A low budget setup for high key and low key photography in a hobby studio

In this article I write about which lights and which arrangement of lights I use for high key or low key photography in my home studio. Besides the construction I also give an overview about the technique I use as an ambitious hobby photographer. Here I report, how I equipped my home “photo studio” for hobby purposes for about 350€.


Good studio equipment for a small hobby budget


For a long time I concentrated exclusively on landscape and travel photography. Also, because for a long time I simply had no room to set up a hobby studio. After transforming the winter garden into a large office and workroom, the space problem was solved and finally, especially in the dark and cold season, I was able to devote myself to studio and portrait photography.

As an ambitious hobby photographer, I have equipped myself with technology that serves its purpose and is not unreasonably expensive. Certainly there is more professional equipment, but for my first steps I didn’t want to spend more than 400€ to set up a reasonably well equipped “photo studio”.

In the following I report among other things about used products of various manufacturers. At this point I would like to clarify that I do not have any business relationship with these companies. I have researched and tested a lot and would like to share my experiences on this topic. However, in the following I will use affiliate links to the Amazon products as compensation for my work. However, my recommendation of these products is sincere and independent.


Continuous light vs. flash light


In my studio I have about 4m x 6m meter space available. The used lighting devices should provide enough light within these dimensions. The first decision I had to make was whether I wanted to work with flashlights or permanent lights. Laziness triumphed, I decided to use continuous light.

Continuous light makes it easier for me to adjust the camera because the lighting conditions are always the same and I don’t have to deal with the situation-dependent setting of a flash system. When using continuous light, I don’t have to wait for the flash to recharge between shots.

Even if a flash system provides more light energy than continuous light for a short time when triggered, continuous light is sufficient for my 24 square metre studio.

In addition, a complete, good flash system would have been considerably more expensive than my continuous light setup. One day I’ll also be doing studio photography with flash, but not today.



Background and Backdrop


As background, also called Backdrop, I got a white and a black fabric background from NEEWER.

We need the white background for high key photography because it distributes the available light evenly in the room, the black background for low key photography because it “swallows” superfluous light and does not reflect it.

The backdrop doesn’t just hang on the wall in the background, but runs out on the floor. Thus, transitions between wall and floor are not noticeable in photos.

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  • Stangen Tasche auf jeden oberen Rand erlaubt es, drapiert oder aufgehängt zu werden

I hung both backgrounds on cheap curtain rods and hooks from the hardware store. The cost is about 40€.

If you like, you can also use tripod systems like the following for fixing. However, I would have lost important studio space due to the tripod feet of the suspension, which is why I decided to mount it on the wall.

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Before using the backgrounds, you should either smooth them with an iron or wash them first, then dry them in the dryer and hang them up without wrinkling immediately afterwards. The second option saves tiresome ironing.

With the white background it is much more important that no wrinkles are visible, with the black background we can mostly neglect wrinkles.



Continuous light for hobby budget


First I bought two soft and reflector boxes with energy saving lamps from NEEWER. With this I wanted to lay the foundation stone. The light boxes are stretched like an umbrella and have a strong reflective coating inside. 5 45W energy saving lamps per box produce sufficiently strong light. The light boxes can either give off “hard” light, or by attaching a white fabric curtain “soft” light, which we need for portrait photography.

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With these two light sources I was now ready for low key photography, in which a single light source is sufficient.

The light output of my umbrellas was good, but the umbrellas take up too much space even when stowed away. That’s why I next bought a LED permanent light system from SAMTIAN, which is more space-saving to store and can also produce both “hard” and “soft” light.

The LED systems have further advantages over conventional lamp lighting systems:

  • LED systems can be dimmed in brightness
  • LED systems allow regulation of colour temperature (cold light/warm light)
  • LED systems can also be operated mobile with rechargeable batteries
  • LED systems are more energy-efficient
  • LED systems can be adjusted by remote control
  • LED systems are slimmer and do not interfere with the image


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In my opinion, the manufacturers mentioned are the classic “China manufacturers”. To be honest, at the beginning I had doubts about the choice of these products. But the devices always fulfil their purpose. I thought to myself, “What can you do big wrong with lamps?” At the same time, I was worried that the lamps might flicker a lot. In the end I dared to order.

Sure, there are a few places where you will notice the cheapest price on the product. For example, the power cables could be longer, the tripods a bit more stable and the controls a bit more valuable. Nevertheless, these points don’t harm the purpose of the devices and the price has to come from somewhere.

Meanwhile I’m so convinced of the LED systems that I wouldn’t use regular lightboxes anymore. Sooner or later I will replace the softboxes completely with LED components. My original doubts that the LED systems could possibly flicker or emit bad light were quickly dispelled after the first tests.

With a total of 4 light sources I was now perfectly equipped for both high key and low key photography.


My High Key Setup


In the High Key environment I use the two reflector screens with continuous light for the illumination of the background. Sometimes with and sometimes without soft diffuser. So that the big boxes don’t protrude into the picture, I placed them on the floor.


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The two LED systems illuminate the actual object by means of the soft diffuser included in the scope of delivery. This makes portrait shots appear evenly illuminated and soft.



My Low Key Setup


In the low key area I only use the LED systems. I can adjust the brightness of these systems conveniently by remote control, because in a low key environment less light is often more. I also like the possibility to influence the colour temperature of the light.


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For a better distribution of reflections I bought a foldable reflector shade with which you can set some accents for the illumination.

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All the links in this text are Amazon Affiliate Links, and by clicking on an affiliate link I will earn a percentage of your subsequent Amazon purchases. However, this circumstance does not influence the background of my product recommendation. This product recommendation is independent, honest and sincere. 

Bei allen genannten Links handelt es sich um Amazon-Affiliate-Links. Durch einen Klick auf einen Affiliate-Link werde ich prozentual an Euren darauf folgenden Amazon-Einkäufen beteiligt. Dieser Umstand beeinflusst aber nicht die Hintergründe meiner Produktempfehlung. Diese Produktempfehlung erfolgt unabhängig, ehrlich und aufrichtig.