DIY photo lighting using natural light bulbs

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Or “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

If you are a professional photographer, this post is not for you.  Also, if you are a really good amateur photographer.  Or if you have a DSLR camera.  Or if you always use the precisely correct equipment for every task.

But if you are a frugal, use what you’ve got and make it work with your little point and shoot camera type of girl (or guy) like me, this could really help you.

A couple of years ago when I started this blog, I quickly realized that natural lighting is a must for good photos.  And that flash is generally a major no-no.  This is just as true when photographing your family as it is when photographing a furniture reveal.  So when I decided to take monthly photos of my little guy, I knew I wanted to use natural light.  I chose a cute little nook in his nursery to take the pictures each month to show how he grew and changed.

The lighting wasn’t great, but on a bright sunny day, it worked just fine.  The photos turned out great all winter..but by May, there was a major problem.  Even in the middle of the sunniest day, the room was still way too dark for photos.  It took me a few days to figure out my fatal mistake.  When I started taking the photos in the middle of winter,the huge white oak tree in our front yard was bare of leaves.  Once spring took hold though, its millions of leaves blocked almost every speck of direct sunlight from the nursery.   Grr.  So the little nook with reasonable light was suddenly one of the darkest, most shadowy corner of the house.

After five straight months of taking pictures in that spot, there was no way I was going to change to another area of the house. So I experimented with several lighting options – with pretty poor results.

natural light, no flash photography using overhead light photography with flash

Using only the available natural light was way too dark.  The overhead light was too yellow and caused a ton of shadows.  And the flash illuminated everything but also washed everything out, including my cute little baby.

I know professional photographers take great portraits without sunlight all the time but I do not have any fancy lights and reflectors.  I don’t even have an external flash. I decided that what I needed were some softboxes which give off a very diffuse, natural looking light…so I made my own.  But for free.  Well, almost free.  I did have to buy some lightbulbs.

This is what the softboxes you can buy look like.  Fair warning: mine look nothing like this.

I cut two corners off an old cardboard box and then cut a whole right in the center of each corner for the lightbulb to stick through.  I covered the interior of the box with aluminum foil to make it reflective.  At this point it looked kind of like one of those collars dogs wear to keep them from scratching.  Then I stuck the whole contraption onto a lamp base and screwed a natural daylight bulb into the lamp.  The last step was to throw a white sheet over the top to diffuse the light.  And there you have it – a free photography softbox.

Note: you must use natural daylight light bulbs. Other bulbs give a very yellow light but these give a clean, white light.

diy photography lighting

Here is a pic without the sheet so you can see what the inside looks like.

DIY softbox setup

To get the best lighting with the least shadows, I leaned one on top of a hamper pointing and held the other one.  And as crazy as the whole things sounds and looked…it worked pretty well.  Here is a comparison.

at home photography lighting comparison

And in case you missed the final result, here is Griffin’s latest monthly photo.

6 months (1)

I so love figuring out how to get just what I want without spending money.

And if any of you were looking for some really professional looking DIY softboxes, I am sorry.  I realize mine really just look like a trash pile.  But they work just fine and only took ten minutes to make and that is good enough for me.

Anyone have any other simple photography tips and tricks?  If so, I would love to hear them.


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  1. says

    I love it that you just looked at them (they scream SCARY, PROFESSIONAL EQUIPMENT to me) and figured out how to make them. Way to go! And your babe is gorgeous, :)

  2. Virginia says

    Your trash pile is a treasure to me!!! If someone doesn’t like it they can buy me an expensive soft box (I won’t complain) but until then I am all about free or close to it. I was so relieved someone else figured this out so it would save me time. I love it and appreciate the time you took to post it and help the rest of us frugal mamas out here.

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