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Build a DIY Home Studio

Lesson 4 of 20

Low Budget DIY Studio

Mike Hagen

Build a DIY Home Studio

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

4. Low Budget DIY Studio

Lesson Info

Low Budget DIY Studio

Next I wanna talk about some of the DIY equipment that I'll be using today, and I wanna talk about diffusion, and I wanna talk about how the diffusion panels interact with the lighting equipment itself. I'm actually gonna show you how I built some of this stuff, but for now I just kinda wanna talk a little bit higher level, some of the philosophy around do it yourself lighting. So, I'm gonna go over here. And what I've got over here, I've got a typical DIY lighting setup that some of you might buy. I've got these LEDs; these are just on/off LEDs, and they're pretty bright. They're made, this is made by Snap-on, not that that matters. You can find these anywhere, at any Home Depot, any Costco, anything like that. When you turn it on, so I'm gonna turn this on, and shine it on my face, you can see how harsh the light is, okay? You can see how hard it is. Very bright on this side, and very dark black on this side. And even as I move this light around, you know, more towards front lighting...

and everything like that, it's still very harsh, and maybe the term that I would use is specular, like a point source of light, okay? So, what do we wanna do? How do we wanna make that light so it's softer and looks a little bit more professional? Well the answer is diffuse, diffusion. And I would say this, in all of my classes that I teach around lighting: diffuse, diffuse, diffuse. The softer the light is, the better the photo is generally gonna look. All right, so what's one way we can diffuse? Well, using this, I can actually just put something in front of it. I can use, maybe, tissue paper. Great, that's one way to diffuse it. But, there isn't a whole lot of surface area. And one of the things I'm always looking for is how do I get a bigger surface area, okay? So if I just put paper over this, yeah, it diffuses it, but it's still only four inches high by six inches wide. So I gotta find ways to make that light look bigger. Well here's how I do it. I bring in reflector panels, okay? So right here, this is foam core, and you can see it's all ratty. We've used it like crazy. This is one of Creative Live's, and it's just get used all the time. This foam core here, I'm gonna say is four feet high by a couple feet wide. Now, when I shine one of these lights into this, the light's gonna look nice and big, very soft, very gentle. So let me show you kinda that same look that I did earlier with the hard light, and shine a couple of these onto my face with the soft light. All right, so I think the way I'll set this up is I'll put the reflector core here. I'll bring over one of these lights, like this. And I'm just gonna shine it right into that reflector core. Turn that on. Okay. And just so the cameras in studio can see it, I'm gonna use two, two of 'em. And go like this. And look at how nice and soft that is on my face. Cool. So I can look into the light, and if you can get close with the zoom, you can see the nice catch light in my eye. And the reason that catch light looks so great is because my diffusion panel is big. So that's the key: big, big, big. So anytime you're gonna buy some reflector core, think big. Don't get a little one foot by one foot reflector core, rather get a four foot by four foot reflector core. That's gonna make all the difference in the world. And that's what's gonna make your photos look professional. It's going to be, seriously, it's gonna be almost indistinguishable from buying a large soft box from a lighting company. So, why would you buy that large soft box from a lighting company? Well, you get durability, you get repeatability, you get a lot more control. You know, here, it's just kinda spilling out into the room. With soft boxes you get a lot of control, and you can direct it. So, diffusion, diffusion, diffusion. And I'll say it all throughout the day. Diffusion, diffusion, diffusion. Let's talk about another little tool here. Okay. I'm gonna leave this light on. I'm gonna pull this out. And I'm gonna bring over a reflector that I made. It's over here. So this is made out of foam core. Okay, it's just foam core. Same as that one there. And then I covered it with a space blanket, like a survival space blanket. You can also cover it with foil, that'll work. You can just use aluminum foil, and just literally tape it on with tape, with scotch tape, or something like that. The cool thing about these survival blankets is one side is typically gold, and then the other side is typically silver. So with one tool here, I've got a silver reflector and a gold reflector. And you notice, I didn't skimp on size. I think that's important. This is, I think it's 24 by 36 inches, so two feet by three feet. And later, later today, I'm gonna show you actually how I built it. I built it so that I can put a stud in there, and mount it to any of my lighting stands. And now I don't have to have the human powered light stand to hold it for me. I can just use one of these regular light stands to lock it into place. So total cost on this, I mean these reflector space blankets are 80 cents a piece. 80 cents. Less than a buck. And then the foam core, I think I paid three bucks or something like that, or four bucks, at the craft store. So, for less than five dollars I've got a very professional light, or light modifier. So here's my LED here, and to use this, again, I point the LED at the reflector, and then I have the model on the other side of that. The model's gonna be over there. That's a really nice, good looking light. Cool. So, what other types of reflectors can you use? Well, anything. Anything can be used. You can use the wall as a reflector. We're gonna do that today when I bring our model up. We're gonna use the wall as a reflector. You can use the ceiling. You can use foam core. You can use paper, aluminum foil. You name it, as long as it's got a reflective surface, you can use it.

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!