I know the money question is among of the biggest ones when you start your creative photography journey and think of working on your personal creative projects. It might feel like all of the great photographers who you admire, work with huge budgets and, of course, it’s very discouraging for someone who only has a camera, a willing subject and a few hours a week to scratch her creative itch. Let me prove that it’s enough!
It might feel like all of the great photographers who you admire, work with huge budgets and, of course, it’s very discouraging for someone who only has a camera, a willing subject and a few hours a week to scratch her creative itch. Let me prove that it’s enough!
I’ve already mentioned several important things on planning your low budget shoots in my previous post on 5 basic myths about creative photography. In this post, I will share how and where you can get all the elements of your image, including location, wardrobe, props, makeup, very cheap or even for free! But before we get into talking about each of the above, I’d like to note one thing: state the budget limit for your shoot. Even if it’s 10€. Then it will be easier for you to see if you manage to keep it within that limit or if you need to spend extra and if it’s justifiable or not.
Not every single one of my shoots starts with the search for a location, but this is, of course, one of the most important elements of an image for me. I never change backgrounds or locations for my subjects in Photoshop, I really prefer to shoot them right on the spot, so the light is the same everywhere from model’s face to the wall and furniture behind her.
It’s a no-brainer that the cheapest location is your own home or the home of your model. I’ve been doing photography for 7 years now and only a couple of years ago I realized that I need to have as little furniture and interior decor as possible in order to be able to shoot at my place. My furniture now is very easy to move and my walls are empty. The cool part about empty walls is that you can turn them into anything. You can stick stuff to them, you can order cheap backgrounds from e-bay or ali express and start creating magic right there in your room. The photos below were made in my leaving room. Can you tell?
Look around, and notice if there are any interesting textured or colored walls that you could be using. There might be quite a few in your backyard!
If for some reason your place is not an option, shooting outdoors is always free. You don’t even have to travel far from your house. Look around, and notice if there are any interesting textured or colored walls that you could be using. There might be quite a few in your backyard! Take walks around your city with the goal of finding interesting places (walls, bridges, beaches, peers, streets, parks, doors, windows, columns, arches - anything can be a great photo-shoot location. When you do this, don’t forget to take pics of your findings from different angles and put them into a separate “locations” folder on your computer or phone, so that you can easily find a suitable one, when you have an amazing idea.
Now, if you’re like me live in a country where it’s sometimes simply impossible to shoot outdoors due to the nasty weather, you, of course, need to think of some indoor location, which is not a photo studio, where you’ll have to pay for rent. Well, your options here are endless! You can shoot in cafes, libraries, universities, museums, hotels, stadiums, sports halls, theatres, churches, train or metro stations - to name but a few. The best practices here are to call the place in advance and ask if they are ok with you and your model coming there for a shoot on a particular day at a particular time. It’s would be even better, if you can tell the whole story behind your project and promise to mention the location on your social media. In some places, they will advise you on the best time to do your shoot, e.g. when there are fewer people that might be disturbed by you. This way everyone is happy. From my experience: you can shoot in museums for the cost of the ticket, and in cafes, if you and your model get a cup of tea or coffee.
When you run out of friends to take pictures of, the time has come to reach out to people who you’ve never met before. And again, no, you don’t have to pay them.
When you run out of friends to take pictures of, the time has come to reach out to people who you’ve never met before. And again, no, you don’t have to pay them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate turning people into slaves and using free labor. It’s only that the whole model business is targeted at brands who make thousands and millions when using models’ faces, not beginner photographers who can’t make a living from their passion yet. TFCD/TFP model work is common practice.
Where can you find TFP models?
- There are websites, like Model Mayhem.
- There are also Facebook (VK, if you’re a Russian speaker) groups, and it’s best if you search for your local ones.
The first two are pretty clear, so I’d like to give you a couple of tips on the Instagram model search.
1. Find portrait photographers in your area and take a look at who they are working with.
2. When you like a particular face, go to the model’s account and see her other pics.
3. If they look good, reach out and send a message. Before that don’t forget to like her photos and maybe make a few positive comments to draw attention to yourself.
Wanna try working with agency girls, but don’t have any budget to offer? Well, that’s also possible!
Wanna try working with agency girls, but don’t have any budget to offer? Well, that’s also possible! However, there are a few things to remember.
- It’s good to make sure that the model is interested in working with you first and that she digs your ideas.
- When you reach out to the agency, you need to have a clear idea on when what and for how long you are going to shoot, as well as where and how you’ll be using the pictures. Moodboards will be helpful here.
- You might also need to make several shots for the agency itself, and it would be a nice thing to ask in the very beginning: what kind of shots they are hoping to get.
In any case, no matter where you find your model, you need to be really specific and explain what your shoot is going to be about and what kind of photos your model will get from it. It’s also good to keep in mind that when you’re kind to your model and treat her with care, you’ll get the best photo results. Little thoughtful touches will win you extra points: coffee, sandwich, a small gift, whatever you can offer works here.
Makeup is an important part of a shoot, but let’s face it: in some cases, it can be just skipped.
Makeup is an important part of a shoot, but let’s face it: in some cases, it can be just skipped. It will all depend on your idea no doubt. If you’re like Patty Maher shooting someone with face covered by hair all the time, then there’s just no point of caring about getting a makeup artist. If you like to shoot models outdoors when a large part of your image is taken by the location and your model is faaar away from the viewer, again makeup is not that vital.
However, if you know you’re going to need the makeup (in case of shooting a close-up) here are the three options:
- Allow your model to do it herself. Won’t always work perfectly and will hugely depend on the model’s makeup skills.
- Do it yourself. If you don’t trust your model, that’s an option for you. There are many free online lessons on makeup that you can take to get the basic skills. Then, you can also get a couple of lessons from a school or a professional that will allow you to do something light quickly.
- Collaborate with a makeup artist - my favourite option. There are always people who are starting out in the makeup world, as well as you’re in your creative photography, makeup schools graduates and undergraduates who need portfolio pictures for example. Also, more experienced artists are sometimes interested in trying new things and getting rest from that nude bridal look. Offer them something, where they can explore their creativity and you’re all set.
So many options here, yet I discovered them only after several years of making magical photos.
So many options here, yet I discovered them only after several years of making magical photos.
- Check your own wardrobe and ask your model: what can be easier, right? Yet, often we forget about this option.
- Check your local second-hands and flea markets. Clothes are usually very cheap there.
- Make it yourself! Often you can create something impressively looking (even if it’s from one side only!) from a regular sheet! In many cases, you don’t even have to sew, but if you can - it’s a bonus.
- Find local designers and collaborate with them. Yes, you can simply borrow their items for your shoots in return for the images that you make and mentions in social media. It’s as simple as that. When you are starting out, it’s easier to approach fashion design students or people who have just graduated from design schools. You can also easier to talk to small local brands, and yes, in many cases it will be stopping by the shop and talking to the manager in person.
- Buy and return. I was very reluctant to do this for a long time, but it’s a very common practice after all. The big brands like H&M even state everywhere in their adds: “buy now - decide later”. Then, if the images work out well, and you mention the shop you “borrowed” the clothes from its FREE advertising for the brand. So everyone is winning.
Often that was the thing I spent most of my shoot budget money on. However, it’s still possible to keep it small.
TRASH: Recently, I talked to Helga Stenzel, an amazing multimedia visual artist and she confessed bringing trash findings home and using them for props! Yes, people do throughout nice things sometimes: from furniture to books and toys. So why not use that as props!
FLEAMARKETS: Another option is, of course, to search your local flea markets. However, I have to admit that that’s not always the cheapest one.
FLEXIBLE MATERIALS FROM SUPERMARKETS: I mean plastic film, aluminum foil, paper, cardboard, glue and so on. There are endless opportunities to create things from those materials - so many diys are available on the web!
NATURE: If you can’t buy it, maybe you can find it under your feet! Tree branches, pebbles, furns, rocks and moss can become great props, depending on your idea of course. )
I hope you find this post useful and will be encouraged to shoot more, even when you don’t have spare money for your creative projects. Do you have any personal hacks on how to shoot on a low budget? I’d love to hear them!