Creating Magical Portraits On A Budget

Our shift towards portraiture feels like a natural progression. Wanting to capture a more human aspect of our travels. The challenge is in creating stylised professional portraits without a studio, budget or space in our backpack for expensive equipment. To work this out we’ve done the logical thing, and spent a lot of time practising on ourselves. With mixed results.


Our second series of portrait photos was inspired by the assorted street performers that permeate every major market, square and traffic light in Guadalajara, Mexico. Charmed by their characters and admiring of their energy, we become motivated to pay tribute, in our own slightly eccentric way, to their craft.

We opted for a clown theme and a total budget of $20 precious dollars. Welcome to ‘Portraits on a Budget!’

As is becoming a tradition of sorts, we started on Pinterest in a coffee shop. Things really are easier with caffeine. We bounced around boards for a while, adding concepts we liked to a secret board created just for the shoot. Pinterest is essentially a digital mood board and perfect for this type of process.

After a few creative differences and tangential detours we eventually sketched out some basic compositions. The budget being the primary constraint. $20 dollars does not buy much. If we were to take a series of photos we needed to keep the cropping tight. Less space, less props and less money spent. You can see our mood board on Pinterest.

Next we worked on our lighting setup. We wanted a soft flat light across the model’s face. However, this required a diffuser at least 12″ wide. Luckily the internet never fails to deliver and we found a good DIY design. Check out Chuck Gardner’s ingenious DIY solution.

One trip to Walmart later and lighting was taken care of. $10 was now allocated to the diffuser, which left $15 to go towards makeup, talcum powder and the tulle for a collar.

Photoshoot Budget

Our core kit:

  • Cannon 5d III
  • 3 lenses covering 16mm to 104mm
  • 2 Cannon speedlights
  • 2 lightstands
  • 2 Photex radio triggers
  • 42″ diffuser

Our expenses for the shot:

  • Gear for 1 fun foam modifier $10
  • Some tulle and ribbon $5
  • Talcum powder $2
  • White face paint $3
  • A dog’s toy ball (we gave it back) $0

Total Incremental Cost: $20 AU

Light Setup

We used a fairly similar light setup for all four photos.

The light diagram makes this look a lot more professional that it was. The backdrop was a coat rack with a blue bed sheet hanging of it for one!


Some of these photos required getting the timing right and many many takes. The ball dropping in particular proved to be a complete nightmare. It seems i can’t count under pressure!!

In these situations you just need to carry on. and on. And on. Although it seems we might have discovered a magic trick to getting that perfect shot. When we are sick to death of shooting we pick a number “5 more shots then we are done” and always shoot just one more. It is on that extra one that we seem to nail it!

Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully this will inspire you to pick up your camera and take some portraits on a budget!. If you found this useful please share with your friends using the buttons below.

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