Dollar Store Lighting for Photographers on a Budget

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Dollar Store Lighting for Photographers on a Budget

One of the simplest and most inexpensive tools you can use to light your portrait subject is a 20×30 inch white foam poster board. Too often new photographers get caught up in having to have the best gear and lighting equipment when sometimes you can get similar results without spending much money!

These pictures were shot by illuminating the subject with a simple white foam core poster board that was purchased at our local dollar store. Each shot shown was taken with the same exact exposure (f 2.8,  1/400, ISO 250), the only thing that changed was that a white board was added to reflect light back on to the subject.  The sun was behind the subject at about a 90 degree angle and the white board was positioned directly in line with the sun in order to reflect the light back.  The board was placed about 3 feet away from the subject to maximize the amount of light reflecting back.



As you can see the image without the DIY reflector fill card is muddy and dark which typically is fixable on the backend, but you should always go in to Photoshop or Lightroom with the best possible exposure and lighting. Keep in mind, as a rule of thumb you are much better off with a slightly underexposed image than an overexposed image since you can open up shadows, but cannot typically bring back detail from highlights. One of the greatest benefits from using a fill card or reflector is the “catch” or “sparkle” you achieve in the subject’s eyes. Nothing can ruin a picture more than flatness in the eyes.


These particular examples were all backlit since it is one of my favorite types of portrait light, but experiment with the sun directly on one side or the sun in front of your subject and bounce the light back to create a stunning back light! You can see a diagram of our set up below.

I use simple fill cards for many other different applications, like when I’m photographing products and food, they are essential in my opinion. The black poster boards have great uses as well, but we’ll save that for another time or another post!

The final images were processed using MCP Photoshop Actions from their Fusion set. It’s a great set of simple and effective actions that produce beautiful results!



Come see even more images and edits later this week. 

Carolyn Devine is a Los Angeles based photographer whose work is inspired by the environment around her.  Her love for nature is obvious in her work, whether it’s photographing families, fashion, or product. This natural style is what people are drawn to and what she is known for.

Find her on Facebook or at



Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
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1 Comment

  1. February 17, 2016 at 1:34 pm —

    As a still learning photog, I find this post very insightful. This is information that I had already become aware of but somehow managed to forget the value of it. I have shot a number of situations in which this would have been the perfect solution for my lighting situation at the time. I appreciate this reminder and thanks for taking the time to share

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Dollar Store Lighting for Photographers on a Budget