We’ve joined together with Adorama for the #CreateNoMatterWhat campaign, an initiative aimed at “reflecting and finding ways to create, learn, and think outside the box” while navigating these uncertain times. You can learn more about this series on Adorama’s YouTube Channel. Subscribe to see more of our videos on their channel and follow along as we work through our process for framing, lighting, and posing to create amazing portraits, despite the limitations imposed by the current climate. To watch this and our other series, check out our playlist!
Video: Create a $20 Photography Studio You Can Use Anywhere
We’re here to show you how to create a $20 photography studio that you can use anywhere, and the best part is, you won’t need to go out an purchase new camera gear. In fact, you can even use your smartphone camera to produce quality portraits with an affordable, portable setup. You can find more education like this on my TikTok (@bornuncreative) and Instagram (@pyejirsa) profiles.
Professional Cameras Vs. Smartphone Cameras
Let’s address the camera gear issue here and now. One of the above images was captured using a $4,000 professional camera/lens setup while the other was taken with a smartphone. Most of you have probably seen similar demonstrations before, but the majority of consumers who are just jumping into photography haven’t. Our first guess would naturally pair the better picture (on the left) with a professional camera setup, but of course, in this instance, we’d be wrong.
In the image above, you can see we used the smart phone to create the “better” image. The biggest difference has to do more with lighting than the camera gear we used. All of this is to say a great camera using bad lighting will not yield good results.
In this article, we’ll look at how we shot and edited this photo (all on a smartphone), and along the way, you’ll also learn how to create your own portable photography studio for next to no money.
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Turn Off the Ambient Light in the Room
We began by placing our subject in front of the window with the curtains open and the room lights were on (see the diagram and image above). The lighting from inside and outside the room combined to create mixed lighting, which we want to avoid. To correct this, simply turn off the lights in the room.
Step 2: Close Down the Curtains
After we turn of the room lights, we need to minimize the light coming in through the window(s). To be clear, we still want to place our subject in front of the window and use window light, but we don’t want too much light pouring in. By adjusting the curtains, we can create a strip box of sorts, leaving only as much light as we need to get the shot.
[Related Reading: Dramatic Portraits with Just Natural Light]
Step 3: Use Sheer Curtains (If Possible)
If you have sheer curtains, now’s the time to use them to further soften the light coming through the window. If you don’t have them, you can always use a white bed sheet to create a similar effect.
By closing down the curtains, using sheer curtains when possible, and lowering your ambient exposure, you’ll allow less (and softer) light to fill the room. As a result, the walls in the background will get darker, regardless of what color they are. The darker backdrop will then render a rich tone that we wouldn’t get with a brighter exposure or highlights (see the image above).
Step 4: Choose Your Background
I found an affordable, hand-painted backdrop online from @backdropsbyethanalex and placed it directly behind my subject. Really, you can use anything as your backdrop: a black cloth, a piece of fabric, or even a studio backdrop.
Step 5: Add a Fill Light
I noticed that half of my subject’s face was getting lost in the shadows, so I brought in a reflector (a white poster board) to bounce light back onto my subject and fill in the shadows a bit. You might not have a C-stand at home to hold up your backdrops and reflectors, so grab a chair or employ a family member or friend to hold up the backdrop or reflector while you capture your shot.
Where you place the reflector will control the type of light you have. If you want to use the reflector to create more of an edge light, place it slightly behind your subject and angle it towards him/her. If you want to fill in more of the shadows on the face, position the reflector towards the front of the subject and angle it slightly back towards him/her.
If you compare the starting image to our properly lit portrait, you can already see much improvement. However, we can take it even further with our edit.
[Related Reading: How to Dodge & Burn in Lightroom via the Dark Mode Editing Technique]
Download the exercise file here to follow along with the post-production portion of this article. You might be surprised how quick and easy it is to edit professional quality images directly on your mobile device.
We’re going to use Visual Flow presets for this edit. If you have these presets on your desktop, they should automatically sync to your mobile version of Lightroom as well, assuming you’re signed in using the same Adobe subscription information. The benefit of using Visual Flow presets is that you can get a certain look (say “Crush” vs. “Modern”) adapted over various lighting conditions (“Soft Light” vs “Hard Light,” for example). If you don’t have Visual Flow presets, don’t worry! I’ll share the settings here and explain everything as we work through our edit.
Step 6: Edit with Visual Flow’s Modern Pack>Soft Light Preset in Lightroom Mobile
I shot this image in soft light, so I’m going to choose the Soft Light preset from the Modern Pack and use what I like to call the “Dark Mode” editing technique. Here are the adjustments I made to edit this image:
In the “Light” Tab
- Exposure: -81
- Contrast: -11
- Highlights: -10
- Shadows: +37
- Whites: -26
- Blacks: +38
In the “Selective” Tab
- Once in the selective tab, press the “+” button in the upper left corner and choose the Radial Gradient option
- Pull a gradient out directly from your subject’s face
- Click the “Inversion” tab so that everything toward the outer side of the radial gradient is affected
- Press down and swipe up to bring the feather to 100%
- Go into the “Light” tab within the Selective tab and make the following adjustments:
- Exposure: -1.40
- Press the “+” button again, but this time select a graduated filter
- Drag down from the top to just over the subject’s head
- Go into the “Light” tab again
- Exposure: -1.11
In the “Color” Tab
Adjust the sliders as illustrated above, and then warm up the image a bit with the following adjustments:
- Temperature: +5
- Tint: +13
In the “Effects” Tab
- Texture: -9
- Clarity: +5
Pro Tip: Make sure your screen brightness is up when you’re editing to get a more accurate edit.
Step 7: Export the Image
Once you’re happy with the edit, export the image to your camera roll or wherever else you might want it to go.
Journey to the Final Image
I hope you enjoyed this video and lesson on how to create a $20 photography studio you can use anywhere. I want to reiterate, the point of this tutorial is not to tell you to ditch your dedicated, professional photography setup, but rather get creative with what you have. For more bitesize tutorials like this, follow me @bornuncreative on TikTok or @pyejirsa on Instagram.