Beauty and Portraits on a Budget

Beauty and Portraits on a Budget


White V-Flat as fill behind

If you have ever had any interest in beauty or portraiture, but found yourself frustrated not being able to afford expensive lighting, studio space and more – fear not! With a quick visit to a local signage or art supply store you can buy the right supplies to create some very simple and striking beauty images and portraits.

What’s a V-Flat?

What’s a V-Flat? In short – your ticket to cleaner beauty work on a budget. Also sometimes known as a book, it’s essentially two large pieces of mounting board taped together in the middle with gaffer’s tape (a commonly used studio tape). They’re white on one side, black on the other and fold together to create a “book.”

Many local art shops or signage stores carry a variety of materials you can use to make your V-Flats. Check around for mounting board, gatorfoam or foam core. You’ll want two 4ft x 8ft pieces to make one V-Flat – and try to get them around a half inch to inch thick. Anything thinner and you’ll chance them falling over on you all the time. They cost around $50-100 a piece and can be used in a variety of ways for beauty and portrait images.

Model in V-Flat in studio

White, Black and Backlighting

So how do you use them for beauty work? One great way I’ve found is to fold them into a simple triangle – photo history buffs might know this technique as an Irving Penn triangle. Place your subject near the front and fold the triangle around them. From here find an open but shades light source – an open garage door, a bright sun room or even outside with your back to the sun. The great part is you don’t need an expensive space – just the ability to use an even natural light.

This two sided v-flat allows you to create three different looking beauty lights. When folded with the black side facing you, place your subject very near the front and make sure the triangle edges are right at each shoulder. This creates a strong front light with a sharp drop off in light that allows the subject to pop out from the background. This can work great for black and white portraits as well.

Black V-Flat behind

Flip over to the white side behind your subject and you can create a lighter backdrop and clean background. This is great for fresher portraits and smiling faces. A third option is to backlight your subject and let the background blow out, sticking the flat open on the white side at your back. This reflects enough light back to add a nice fill, while still allowing the background to go.

You’ll find some examples of each shot in this post. Simple as that, you’re on your way to some catching and budget friendly beauty images.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • kev May 26, 2012 05:57 am

    What kind of studio light works best with this set up?

  • Jason May 20, 2012 07:22 am

    what does this mean "sticking the flat open on the white side at your back" I don't understand what you meant to say here. Please email me at

    Other than that - I like this a lot!


  • Nadine May 15, 2012 10:49 pm

    I did not quite understand this third option "sticking the flat open on the white side at your back". A third option is to backlight your subject and let the background blow out, sticking the flat open on the white side at your back. This reflects enough light back to add a nice fill, while still allowing the background to go.

    Read more:

  • Paul May 14, 2012 07:07 am

    What a great idea, thanks!!! Nice and easy to store too, a 'win win' situation I reckon. :)

  • Matt Dutile May 12, 2012 12:02 am

    @Mike - it's very important to match black tape on the black side, white tape on the white side, unless you enjoy doing lots of extra work in post. Generally I use a very small amount of burn to edit out any seam into complete blackness - or the converse for white.

  • Emma May 11, 2012 09:11 am

    this is such a great idea. I don't have a home studio but do enjoy photographing babies/children/maternity for friends and family. With a v-flat I can achieve a more professional look with an uncluttered background, but without the expense of setting up a home studio!

  • Phacetious May 11, 2012 09:07 am

    This is something that even a man on a shoestring budget can accomplish. Well done good man, well done! Thank you for this tip.

  • Iban Gonzalez May 11, 2012 07:56 am

    Useful and interesting! Thanks!

  • Flora Ellen May 11, 2012 06:42 am

    In some artciles you say fill the frame and in others you say don't fill the frame ....?????

  • Jon Searle May 11, 2012 06:13 am

    This is great, thanks. Perfect for a small budget. I found that for painting the black side, the best paint is for school blackboards, as it has lovely black tone and none of the horrid reflections from gloss and other matt black paints on the market.

  • Dida May 11, 2012 04:55 am

    I have the same question as Mike...

  • KG May 11, 2012 01:35 am

    So where are the pictures that show the variations?

  • mike May 10, 2012 12:56 pm

    This is a great article. Thanks so much for posting it.

    How important is it to match the color of the gaffer's tape to the color of the material used in the V-flat? Especially since there are so many variations in blacks and whites. In your pictures you've either cropped out the seam (above her head) and of course the model is center so she is blocking the seam with her body. What if the crop were above her head? Please show a sample picture reveals the seam.

  • Carlo May 9, 2012 01:27 pm

    How about if your subject has a black hair?

  • Mei Teng May 9, 2012 10:22 am

    Great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  • XenEffect May 9, 2012 05:12 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm just an enthusiast who likes to take good portrait pics, but don't have a budget to go buy expensive equipment.

    I just read this on my lunch hr at work .. . gonna make a few stops before I go home for sure. ..gonna make my own V-flat.

  • hubblefromthesun May 8, 2012 09:36 pm

    I like the idea but it's impractical at that large size for the home. Maybe a smaller version will be better and one that can be mounted on a table.

  • Elizabeth May 8, 2012 06:48 am

    Hello,What a great article. I am so excited to be able to take great portraits of my family now with your tips. I had no idea it could be so simple. Thanks so much!

  • Alexx May 8, 2012 04:10 am

    Pretty cool actually!


  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 8, 2012 01:21 am


    This is an excellent idea which I am sure to incorporate into my array of tools! Sometimes, you can find an on location backdrop that serves the same purpose - here, the dark underside of an airplane wing!