10 Tips for Creating a Photography Kit on a Budget

10 Tips for Creating a Photography Kit on a Budget

As we continue to wait out the aftermath of one of history’s worst economic disasters, it can be prudent to continue to cut spending where possible. The digital medium does mean shooting costs are substantially lowered, but equipment and accessory costs can be still high. We’ve compiled a few simple home remedies for creating kit on a budget…

1. Reflectors can be a useful photography aid as the reflective surface, usually available in white, silver and gold stretched fabric, can fill in, reflect or diffuse light where necessary. Top brands can be on the pricey side so if you’re on a budget grab a cheap substitute such as a silver car sunscreen, reflective tanning mat or wrap a circular sheet of cardboard in aluminum foil.

2. A snoot is a fantastic lighting accessory designed to creatively direct and control an artificial beam of light, perfect for a beauty shot for example. Try the technique before you buy with a DIY alternative. Roll a sheet of black card into a cone and place a strip of black or gaffer tape along the seam to hold it securely in place. Next lock the end of a torch with the smaller whole of the cone using tape and you’re done!

 DSC_48093. Small plastic diffusers are used to soften the harsh light from a flashgun. They won’t cost a fortune but if you’d rather a free home made alternative then grab an empty and clean one litre plastic milk bottle. Cut off the base of the container a third of the way up. Measure the dimensions of your flash gun’s head and mould the base to fit – you may need to make a few cuts and bends in the opaque plastic to get the right size. When finished tape this cap to your flashgun.

4. Capturing Mother Nature at work is invigorating but exposing your kit to the elements definitely is not. You could buy a fully waterproof, custom fitted rain cover for protection in the rain but if you haven’t got the spare cash then opt for a clear plastic carrier bag (the thicker the better) so your kit is protected but the LCD, histogram and controls are still visible. Slice a small hole in the side of a carrier bag and stretch it over the lens hood, fastening with a rubber band to keep it in place. Create a second smaller hole where the eyepiece is and slide the eye-piece cover back on top to keep it in place.

5. Filters are fantastic for a plethora of reasons, but in particular the polarizer is superbly fun and effective. Photographers employ it for decreasing contrast, saturating blues and reducing harsh reflections. If a filter isn’t in your budget there is a household item that can be used as an affordable (yet less effective) substitute – sunglasses! This works best with a compact set on a tripod; simply hold a removed lens from the sunglasses’ frame as close to the front of your camera lens as possible. Results will vary and obviously images are unlikely to resonate the crispness that is achievable with the real thing – but it’s a start.

6. Underwater photography is becoming an increasingly popular genre but the equipment costs are extremely expensive. An achievable way to get started without shelling out thousands on specifically designed aquatic cameras, housing and strobes is to hire the equipment from a dive shop in tourist destinations, providing all the necessary gear at a fraction of the cost. Still not convinced? Camera manufacturers have really raised the bar in producing durable underwater compacts at affordable prices. In particular Olympus’ Mju: Tough range have a worthy reputation for shooting submerged scenes. Starting as low as £190 the Tough compacts are freeze proof, waterproof and shockproof.

7. Professional models can be expensive to hire so ask photogenic friends and family to pose for you instead. The additional benefit is their familiarity could produce more natural results. They may need more direction than their professional counterparts however, so have a stack of magazines on hand to offer posing guidance. Alternatively you could photograph an inexperienced model who is seeking head shots or a collection of images for his/her portfolio in exchange for their time. Gumtree.com and Starnow.com are great places to post ads or find willing subjects.


8. For many of us shooting models in a fancy studio backed with an encyclopaedic range of lighting equipment maybe more of a dream that a reality but that doesn’t mean beautifully lit portraits aren’t achievable. Natural daylight isn’t only free it’s very flattering, especially for portraiture and still life shooting. For the best results position your subject next to a large clean window. If the sun is too bright, drap a thin veil of white fabric (such as a cotton bed sheet or net curtain) in front of it to soften the effect.

9. Forget expensive printing services there are tonnes of websites offering free prints and bargain photo gift ideas so you have no excuse not to get creative. Popular choices like: Jessops, Snapfish and Photobox offer free print credits for every new customer and gifts that start from low price points. 

10. Photoshop is one of the best editing apps on the market but it steep price tag isn’t, but there are plenty of cheaper and even free alternatives out there. Adobe’s Lightroom or Elements, Apple’s Aperture, Corel’s Paint Shop Pro Photo or Painter are all under half the cost of Photoshop. Many of these even offer a free 30-day trial, so be sure to try before you buy! And if you like free then don’t forget Picasa, a free editing app perfect for quick fixes and online album creation making sharing shots with friends, family and the world a piece if cake.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

Some Older Comments

  • József Tamás Herczeg October 4, 2010 03:06 am

    As a money saver PhotoShop alternative, I'd like to recommend you Photo Pos Pro. A few months ago it was a US$60 shareware, but the publisher decided to change the license to freeware. A powerful tool for a beginner.

  • Saravanan Kuppusamy April 27, 2010 02:05 am


    Today I came across this article,

    Plz help me know , how far this is true.


  • Casey Cavallero April 15, 2010 01:18 am

    I agree that GIMP should have been included on this list. It's slightly complicated at first, but once you get used to it you'll be amazed at what you can do. The best part about it is it's totally FREE.

  • Jennifer Moore March 24, 2010 12:02 pm

    Thanks for the info, Scott. I really appreciate it!

  • Scott Smith March 24, 2010 06:48 am

    @Jennifer Moore,

    Unfortunately it's very much the case. The GIMP isn't going to fully utilize GEGL until the next major version release (which is 3.0 I think). If you want 16-bit support under linux, you will need to look at using either Cinepaint or Krita.


  • Jennifer Moore March 24, 2010 04:25 am

    OMG, you all rock! The post and comments are FULL of really helpful info. My budget is so small, I can't even AFFORD a shoestring! ;)

    The info on GIMP and GEGL is very interesting. Are you, Scott Smith, saying that what Karen Steubing suggested won't work--that GIMP still does not have that capability? I'm using GIMP with Linux, and I'm very interested in having the ability to edit in RAW and not having my picture quality reduced.
    Thanks for clearing that up, if you are able.

    I have not sold anything larger than a 16 x 20 yet, but when I do, I want to be ready!

    @Kathy: I think you're right. I believe "torch" means flashlight.

    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Producrtions, LLC

  • Kathy February 27, 2010 11:20 am

    @Dan: "torch" means flashlight. In British if I remember right :)

  • Jim Eggleston February 26, 2010 09:02 pm

    Obsolete flash guns that are no longer fully functional on modern cameras still work as manual flashes, even on DSLRs made by other manufactures. They can be picked up quite cheaply on ebay. The Nikon SB series speedlights are a good choice. I use a SB-24 as a manual flash on my Pentax K100D. Be careful with trigger voltages though. Some older units can have very high trigger voltages which could potentially fry your DSLR. See http://www.botzilla.com/photo/strobeVolts.html for more information.

    Flash bounce cards can be made cheaply as well. More information here: http://www.abetterbouncecard.com/. Check out the videos for how to use the bounce cards. Home made bounce cards don't have to be fancy. I have used an 11x11cm (4x4") piece cut from white plastic padded envelope attached to the flash with a rubber band successfully. You can use plain paper, but the plastic envelope material is quite durable. You can use both the plain side and the bubble wrap side - see what works best for you.

  • Dr. Nicolas Rao February 26, 2010 11:54 am

    Great tips! I think the people with low budgets and great love for photography, are the most ardent photographers in the world. I love them!

  • Dr. Nicolas Rao February 26, 2010 11:52 am

    I guess even GIMP can be handled with a little patience! They have a fabulous forum for those who need help as well as tutorials. Hard to beat Photoshop though. Elements is great for not so geeky!

  • Boz Yates February 26, 2010 06:52 am

    wow, i used your rain jacket technique and i was really impressed. Thanks. checkout the result at:


  • Marty February 26, 2010 04:25 am

    Easy, free light diffuser: Fold a (used) fabric softener clothes dryer sheet and rubber-band it over the head of the strobe. I carry a couple extra sheets and rubber bands in case I want to pull it off for full flash, or double up for extra soft light.

  • Miguel February 25, 2010 02:59 am

    Excellent approach for those who want to give photography a try. Sometimes prices are not deterrent enough to let creativity soar and this article triggers that ability in you. They say "necessity is the mother of invention" so go ahead and surprise yourself and others.

    Orlando, FL

  • Scott Smith February 24, 2010 06:08 am

    @Karen Stuebing,

    I spotted this in The Gimp manual...

    "Please note that GIMP remains 8-bits until GEGL covers the whole application."


  • Scott Smith February 24, 2010 05:26 am

    @Karen Stuebing,

    GEGL doesn't appear to be fully functioning in the latest Windows build (2.6.7) of The Gimp. I've tested it numerous times only to be frustrated with The Gimp prompting me to convert my images to 8-bit. Lets hope the next release has GEGL fully enabled.

  • dana February 24, 2010 12:34 am

    you can also find some nice homemade shooting equipment tips here:


    More tips are in german - if you click the german flag in the upper roght corner - they put so many pictures, you´ll probably understand everthing =)

    My favorite is my homemade beanbag I use for on-the-ground-macros, I made an extra sleeve for it, so I don´t have to see and touch the ugly plastic bag.

  • Dan February 24, 2010 12:17 am

    Yes, I'd love to see a photo of a snoot too. It seems like what you're describing would catch on fire if you attached it to a torch.

    Also, what is meant by "carrier bag"? The old style "mail carrier bags" don't seem like they'd be good for what is being described since they are/were made from canvas.

  • Karen Stuebing February 23, 2010 10:47 pm

    I think I need some illustrations too on making the milk carton diffuser. The plastic isn't very malleable and cutting it didn't help much. Or maybe someone has a different method?

    @Scott Smith, I read this on the Gimp website. I don't use Gimp but have been thinking about it since I can't afford CS4. I really have no idea what this means but I'm not really interested in a program that only allows you to edit 8 bit images.

    "Important progress towards high bit-depth and non-destructive editing in GIMP has been made. Most color operations in GIMP are now ported to the powerful graph based image processing framework GEGL, meaning that the internal processing is being done in 32bit floating point linear light RGBA. By default the legacy 8bit code paths are still used, but a curious user can turn on the use of GEGL for the color operations with Colors / Use GEGL. ."

  • Michael MacFynn February 23, 2010 04:00 pm

    check out http://www.strobist.blogspot.com/ for great cheap lighting ideas!!

  • Tomas Sobek February 23, 2010 02:18 pm

    One description of D.I.Y. gobos and snoots is included in Strobist Lighting 101 course. Also agree with Gimp and my favourite raw converter Raw Therapee has been recently released under GPL too. In fact, I am running all my post-processing on Linux/Ubuntu.

  • natalia February 23, 2010 08:07 am

    i'd also love to see images of the snoot and diffuser ideas. i'm very new to lighting (always shot natural light) and don't quite follow all the steps...


  • Dan February 22, 2010 11:55 pm

    Any chance we could see some pictures of these ideas? I can't imagine the snoot and difuser gadgets.



  • Zack Jones February 22, 2010 10:32 pm

    11. Craigslist at least for those of us in the USA. If you know what you're looking for you may get lucky and find it locally. I've bought a couple of lenses locally through Craigslist.

  • Scott Smith February 22, 2010 09:39 pm

    Minor correction.

    Paint.Net does support 16-bit TIFF files.

  • Scott Smith February 22, 2010 09:21 pm

    A quick word on the limitations of many of the Photoshop alternatives (excluding RAW workflow software like Lightroom, Aperture, Capture NX, Bibble Pro, etc) for those of us doing pre-press or sign writing work.

    Alternatives such as Paint.Net, The GIMP, Photoshop Elements, PaintShop Photo Pro either have limited 16-bit and 24-bit TIFF support or no support at all, and will often prompt you to down sample your photos to 8-bit before any work can be carried out on them. This isn't a problem if you are only displaying photos on a screen or converting them to JPEGs or getting them printed at small sizes at a photo lab, but it is a problem if you are wanting to print your photos at large sizes (greater than 1200mm or 47" on the longest side).

    Down sampling from 16-bit or 24-bit to 8-bit also results in a huge loss of tonal information, again not a problem if you are only displaying your photos on a screen or converting to JPEGs or printing them at small sizes, but it can be a pain in the butt if you want to do extra processing like HDR with decent results.

    Just something to keep in mind.

  • Jim Coleman February 22, 2010 09:01 pm

    I have come up with a slightly better version of point 4 see the link on my photoblog.


    I used a £1.99 waterproof jacket, a sewing machine and half an hour of my time.

    Also the lens from your 3-d avatar glasses makes a cheap polarising filter.

  • hfng February 22, 2010 08:54 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I like the look of your website.

  • Reddon February 22, 2010 08:12 pm

    Yet another alternative to Photoshop is Xara Xtreme from http://Xara.com
    This package is a graphics program which can not only do wonderful things to your digital photographs, but provide you with all the tools for building and publishing web sites, making your own vector graphics, creating printed albums and a whole host of other things. There are two versions available -Xtreme (£69) and Xtreme Pro (£199). I have the Pro version and couldn't be happier with it. Well worth looking at and there are 30 day free trials available.

  • Philthy Phil February 22, 2010 05:21 pm

    When talking about photo editing don't forget our good old friend GIMP. its a full featured editor with all the power of photoshop for FREE(not a trial) WWW.GIMP.ORG

  • J Weaver February 22, 2010 12:49 pm

    One word.......Craigslist.

    If you are careful (and quick) you can save big on lots of photography items.

    Unlike ebay, you can touch, feel and try it before you buy.

    I have also come across deals at pawn shops on tripods.

    I thought I "invented" the car sunshade reflector....gues not !!

  • Crystal G February 22, 2010 08:36 am

    I agree, GIMP is a great substitute for Photoshop. I was surprised not to see it on the list.

  • Karen Stuebing February 22, 2010 07:32 am

    Lots of good ideas here. Lighting is always a problem and studio type lighting is really expensive so I may be up to my ears in cardboard, plastic, aluminum foil and tape tomorrow.

    @junglebear, glad you mentioned GIMP. It's the cheapest of all. I personally have never tried it having an old version of Photoshop 8 that works for me. I have talked to photographers who have and they swear it is as good as Photoshop CS4. So I may be downloading it.

  • Jeff Closs February 22, 2010 07:13 am

    Also, paint.net is free and very comparable to more expensive imaging apps.

  • Matthew Dillon February 22, 2010 07:01 am

    Great tips, thanks! Here's another... for a higher end free photo editing utility, don't forget to try GIMP... it's a photoshop-class tool for free!

  • junglebear February 22, 2010 06:55 am

    Nice ideas, you could have added GIMP as a free photoshop substitute - a very good one at that.

  • Ed Hamlin February 22, 2010 06:27 am

    Great Ideas for basic stuff. They can be taken a step further by using other inexpensive items like LED flashlights, costume jewelry, and the such. It is really about letting the creativity flow. Yes there are rules, and they can be broken to create wonderful artist portraits and such.