Photography on the cheap

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. 


  1. Kirill Brusilovsky says:

    I am a professional wedding photographer and I find your tipps here quite useful. Despite of carrying equipment worth about 20000 Euro with me, I use a self-built flash reflector and it helps alot :)

  2. Wow. I never knew such great effects could be achieved so easily. Thanks for sharing.
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  3. Thank you sir for the information presented in this article. Very informative. Definitely will get my photography up and running. Been held back by pricing of photo-stuff, not anymore!!!

  4. anil bhogia says:

    the given information is very important which used the every professional take the our mind so thank you your post.

  5. Hello sir thanks for such a great suggestion and nice article.
    i never read this kind of article about photography and i learn what is actual process.

  6. Very nice pos I must sya.!! @John Young. I would check out your private blog for the purpose ;)
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  7. Hi John ! Thank you for beautiful presentation in this photogenic age. one day it was so expensive but now it is accessible to all the people due to the development of ICT. when i was a child, it was hard to get a simple camera but now i can catches a picture by my Smart Phone. i know you are talking about professional photography, it is not so simple. but advancement of technology is upgrading its quality.
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    • Yeah you are right, it was not long ago that I used to have a max of 36 photos on a roll of film for a wedding. Now I can take hundreds is I want. The technology is moving so fast its amazing
      John Young recently posted…Candles…My Profile

  8. it was unknown to i think it is a great article and gradually it will be an important sector.
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  9. Oh wow, I’ve just gotten a technical education while reading your post. I’m not a professional photographer, not even an amateur, just an ordinal camera user) but still, the info is great. Never thought that such thing can be applied in photography)
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  10. Hi John,

    Great article! I saw a lightbox a friend of mine had made and set out to build one, but never got started. Yours looks very simple and I just happen to have the box right now, so I’m off to make it. Thanks and best wishes!
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  11. You are welcome…..thanks for the comment
    John Young recently posted…Candles…My Profile

  12. very heavily technical knowledge and skills required to understand this shows how passionate you are for your work.
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  13. The box effect is awsum ! i gues it is the best for a professional click !:):) hats off !
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  14. Great article, I especially like the diagrams.

    I think it’s worth noting too that it’s going to become really easy to outsource a lot of the photography that you need to be done through sites like Fiverr, especially if the product / item you need photographed is household.

  15. Always trying to come up with ways to DIY. Photography is very expensive but so rewarding when you have nailed the perfect shot!! Thank you for the tips, especially how to create a simple lightbox!

  16. Hey John !
    I want to become a professional photographer. And before starting my career, you have helped me a lot through this post. Light box is so nice and easy to made.
    Thanks a lot.
    Matt Kennedy
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  17. I’m planning on buying a camera and photoshooting small objects lying around at my house. This should be really useful
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  18. Thanks very nice post i came to know how to use the photography
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  19. a very nice and informative article john..
    I really appreciate your research for developing this article… you really enlighten me in this regard..,
    i think I have to buy a good camera to get into the basics of photography.. :)
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  20. Hey John,
    Nice post and Thanks for sharing this useful information about photography and also how to save some money. I really enjoyed this post and till now I have not such hobby of photography but now I am thinking of buying an camera and adding photography as my hobby.
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  21. Hello John ..
    I like photography up to some extent. very illustrative article John .This will really works out to capture some cool pics.I will try this trick. Thanks for sharing this.
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  22. Good article. Lighting is not cheap at all and if you can find cheap DIY methods to achieve similar results, go for it!
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  23. Flash diffusers are a great and cheap way to get good lighting when needed!!
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  24. The Canon T3i offer’s great high quality image’s and doesn’t cost too much. It’s great for Video and Images! I use that puppy everyday! It’s is pricey, but you’ll never have to buy a camera ever again! Even the 10-55mm lens you get with it is good for just about everything! – Scott Craighead
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  25. brisrocket says:

    Hi John, I seem to handle photos, videos and image editing a lot. I too love Gimp and anything I can do myself for free, without having to hire a studio. I have my own green chroma screen, a cheap HD camera, a shotgun microphone and audio interface and Gimp. About $200 in total – less than 1 day in the studio and I can record for weeks now! Anything pro I need, I use oDesk :)

  26. We must choose an high and camera for a better photography experience for both, you and the model.!
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  27. Chris Flees says:

    I wanted to thank you for the information you provided on making a light box and the information about the diffuser it has been very helpful. It is not often that you can find quality DIY information for photography accessories. Great post and thank you.

  28. WOW, I never knew that photography could be that easier.!! Thanks for the helpful guide!! BUt one thing we should know is the quality of tripod, shouldn’t go cheap on this, else it could ruin our day! ;)
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  29. Alberto Martinez says:

    Thanks for these tips, sometimes you must go on the cheap, they are also good alternatives for DIY, even a beauty dish, thanks for the info

  30. Very interesting article, photography is a very expensive profession. eBay is also a great place to pick up bargains as long as you research the item and seller in detail!
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    • Yes you are very right, ebay can be a source of some excellent bargains. One I got recently was a NIKON AF NIKKOR 28-80mm 1:3.3-5.6 G which is pin sharp and superb to use on my Nikon D600 and it cost me the huge sum of £25….. yep £25 and its superb
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  31. This is all great information. Thank you! I am going to try out the DIY reflector and diffuser. All of these photography necessities are so expensive, so I’m always on the lookout for an inexpensive alternative. Another tip on the Adobe software (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc): if you are taking any classes in college, or even have any children enrolled in school, you are able to get the student discount (I believe it was 80% off, or maybe more!). Always looking for ways to save in this EXTREMELY expensive profession. ;)
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    • Yes good tip about Photoshop – thank you
      Photography is expensive but it can be a bit less expensive if you don’t get GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) which basically means you buy one thing after another even though you might not need it. People have the wrong idea that more and more gear makes better photos and that is not the case.
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  32. I find your tips here very useful thank you for sharing, keep them coming in.

  33. Thank you…..
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