small budget photography

Ever want to do some photography work without spending a lot of money? Yeah me too.. So I do. A lot of people don’t really know that they can produce really cool stuff on a limited budget though, so here I’ll describe exactly how I do it.

I have a really limited range of equipment. It truly is photography on a budget, but as you can see, it works quite nicely =) Don’t forget to hover your mouse over the thumbnails for descriptions.

This article is written for:

  • Photoshop lovers looking to get into photography more
  • People interested in cheap lighting solutions
  • Those new to photography and who are looking for advice about getting their first camera, especially if they plan to do artistic things with their photographs
  • People looking to become Photoshop lovers
  • Those interested in just how cheap I am
  • Those who want to know how the hell I do the things I do on this website
  • Anyone who wants to shoot some decent photos on a limited budget

The following topics will be covered in this tutorial and you can jump to each one from here.


My camera

My camera, the Olympus E-20. I got this camera back when digital SLRs were a new thing and it was definitely one of the best bets at the time. It’s 5 megapixels with a fixed lens with a huge range and killer aperature (2.4-11.0). I love this camera to death. It takes all the photos you see here on except this one of the camera itself.

Your camera

My camera was not cheap when I bought it, but it is now! Actually you can get a brand new really excellent SLR these days for under $800. Yes that’s a lot of money, but considering you’ll never have to buy film.. it’s not so bad. You can get a used one like mine for about $450. Other brand new SLR-like cameras can go for under $400 easily. If you just want a decent point and shoot with manual controls and a good zoom you can get a used one for $150 and up.
If you’re looking for a camera to shoot with I highly recommend you get your hands on an SLR or SLR-like model (digital of course). Easy control of focus, zoom and all manual features is essential for being handy in all photography situations. If you can’t afford even an SLR-like model then try to get something that will allow you to adjust shutter speed and aperature manually at least.
There are only a few things you can look for when looking for a camera that have to do with keeping your budget low:

  • Camera cost
  • Media required
  • Batteries
  • Lenses

The first one is obvious, so I’ll skip that.


Media (CompactFlash, SmartMedia, Memory Stick, Secure Digital…) is often overlooked when purchasing a camera. If you already have a camera and have a nice big card for it try to find another camera that takes the same media. Personally I’m opposed to using Sony cameras because many of them only take Memory Stick, which is a proprietary format that pretty much only Sony uses on their products; if you’re an all Sony person though, go for it. Same thing goes for the xD format (Olympus and Fuji). A lot of Olympus and Fuji cameras (The SLR lines anyway) support other formats. Just make sure you understand that media is going to be a decent cost directly related to the camera and its cost should always be a consderation. The main thing to be concerned about when you buy media and you’re being frugal is if you can use it with other products (PDAs, cellphones, other cameras…) that you own or plan on owning in the future.


Batteries are not cheap either. I prefer to get cameras (and all my other electronic devices) that are powered by AA batteries (rechargeable). AA’s are readily available just about anywhere you go, so you never have to worry about recharging or anything no matter where you are. AA’s are also extremely versatile and you can use them in a lot of other products, so it works as a multi-product investment. AA’s are also extremely cheap compared to proprietary rechargeable battery formats.
Today it’s very likely that you won’t find many cameras that take AA’s. Make sure you do research on your camera’s batter format and find out how much an extra one or two will cost you and how much a new charger might cost in case you kill yours.
Whatever your case is, you’ll want at least one extra battery or set of batteries. This will be one of the most expensive parts of your equipment throughout the life of your camera because batteries run out fast and even rechargeables need to be thrown out (recycled if you can) and replaced every now and then.


Lenses may or may not be an issue for you. If you’re shooting the way I do, they shouldn’t be at all. If you get a non-SLR camera you won’t have to worry about this at all - if you do have a camera on which you can change the lens just know that for most situations you’re only going to need one. A 17.5-45 mm (35-90mm regular camera equivalent) will do just about anything you need for regular shooting, so unless you plan on doing all close-up photography (macro lens) or all wildlife photography (killer zoom lens), you’re probably only going to need one lens. Multiple lenses are for people who A. Need them because they shoot a bunch of different things in a bunch of different ranges B. Want to buy a bunch of lenses just because they can and they need to be able to show people that they’re “professional” by being conspicuous consumers or C. Don’t realize they really don’t need a ton of different lenses or think they do because “professional” photographers do.
Lenses are also big, bulky and heavy as hell. If you have an SLR it’s likely to be the majority of the weight of your camera or more. Carrying around extra ones is a pain in the ass and you never want to do it if you don’t have to.
You’ll be happy to know that you only need one lens because lenses are expensive.. *gasp*. In many cases a new lens can cost you as much as your camera did or more. *gasp again*
Most cameras you buy today will have a very decent fixed lens. If you get an SLR generally you can buy a “kit” package and they will give you a very nice stock lens. 3x zoom is about all you’ll need for your everyday photography.

Where to buy and look

These days it is recommended that you first look on eBay for a used camera. The megapixel race has gotten out of hand and now even cheap point-and-shoot consumer digital cameras are being packed with extra pixels they’ll never use. Look for quality and ease of use - not megapixels. Four megapixels is sufficient for most photography if you’re just publishing online or no bigger than 8×10″ on paper. is an excellent website for finding and comparing cameras.
You don’t need the best camera to shoot the best pictures.

Adobe Photoshop and Other programs


Ok, so it’s not the cheapest thing in the world, but if you want to really cut your costs elsewhere you’re going to need Photoshop and really learn how to use it. I highly recommend the Adobe Press books; Photoshop Classroom In A Book is incredible for learning basics. After that it’s really up to you to learn more. Find some tutorials online with effects that you like and learn how to duplicate them.

Some of the most useful things you’ll ever need to learn with Photoshop as it relates to editing pictures you shoot:

  • Use layers
  • Adjustment layers - especially learn how to use Curves. Everything you see under Image->Adjustments is just about all you’ll really need to turn your average picture into a masterpiece.
  • Selections. Learn the extract tool and the pen tool. Pen takes a long time, but it’s entirely worth every line you draw if you want a perfect selection. The other selection tools are important, but not nearly as useful as these two.


After this article got a lot of attention I got a lot of comments about the GIMP not being included in a small budget photography article. I guess I just neglected to include it because I’m so used to photoshop and haven’t used the GIMP since its early days in which I think anyone would agree it really sucked. However! These days GIMP is quite the worthy program and I do highly recommend it, especially since it’s completely free; this amounts to a $600 savings over Photoshop. GIMP has many of the same features and an extremely similar interface to Photoshop and you can find plenty of tutorials online for it as well - even if you can’t find exactly what you want you can often follow Photoshop tutorials and come up with something pretty similar if you know their feature equivalents.

Photoshop Elements

Not recommended. Adobe wants only $100 for this product, but you really won’t be able to do much cool stuff with it. Elements is Adobe’s dumbed down version of Photoshop, but really it doesn’t have much of the really neat features Photoshop does that you’ll need if you want to get really neat effects. Also, the GIMP is $100 cheaper and is a much more capable piece of software.

Lighting Equipment - The alternatives


I try to use natural light whenever possible, but a lot of the time I don’t have enough or I’m shooting indoors with little windows or something. I did a lot of research about professional photography lighting and learned one thing: It’s expensive as hell. Sure it’s good stuff and you can take some great shots with it, but I’m poor.. and even if I weren’t I would feel morally corrupted knowing I had spent so much money on something I really didn’t need. So the ultimate solution was to buy worklights.
This is just one of the sets I have.

I have two dual-head setups. Sometimes I just bring one, sometimes two. The lights are halogen. On one set I have two 500 watt bulbs (1000W total) and on the other set I have two 750 watt bulbs (1500W). The 1500W setup is 7ft tall and the 1000W setup is 5ft.

Worklights are easy to setup and move around and probably some of the most versatile lighting systems you could possibly have actually. They actually have several advantages over common photography lighting:

  • Can be used indoors and outdoors in almost all weather
  • Extremely durable so there’s no worries packing them and going to other places
  • The bulbs are designed to burn for a long time and be extremely bright
  • Verastile for placement
  • Allow you to be very creative with lighting and always know exactly what the light will look like on your subject
  • Outrageously cheap compared to even the cheapest professional lighting options


You can put worklights anywhere. They’re all detachable from their tripods and safe to put on the ground. In fact they’re designed with a special bottom jus so you can put them on the ground and angle them up wherever you please.

Because of their cheapness you have a lot more creative freedom as to how many you want and where to put them all.

Worklights require a lot less work and preparation than any professional setup. Because of the constant light on the subject you can tell exactly what kind of picture you’re going to get even before you pick up the camera.

Worklights also allow you to work with non-professional photography equipment. Lots of people today have incredibly powerful small cameras that are considered “consumer” or “prosumer” and many do not have options for hooking up professional flash units. If you’re already on a budget with the camera then this is about the only way you can go.

You can paint with light with these just like you can with any professional setup. Light positioning is endless and is the same concept, but without the cost.


A decent, cheap flash unit will cost you about $200-300 just for the flash unit - and you’ll probably want at least two if you bother buying one. You will also need to buy a tripod for it ($50-100) and a way to connect it and sync it with your camera ($20-200). Of course you will also have to buy replacement bulbs as well ($25-40). Oh yeah.. and you also need a way to safely transport it all ($20-200). Oh yeah.. you also definitely need a camera that can handle an external flash unit.. so if you’re going cheap on the camera too you’re pretty much screwed. Oh yeah - if you want the best deal on this kind of stuff you’ll probably have to get it online and have it shipped to you. That’s an extra $50-100 easily, but I’ll leave that out of the total cost since maybe you think you can find it locally.

Total Cost:

You can easily find a good worklight or two on a tripod for $20-100 (most come in pairs which is good because then you’ll always have a spare light working; studio flash lights do NOT come in pairs). Adding more worklights isn’t a problem.. they cost about $10 a piece if you want an extra one. Worklights usually come with an extra bulb each. If you need to buy another bulb it’ll cost you a whopping $3-5. And yeah, no shipping; you can get worklights at your local Wal-Mart, Lowes, Menards, Home Depot and various other hardware stores.

Total Cost:

Because a lot of the time you will want two sets of lights to best light your subjects, you should double both of these total costs ($630-1600 and $46-210). I spent a little under $100 on my two dual head worklight setup.

Other lighting accessories - Sheets and such

Sheets or any other thin cloth are great for diffusing light. If you’re in a room where you have sunlight coming directly into the room and onto your subject you will have extremely intense, harsh light. Hang a sheet over the curtain rail or tack one up on the trim of the window with thumbtacks. It’s an extremely cheap alternative (thin cloth is easily found at $1/yd at your cloth store or Wal Mart) to softboxes ($100-200). You can also use thin colored cloth to come up with neat colored light effects with little extra cost.

Sheets can also double as cheap light reflectors. Actually just about any white surface (a tshirt) can. If you ever have a subject that isn’t lit well enough just take off your shirt and try to reflect sunlight off of it. I promise that it can do wonders for getting that little extra bit of light you need. There is a professional alernative to this ($30) which is basically the same thing wrapped around a lightweight metal frame - if you want something like this just get some PVC pipe and screws.


I’m sure I’d have plenty of professional photographers yell at me for this one and tell me I’m wrong and there’s so much you can do with professional lighting, but I really think there’s even more you can do without it. I’ve never used any sort of professional setup and well.. I’ll let you be the judge

Locations, backdrops and other settings

Depending on your subject your ideas about setting will vary greatly. I’m going to focus mainly on human model photography.


It’s everything, right? Well not necessarily in photography if you plan on bringing Photoshop into the equation. The entire beginning of the ifakedit clothing company line (starting with this piece) was shot with models indoors and scenery outdoors.
The bottom line is you can pretty much shoot anywhere you want, anytime you want as long as you’re not too picky. You can re-light, adjust colors and anything else you need with Photoshop later.

However, I guess you’d like some ideas and examples of where I shoot:

  • Parks
  • Living rooms
  • Basements
  • Bedrooms
  • Parking garages
  • Alleys
  • My yard
  • By railroad tracks

Backdrops and creating green/blue screens

Backdrops are yet another expensive and space-consuming element to “professional” photography. These are normally used in studio settings to get that traditional single or family portrait effect. In the past few years though many studios have adopted a hybrid approach to this by using green screen (something mainly used in film for special effects) and digitized backdrops. You can easily employ this technique on your own by buying or making your own green (or blue) screen.

  1. Buy some green screen (it’s actually not too bad - under $100 for a 6×9′ sheet.. the expensive part is hanging it) OR Go to your local fabric store or Wal-Mart and buy the appropriate amount of bright blue or bright green fabric
  2. Tape it or tack it up to a door frame or wall - maybe even just hang it over the back of a recliner
  3. Hold it down with heavy objects
  4. Shoot
  5. Remove it with Photoshop

Green/Blue screens are used because they are colors that are not present in human skin and hair and also rare in many clothes. The simplest way to duplicate the green/blue screen technique is to buy your own big heavy piece of fabric that is a bright green or blue. Don’t get it too bright because the brighter you go the more it will reflect light onto your subject and you don’t want green light on your subject.
Fabric can be suspended from doorways with tape or tacks and held down firmly using any heavy object. Store fabrics will not be as easy to work with as professional grade green/blue screen materials because they are much lighter and will wrinkle up on you and undoubtably give you more work to do when removing them from your backgrounds.

Personally I just use white walls in houses most of the time and edit them out later - not quite as easy editing, but sometimes it’s nice not to have to transport and hang up material. Quite honestly it’s not really necessary, but it’s a nice idea if you really want to get perfect subject extractions in Photoshop.

And in the end

It’s all cheap and good. If you have any questions/comments/suggestions… things you’d like to see on this page, etc, please leave them at the bottom.

Related links

The gallery - All of my artwork that I publish
The originals - What my photographs look like before they get edited and put in the gallery

90 Responses to “small budget photography”

  1. Matt Says:

    Interesting ideas, Jesse. It seems that your low-cost solutions are rather effective; the end products you have presented to us thus far have been of extremely high quality and are definitely as professional as one could hope to be.

  2. Jeni Says:

    Wow! You can be cheap *and* artistic!

    You are the prototype of the starving artist. You even look like one, you fucking skinny bastard.

  3. Sean Says:

    I love tutorials like this — I’m actually planning on buying a digital camera soon, but I don’t think I’ll be getting anything of your caliber….they’ve got some really, really neat, thin ones that are about the size of a cell phone. Nicely written, keep it up =)

  4. Ginny Says:

    You did NOT pay for Photoshop, did you?? Get out!!

    No actually this is all very informative and I will refer back to it occasionally.

  5. Stefano[ITA] Says:

    I’m going to buy a new digital camera and your hints are very useful.
    I will bear in mind those things. (also the galleries are nice)

    Many Thanks

  6. ian Says:

    yeah okay so get to the part thats something we dont allready know

  7. ian Says:

    PS> i cant believe you use digital…… depth.

  8. Jesse Knight Says:

    Jesse - I made a softbox for cheap:
    Find some tent poles for cheap or free - goodwill or someone’s basement.
    Buy some cheap cloth, and a plastic shower curtain. Cut the curtain to fit your tent poles, and I found a layer in closer to the bulb made for less of a hotspot. Some minor sowing will create you a new “tent” to fit your pole setup. I’d like to line it with some sort of emergency blanket for reflectivity, but I haven’t yet. Anyhow, mount it to your worklights by either cutting a hole in wood and drilling 4 holes at an angles away from the bulb (to poke the tent poles in), or by finding a way to bind the apex of the tent across the front of the light. Be careful with HEAT BUILD-UP - make sure your light is vented, we don’t want any photography fires (the modesl get scared).

  9. John Daharsh Says:

    Your gallery speaks for itself. Great write-up with great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Rorie Says:

    Great Information. The lighting thing has been something that I have been looking at for quite a while. And yes you are right that crap is expensive!!!

    I like to see that people can think outside the box. The work light idea is awesome. I’m going to have to give it a go.

    I have recently re-entered photography. I purchased the Canon Rebel XT 6-months ago. I don’t think I will ever need to purchase another Digital camera again (let’s hope).

    I love digital. I use Picasa as my photo editor right now (it’s free and does 90% of what I want to do). But I may take the cheap rout and get Photoshop Elements 3 instead of the full blown Photoshop (I just don’t have the time to learn that).

    Thanks for the great ideas. And by the way, nice work!!!

  11. markku Says:

    Great guide, I can’t wait to try out some of your tricks on my next shoot!

  12. Extra Says:

    Good article. As a commercial photographer for 30 years I have used both expensive “professional equiptment” and a lot of do-it-yourself equipment and learned that what counted was the resulting photograph. Once done no one knows (or cares) what equipment was used.

  13. ShiftyEyed Bloggin’ » Blog Archive » Small Budget Photography Says:

    [...] olution? Buying your first camera or SLR? Find out how to do it all as cheap as more | digg story This entry was posted [...]

  14. cdavis blog - It tastes like burning » small budget photography - jesse crouch’s log Says:

    [...] hy - jesse crouch’s log
    Filed under: Photography — Chad @ 3:31 pm

    small budget photography - jesse crouch’s log


  15. Nanackle Says:

    I totally agree 100%. I do work similar to yours and with budget goods… and it works. If it works… use it! I have had professional photographers look at my work with their mouth gaping open wondering how I did what I did with my meager set up… Never underestimate the power of using your brain.

  16. jessecrouch Says:

    hey folks. thanks for all your comments =) even the not so great ones (seems like most of those people kept them off here and put them right on digg anyway)

    @jesse knight - thanks for the additional information on making diffusion light boxes.

    there’s another tip i’d like to share with you guys that i pulled off of a digg comment:

    For reflectors, someone suggested using those foldable/collapsible car sunshades, preferably with a white side and a silver side. True, not as cheap as a T-shirt, but I like the idea of being able to have both diffuse (white) and non-diffuse (silver/gold) reflectors as one. Trouble for me is, I came across the suggestion just a few weeks ago in a book, and let me tell you, finding a decent selection of sunshades at this time of year in North America is difficult…
    posted by emag

    keep it up with the comments! id love to hear more

  17. Saleem Pothiwala Says:

    Excellent stuff!!!

    Loved it.

    I am searching for some work lights near to where I live already :-)


  18. Omar Says:

    I really enjoyed your website. I was a little shocked to see the image “the bomb”. Not because it offends me or anything silly like that, but because I use to hang out by that particular tree (99% sure unless it’s a composite or several images) when I was in college.

    I was in school at Georgia Tech Sep 11, 2001, and I remember fearing that exact scene for a day or two after.

    Clearly not your opus (you have some beautiful images), but the one that really caught my eye. :) Keep up the good work.


  19. irrelevant Says:

    For hanging backdrops, I made a stand out of PVC pipe, a length of conduit to hang the backdrop from, and various elbows, threaded connectors, and hardware. It can be broken-down to about 6′ length for transport.

  20. Ed Krimen Says:

    Great ideas, Jesse! Thanks!

    I was just about to try my worklights to see if they would work well for photography, because I too didn’t want to spend a lot of money on professional lights, and I know these worklights can output a lot of light. Great to hear that you’ve been successful with them! I’m inspired!

    I’m not sure if I saw this suggestion, but large, white foam core boards, which you can get at art stores, also make good, relatively inexpensive reflectors. I actually used these when I worked in video production long ago and they worked out well.

    Also, check out the Photobird Digital Camera Buyer’s Guide at . 200 cameras, 1000 reviews, updated frequently. Might be helpful.

    – Ed

  21. Charles Says:

    I own an Olympus E-20n and fought AAs running about 50 frames or 30 minutes. Lithium CRV3 are $10 each and required 2. I discovered Walmart and Radio Shack sell Li-Ion CRV3 rechargable cells that still provide 3.7v each and last ~300 frames. Price at Walmart? $40 for BOTH with chargers. Changed how I used batteries.

  22. Guy De Says:

    I really like your suggestions for lighting. That is always my biggest challenge. Silver automobile window shades make great reflectors also, by the way. Now if you could just tell us how you get the models at a bargin price then we’ll be set.

  23. Jay Says:

    I can’t believe after being Digged there’s still no mention of GIMP( anywhere in the comments. It’s a slower, but free alternative to Photoshop for people who want most of the same features, but don’t have the money to pay for it or the lack of principles to download it.

  24. Brian Says:

    You’ve been “Maked” too!!!

    Thanks for the great suggestions, the cheap sheet lighting may just solve my christmas portraits dilemma. I new it would work, it just hadn’t dawned on me to using natural sun backlighting. I’m planning on DIY’ing our family portraits this year (those portrait studios suck and I’m tired of them taking my money).

    I’ll be sure to look into Digg although I really like Microsoft’s Picture it Plus 2005. Its vastly improved over the old versions and its easy enough for my wife to use.

  25. Tim Says:

    Concerning the GIMP, might I also plug Cinepaint, which is basically an older gimp, forked as permitted under the GPL, with 16-bit abilities added? OK, so it doesn’t have all the whizzy filters and effects of the Gimp, but for photo-processing the tone quality can be preferable on occasion.

  26. Danny Says:

    How hot do those worklights get? That was the problem I had with my Home Depot worklights….they got WAY too hot.


  27. Nick Says:

    Great tips on lighting!

    A tip for the photographer on the go who needs diffuse lighting in darker environments: Take your average run of the mill Xenon strobe flash, and put a bit of wax paper about 1″ in front of the output. You can use a variety of materials as spacers, but I’ve found that strips of cardboard do the job and are readily available from behind grocery stores.

    Also, while digital image editing does wonderous things, it’s still advisable to try and get the best shot you can. White balance is important, so spend the $1.50 on a neutral gray card. In a pinch however, setting your exposure up 2/3 stop and metering off of the translucent lid of a coffee or pringles can offers excellent results as well.

    Keep ‘em coming jesse!

  28. atom Says:

    For a cheap light reflector, next time you’re dropping off packages at your local FedEx depot, pick up a few extra shipping boxes. They’re fairly reflective, mostly white, biodegradable/recyclable and free.

  29. bloco Says:

    Hi Jesse,

    thanks for the tips…

    For the image editing software, I would also include Corel Paint Shop Pro X, as it’s powerful enough and cheap.

    Also, what about white balance with worklights, do you use Custom White Balance, Tungsten white balance or Manual white balance? Which one you found more effective?

  30. jessecrouch Says:

    white balance really is tricky. i wouldn’t recommend any one setting since most of the time i have some other light coming in too and it’s usually not the same. really its best to just look at the lcd and calibrate with your eyes =)

    they do get really hot.. in fact im actually kind of surprised my models don’t mind being in front of them. but really it’s never a problem

    again - thank you everyone for your comments and suggestions. i really like getting all these ideas on one page.

  31. Suhail Kazi Says:

    Hi Jesse,
    I’ve been checking your work and flipping back and forth between your before-after images. Fantabulawesomazing!!! It’s almost as if the original picture doesn’t really matter (or it’s just for academic show-tell purposes), and your finished pic looks totally gold. Thanks for the tips in this article. I am myself about to sell my film-based SLR and move to a DSLR and sure would keep these tips in mind. Some suggestions and questions :
    a) I’ve never used Adobe PS or GIMP. But I know many users don’t want to switch just because they are familiar with PS. Well, now there is good news. You have GIMPShop, which is GIMP for PS users. Ofcourse it’s opensource & free like its parent, GIMP. So now, you don’t have to map PS functions into equvlt. GIMP functions. This is ofcourse not for you, since you already own PS, but for other readers who might be reading this.
    b) Given yr PS skills, you should definitely check out where they have a lot of PS contests and some quality PS work. It’s not some kiddo site, you get real $$s (even corporate contests prize money) if you win. Give it a try. You might just win something :)

    Some questions:
    a) What are these worklights? I know it sounds dumb to ask it, and many US readers just take it for granted, but for a lot of readers, HomeDepot, Lowe’s is not a standard, and if I have to buy it out of US (I’m from India, visiting US), I need to know the equivalent product I should buy there. So basically any description(temp/voltage/type of lamp etc) would help.
    b) Coming back to PS/Gimp skills, can you point to some good beginner articles/tutorials? I know I can google it, but something referred by a user is always helpful rather than spending time in searching the right document.

    This article has really got me charged up to start clicking soon. Will be back for more and for your reply. Thanks again.


  32. Wild Ace Says:

    i just got my “entry-level dslr” a few weeks back & didn’t have anything else. also had the same ideas; used worklights & car sunshades to avoid the nasty shadows off my on-cam flash. i was happy getting some decent pics, but always had this feeling it wasn’t the right way to do it.

    funny, after seeing your work & learning how you did it… man! from here on i’ll just laugh my ass over wannabees spending their fortune on expensive equipments just to capture a good image.

    & btw, you’re a great artist & inspiration! tnx for sharing.

  33. Leviathan_Ultima Says:

    Yeah I agree with you on the budget photography, but hey you can’t go wrong by getting a good camera. That just mean that there’s less work for you later to modifie it cause the camera would do most of the work if you know what you’re doing. Since I’m not a noobie or a professional i know this personally. I personally have the Canon Rebel XT. It works like a dream, but after many research on the net, I think it really does matter which lense you chose. Thus that’s why i didn’t get like a “wanta be SLR” camera with fixed lense cause then I would be stuck with so lense. With a DSLR, you can get the best lense to get the best shot in terms of clarity not effect. The effect I would leave to others for I’m not really artistic. But I do want good quality picture.

  34. Tobias Davia Says:

    Just wanted to give you some props on the site and the photography. Very good stuff my friend! As an aspiring photographer myself I like what you have on here, specially the guid to small budget photography.


  35. K.M. (DeLuxe Image) Says:

    Found this funky guide through google, hell - I dont know exactly how or why :))
    Anyway, its interesting since I was in a similar situation before. I am a model and graphics designer turned makeup artist and photographer :) interesting eh? The point is I spent a ton of my time with ‘pros’ & ‘wannabe = GWCs’ to realize what is worth $ and whats not.

    Your advice is good for REALLY STARVING ARTISTS Starting Out. But if you want to earn big bucks doing photography the setup you described wont work (I know).

    There are ways to getting professional equipment at a low cost, neverthanless not as cheap as you’ve described BUT the difference and quality is WAAAAAY better in general quality (the lights you use create heat and are continuous where as professional ones are strobes giving you shots of high voltage light in seconds, thus why its expensive).

    How I did it. carries some of the top notch quality equipment (equal to the higher end brands) for less than HALF of the price.
    They offer different kits, one is 2 400wt strobes with a ton of extras - $600 or higher end 2 800wt with a ton of extras - $750. YES EXPENSIVE 4 ME because I need to think about other crap too.
    So, I bought the lights SEPERATELY (2 800wt, total $550, they come with extra light bulbs for replacement) 2 12 foot heavy duty stands from ebay (total $30) and 2 square softboxes (total $30)
    TOTAL $622 for a Top-Notch PRO lighting system that goes for over $1,000 at the stores.

    Then I got a backround stand from ebay for $25, a ordered 3 colored paper backrounds about $25 ea… I got a digital canon rebel xt 8pixel camera too.

    As an overall cost of ALL of my equipment, AROUND $1,300
    To any REAL artist thats is NOT an impossible price to pay for what they love doing. Thats how I started. Not to mention, people realize what professional equipment looks like and will spend their money only on such.. professionals. :)

    I guess it really gets down to, whether its a HOBBY or a PROFESSION

    You can see some samples of my work here: (under renovation)

  36. Andrew White Says:

    Jesse, how would you go about making something like a Cubelite? Have you ever approximated something like that?

  37. Gebo Says:

    For Andrew - and anyone else interested in building your own light tent - check out Bob Huber’s site - another great idea in DIY for cheap…

  38. Andrew White Says:

    @Gebo and Jesse: Thanks so much for the fantastic info!

  39. Andrew White Says:

    I just found a great tutorial on doing product photography on the cheap that also answers my question. Even easier than Gebo’s amazing link:

  40. Bailey Says:

    Hi - thanks for writing this ……helpfull stuff for broke asses like myself!!! -

  41. Peter Says:

    Excellent run-down of what it actually takes. So many people blame the equipment or their budget for bad work. It can always be done cheap, you just have to get creative. I am going to recommend this site to my forum, Thanks!

  42. Jester's Tear Says:


    I loved your article. I am just getting started on photography, although I’m a professional Photoshop user (graphic designer). The thing is, until recently, I had this notion that using Photoshop (or any other software) to edit one’s pictures was somehow cheating, because it wasn’t done in the days of film; I have since been disabused of that notion. :P

    I have a question for you: I am about to purchase a Canon EOS 350D (I think you call it Digital Rebel XT in the US, I live in Portugal, Europe), and the kit I’ll be buying includes a standard 18/55 mm lens. Do I need to buy another lens for taking quality concert pictures? Some will be in small clubs, with no need for zoom, but others will be in arenas, and the idea is to shoot mainly without flash, so that I can properly capture stage lights.

    Thanks in advance!

  43. Dennis Says:

    A note about batteries: All current DSLRs use a Li-Ion rechargeable. There are a 3rd party alternatives available at a much lower price (e.g. - If you really want AAs (I don’t!) you can usually use them with a battery grip.

    @Jester: Canon 350D, hmm. With the 400D announced, this is a tough decision. Since your main goal seems to be shooting concerts, which means low low-light situations, you need good gear.
    You will use high ISO settings, so noise is an issue. IMHO all APS-C sized DSLRs are a no-go here. Think 5D. Another option is the new Fuji F30, check for a review.
    You need a fast lens. Since you’re on a budget, I’d recommend a 50mm F/1.8 or a 85mm F/1.8 prime - The 70-200 F/2.8 IS (VR) would be a good zoom lens.

    A final question: Why Canon? Think Nikon …

  44. Designs » Small Budget Photography Says:

    [...] olution? Buying your first camera or SLR? Find out how to do it all as cheap as more | digg story Comments are closed. [...]

  45. ken Says:

    I am small scale business person, selling promotional / premium / gift items. I could really use some good tips on 1)what camera to buy? I had really bad expereince with Nikon, the batteries (4 x AA) would run out in matter of minutes, then I got a rapid olympus battery charger, which takes many hours to charge the battery after which the batteries run out in a matter of minutes, so i really want to know if anyone takes few hundred photos without
    having to recharge their camera batteries, and which camera will be better for taking many photos, so later I can choose only the best ones photos from the many, since it is not easy to place a product, take it’s photo, send it to pc and then find out it is not good enough.

    I wish to small objects, like you see on this wornderful place.

    I also want to know which camera will be best for taking photos of such products at close range, so that I can place smaller version of the image on
    the website and bigger verion can be opened and will be very clear, when it is being viewed.

    Many people recommend Nikon, but after my last experience I am worried. Perhaps, I should get it with an ac adaptor, so I can plug it it the electricity to continuously take photos, till I am finished or the memory card is full.

    And I wonder, what software will be good for making a bunch of images to be in the same size, same lighting and same affect, and different #’s so I won’t have to edit and improve everyimage separately.

    Sorry about asking so many questions, I hope I
    am not asking it at the wrong place, since it is not a forum, but a blogspace of Jesse, so my apologies in advance, I seldom write to blogs and i also have a previous website on which i took some images with my old Nikon, which i can send to anyone, to give me comments and suggestions.

    Thank you all for reading my entry.

  46. ken Says:

    And one more question, what is the best way and software to reduce image size, but keep the clarity and goodness of the images?

    And any recommendations on good, easy, and simple to use website making software, I just want few categories of products, on my site, under each category, there will be many small images, which small image is clicked, big image will open and each page will have email to link.

    The google’s webpage making software is so great, but unfortunately, I can’t use it, since I have my own domain name, to which I want to upload my website, Anyone know some similar software? Please do share. Thank you all, again.


  47. Feeman Says:

    Incredible ideas!! Great alternatives for a cheap-starving-student-who-loves-photography-but-is-too-poor-to-get-anything
    like I am.

  48. Alan Says:

    Interesting stuff you have … have just upgraded my point and shoot to a dSLR … and yes, it can be expensive! Sigh … aside from lens lust, one tends to go with hunting for the right accesories! And considering that Im relatively new in this … my only source of good light is nature! Sigh … but with your article and site, I now have an alternative. So tomorrow - I’m off to the nearest hardware store. Thanks! Btw, I was directed to your site called

  49. mohammed Says:

    U CAME FROM HEAVEN…that’s one TALEN BOOSTER PLAN for me…i know i have the talent but i wasnt able to do alot without equipment. BUT my budget is AMAZINGLY enough for a cheap studio…cheers pal

  50. VoiceofExperience Says:

    Great site! I always tell people that it takes $1000 worth of camera equipment to make $10 from photos. Some of my better sitll-life, table-top photos were taken using clamp-on lights with daylight corrected flourescent bulbs. I used plexi-glas panels to diffuse the light. All of these items are cheap and easily located. I think too many people jump into buying a ton of expensive equipment before they even learn how to take good photos. This just does not make a lot of sense. When someone can take great images with inexpensive equipment, that is the time to upgrade.

  51. Kim Says:

    I am new to photography cool idea on the work lights i was just pricing them you saved me a ton of money there. I purchached a backdrop stand though and i found curtains real cheap at an outlet store so that was cool..Keep up the good work LOVE your hints natural backdrops are the coolest though. I use a Fugi S7000 not a real SLR but i can and do use an external flash probably the best investment i made.

  52. billy Says:

    Hi, ( novice ) I am just getting my old praktica slr from 1982 out to clean it up and get it working again. I was looking for some info on lighting on a budget when i found your site. Are you a pro ? your pics certainley are, some truly incredible shots.

    As i build almost anything i need, i’m interested in a setup for portraits, our family has just increased by two babies, with another on the way. I already have three halogen worklights @ 500 watts each. My idea is to make up a couple of frames covered with white linen sheets, say 6′ square and foldable, to diffuse the strong lights. I’ll also make a backdrop with some material and some dyes, set on a frame of plastic plumbing pipe with mdf cross stands on the floor. I also have a gold and a silver tableclothe ( £2.00 UK each ) that can also be used as reflectors what do you (or anyone) think of this setup so far ?

  53. Kelly Miller Says:

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  54. deval Says:

    funny the address is photograhpy
    thaks for tips.. its helpfull..

  55. Mohammed Says:

    Hey, when i remember the first time i saw ur blog i was amazed. (check about 6 comments earlier) and it really struck me to do my small studio. I am from lebanon, living in a villag, just finished by graphic design BA sitting at home most of the other lebanese graduates, unless u leave the coutnry.i do some projects at home from time to time…i just want to say that i almost did it, with all your tips in mind i got a dslr (actually it was a present when i mentioned i needed one, a sony dslr 100 alfa. I know u dont like sony cams, but u now this isnt a sony cam more than it is a minolta…anyway, i heard about a background screen that could turn out invisible in photoshop, is that possible? some proffessional photographer told me that.i need to know more about screens…
    Thank you!

  56. Kyle Says:

    Outstanding work. I’m amazed at how you do this, especially for the little cost involved. I’m was wondering if you could tell me how you manipulated the parking garage picture? I’m new at this, but I’m very interested. Anyway, I just wanted to say that your work is excellent and I will check back in hopes to see more pictures. Thanks!

  57. Dan Says:

    I don’t feel as bad now that I have found some one that thinks like me. In the being, for me, I use 2×4’s, wing nuts, and pinch lights. I had to use film, cause digi was not even a thought at that time. I did use what was call a 80a filter to balance the daylight film. (aaah the good ol days) I too used sheets and all the wieord stuff to take portraits. I guess if it in you (The Craft) you will find a way. Thanks for the cool blog. “D”

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  59. Brad Says:

    Hey! Love the whole idea of doing things on the cheap, especially with worklights, diffusing cloth from Walmart, and 2×4s or dowels for frames, gobos, etc…., but I must make one point: while this might be great for a bedroom, garage, or basement, I can’t show up at a corporate gig with this kind of stuff. It looks unprofessional and shabby (even if it does get the job done); it’s probably uncomfortable (I hate hotlights); and it could be dangerous (worklights, cloth, cardboard, hmmm…). The other thing is, how portable is it if you’re doing multiple gigs a day, or even just packing up and moving stuff day to day?? After assisting a few photogs, I realize how valuable some of the more well-designed gear is (like a collapsible PVC frame and scrim), and how might a giant cardboard fill look to a client who just paid you a G for 4 hours work. I’d rather spend a few extra bux for stuff that will last and look pro and get me more jobs.

  60. Peter Garner Says:

    Shower curtains as diffusers :-)) I was in a *big* hurry to get this photo shoot over as my model was pushed for time so I grabbed the first pack of shower curtains that I saw off the shelf, paid my $3 and rushed nack to set it up. As I opened the pack at home I realised that they were white PVC shower curtains, but I hung them up against the large patio picture windows and started shooting without a thought. Later, the sun came round and the room temperature rose. A lot. So much so in fact that my poor model was practically expiring and my viewfinder was steamed up with perspiration! Ironically the diffuser worked extremely well and everyone loves the pictures but it’s not something I’d like to try again, and neither would my model :-)

  61. Alan Estes Says:

    I like your article except that I think you way under-rate Photoshop Elements. Maybe I have learned to produce good stuff from it because it was all I had to work with, but consider it a great tool. In fact the version I use is old- 2.0 that I got free with another Adobe product, a few years back.

  62. joel Says:

    My names Joel, I represent a small SEO company and we are trying to get some more traffic going on our site. With that in mind, would you be interested in putting up some anchor text links in exchange for payment? If so, what’s an estimate of your current rates? Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks,

  63. Sam H. Says:

    Loved the interesting information here, im not necessarily running on a budget in terms of camera and gear, but I do love saving money and having interesting alternatives available to me. (especially relating to pro lighting,its so damn expensive.)

    thanks for your helpful blog, ill be sure to post a link to it on my next flickr upload.

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  67. Abby Says:

    hi! you have very nice pictures here ;p
    we used worklights in our video shoots since we’re just students and can’t afford to buy professional lights.
    well, the only problem with worklights is that they produce yellowish color in your subject…but still it worked! ;p

  68. Tomer Jacobson Says:

    Dear Jesse,

    I wanted to thank you for your great article, dealing with on the budget photography, five minutes after I read it I bought a 500 watts Halogen working light, one hour I shot the following at home :

    I would love to hear what you think of the setting and the final outcome

    Thanks again,

    Yours truly,

  69. Childrens Photography! : No More Portrait Studio! | Says:

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  71. Damien Says:

    Which worklights are those and where do I get them?

  72. Some great Photography Techniques, Tips, Tutorials and Resources - Part 2 at Witty Sparks Says:

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  73. mike Says:

    Hi Jesse,

    This stuff is cool man. I am a starving artist AND a total tight ass. So this is right up my ally.

    At any rate, do you have any suggestions for the computing end? Like, how to make that cheaper? What is the least one can get away with? I prefer PC just because that is what I am used to and my peripherals are set up for PC, like my two external drives eg. But I would consider a Mac if I could afford it.

    What I use my current (1 gig, 80 gig 5 year old and struggling lap top I got for $500) is some very basic editing in elements. I would like to start using some workflow software and maybe, just maybe save up and eventually get CS3, or 4 or what ever is out there when I have the cash. My PC is dying and I will need to get something with in a few months. Desktop or laptop doesn’t matter.

    I’m thinking at least 3 gigs and have been told Quad core but do I need a quad if a duo is cheaper?

    What about the Mac Mini - its cheap right?


  74. jessecrouch Says:


    Don’t really have all that many recommendations for what to do computer wise. All parts are pretty cheap these days though. I’m not really big on Macs and the price part is a huge consideration. Buying used stuff always helps. If you’re into building your own that’s always cheap and you can often find spare parts. Check out freecycle, craigslist and ask your friends. If you’re going to build your own always look around, but has very good prices and often has a lot of deals especially with bundled products (cpu + case, etc).

    I did my most recent works you see on this site on a 1.8ghz/1GB ram laptop with a crappy 15″ lcd… and if it wasn’t done on that it was done on an originally 1GHZ later upgraded to 1.4GHZ/512 ram desktop (most of my earlier work).

    CS3 and Photoshop historically is a major memory hog, so make sure you’ve got enough ram to deal with it.

    @Others looking for worklights
    I’ve had a few people ask me about where I get these or what they’re called elsewhere in the world. I realize now that not everyone knows what Lowes and Home Depot are.
    You can usually find them at any hardware or ‘home improvement’ store. Here in the states we call them work lights, construction lights or project lights. If you can’t find any of these look for halogen lights. The work lights are just very high-brightness halogen bulbs.

  75. Keiser Says:

    Amazing… I already bought 430EX and don’t regret because it is great. BUT… I’ve been super-strongly feeling lack of more strobes. You showed me a possible way. I’m really seriously considering your work light suggestion. My only concern is how to vent the heat from it, if I make a soft box or anything covering the light. How did you solve the heat problem? Isn’t it dangerous? Or is there any tip you have to prevent any fire when you use home-made soft box? (I’m thinking card-board soft box.)

  76. jessecrouch Says:

    I would completely recommend against cardboard just because of the fire-factor. I just used umbrellas and those kept pretty cool. Anything else I would recommend you keep a very safe distance away from the lights.

  77. Mark Says:

    I bought two work lights at 500w each, but the light just seems to hard, and if I put a sheet in front of it, it cuts out too much light. :(

  78. mohd Says:

    nice idea

    but what did u use to diffuse light?

    did you point the lights directly at the models?

    or did u use umbrellas or soft boxes?

    what DIY diffusing way are you using?

    can you add a photo or more for a studio setup that uses such lights?

    thank you

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  81. lyn_k Says:

    Thanks for the great ideas. I have a small start with little money so far. I bought a DVD of digital backgrounds that I could do without but have had fun with ($50), a 10′x20′ sheet of white muslin to use as a backdrop (~$30), a few metal clamps to hang it (swiped from hubby’s garage), two 4 head daylight rated light stands with 2 white umbrellas along with 1 silver and 1 gold umbrella and 8 bulbs ($159 with free shipping), and I have been using GIMP.
    Hubby got me a Fuji s1000fd. Before that I was using a Canon 3.2mp when friends started begging me to do portraits.
    I hope to use this info to expand my lighting options and gain inspiration from the gallery.
    I would love some feedback on my photos both on the JPG site and flickr. Most of the stuff posted was before the umbrella lights.

  82. Gator Says:

    I’ve been using Corel Photoshop and I can’t figure out how to get any of the artistic effects you’re using. I particularly like the grainy look and how you write on the photos! I am in the process of acquiring the Adobe Photoshop program, but I may need some help navigating it! Do you have a particular reference site for tutorials that you prefer to use? Can you give me any pointers? How to get started? Feel free to email me back. I am completely and thoroughly impressed with your work! I haven’t seen art like yours in a long time!!!

  83. Jessica Says:

    Hey great site! I use all the same stuff you do cause I cant afford professional equiptment! Thanks for looking out!


  84. Rebecca Quinn Says:

    I’d like some pics od my two-month old grandson, possibly me and his mother.The budget is very limit. Let me know what you have to offer. Ths

  85. Tammy Says:

    Thanks for the information. Using Canon Rebel xs with tameron lense and speed light flash. I have notic3e that my photos with the Canon camera are dark. Has anyone else had problems with photos being to dark? I have adjusted my camera setting f-stop, shutter speed, iso, Light compensation still seeing the upper portion of the photo is dark. Is it my technique or the camera?

  86. Photography Workshops Says:

    It’s not always about the equipment. If you give an artist a pencil he can do amazing things, he doesn’t need a $1000 pencil! Thanks for the article!

  87. Argentina Havenhill Says:

    Being from Northern California, It is difficuly to find a person to get my 16mm film converted to dvds… I got a new dvd player and would really like to see the old film again. Does anyone know where I can get this stuff transferred??

  88. Bilder Says:

    Very clever ideas, I don’t have a huge budget at hand and well and I’m very happy to see there are some easy workarounds almost as effective as the “real stuff” that costs alot more.

  89. Tim Stephanopoulos Says:

    Awesome guide Jesse! Hope you start taking more pictures.

  90. Photography Courses London Says:

    Great ideas to keep a check on your photography budget. Creative thinking on all levels.

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