Photography on the cheap

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John Young
I am a professional photographer working with my wife Katie in the North East of England. My wife also works as a nurse at the local hospital and we have two children, William & Bethany
John Young
John Young

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John Young
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Photography can be a very expensive hobby or profession, you can easily spend thousands on your camera and lenses and that is without the cost of software to process your photographs or the small (but pricey) add-on to help give your photographs that pro-look.

But there is some things you can do to keep the cost down some will save you some money and others will cost you nothing apart from a little effort.


Have you ever seen a photograph of an item like this photograph below of a watch that looks like its sitting in a large open white space with no distractions behind and just a nice simple shadow below. Well these can be done using a small light tent which is simply a small fold-able canvas box were you can place your item in to be photographed. These are not to expensive to buy at around £15-£20 but you can save that money to buy yourself a nice new memory card for your camera. Why spend that money on a bought lightbox when they are so easy to make yourself.

A light box is basically a miniature studio, you can light it using household lamps and photograph items in a nice even light Making a light box couldn’t be easier, all you need is an old cardboard box.

Once made you can use your light box to photograph any objects you like in a nice even light without using flash. Just using household lamps instead. The lamps I bought were from an IKEA shop and only cost a few pounds each.

Below is a diagram of a simple light box and would take around 20min to make

diy lightbox

Flash Diffuser

When you take a photograph of someone your flash (if its on top of your camera) creates a strong flat unflattering look which does not produce nice photographs. One way around this is to bounce your flash off something like the ceiling or wall. Most modern flash guns have the ability to tilt and swivel the flash head for this purpose


Another thing you can do to diffuse the flash is to buy a diffuser. These come in all shapes and sizes from ones that clip on the front of the flash  (shown below) to ones that clip on top when the flash head is titled right back (90 Degrees) and the diffuser spreads the

light all around creating soft pleasing photographs. One small problem with this is when you don’t have anything to bounce the flash off like for instance if the ceiling is to high. Some flash guns have a small white card you can pull out. This bounces some of the flash back at the subject but even if your flash does not have a built-in pull out card a white business card or similar attached with elastic bands would work just as well.
These diffusers are fine and work well but you can also save some money here and make one yourself. There are a few options you can choose from using the bottom of a plastic milk container or using some kind of plastic or rubber that is transparent to fix on top of your flash in a cone shape.

The basic idea is you want the flash from your flash gun to bounce or reflect off something before hitting your subject. You don’t want your flash to be straight on at your subject. The material you use will probably take some experimenting, I have seen one person on the internet who used the above method and used a drawer liner from Ikea for his material but whatever you use it needs to bounce and diffuse the light to make it softer and more even so making the photograph much better. Take a look at the diagram below to give an example. The flash on the top has no diffuser so the light goes straight up or straight to your subject but the one on the right (which you would use in this vertical position) will bounce light in all directions making for a much more subtle effect

Flash with diffuser

TIP – Use sticky Velcro to fasten these DIY projects to your flash
which can be bought from pound shops etc


Another option would be to use a reflector, the light from a flash comes out of a very small area and this makes the light harsh. As I said earlier if you bounce the light it would be softer but if you can’t reflect off the ceiling or wall then apart from the solution above what else could you do. Well you could make your own reflector that is larger than the size of your flash head and so making the light softer. Again there are options out there to buy but some are very expensive. Instead all you need is something to sit on top of your flash and reflect the light at your subject. You will need to make the reflector area substantially larger than the flash and it would need to be white. You could try using cardboard, plastic or even craft foam, just look around you and you will find something suitable. Once you have your material experiment and see what works the best, which is more durable and which produces the best photos.



Another area of photography that can be VERY expensive is software. A Program such as Photoshop can set you back hundred of pounds. So what can you do about it ? Well for Photoshop you can now get a monthly subscription starting from about £20 a month. At least this way you can have all the power of Photoshop now without the large price tag up from spreading the cost. Also don’t forget Photoshop’s little brother Photoshop Elements. This has nearly all the features of Photoshop but at a fraction of the cost so its worth checking out.

With the market leaders in Photo processing software being photoshop its easy to forget the smaller but very capable software. Below are two programs that offer good value for money but it is worth looking around the web and just seeing what is available and not just focusing on the likes of Photoshop as good as they are.

Corel PaintShop Pro X5

Serif PhotoPlus X6 £71.48


These two programs are reasonably priced but we can do even better than that. We can use programs that cost us NOTHING… yep nothing. The first one I would like to mention is from Serif and its the starter edition of the software shown above here. Yeah it wont have the same functions as the program above but it will get the job done and cost you nothing.

Another program that has a good following is Gimp and its also totally FREE

These are just a small fraction of the free software that is available. Its worth doing some searching and looking at forums to find what others are using and deciding what works for you.

I hope this article has shown you that photography need not be as expensive as you think. With a bit of research and a small bit of DIY you can save yourself a lot of money.