If you have 200 square feet of space, access to some white foam core, black foam core a few light stands or C-stands, and one single 150 watt or greater light in a reflector, beauty dish or soft box, you have everything you need to make pretty, dramatic portraits.
I recently had the honor, privilege and joy of teaching alongside my pal Matthew Jordan Smith at our local SMUG meeting here in Vegas. We worked in a local rental studio to accommodate our 40 students. We didn’t know what the studio had in the way of gear and we had originally scheduled a natural light, outdoor shoot. So we got to the studio, realized our gear was not compatible with the studio strobes and we did what all professional photographers should be able to do every day in any situation. We improvised.
We found a 150-watt head attached to a silver beauty dish on a C-stand with a boom arm. We weighted down the boom, extended the boom arm out to get the dish away from the stand and in position to illuminate our model(s) and went to work.
Here you see a photo of the set behind the scenes. This was using the black foam core and from this scene I made the following picture.
What makes this work is that we’re using the beauty dish VERY close to the model – less then three feet away. It’s low power so in a dark room it’s just throwing a kiss of light on her face and creates a dramatic look. It may or may not be your cup of tea but it shows you what’s possible.
You can make incredible portraits with minimal gear.
Oh and you can go the other way too. If you want to go high key, bring the light a little closer to increase the intensity and use a white backdrop. Make sure to open up a bit if you don’t have lights on the background because if you don’t it will go gray. Proof is in the pudding – The shot opening this post was made in the same way, same location just using a white background.
Go out there and shoot some beauty shots. Don’t let lack of money stop you.