DIY portrait lighting lead image

DIY Portrait Lighting Setup In a Small Space

I’m dabbling in home studio lighting setups and have opted for constant light opposed to strobes. Space is an issue and I’m not sure how invested I want to get into lightboxes, strobes, backdrops and all the things. If this sounds like you, then maybe this post will help.

Materials used

Studio setup & materials

Camera gear

Studio location

I have repurposed my home office to accommodate this modest setup. The room only has one window, which has a blackout-lined curtain placed over it – effectively eliminating light. I mounted another curtain rod directly above the existing curtain, so they layer in parallel.

For these first two sets below, my goal was to utilize the brightest light possible without overexposing and blowing out my whites.

Setup diagram

Below, observe the following:

  • Black backdrop as black bar along the top
  • Subject as the center circle
  • Clamp light clipped to an eye-level shelf mounted to the right of the subject and angled facing the subject.
  • Camera as black rectangles setup on tripod, 45-degree angled toward the subject
Set 1: Lighting, backdrop, subject and camera setup diagram.
Set 1: Lighting, backdrop, subject and camera setup diagram.

Set 1: Fujinon 35mm + 2 aluminum shade clamp lights

Side llghting test one. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Set 1: Side llghting test one. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Exif X-T1 f2 1/320s 35mm iso 1000
Side llghting test two. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Set 1: Side llghting test two. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Exif X-T1 f2 1/320s 35mm iso 500
Side llghting test three. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Set 1: Side llghting test three. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Exif X-T1 f2 1/320s 35mm iso 320
Side llghting test four. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Set 1: Side llghting test four. Portrait shot with two 5000k daylight bulbs in aluminum clamp lights, angled at right mounted at eye-height, diffused
Exif X-T1 f2 1/320s 35mm iso 640

Set 2: Fujinon 16mm + 3 aluminum shade clamp lights

These used a right-side and left-side broad light aluminum shade clamp light setup with three (one on right-side, two overhead) constant 5000k LED daylight bulbs. 5000k diffused LED daylight overhead lights (in ceiling fan). The lighting is okay, but the lens choice is not good. I boiled this down to a learning experience.

Setup diagram

Below, observe the following:

  • Black backdrop as black bar along the top
  • Subject as the center circle
  • Clamp light clipped to an eye-level shelf mounted to the left of the subject and 45-degree angled facing the subject.
  • Camera as black rectangles setup on tripod, 45-degree angled toward the subject
  • Two 5000k daylight LED bulbs lit the subject overhead, mounted in a standard ceiling fan housing.
Set 2: Lighting, backdrop, subject and camera setup diagram
Set 2: Lighting, backdrop, subject and camera setup diagram
So bright! This shot uses a clamp light in addition to 2 diffused overhead lights.
Exif X-T1 f1.4 1/400s 16mm iso 1000
So bright! This shot uses a clamp light in addition to 2 diffused overhead lights.
Exif X-T1 f1.4 1/400s 16mm iso 640
So bright! This shot uses a clamp light in addition to 2 diffused overhead lights.
So bright! This shot uses a clamp light in addition to 2 diffused overhead lights.
Exif X-T1 f1.4 1/400s 16mm iso 800

Set 3: Fujinon 35mm + 1 aluminum shade clamp light

The final set in this post dabbles in a more dramatic setup. This set is my favorite to date.

Setup diagram

Below, observe the following:

  • Black backdrop as black bar along the top
  • Subject as the center circle
  • Clamp light clipped to an over-the-head shelf mounted to the left of the subject and 45-degree angled facing the subject.
  • Camera as black rectangles setup on tripod, straight on aimed toward the subject
Set 3: Lighting, backdrop, subject and camera setup diagram.
Set 3: Lighting, backdrop, subject and camera setup diagram.
Set 3: Single light shot one - edited. Portrait shot with single 5000k daylight bulb in an aluminum clamp light, angled overhead, diffused
Set 3: Single light shot one. Portrait shot with single 5000k daylight bulb in an aluminum clamp light, angled overhead, diffused
Exif X-T1 f2 1/20s 35mm iso 1600
Set 3: Single light shot two. Portrait shot with single 5000k daylight bulb in an aluminum clamp light, angled overhead, diffused
Set 3: Single light shot two. Portrait shot with single 5000k daylight bulb in an aluminum clamp light, angled overhead, diffused
Exif X-T1 f2 1/20s 35mm iso 1600
Set 3: Single light shot three. Portrait shot with single 5000k daylight bulb in an aluminum clamp light, angled overhead, diffused
Set 3: Single light shot three. Portrait shot with single 5000k daylight bulb in an aluminum clamp light, angled overhead, diffused. Also used a dimmed and diffused Neewer 160 LED Power Panel behind the subject to define the hair edges.
Exif X-T1 f2.2 1/75s 35mm iso 6400

Portrait lighting doesn't have to be expensive or complicated

Observations and takeaways from these three setups:

  • The angle of light is important to consider in how the light casts over the subject’s face.
  • The amount of light, its diffusing and the quality (temperature) of light tremendously affects exposure.
  • Just as important as the quality of light, the elimination of other light sources is important to get right. This being my office,
    I struggled with light leaking in unintentionally – from the living room or nearby monitors. In the final setup, I made certain to close my office door to eliminate light leaking from the living room and turn off my computer monitors.
  • As a glasses wearer, avoiding any reflection in my glasses from light sources can prove difficult and trial-and-error is necessary to eliminate entirely.

I’m very proud of the growth evident in these portraits and look forward to experimenting with different background and lighting adjustments.