Portrait Lighting Hack: How to Save Yourself $100

Portrait Lighting Hack: How to Save Yourself $100

Let's face it: photography is expensive. So, it's always good when you can do it yourself and make something at home for free. Save $100 and learn how to make this simple light hack from the comfort of your own home.

Rarely is a bare flashgun or strobe a good idea when it comes to portrait lighting. Hard, direct shadows produce harsh results and highlight skin pores, spots, and other blemishes. That's why most portrait photographers diffuse the light by making the light source bigger and softer. That's where a softbox comes in. Softboxes have one or two white baffles that spread the flash and provide large, diffuse light. This allows light to wrap around a subject with flattering results.

A simple sidelight is achieved here by placing the flash in the DIY soft box camera left on a dresser in the bedroom and shot with both photographer and model on their knees so the light highlights the face

Save Some Money

I don't know about you, but my photography students find after buying the camera body, lenses, bags, cleaning equipment, and all the other accessories that come with a camera purchase, there's not usually a lot of money left for lighting gear. But that's okay, because as long as you have a speedlight or a strobe, you can make a softbox at home to modify your light.

Take a cardboard box and cut the front out of one side with a sharp knife (be careful). Then, tape some plain paper over the front. Cut a hole in the back for your flash to fit snugly and voila! You have a simple softbox.

Any kind of cardboard box works for this make-shift lighting hack, just go careful with the scissors

Forget the Light Stand

You don't even need a light stand (though they're pretty cheap). With the foot attached, just put it on a nearby table and take some portraits while sitting or kneeling. I took these portraits in a tiny bedroom in the corner of the room next to the dresser. I cut the box a little too big to accommodate a larger flashgun I have, so I just propped it up with a book.

As the model demonstrates the yoga pose gomukhasana (linking of hands) the body is turned away into shadow while the flash highlights the most important part - the hands

Save the Planet

Not only is this a super cheap way of diffusing your own lighting, but you can make it any size and shape you want. This can be great for beginners who want to try before they buy. It's also eco-friendly, because the cardboard and paper are recyclable, which can't be said for the manufactured plastic softboxes you buy in shops.

Be eco-friendly and make your own soft box at home. It cuts down on your carbon footprint and emphasises recycling at the same time

Experiment and Learn

Try before you buy it. If you're thinking of investing in a softbox but aren't quite sure, why not make one the same size and shape as the one you want to buy and experiment with it first? You can still learn all the foundational lighting techniques you need with this method, whether it's broad or short lighting, Rembrandt or butterfly, or even the use of gels to test your color theory.


Okay, sure, you might not want to turn up to a paid gig with a cardboard box and some paper taped on the front, and you may not want to take this outside in the rain. However, you can get some extraordinary results with some simple materials you probably already have lying around, and you can do it all right now with no need to wait for deliveries. If you give this a go, why not share your results with us in the comments below?

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Yin Ze's picture

Get a fill card for 99c by using posterboard.

Ramon Acosta's picture

Great way to start working with lights, also you can shoot thru blanket, but it's not as portable