Photography studio on a budget.

10:37 AM

I said it before, these days blogs can't really afford not to be supported by great pictures. if you have a lifestyle blog, this is practically a must, and people will expect you to have a strong visual content. Bonus if said content is yours: meaning more personal photos and less stock photos, and certainly NO STOLEN pictures (I still see it way too much).

The problem is that if you start googling for tips on how to take blog pictures, you will get the idea that it is going to turn into a very expensive thing. Most will tell you that having a DSLR camera and a couple of reflectors, filters, and diffusers are a must.
I'm here to tell you that you don't necessarily need to make huge expenses if you don't want to or simply can't just right away. First because most smart phones nowadays have a very good camera built in, and if you learn to use them, you can take great pictures. The pictures below were all taken with my HTC One M8 Eye :

What you don't know, is that all 3 pictures were taken in what I came to call my "Home Photography Studio". and what you really really don't know is that my Home Photography Studio looks like this :

That's right! I take most of my pictures in my laundry room, on top of my white washing machine (it gives me an incentive to keep it spotlessly clean).
The reason I decided on this spot is a fairly simple one : lots of natural light all through the day. In fact, it is probably the brightest spot in my North - North East facing apartment. And the first rule of good picture taking is to have a good light source. Camera phones excel in bright natural light.

Depending the type of picture I take, I rely on DIY back drops and reflectors. Once again, this is not something you have to spend a lot of money on :

For this picture, which I took just for the sole purpose of illustrating this very blog post, I used a white backdrop which is just a bit of cardboard I recycled from a package. There was enough light when I took the picture, but since I am trying to make a point, I also used a piece of Styrofoam as a reflector. This come in handy when you want to project light on an object on all side. On a really gloomy day, you are going to be better off using a silvery reflector, which you can totally make just using the roll of silver foil in your kitchen and a piece of cardboard.

This is what my picture looks like once it has been taken from a proper angle, and has been fully edited. In this case, the back drop is darker than the top of the washing machine and you see the line in the background. It's ok to do it, if this is what you want to achieve. You can also use different painted back drops. I keep all bits of usable cardboard from the stuff I purchase online to paint as needed.
If you are looking for a seamless back drop, the solution is to get a big roll of white paper and hang it behind the object and underneath it.

I mentioned editing, I have done that in the past as well. This is because editing is a MUST nowadays, all blog pictures you are seeing around are edited. This again need not to be costly, there are many free apps and software that will help you do it and you should make full use of them (no excuses at all, most are super user friendly as well).

Do you want to know what the picture above looked like before editing it? Look no further :

Glamorous isn't it? I edited it using Photoshop Express on my iPad, a free app that packs a lot of features and correction tool. I also often use VSCO cam (another free app), Photoshop Mix (yet again free) and the A Beautiful Mess app (60 rupees) because each has some different filters and strength. I sometimes even start editing in one app and bring some finishing touches in another app.

To summarize everything, you can totally have a photography studio at home (and you should), it doesn't take much space (as you can see) and doesn't require you to make huge expenses either. Remember that the most important thing you will need for your photos is a good source of natural light (this is totally free) and a few easy to pull from scraps props (which wont even take that much space to store away trust me).

How do you take your blog pictures? What does your photography spot looks like?

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  1. I'm finding curry to be really challenging to photograph in a flattering manner.
    I don't have a white washing machine (ours is brick red with silver grey accents) & the window with the best light in our house is the kitchen.
    I've found draping a bed sheet or colorful dupatta over the dining room table or a dining chair where the indirect light hits to be the best background.
    I just use Iphoto on my Mac to edit my photos from my phone.
    You are correct, most phones have perfectly adequate cameras to take pic for blog use nowadays.
    Unfortunately I dropped my fancy Samsung Zoom camera & damaged the lens- so now it has to go to Kathmandu to be fixed. Between the festivals and the fuel shortage here it will probably take a couple months to get fixed.

    1. Yeah food is very difficult to photograph in a faltering manner. I found that doing close ups or displaying small quantities in cute serving dishes works well.

      You can use painted cardboard to place your dishes on as a type of back drop. I know some bloggers have used sample floor tiles to do it as well.

      Hubby and I are thinking of getting a MacBook laptop soon. Our old netbooks is really starting to struggle. I also want to start using the full version of Photoshop for all my graphic design needs that cannot be fulfilled on the iPad. I always enjoyed doing some graphic work on the computer as a hobby, I just want to do more now, and my old, very old version of Paint Shop Pro is starting to be very limited (not to mention my netbook is threading to crash each time I need to use it).

      I hope you can get that lens fixed soon

  2. The thing I struggle with the most is having good natural light. Our old house is dark everywhere. We need to get in some skylights. I've been planning on getting onto making some more dedicated back drops, I usually just grab a bit of cardbaord or whatever makeshift thing I have around.

    1. My apartment is mostly North Facing, that laundry room is the only one that gets some light from the east, so I definitely understand the struggle for natural light. The big challenges are when I am taking picture of my home decor, I can't move my entire bedroom to the laundry room :-) for these pictures I have to use the DSLR and still edit the crap out of them to get them to look right. The kitchen is probably the worst room of all, and ironically is located right before the laundry room.

    2. The bedrooms in our house are all shady too.
      Our house faces west & the bedrooms are all on the north side which makes them too dark to photo in natural light. I bought some gorgeous Indian made block printed duvet covers & pillow shams which I'd like to take photos of on the bed. But the bedrooms are too dark & artificial light just creates too much glare, even with editing the brilliant pinks, purples & oranges in the bedding look odd.
      The best indoor light is in our south east facing dining room- which also has large windows with lace curtains.
      I can also get decent indirect lighting for photos mid day to afternoon on our south west facing front patio - which is a bit shaded by the car port & an awning.

    3. Artificial light can be really tricky, and unless you have big reflectors and diffuser to channel that light it is near impossible to take a good picture, that and professional light equipment that is, which is a significant expense enough to not want to make it if you aren't going to use them a lot.

  3. Anonymous1:42 PM

    Happy Dussera to you and family. I have problems not with light these days but distance. When you try to take pictures like a durga idol which is at a fair distance and also big, at say ten feet, sometimes the picture appears small while the real eye sees it very big. Then you have enlarge the focus which results in somewhat hazy picture, It does not help either when you are trying to take the picture of all the idols besides the Durga idol.

    I specailly had a problem with distance in durga pooja this year . Usually there are too many people near the idol and even if your reach near it, the pictures always come out as if take from a distance. Sometimes they appear clear on computer. I would be helpful if there are tips to take good quality pictures from camera phones, I think higher end phones do have this problem of focus, light and colour because they adjust accordingly.

    It has been been whirlwind few days. Good food, spectacular artistic pandals and idols and scintillating music. What more can a man ask for. Yup, nice but very exaustive. This is the last day ninth day of the pooja for us, but according to North Indian calender it is Dussera today, which means another day of fun and frolic. Bengalis are going to celebrate the tenth day of Navaratras tomorrow when the idols are going to be immersed.


    1. Same to you :-)

      Camera phones have this distance limitation due to the small lens, they really excel at close range and close up pictures, but the further away from the subject you are the more difficult it gets to get a good picture. Stay away from the zoom on camera phones, they aren't worth it,

      What you can do with a distance shot with a camera phone is to crop the picture later in a photo editing software as distance pictures taken with mobile phones have a lot of wasted space if you have centered your subject. You can see it to some extent in the picture in that blog post. The edited blog post ready square version shows the blue pot close up and it has a lot of details. But This is truly the same picture as the rectangular one at the bottom of the blog post. I cropped all the cardboard props out of it using the square cropping tool.
      The cropping automatically adjust the size of the picture to centre that portion and since most camera phones have now 8 mega pixel and above of resolution, there is still enough pixels to give you a good resolution on that specific area.

      Point and shoot cameras have the same problem with distance despite having more powerful zoom. My DSLR has the standard kit lens and it is having it's limitations as well. Pro photographers use special lens for such cases, with strong sharp zooming features.

      I did write a post about the basics of picture taking with a Camera Phone, you can find it in my side bar in the "Hot favourite" section : How to take great pictures with your phone.

    2. If you want to check right away if the pictures on your phone would benefit from cropping, you can download the VSCO Cam app, it's free and it has a all the basic photo editing features, including a good cropping tool. I am sure many of the Durga pictures you took will suddenly start looking great with a little cropping.

    3. This is where my zoom/panorama lens comes in handy!
      I just made 3 ingredient pumpkin spice cookies-
      1 vanilla cake mix
      1 & 3/4 C pumpkin puree
      2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
      (I put walnuts in too)
      They're yummy! - too bad my camera's incapacitated so I can't post pics of them.
      Happy Vijaya Dashami from Nepal!

    4. Anonymous5:03 PM

      this may be goddess Durga'a way telling " you mere mortal, I am too big to fit in your camera phone" lol.

      I am more problems fitting the entire family goddess Durga in one frame. It is too much to ask for from a camera phone. Will check out the cropping software.

      @ bibI

      happy vijaydasahmi to u too. bengali dashami is tomorrow. today it is navami to. tomorrow it will subho bijoya (happy vijaydashmi) for us.



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