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Frugal Lighting Equipment

Updated on March 29, 2015

Good lighting for a shoot can mean the difference between excellent shots and unusable garbage. Sometimes, the natural lighting is perfect; enjoy those times because, in my experience, they're rare.

A good photographer (or Gaffer on a film set) knows how to manipulate the light around him (and when and where to add light) to achieve the effect he wants.

However, good lighting equipment isn't cheap. A good set up can easily rack up into the thousands. But I haven't used a single piece of professional equipment yet. Allow me to show you what I've learned.

Lights

As getting your light is the most important step in lighting a scene, it seems fitting that lights should start this hub.

Professional Lights

Professional photography lights, while effective and reliable, are a little over-priced, as I'll show you over the course of this article. If you have the money for them, they can really save you a lot of effort and work, but they can also be easily mimicked by a few tricks with lights.

Clamp Lights

These are my favorite lights for providing a fill for a small area, as the clamp allows them to be placed practically anywhere. If you have a light stand or make your own, the possibilities are literally endless.

That being said, their light comes from only one bulb, and will often need to be diffused, or you risk causing harsh shadows.

Work Lights

These lights work well for filling large areas of light in; they work well as a fill light or key light. While a little clumsy and large, work lights give off a lot of light for their size and can come in handy for shooting in dark situations.

Floor Lamps

If these light your room why can't you use them to light a subject? When used by themselves, Floor lamps ca't get the light to look right, but used to complement other lights, I have had some good results; they can really help out in a pinch.

A Note on Reflectors

Another type of reflector is the "black flag". Its used, rather than to bounce light, to absorb it so that it doesn't reflect off of anything behind it.

Reflectors

A reflector is one of the must-have pieces of lighting equipment, allowing the user to redirect the light where he needs it, often changing its strength and hue at the same time.

You'll want to invest in something to hold it, too. It's rather tiresome to hold a reflector, or try to balance it on something.

Professional

Most professional reflectors look like canvas stretched on a large circular frame. You can also get those iconic umbrella reflectors for close shots.

Makeshift

Anything reflective can be used as a reflector - paper, dry erase boards, foam-core, t-shirts, bedsheets, giftwrap, dishes - I've used all of these in various projects. Really, your imagination is your only limit.

Diffusion Filters or "Silks"

These will soften light, making it less harsh. Softer shadows, softer highlights, but a diminished strength to the light. Again, anything light can travel through can be used by the creative photographer, but professional filters will provide the best, most even diffusion.

Examples

A low-carb donut I made.  This picture has had no photo-editing, and demonstrates the power of redirecting and filtering light, as it was taken in a dark room with an on-board flash.
A low-carb donut I made. This picture has had no photo-editing, and demonstrates the power of redirecting and filtering light, as it was taken in a dark room with an on-board flash. | Source
A Chocolate-Peanut-Butter treat I made, using natural light as a source and reflecting it with a wide cereal bowl.
A Chocolate-Peanut-Butter treat I made, using natural light as a source and reflecting it with a wide cereal bowl. | Source

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