From hard-won pro tips to amateurs’ crafty workarounds, we share 30 great ways to save cash while getting great images

If you let it, photography can be an expensive hobby. Once you start investing in the latest camera bodies, lenses, lighting and accessories the £s soon start to add up. We all like to save a few quid here and there, and just because we don’t have the ‘professional’ kit or the money doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to get the shot. When times are tight and you’re being squeezed left, right and centre out of your hard-earned cash, it doesn’t mean that your photography should suffer. As long as you have a camera body and lens of some description then these tips will apply to you.

Based on tips from AP staff, various photographers and members of the public – we’ve laid out 30 of the very best money-saving ideas so you can keep the money in your pocket while being happy with the results you get from a shoot.


Buy second-hand

Credit: Claire Gillo

Buy second-hand

Claire Gillo, AP Acting Technique Editor

‘Instead of splashing out on new lenses and lighting gear I always look to buy second-hand with these types of products. I got my Nissin Di700A flashgun from Wex Photo Video (£100 less than new) and it was a great buy. Although eBay is a good resource for second-hand kit, I prefer to pay slightly higher prices on the established and trusted websites (such as Wex, Ffordes, Park Cameras, etc.) to ensure the products have been checked over by a professional. This shot was lit using one of my flashguns placed to the side of the model, which I then cloned out of the shot in Photoshop.’


Go vintage

Janet Broughton and Glenys Garnett (ggcreativeimages.co.uk)

Both Janet and Glenys share their experiences using vintage lenses. Janet says: ‘Vintage lenses can be wonderful and very cheap; I regularly use the Helios 44-2 that only cost me £15 (normal retail second-hand around £35). Because they are manual, the adapters are cheap too.’ Glenys advises: ‘Buy an adapter for your camera for £20 and buy some cheap vintage lenses. You can often find them for less than £50 and some of them are superb.’


A4 DIY bounce reflector

Credit: Ian Pack

A4 DIY bounce reflector

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

This will cost you £2 to make. Ian says: ‘A bounce card or reflector will soften the light from your Speedlite. Very useful when there’s no suitable wall or ceiling to bounce light from. This one is very easy to make from a sheet of self-adhesive white craft foam for children, 2mm aluminium florist’s wire and bright silver plastic. The white side gives a softer light, whereas the bright side reflects light with more contrast.’


Gaffer tape

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘At £5 per roll, Gaffer tape is essential, with untold uses. It comes in large rolls which are cumbersome to carry. I use the plastic or card-receipt roll cores from a local supermarket and transfer from the large to a smaller, more convenient roll.’


Use childs armbands

Credit: Claire Gillo

Child’s armbands

Tina Claffey (www.tinaclaffey.com)

If you want to get down low but don’t have a tripod that does the job (or you don’t want to get it dirty), then a great tip is to use a child’s armband as support. Tina Claffey revealed that she uses this technique to AP Acting Technique Editor Tracy Calder when photographing super close-ups in bogs! Tina is the author of Tapestry of Light – Ireland’s Bogs & Wetlands As Never Seen Before.


Large backdrops

Annerley Johnson

Annerley Johnson shared on Facebook: ‘I buy king-size plain cotton sheets from cheap supermarkets and rig them to curtain poles at clients’ houses or on location with large, hair-clamp-style clips. These type of backdrops are easy to wash, and tumble drying them works fine; non-iron sheets are even better. It’s a makeshift studio in a carrier bag!’


product backgrounds

Credit: Claire Gillo

Backgrounds for product shots

Claire Gillo, AP Acting Technique Editor

‘If you’re after an interesting background or surface to shoot an object on, then wallpaper samples and fabric cuts are the perfect solution. Many DIY stores only charge a small fee (or free) to take samples. Fabric, when bought by a couple of metres in a haberdashery, can be as little as pennies depending on your selection. Another favourite of mine for close-up, still-life subjects is to shoot my subject against bright colourful card. My kids love it too as once I’m finished they then add the creased or damaged pieces to their arts and crafts box.’


Foil lids

Sue Hartley

Sue Hartley was happy to share her tip on Facebook with us: ‘Foil lids from takeaway-style containers make great mini reflectors for fungi, flowers and so on, being white on one side and silver on the other. I always keep a couple in my bag!’


 

Make own light box

Credit: Claire Gillo

Make your own light box

Amy Davies, AP Features Editor

‘It’s really simple to make your own light box. All you need is a piece of greaseproof paper stuck against a window! Just remember you’ll need to tape your subject to the window so this technique only works for small objects. For larger subjects get a cardboard box, cut a hole in the bottom, tape over a sheet of greaseproof paper tightly, and light from below using a strong LED light.’


Don’t travel

Jo Stephen (jostephenphotography.wordpress.com) and Carla Wakins (carlawatkinsphotography.com)

Both Jo and Carla on Facebook advise not to go far. Not only will you reduce your costs but you’re also having a greener photoshoot. Jo says: ‘Shoot macro; there are infinite landscapes in a small area and you can reduce your carbon footprint by reducing travel as well as familiarising yourself with the nature that is often overlooked.’ Carla says: ‘Challenge yourself to get 20 different photos in a really small area – your back garden, living room, or within a one-minute walk from your front door.’


Use a beanbag

Credit: Ian Pack

Beanbag

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘To make a DIY beanbag, you can use dried beans from a supermarket, but the beans could rot or even germinate when wet, so I recommend ceramic baking beads in a plastic bag. Reinforce the edges of the bag with Gaffer tape to prevent splitting. When placed on an uneven surface, the beanbag shapes to the surface of the camera and provides a stable platform to steady the camera for long exposures or low-down perspective shots. I use a micro fibre cloth between the beanbag and camera to reduce damage to the plastic bag. You could also sew two micro fibre cloths together to make a beanbag.’


White Ripstop nylon

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘White Ripstop nylon is used for making kites, etc. It’s available online and from high-street fabric shops and makes a perfect diffuser. In the studio I use it clamped to a boom extended with a length of PVC plumbers waste pipe, and on location a frame made from plumbers waste pipe to diffuse either hard direct sunlight or ash. It’s priced between £1.39 and £3.79 per metre.’


Look after kit

Credit: Claire Gillo

Look after your kit

Michael Topham, AP Reviews Editor

Our Reviews Editor and camera-kit expert Michael Topham advises you to take care of your kit and store all the original boxes it came in. ‘Usually you can get more money for them when reselling if you have the original packaging and box.’


Make a hide

Sue Dall

Sue Dall on Facebook says: ‘You don’t need to spend a fortune when photographing birds. I’ve just made a bird hide out of the cardboard packaging for a fridge. I’ve cut two flaps in it and it’s working a treat for garden birds.’


Window suction cup

Credit: Ian Pack

Window suction cup

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘Suction lifters are used to move glazing panels and tiles; this one is rated at 100kg load (and costs only £9.99)! I’ve used one of these three suction-cup lifters to mount lights to windows and even a lightweight video camera to car hoods with the aid of additional grip gear. They are available in store and online from major building suppliers.’


Clean your camera

Matthew Horwood (matt-horwood.com)

Professional news PR and commercial photographer Matthew Horwood buys a cheap micro fibre camping towel for £6 and then cuts it up to make several lens cloths. He also advises that a make-up brush is good for getting rid of dust on your lens, and get a bottle of isopropyl from Amazon, rather than ‘lens cleaner’, because it is much cheaper and basically does the same thing.


Foam board a1

Credit: Ian Pack

Foam board A1

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘Foam boards are one of the most useful accessories in my studio and location kit. White makes a great reflector, which can be clamped to a light stand. Cut through the card on one side and fold to make a self-supporting v-flat. Cut shapes to make cookies (cucoloris) to add patterns to your lighting or use to block or flag light from the frame. It is easily available online and from art and craft suppliers.’


Book in advance and be flexible

Claire Gillo, AP Acting Technique Editor

‘If you’re flexible with travel plans and avoid busy weekends and holidays, you can travel to many different and exciting locations for as little as a few quid! Bus companies such as National Express and Megabus are incredibly cheap if you get the deals in advance. Also, booking the train in advance is a much cheaper way to travel.’


Bargain tips props

Credit: Claire Gillo

Bargain props

Anne Haile (annesphotos.uk)

‘Buy props from your local auction house, junk shop or charity shop. Save a fortune over new and there’s a more interesting range to be had.’ Find more of Anne’s tips at annesphotos.uk/vintage-photo-props-for-studio-shots/.


Padded inserts

Claire Williams

Claire Williams on Facebook said: ‘Buy a padded insert for a backpack you might already own for hiking, and it will double for camera and kit.’ A great tip for those who already own a decent backpack and do not want to invest in another just for their kit.


Clothes pegs

Credit: Ian Pack

Wooden clothes pegs, clips and clamps

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘You can never have too many clothes pegs, clips and clamps. I have a wide variety accumulated over the years. Wooden clothes pegs are cheap and have been used by film and TV lighting gaffers for decades to attach gels and diffusion to lights mainly as they don’t conduct heat, don’t melt, are cheap and readily available. I carry them for attaching gels inside and out to softboxes and other modifiers.’


White shower curtain

Emma Finch (www.emmafinchphotography.co.uk)

Portrait, wedding and lifestyle photographer Emma Finch shares her secret behind capturing a well-lit portrait: ‘A white shower curtain diffuses light beautifully.’


Clear plastic bags

Credit: Ian Pack

Clear plastic bags

Ian Pack (www.packshots.biz)

‘Every photographer working outdoors in the UK should carry a couple of (heavy-duty) clear plastic bags in their kit. Great for kneeling on the ground if it’s wet or dirty, and I also use them to cover my ash and camera when working in the rain. All you need to do is cut a corner from a bag and slice it down one side to make a camera cover which is attached to the lens hood with Gaffer tape or elastic bands – don’t use electrical or duct tape because they leave a nasty residue when removed. Supermarkets sell these bags as Clear Storage Sacks or Strong Tall Bin Liners.’


Free software

Tracy Calder, AP Acting Technique Editor

‘If you don’t want to splash out on the big bucks when it comes to software, you need not. Most cameras (all the mainstream ones anyway) come with free image-editing software, from Canon’s Digital Photo Professional to Nikon’s ViewNX-i and Capture NX-D software. If your aim is to only make basic adjustments to your images, that is, tone and contrast control, these programs are more than sufficient to get you professional-looking results.’


Zip bags

Credit: Claire Gillo

Zip bags

Eva Pitt and Richard Sawyer

Eva Pitt says on Facebook: ‘I use £1 clear plastic, zip-up school pencil cases to pack all sorts of necessities, from spare batteries, cards, cloth, a tiny torch, plastic bags, and so on – they are easy to organise and see. In fact most of my Fujifilm lenses fit in these too and I feel they are well protected.’ Richard Sawyer adds: ‘Resealable freezer bags are great for keeping batteries dry. Army surplus stores have British Army gas mask bags that are just the right size for your lunch, flask and other bits of camera essential kit.’


Micropore medical tape

Lee Stevens (www.weddingphotographer.events; Instagram @lee_stevens_ photography)

Wedding photographer Lee Stevens shares this tip on our Facebook page: ‘As a full-time wedding photographer, there is an incredibly cheap accessory I always have in my kit bag: translucent micropore medical tape. Often, for key shots, I need a part of the dress, hair, veils, flowers, etc., to be held in a very specific place and to not move around in the breeze. The tape costs very little, and takes only seconds to put in place. It doesn’t show in the pictures and is easily removed without leaving any residue. I never leave home without a couple of rolls!’


Mobile phone as lighting

Credit: Claire Gillo

Mobile phone as a light

Claire Gillo, AP Acting Technique Editor

‘Instead of investing money into studio lights, be experimental in your approach and use what you already have to light your subject. You can light product shots using just a mobile phone in a dark room, with the camera set to a slow shutter speed.’


Shower caps

Matt Fleming (Instagram @mattflemingphotography)

‘Every time I go to a hotel I pick up the free shower caps and chuck them in my camera bag. They make great waterproof covers for cameras, lenses or anything you might need covering up when working in the rain or with liquids. And they take up next to no room in my bag,’ says Matt Fleming on our Facebook page.


Time for prints

Amy Davies, AP Features Editor

‘Instead of paying for a model, look for those wanting headshots in return for their time. There are many websites where you can search and place classified ads. Obviously when organising this type of a shoot and meeting with an unknown stranger, you need to ensure you’ve put all the correct safety precautions in place before the shoot, and ensure they are happy with the set-up.’