We sometimes fall into the trapping belief that what we don’t have holds us back from creating beautiful imagery; a particular lens, lighting gear, a studio, or access to a particular location. However, a strong understanding of photography fundamentals can help you make the most of a shoot even when you have the least.

In the most restricting and undesirable of settings, knowing how to frame your image, using depth of field to your advantage, and understanding how to use light can yield captivating images. In an older, yet still relevant video, Irene Rudnyk shows us how to do just that by creating a whimsical winter portrait in a living room.

Gear Used in this Video

  • Canon 5DM3 – $2,099
  • Canon 85mm 1.2 L – discontinued
    Canon 85mm 1.2L II – $1,999

There are different approaches to using contrast in your portraits. For instance, you can set up a contrast between light & dark, between opposing colors, or as Irene did in her shoot, between cool and warm color temperatures. In the shot above, she used the cooler daylight from the window to contrast with the warm Christmas tree lighting in the background.

Depth of Field

Many, if not most of us, have at some point lusted over of a lens that can create that creamy bokeh in the background. While visually pleasing, using shallow depth of field can be overused. It should be thought of as a technical tool to be used when subject isolation is paramount and your environment demands its use. Irene demonstrates that well with the image above.

Note: The Canon 85mm 1.2L is no longer in production and, at $1999, the version II is an expensive lens that will create a unique and appealing bokeh. But there are more affordable alternatives available that can also isolate your subject and blur your background’s lighting.

Options Under $1,000

Full Frame
Canon 85mm 1.8 – $349
Nikon 85mm 1.8 – $476.95
Sony 85mm 1.8 – $598, Currently on sale for $548

Canon 50mm 1.8* – $125
Nikon 50mm 1.8** – $216.95
Sony 50mm 1.8** – $248, currently on sale for $198
Sony 50mm 1.8 OSS lens – $298, Currently on sale for $248
Fuji 50mm f2 – $449

*Full frame lens that creates an 80mm equivalent field of view.
**Full frame lens that creates an 75mm equivalent field of view.

Olympus 45mm 1.8 (90mm field of view)$399, currently on sale for $249.00
Panasonic 42.5mm 1.7 (85mm field of view) $397.99, currently on sale for $347.99

Creative Vision

With just a few inexpensive props, Irene easily captured the winter theme well. The combination of Christmas lights, earmuffs, and a mug was all she needed to create a warm and cozy winter atmosphere. It is a simple yet effective example of how a little creativity and props you already own can make your images stand out.