then I'm gonna show you how to use these other lighting modifiers as fill. So we'll use a reflector as fill. I'v...

e got a single strobe here that I'm gonna use as a fill. And then maybe, if time permits, I'll throw in one of those LED lights that we were using earlier today and use one of those as a fill. So at least three different fill methods. And then we'll see how it goes. We might actually have our model here, Jake, get up and move closer to the windows just to show you some of the limitations with window lighting. Great. After that, after we do that, I'm going to show you how to make a gobo. A gobo is a go-between, and it's a lot of fun to shoot. Takes a little bit of skill, little bit of trial and error, but still, it's a blast to use. And then finally, we'll put, we'll piece together a final photo shoot using all the tools that we have today and just kinda do some really creative stuff with Jake again as our model. So here we go. All right, so cameras, go ahead and follow me. I'm just gonna use Jake temporarily here as an example. So if you look at the light on Jake, we see that most of the light's coming from this side over here and this side's in the shadow. Now, this is a big room, there's lots of ambient light bouncing around here, so the shadows aren't too harsh. One of the things that we learned earlier in the previous studio is that size matters, right? Size of your diffusion support system matters. So the bigger the diffusion, the softer the light, all right? Well, in this case, we have huge windows. These windows are probably 20 feet tall, so the light is really wrapping around Jake, so I don't have to worry so much about fill, filling in the shadows. But that said, I'm gonna show you how you would do it, especially if you've got smaller windows at home. Say you're in your living room, your windows may be four foot by six foot. Well, how do you make the relative size of that window matter? The answer is you move your subject, your model, closer to the window, so the model, so if it's a six foot high window, if the model's right close to it, then you basically have six feet of wrapping from way above the model's head down below. The farther away you are from that light source, in other words, the window, the more specular the light is, the harsher the shadows are. So, well, let's go ahead and we'll try a couple of examples. And this photo we're gonna do here is super simple. It's basically the ambient light, and I'm just gonna use a reflector. Now, if you have an assistant at home, you could call over your own portable Kenna. In this case, Kenna, I'm just gonna use a light stand and let you continue working the socials over there, okay? So for here, what I've got is a reflector core. And again, it's nice and big. See, I make it nice and big. Jake's, what, five feet tall or six feet tall, somewhere around that range? Six footer, great. And my reflector is nice and big, almost as big as the subject itself. And, you know, that's maybe a good rule of thumb. Whatever it is you're photographing, your reflector should be at least maybe that big or sometimes bigger. Otherwise it's not really effective. So one more thing as I set this up. Proximity matters. You remember I said close counts in your photography. So I don't wanna set this up when it's way back here because that's not really helpful. I wanna get it as close to him as I can but just out of the frame of the camera, okay? So Jake, what we're gonna do is I'm gonna have you actually come forward a little bit more and I just want you to be a little bit more relaxed. You can be straight with your back, but, you know, something like, you know, yeah, leaning forward just like that. Like, hey, I'm a cool guy. You know, look into the camera. The camera will eventually be over here. And before I set up my light, one of the things that I always like to do is I like to look at the scene beforehand and then think through this is what problem I wanna solve. So I'm looking here, and the way that the light is hitting Jake from how I'm gonna take this photo, he doesn't have a catch light in the eye, okay? There's no catch light. So his eyes are dark. And I wanna solve that problem. Well, I can't, well, I could solve it by having Jake actually turn and I could have him look into the light, but that would be really awkward from this position. Yeah, there you go. So I'm gonna solve that problem with my reflector board. So I'm gonna pull that reflector board forward, and Jake, go ahead and just keep looking over this way as if my camera's there, and now I can kinda move that into position until I get that nice catch light in his eyes. Super. That's great. Okay, I'm just gonna check my tethering system and make sure we're still connected here, and we are. Just for those of you who are into technology and gear acquisition, I'm using Nikon cameras. The camera I'm using today is actually an older Nikon. It's a Nikon D800. The reason why I'm using this older camera is because it's compatible with most versions of Lightroom and we actually had the correct USB cable for it. My newer cameras, I didn't bring the right USB cable for tethering. But all of this works with just about any technology or any age camera. Just make sure if you're tethering that it's actually compatible with your software. Okay, so back to the photography. Because I am now out in a different lighting scenario, a different light scene, I'm gonna do a little white balance, just to kinda keep you guys all focused on doing white balance. I'm gonna grab a white card. Bear with me. Let me find one. And Jake, I'm just gonna have you basically hold that. And why am I doing another white balance here? Well, the couch is brown, there's a red pillow on the couch here, you know, there's red brick walls, so there's lots of variety of colors, and doing the white balance here is, I think, a good choice. Okay. So we have a white balance to preset. Our custom white balance, pull that in, and bring this over to the whiteboard, take a picture of the whiteboard, and it says good, so now my white balance is good to go. All right, thank you. Okay, are you ready? All right, cool. So go ahead and lean forward a bit. I'm just gonna talk through my camera settings again, everybody. So I'm at, let's see here. Come on. Screen. There we go. I'm at ISO-400. So I'm gonna, yeah, what the heck, I'll leave it at ISO-400. And my white balance is at preset. I'm going to be in aperture priority mode for this example. Just in aperture priority mode. And now I'm thinking depth of field. I'm just thinking how, you know, do I want that background to be all blurry? And the answer is probably yes. I want it to be a very narrow depth of field. So I'm gonna shoot at F2.8, and I might even stop it down to F1.8. We'll see. So are you ready? All right, give me a nice smile. Good. Give me a serious look. Wow, you respond very quickly. I'm impressed. All right, jumping jacks, if you don't mind. I'm gonna take the camera off the tripod just so I can go vertical very rapidly here. All right. Nice. Here we go. At me. Okay, so now I'm gonna open up this on, in Lightroom. And I'm looking at the photo of Jake. It's looking pretty good. Looking nice. Here, Jake, you can take a peek. You can see kinda what we're after there. And I'm gonna zoom in, and as I zoom in, I'm gonna look at his eyes and look for that catch light. Excellent. Nice-looking catch light. So there I've augmented the ambient light. I've got a nice catch light in his eyes with basically, I don't know, $4 worth of equipment here. Well, if you count the clamps, we'll go up to $15 worth of equipment. All right, let's do a little bit more here, Jake. This one, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna use a flash, okay? So here I'm just using the ambient light, but in this case I'm gonna use a flash. And one of the things you'll find as you get more into photography is flash gives you a lot of capability. You can really control the flash and make it do exactly what you want just from the back of your camera. So in this example here, I'm just gonna move this out a little bit to make room for the flash. And again for the gearheads in the room or watching in internet land, I'm just using a Nikon wireless flash, and this will work with any, just about any flash these days. They all have wireless systems. So here I've got a, I think a, this one's the SB-5000. So it's Nikon's kind of newest flash. So I'm not gonna aim the flash directly at him, right? 'Cause that would be bad. That would be harsh, direct light. Back to my favorite three words of the day, diffuse, diffuse, diffuse. So I'm gonna instead aim the flash at the reflector board. And who knows, it may not be set up exactly right when I first start this, but that's where we're gonna start, okay? Again, the distance away from the reflector should be about the size of the reflector. So the reflector's about, you know, three feet by five feet, something like that. I'm about four or five feet away from Jake. Awesome. Okay, so now what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna set up my camera to speak to my flash. And again, I'm using the Nikon wireless flash system. So I'm gonna tell it to talk to channel one, group A. I don't know, do you guys wanna see this on camera? I'm gonna show this to you, what I'm doing. I'm in the flash setup mode, and over here is group A. That's literally this flash. And I've got it set for TTL. And then I've got the compensation set to minus. So I'm gonna start at about a minus one. Why would I go minus? Well, the reason why is because the key light's the window. That's the main light. I want that light to kind of create the mood of the photograph. The fill light is filling in the shadows, and in this case the fill is also giving me a catch light in the eye. So I don't want the key light to be as powerful or as strong as the main light. I'm sorry, I don't want the fill light to be as powerful as the key light. So I'm gonna pop up my little on-camera flash here. It's gonna communicate to that guy and tell it to fire. And we'll see what this first shot looks like. Are you ready? All right. What do you think, serious or smiling? What do you like? Smiling. All right, smiling shot. Give me one second. Okay, don't smile yet. I don't wanna ruin the smile. Okay, hold on one second. There's a pillow poking out of your shoulder. That looks funky. Hey, you know, even though we're doing do-it-yourself, we still want it to look professional, so pay attention to those details. Details, details, details. Okay, nice. All right, we're gonna take a test shot and see what happens. One, two, three. Nice. And again, nice smile. Give me a smile, one, two, three. And now we'll do a serious picture. Okay, great. Nice serious look. Ooh, I think you blinked, but we'll see what it turned out. All right, let's see what Jake's shots. Yeah, we got a blinker. Houston, we got a blinker. That's okay. We can look at these other ones here. So let's go full frame, full screen, and great. It's just a really nice-looking image. It's really comfortable. It's just... It's got a sense of place to it. You know, it shows that we're, you know, in a space rather than just with a, kind of a blank backdrop. I like that a lot. Of course, there's some framing stuff I could do to make the photo look a little bit better. There's some power outlets over his shoulder that I might try to obscure by getting a little bit lower or higher. But overall the lighting looks really nice. I'm gonna zoom in again, check focus on his eyes. Great, I nailed it. So let's look at those catch lights. See what I did with the catch lights? We've got a nice catch light on the right side of the screen or the left side of Jake. That's nice. But there is a little pinpoint catch light in there, and that really bugs me. Guess what that little pinpoint catch light is? Well, it's from here. It's from the trigger. So I'm gonna take one more picture, but I'm just gonna kinda shield it with my hand so I don't get that little pinpoint catch light in there. So one more shot. And let's do a serious one this time. Nice, one more. Cool. All right, so now we got serious Jake. Yeah, and that, the catch light there, once it loads. There we go. The catch light there looks a little bit better. Nice big surface area. I like it. That photo there is a little bit dark, so I should probably increase the exposure overall, but in general, I'm happy with that. Okay, so do-it-yourself, DIY, we used the flash here to create a nice fill. We created just the foam core. What's the difference? Oh, I don't know. You notice there wasn't a huge difference in the two photos. I think, though, the flash, what the flash gives you the ability to do is to dial the power down and dial the power up just from your camera. Compare that to having to physically move the reflector board in and out, just a lot more movement and physical activity on set. So sometimes flashes can be a little bit more efficient for the photographer. All right, I'm gonna do another shot, and this one I'm gonna actually use an LED. So all those LEDs we used earlier in the day, I'm gonna throw one of those over here, and we'll see what that looks like and see if something funky happens with our color temperature. It should be pretty close, but we'll find out. So one of these LED lights. Now remember from earlier today that these are at 5000 Kelvin. The color temperature of light in the room here is probably close to maybe 6000 Kelvin, somewhere in that range. So it's close. We'll see. Technically I should do another white balance, but just for the sake of time, I'm just gonna snap the picture. Well, it's continuous lighting, so we don't need any flash, so I've put down the flash on my camera. Now, because it's continuous lighting and I'm using these LEDs, you know, how do I control the intensity of light? If we look at Jake, if this camera can actually move over to Jake's face, you can see that this side of his face is now even almost brighter than the key light over there. So I'm gonna have to work with that a little bit by moving the light farther away from him. Someone earlier asked, are these dimmable? Well, this would be a great time to try it out, you know? Maybe buy a dimmer from Home Depot and see if it works with these lights. Cool, yeah. Go ahead and just look at my camera. I just wanna see what happens. Yeah, this is great. So you can see as I move it in and away, I can really bias the intensity of that light. Okay. Okay, I think we'll take that shot. So I'm not gonna change white balance. I'm just gonna shoot this picture with no changes in the camera. So I'm back in aperture? Yup, I'm back in aperture priority. And Jake, go ahead and lean forward just a little bit. Just, yeah, look a little more relaxed. Yeah, on that front arm. That's too much. There you go. Yeah, great, nice. And here's another shot. Good. And we're gonna do a vertical picture. Good. I always hum when I take photos. I gotta remember I'm on microphone here so be careful. All right, here we go, one, two, three. And last one. Great. Good job, man. Okay, let's see what those look like. So we look at that one there, and that one's fantastic. Really handsome-looking young man. Great catch lights in the eye. Nice balance. And in fact, if we look at the light here, I like what it did with his face, because the LED light was actually warmer than the ambient light, and so it actually warmed the picture up. So this is a good example of how that your white balance doesn't have to be perfect in order to get an image that is actually, that looks good and is useful. In this case, it's probably the incorrect white balance, but it makes you look like you've been spending some time in Southern California, you know, surfing. So that's great. Good colors. Good colors. Nice. I'm gonna pull these away so the folks can see me. So what have we learned with this? Well, you can do this DIY stuff on the cheap. I showed how we can do it with just a reflector with the main windows. You can use a flash if you got a flash. That works great. And then of course these industrial work lights also work really well. Also, you know, just to reiterate the color issues, be careful with the colors so that the colors are at least close to the ambient light. All righty. Let me think here. Kenna, while I'm thinking of another shoot... Yeah. Any questions from folks from the audience? Some considerations, since we are talking about DIY, some questions about the tripod that you have, which looks pretty heavy duty, but what considerations should one take into account when they're looking for a tripod? Well, I'm of the opinion that you should just go out and buy a $1500 tripod right now. And I know that goes against everything we've been talking about today, right? I mean, everything about today so far has been, you know, low-cost this and low-cost that or free this and free that. Well, a tripod, there's a famous internet writer, and he said a number of years ago, he said, hey, you're gonna buy a $100 tripod this week, and you're gonna use it for a few weeks. Then you're gonna realize that $100 tripod doesn't quite cut it. So the next time you go out, you're gonna buy a $400 tripod, and you're gonna realize that one really didn't cut it, either. So eventually you end up buying a really nice tripod. All of my tripods now are really nice. In fact, they're overpriced. My wife can't stand it when she finds out how much I paid for these. And yeah, they are expensive. They're carbon fiber. They're really lightweight, but they're really strong, and the longer I shoot, the more I appreciate high-quality camera supports. So I use Gitzo. Another company that I highly, highly recommend is Really Right Stuff. I think they make some of the best tripods on the market. Specifically about the tripod, and I talked about it briefly this morning, but you want, for studio work, I think it's important that your tripod has a center column because that allows you to move up and down very rapidly. You just basically have to move one lever and the whole thing goes up. The next, and I would say even more important than the center column, the most, the next thing is make sure your tripod actually goes up to eye level so you don't have to be bending over all the time when you take your shots. I hate to say it, but I'm getting older, and posture matters, you know? Posture counts. And so you'll appreciate being able to actually shoot standing up, straight up for a lot of your work. So make sure your tripod goes, if you're six foot tall, make sure your tripod goes up to six feet tall.

Class Description

Getting started in photography and looking to go beyond natural light? Not every piece of equipment needs to hurt your wallet. Join Mike Hagen as he shows you how to create your own do it yourself home studio. He’ll show you to create a $10,000 DIY photography studio on a budget and how to utilize and still create quality looking images. 

 You’ll learn:

  • How to find and create grip equipment by shopping at your local hardware store 
  • How to create a tabletop studio in your home 
  • How to put together and light a portrait studio on a budget.
You don’t have to have your own studio space or purchase thousands of dollars worth of equipment to build your portfolio of images. Join Mike as he gets you expanding your portfolio so you can gain the clients to eventually purchase the gear you want to own!

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

DIY Schematics

Lighting Diagrams

Product List for DIY Home Studio

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



I was so glad to see Mike! He taught my first DSLR class (Nikon D70 - then Nikon D300). I love his presentation style. It is so clear and he takes care of showing details that get in the way of actually 'doing it'. And I like the way he emphasizes good manners when dealing with a model. Well done Mike!


I've watched this class a few times when it's been on-air and I realized I really need to just buy it. I find Mike so likable and engaging, and I love how he talks you through the shoot while experimenting. Sometimes the experts show you the perfect way to do it the first time but it leaves you not really able to troubleshoot when you are doing it yourself. I already own a lot of gear that his DIY equipment is emulating, but it's really artistically inspiring to see his creative approaches.


This course is fantastic! You don't need a lot of money to start a studio or go on location. Mike shows some great easy hacks anyone can use to create a studio and create professional photographs that will earn you the money to then purchase more pro equipment. I got some great ideas I'll be using on my next shoot!