Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Improving My Photography On A Budget

Lumière & Lens

Whenever I'm tempted to spend money on expensive equipment, I remind myself that the photographer determines the outcome of a picture, not the camera.  I recently upgraded to a Canon 750D body from a 9 year old 1000D.  People have weighed in on my decision:  Why don't you just buy a 70D or a used 5D?  You can get a full frame used for just $1000.  Just buy a full frame camera.

I believe it's important to work with what I have.  My gear is not what determines my vision -- my execution does that.  What camera do you use?  Does it really matter?  Instead of asking me that question, give me an opportunity to show you what I can do.  Personally, I take a minimal approach to photography.  I always ask myself, "How can I produce great work without spending a lot of money?"  Working with limitations forces me to be more creative, resourceful, and grow (DPS encapsulates this sentiment well). With that in mind, here are a few tips for improving photography on a budget!


No matter what camera you own, learn about all the settings and utilize them to the best of your ability.  For DSLR users, shooting in manual (or semi-automatic) mode lets you control exposure, aperture, and shutter speed.  The more you learn about your camera, the more you can exploit its capabilities.  Here's a guide to getting around your DSLR.  When possible, shoot in RAW, an image format that saves without compression (i.e., loss of image data).  Post-processing can help take a good image to excellence and it's more facile if you have all the data.


Natural light is beautiful, universally flattering, and 100% free.  A majority of my photographs are taken in natural light -- it helps images look clean and bright, without need for excessive post-processing or color balancing.  Early morning, late afternoon, and the hour before sunset (Golden/Magic Hour) offer the softest and most flattering light.  On sunny days, I tend to shoot in the shade, away from direct light.  Overcast days offer the most freedom for shoot times; cloud cover helps to diffuse the otherwise strong exposure of the sun.  The two portraits below were taken during Golden Hour using both entry level and professional DSLRs.  Note how the subjects are softly illuminated without being washed out. 

Lumière & Lens Photo, Lumière & Lens, Portrait Photography


A light reflector ($11.99) and a gray card ($7.50) will be the best $20 you spend.  A light reflector is indispensable for minimizing shadows and bouncing more light into the frame.  I always use a reflector when I'm shooting flatlays and objects.  In the example below, using a reflector helps mitigate the shadows at the bottom of the image.  When I post-process the photography, the brightness is evenly distributed across the whole picture.  

gray card, shooting indoors
Still shot under fluorescent light using custom white balance (post).

The gray card lets you set custom white balance on your camera.  White balance can make a huge difference in the brightness and mood of your photographs.  You know that ugly yellow tone you can get from indoor photos?  Using a gray card to set the white balance reduces the color balancing you'll have to do in post-processing. 


Unpopular opinion: I dislike the marble that EVERYONE uses for their flatlays.  I don't care how luxurious or clean it looks -- it's homogeneous and sterile.  I much prefer the look of wood grain so I get my wooden slats, crates, and birch pieces from the craft store, all for $10 or less per item.  When I want a white backdrop for added brightness, I use a big paint canvas that I got on sale from the craft store.   I personally like the subtle texture canvas adds to flatlays. 

Flatlay photography, flatlay backdrops
Flatlay using canvas as a backdrop. 

As for other flatlay props?  Be resourceful and look around the house (see above).  My textured cloths are kitchen towels or shirts I've arranged.  Even when I'm shooting flatlays, I want my props to be personal and authentic items that aren't just for aesthetics/show.  Chances are, if you see a prop in a photo of mine, it's something I actually use and keep in the house.  For example, the wooden crate I use as a backdrop here?  It houses notebooks and equipment when it's not being photographed.


We live in the age of the internet which means there are photography guides everywhere.  I always take the time to read photography tips my fellow bloggers post.  Digital Photography School and 500px ISO are founts for photography resources.  The most important thing I've learned in my journey as a photographer is to never stop learning.  Keep an open mind.  You never know what someone else will be able to teach you.

Do you have any tips on improving photography to share? 


  1. I've never heard of a gray card before! I'll have to check it out. Indoor lighting is the bane of my life. Thanks for these!

  2. Thanks for the tips Alyse! I really need to start using my camera again. I tend to use my phone a lot now.

  3. I agree with Jane :P Usually when I do indoor photography, I just go for a grungy aesthetic if the light isn't that great ;P but I really should learn how to make it work for me! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's

  4. That is so true! Most times, people automatically assume that the camera does all the work - sure it helps but it's the photographer that produces the beautiful images. I honestly don't get the fad of marble. It's pretty yeah but it looks a bit messy to me; nothing will ever beat a wood backdrop.

    Lovely photos as always, Alyse :3

  5. Such great tips, I think we have a stash of grey cards somewhere in the house but I don't really take indoor photos / suck at it (horrible at it) so I've kind of forgotten about them. I am interested in getting a reflector but more likely when i move houses end of the year because we just have too much stuff!

    PS, I'm heading to your country (HAHA) later today woop woop.

  6. Very true, it's not about the camera, it's about the photographer! Living in a city that is mostly grey all the time, lighting is often a pain haha
    I need a new camera as mine's close to death, but I'm being super cheap and will most likely get an older, second hand model. As long as it works, right!
    Maya Not Mya

  7. thank you for these! :) I should get a light reflector. Maybe learn to use it too.
    I know I'm not in the position to give advice but if I were to give an advice, it would be "always invest your time in photography, experiment and never stop learning (like your lesson learned) But if you really want to be good at it then specialize" :D

  8. /le taking nots on everythang because i'm a noob pls teach me senpai

  9. Thank you for all the tips, love! I also believe that the quality of the photos has a lot to do with the photographer rather than equipment. I will make sure to get a light reflector soon, it looks like something I really need in my life :)

    -Leta | The Nerdy Me

  10. This is so spot on! Know your equipment because you can totally make it work! You don't have to have the latest and greatest camera because the photographer makes the photo. Natural light is also amazing because you can never go wrong with it. Thanks for sharing this. (:

    Single Vegas Girl

  11. Awesome tips! For some reason, I never thought to use a canvas as the backdrop! I happen to have a hoard of unused canvases. Now I feel really stupid and un-resourceful, bah. I dislike when people ask about my camera too, because good photography is definitely executed based on the photographer's vision! Although, a good set of glass (lenses) really helps to achieve the right vision. Thanks for the tips!

    Simply Lovebirds