How to Build A Natural Light Studio for DIY Photography
If you’ve been wondering how to take brighter, clearer photos for your social media you’re in the right place. Great lighting for your photos cuts down on editing time and makes it easier to maintain a consistent aesthetic for your photography.
When it comes to photography, lighting is key. And in the world of flatlays, product photography, and styled stock, being able to gather the most natural light is high on the list of priorities.
Natural light decreases any dingy or over-saturated color casts that can occur as a result of indoor lighting (like fluorescent or incandescent bulbs) which can give photos an overall yellow/orange hue and not be the crisp, natural result that we want.
So, I’m happy to share one way to setup a portable photo studio for my flatlays, products, or styled stock. The really awesome thing about it all is these are supplies we all enjoyed in primary school. I’ve learned so much from Pinterest deep-scrolls, Instagram, & (of course!) magazines.
Here are the tools you’ll need:
- A Window (your natural light source)
- White Poster Board*
- White Foam Board*
- Aluminum Foil
- Shipping/Packaging Tape
- Cardboard Box
- Flat, white surface (preferably a white table, Like this one from IKEA)
Natural light. Place your setup near a large, clear window.
Studio lighting is not recommended because it will cast a glare on your shiny objects (e.g. magazines, books, pencils).
While it’s possible to edit this out, the overall lighting quality will not be as clear and natural. Trust me.
- Your choice of background ‘texture’; What you use here depends on the feel you want to give for your photos.
- the surface of the table
- white posterboard
- a faux fur rug
- wooden floors
- Foam board x2
- White Pasteboard x1
- Make your own Aluminum Foil
- or buy from Amazon link here*
*Amazon Affiliate Link: I only recommend products I know and love.
Here is the foundation of my setup: The backdrop. It doesn’t look like much in this photo but, it’s two foam boards, joined and taped together to a half of a box (in this case, a priority mail box, got it free from the Post Office) so that it creates a hinge (see next photo)
The priority mailbox has singlehandedly changed the game for me. It gives me an all white backdrop, that focuses the light, stands up by itself, and is really easy to takedown/fold-up and put back up for repositioning and changing scenes (batch processing FTW).
Place your table (preferably white) right in front of the window. If you have the perfect table, but it’s not white or it’s dirty (eep!), you can use a white posterboard, like what you see underneath the items on the table above, and also on the right.
Here is my super loved, thrice-moved IKEA table. Placed lovingly in front of a window, with props + inspiration all around it. Notice the White Posterboard, laid flat on the table for maximum lightness.
Now, let’s focus on your reflector. Using the shiny side of your Aluminum Foil + Posterboard + Tape, you get a pretty good reflector. See next image for how I taped it down.
Here, I used an older foam board (that had seen better days + my son LOL) around the edges to make this reflector. You use this to manipulate the way the light reflects onto the items in your product shots by tilting the board forward or backwards until you notice the shadows fading on your props on the table.
You’ll see that a setup similar to this one allows the most natural, untainted light possible. Depending on the camera used, you can choose to shoot in RAW or use your iPhone. Allowing maximum light, allows you an easier time editing the photo so that it suits the feeling and aesthetics of your blog/business/brand. I like to shoot photos with either a Canon T5i or my iPhone 6 Plus. Below I show examples of both images below.
Below I’ve got a a video of how to edit a photo using one of my favorite apps, A Color Story (iPhone only, but you can be notified when it’s available on Android). You’ll see that I primarily utilize the Curves + Crop feature. Taking your photo with enough natural light does that :D.
Taken in the home photo studio setup, using my iPhone 6+
Since the video doesn’t have sound, here’s a break dow of the actual changes I made. Take this as a tip for your next Instagram photo editing session.
Adjusting ‘Curves’ in A Color Story heightens the brightness of midtones and lowtones, a great first step for lightening/ brightening photos as it leads to a better starting point/palette for your ‘aesthetic’ – or the filters and mood your brand a.k.a. audience resonates with.
Adjusting the contrast in the photo really brings out the POP of colors in the photo, and helps clearly define them more. How much you use is really up to what is necessary to your aesthetic. I’m beginning to think that mine is a warm, soft bright light look.
While having a lot of natural light and adjusting the contrast makes the colors and lighting bring out the overall features of your photo, sharpness steps in to bring out the details. And it’s all in the details, right? So a little sharpening can go a long way to round out the viewing experience for your audience. Especially when we’re using our smart phones, whose sharpening features are not as sophisticated as a DSLR + lens.
And so that’s it, folks! This was a quick view of the tools I use to capture flatlays and other images for my brand + Instagram.
Essentially, you don’t need the same things on this list. For instance, I know that white photography paper is also a great surface when placed on the floor.
The gist is how to use natural light to your advantage. Especially when it’s combined with a reflector.
I hope this was helpful! Make sure to share it on social with your fellow business friends. And if you need it, I’ve created a handy Photo Batch Process checklist for you to print off and take with you when you’re ready to upgrade your social media images.