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DIY Lighting and Background Accessories for the Budget-Conscious Photographer


Do you want to take your photography to the next level, but don’t have the budget for professional equipment? Just a few dollars and a trip to the stationery shop can do the trick. Keep reading for some DIY lighting and background accessories using paper.

Professional photography studios have multiple lights and accessories to create their images. If you want to learn about them, here’s a great introduction guide.

However, when there’s no budget at hand, it’s time to get creative.

I’ll show you some ideas on how to create DIY lighting and background accessories using paper only. This has the intention of being a starting point to spark your creativity according to your needs and whatever you can find in your area.


DIY lighting and background accessories

DIY diffuser

There are two types of light, hard and soft. Hard light is very bright and usually, a condensed light that casts well defined, intense shadows and contrasting hot points.

It can be natural on very sunny days, or artificial from flash and strobes.

This can be great for certain types of photos, but other times it can be very unflattering for the scene.

Hard Light DIY Photography

Hard light with no diffuser. 0.5 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

Soft light means that the subject is illuminated more evenly, the shadows become softer, and the entire mood is different.

Professionally, hard light is turned soft by using umbrellas or softboxes.

You can achieve a softbox effect using vellum paper as I did on the image below. In case you can’t find it, any type of tracing paper will do, or even oven paper from your kitchen.

diy-lighting-and-background-accessories-SOft Light DIY diffuser

Hard light turned soft with the use of DIY lighting accessories – vellum paper. You can also use tracing paper or oven paper. 0.5 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

DIY Reflector

A light reflector bounces the existing light so that you don’t have to add a second source. This is very helpful to fill in shadows or darker areas of the image to bring out more detail.

You can find these in different sizes and colors, but the DIY stationery solution I chose was a foam board. It’s very light, easy to cut, and has a glossy exterior that maximizes the reflection.

Stationery Shop DIY Reflector

1/5 sec. f2.8 ISO 200

In the above example, see how much light I gained just by placing a piece of foam board opposite the flash. It’s so much that I even lost the contrasting effect I wanted. However, I wanted to show you how big the difference is.

If you want less light, you can place it further away or change the angle. It takes some practice to learn how to use reflectors to light your subject, but it’s really worth it. If you need to block the light instead, you need to use flags, which you can achieve with black paper.

Creative uses

DIY Gels

Other DIY lighting and background accessories you can create are gels. Gels are pieces of colored, semi-transparent material that you can use to modify your light. Professional gels are graded to exact colors and density. This is because you can then compensate for the exposure and white balance in your camera and different light sources. However, for creative lighting, you can use simple cellophane paper or plastic index dividers.

Stationery Shop DIY Color Gel

1 sec. f. 2.8 ISO 200

Creating bokeh with wrapping paper or foil

Bokeh is an effect created by the lens when you send the background out of focus. You can easily create it by using crumbled metallic wrapping paper or aluminum foil as a background. If you want to create colored bokeh, buy wrapping paper with iridescent designs.

Stationery Shop DIY Bokeh

You can create a great bokeh background simply by using crumbled metallic wrapping paper or aluminum foil as a background. 1/10 sec, f/8, ISO 200

Once you place this background, light it from the side with any kind of lamp, flash or even window light. The most important thing though is to keep it out of focus. If you’re not sure how to achieve the shallow depth of field needed, check out this article.

Using paper to create a textured backdrop

Of course, you can make a backdrop with any kind of paper – that’s not news. However, I encourage you to add texture to it and see the difference. This, of course, makes a busier background, so it may not suit all subjects, but it can be a creative solution for many others.


This background was created using crumpled tissue paper. 1/5 sec. f2.8 ISO 200

I found that tissue paper is great because it’s cheap, light, easy to manipulate, and comes in multiple colors. You can just crumble it, cut it into pieces, and form patterns.

In this example, I cut it into squares and then twisted the center to create the ruffles, then pasted it all together with alternating shades of green.


So there you have it – some incredibly simple, and affordable DIY lighting and background accessories that you can buy on a small budget from almost any stationery store. Try these out, and if you have any other tips to add, please share them with us in the comments!

And for more photography DIY ideas, check out the following articles:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Ana Mireles
Ana Mireles

is a photographer and artistic researcher. She has been awarded and exhibited in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands. Through theory and practice, she explores the cultural aspect of photography, how it helps us relate to each other, the world, and ourselves. She has also a passion for teaching, communication, and social media. You can find more about her and her work at her website or acquire some of her works here.

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