If you’re a budding Instagrammer, you may be looking for ways to improve and diversify your photography without breaking the bank or having to move to a more glamorous house. Over the year or so that I’ve been taking photos for @the_amateur_mama, I’ve gradually built up a little box of tricks to give me more options than my small London flat would otherwise afford, and which help me take more creative photos without having to make trips to a photography studio or to costly locations. Especially now that we’re still facing an indefinite number of weeks or months ahead stuck in our houses, at-home solutions that inject inspiration into your photography are more welcome than ever. Here’s my tuppence-worth; I hope you find it useful! Note that I am quite obviously NOT a professional photographer, but these hints will hopefully help you bring your photography game up a level if you’re struggling to come up with ideas.
Lighting is arguably the most important factor when taking good photographs, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend fortunes on expensive equipment! A lot of my photos are taken near my windows, where I can take advantage of free, natural light that is undoubtedly the most flattering light source you can use. In this section I take you through my purchases for maximising the benefits of natural light, and also some options for artificial light if you feel that you need it for some of your shots.
Natural light, free!
If you live in a house or flat with large windows, then you can take advantage of the abundant natural light that you undoubtedly enjoy throughout the day. All of the photos above were taken in natural light in my flat. Shooting with natural light is best when it’s overcast or foggy, and if you stand right up close to the window, facing out, you’ll get a nice, soft, even light source that will make your skin look great and your eyes pop! Bright sunlight on a clear day may look nice and lift your spirits, but you’ll find it harsh in a photo, blanching your skin, casting annoying shadows or making your squint. If you are shooting on a day where there isn’t much cloud coverage, and the sun is casting bright shards of light across your face, try pinning or hooking up a translucent or white fabric at the window in order to diffuse the harsh light source. You can buy a light tent or white scrim very economically to soften the light falling on your subject, and here’s the one I bought:
You can also make the most of natural light by using a reflector. A reflector can help you salvage bad light, and turn okay light into something magical. You can use your reflector from below to fill in shadows, which is great when your light source is directly above your subject (not flattering!), or from above to block distracting light. You can bounce the sun from a silver reflector to create a main light, or you can use a reflector with a black side to create deeper shadows. Here is one that’s similar to mine:
Selens 5 in 1 Reflector Kit £17.99
Godox LC500 LED Ice Light, £143
If you’re finding that your photography often suffers due to rubbish lighting either at home or when you’re taking photos of people on location, then investing in lightweight, portable lighting equipment could be a good move. It is much harder to edit badly lit photos, and if you’re taking them on your camera phone rather than a professional camera (like me!) then you’ll find your photos will suffer if they’re not taken in good light, making them blurry and unclear, and harder to improve even with good editing software. I really like the handheld, rechargeable Godox LC500 because of it’s lightweight portability; you can charge it up and take it out with you on shoots where it’s likely you won’t have enough natural light. It’s a cheaper version of the Westcott Ice Light, which my pro photographer friend Arnab Ghosal uses for his portraits. The Godox has two colours; cool and warm, both of which can be adjusted for brightness to create a scale of light from natural daylight to a harsher flash, plus ‘barn doors’ to narrow or widen the field of light. The photos below were taken using my Godox LC500.
Where to buy:
Godox LC500 £143: This is out of stock on Amazon at the moment, but you can buy it elsewhere online. Or instead you could go for the better model than the one I have, which is the full colour version, at £239:
Neewer Table Top 10-inch USB LED Ring Light, £26.94
I got this for Christmas as I found that solely relying on natural light to shoot beauty or make-up tutorials was a bit unreliable, and I also wanted something that I could use in darker areas of my flat where there was no natural light available. This table-top ring light needs to be plugged in to work (it doesn’t charge for portability) so that’s one downside, but I just use an extra long extension lead to maintain it’s connection to the mains. It does say it can be mounted on a tripod stand too, though I’ve not tried this yet as it needs an adapter. The ring has varying brightness settings, as well as warm or cool light options so it’s pretty versatile. Great for fairly close-up portrait shots, it will brighten up your skin, give an even light across the face, and brighten the eyes, and it has a useful holder to mount your mobile phone, which can bend and swivel to allow you to get the angle you want. I haven’t used it for video tutorials yet, but I reckon it’ll be great. The photos below were all taken using my Neewer LED ring light.
Where to buy:
Clip-on Selfie ring light, £12.99
For a smaller, on-the-go version of the ring light, grab yourself one of these tiny clip-on lights that you can attach to your mobile phone to take great selfies even in dim light. Especially useful if you want to record pieces to camera and videos for stories and reels when you’re out and about and the lighting is unflattering. This cheap and cheerful little ring light will instantly brighten your face and get rid of unsightly shadows caused by overhead lighting.
Where to buy:
Abeststudio Photography Softbox Lighting Kit, £62.99
If you need something a bit more heavy-duty, for example if you’re in quite a dark flat or house, or need to light bigger areas for wider scenes, then a softbox set-up will be a good option for you. Luckily there are economical options for this too, and I went for an all-in-one set that had everything I needed and is relatively simple and quick to set up and take down. The softbox diffuses the light from the bulbs, giving an even, softer light than if you were to shine a light directly at the subject. With two of them, you can set up a nice, even, clear light across your scene. Mine has two stands, the light bulbs, the soft box covers and a bag, and I use it for filming when I want to ensure a crisp, clear visual and plenty of digital information on the camera for editing afterwards. It’s also great if you want to take photos inside your (ordinary!) house and make them look more professional, as the resulting better-lit photo will be a lot easier to edit to achieve the final look you’re after.
Where to buy:
If you want to create studio-style shots with clean and plain backgrounds, then a photography backdrop would be a good investment. Even if you have blank white walls where you live, a photographic background will enable you to create that ‘infinity cove studio’ feel —albeit on a smaller scale—in your own home. Great for product shots or fashion shoots where you just want to blank background that doesn’t detract from what you’re shooting, and to give that professional feel to your shots. I’ve done this a few times with my baby son, and it works well, especially when brightened up in post-production. If you’re going to use it for an infinity-cove shot, make sure the paper is lying on hard, firm flooring —I’ve tried pulling mine out onto carpet or play mats and all that happens is that your feet or whatever object you place on it just crumples or rips the paper! I bought a stand first and then chose two coloured backdrop paper rolls which I could interchange for different pictures:
Lux Light Backdrop Frame Kit
This kit is pretty lightweight and easy to put up and take down. I routinely carry it up and down my stairs to use in different rooms and it’s been great for shooting sponsored products and blog cover photos. I’ve even used it as a backdrop for Zoom interviews when I want to hide a messy room and look more professional!
Where to buy
I bought two rolls of backdrop paper; white and a bluish grey, so that I could mix and match depending on what I wanted to shoot. I bought mine from https://genesishire.com/ in London, but you can also order some online on Amazon. Just make sure that whatever roll you buy is not wider than your stand!
Brick wall background
I live in a pretty characterless flat and the biggest wall in my living room is covered with a giant mirror, which is great for making the room look bigger, but absolutely useless for shooting photos and videos for Instagram! In order to maximise my location options, I decided to invest in a brick wall backdrop, so that I could shoot in my living room without the camera phone and tripod being visible in the reflection of the mirror. It also gives you another, perhaps more interesting option to shoot in front of, if, like me, you live somewhere that doesn’t have a great deal of character of its own. The only downside with this is that it creases quite easily, which is a sure giveaway if anyone notices the creases in your photos. Thankfully no one has so far, and it can be ironed (on a low heat; don’t burn it!), so not all bad. These photos were shot in front of my brick wall backdrop (eek, you can see the creases in the left-hand photo! Time to get the iron out!).
Where to buy:
So, that’s it —for now! With any luck this has given you some inspiration to create better or more interesting photos for your Instagram page! Be sure to comment and let me know your thoughts, and if you buy any of the items and take some photos with them, please do DM me so I can take a look as I’m sure they’ll look great! Happy shooting!
Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents; follow along on Instagram: @the_amateur_mama