So I’m fairly certain, at this point, that I’ve committed to setting up my professional photography business and creating a working model that still works with our family. Not to mention works with a few other “career” goals and interests I have going on not excluding continuing to teach art…
As this idea grows and changes, I’ve slowly been putting together [what I think of in my head as] my ‘kit’. This includes props, gear, and supplies that are cost efficient, practical and mostly created by me.
If you are just starting out in photography, or looking to start making and finding some non-conventional photography hobby ideas, hopefully this helps. Here’s a look at the collection so far.
Ok, so clearly I have a thing for newborns. I love me a brand new babe to photograph and dressing them up is half the fun! My favorite props by far are newborn headbands (for girls) and chunky knit hats, wraps and cocoons for boys (though girls look tre adorable in those too!). My issue- it’s pretty hard for me to fork over up to $14 each for a teeny tiny headband. Not that I don’t love and admire all fashion of headbands I’ve stalked on etsy- I do. But if I can make them for pennies or buy them second hand, I’d rather do that.
I found a set of headbands used (through the Prop Aholics Anonymous Facebook Page) that were sold in a set of 8 for $30 including shipping. That’s, what, just under $4.00 a piece? I’ll take it. Following a group like that is definitely a worth while endeavor though it does require a certain amount of commitment to stalking… fine with me.
These headbands are relatively easy to make too. The thin, soft, elastic is really cheap (like $0.59/ yard) and the flowers can sometimes be found on other items (broaches, handbags, scarves etc.) and pulled off with pliers. With a little bit of hot glue and felt, you can reattach the flowers to the elastic, back them with felt circles, and be good to go.
I’m even worse with all of the handknit and hand crocheted items available for sale on the net. There are gorgeous pieces that are to-die-for, but I just can’t bring myself to buy something I can theoretically make. A few youtube videos and some lovely pattern books later- I have nice, one of kind pieces to use in my shoots without breaking the bank. I’m still learning, and there are many more pieces in the works (mostly newborn) but slowly, steadily, I will get them done and put them to use on brand new babies that are ready to be snuggled up in cozy creations for their first set of pictures.
I also made these bright cheesecloth wraps (the pink and yellow are pictured, I also made a deep blue and a green) for about $2.00 a piece with plane white cheesecloth dyed at home. I got 4 wraps from 1 pre-packaged pack of cloth and used Rit dye.
Next up, that annoyingly necessary
Newborn Posing Bean Bag
I’m not going to link to the ones available for purchase- if you are into newborn photography you probably know which two I am referencing. I don’t want to slight them by listing them here (because if I had the money, I’d buy theirs in a heartbeat!) but since I can’t spend $200+ on a beanbag cover and an extra $50+ on the filler beans, I found a great tutorial as the basis to make my own. I enlisted my mother to do the assembly (thanks Mom!) and voila- a perfect, totally inexpensive newborn posing beanbag for a fraction of the price.
Be warned, this beanbag is ENOURMOUS. Still figuring out how to get it to fit in my car… I think it’s meant as a studio bag- I’d shrink the dimensions if you are planning on carting it around in your trunk.
This took 4 huge bags of styro bead filling from Walmart. It was really, really, really hard to fill. The beads were so static-y and stuck to everything. My Mom and Sammy can vouche for how incredibly annoying it was to A) fill the beanbag and B) unstick the beans from ourselves and everything around us. We ended up rubbing everything down with dryer sheets (yes I’m a genius) to reduce the static cling. But it wasn’t pretty.
We wound up cutting open the tops of the bags a little bit, and stuffing them into the opening in the bag of the vinyl. This is the only thing that even kind-of worked for us.
We call it the hockey puck as it’s exactly that shape- two circles separated by a long strip of vinyl with velcro closure in the back. Here is the link if you want to make your own:
Moving on to…
Backdrops and Vinyls
This is my achilles heal. I would really love to have a few gorgeous wood floor vinyls in my collection. But these, unfortunately, cost a small fortune and just aren’t in the cards right now. What is in the cards for me is regular, cheap, PAPER. That’s right folks. Paper. I have white, black, and “barn wood flooring” right now but would love to give a bright color a try soon- maybe for a birthday smash cake photo shoot? Who knows. But this paper comes from the “Teaching” section at my local craft store and is cheap enough to use a bunch of times, throw away, and purchase new without a second thought.
Example of the white paper in use:
Example of the black paper in use (babies Aunt was draped in cheap black fabric too)
Wood floor paper in use:
(I also made the knit fringe blanket pictured above- it’s a prop, so it’s only 2′ by 3′.)
Misc. Kids Items
Newborn smash cakes- I make my own (how convenient to also have my own baking shop!) but here’s an idea- team up with a local home business baker and offer to provide them with professional photographs of their cakes in exchange for discounted mini cakes to use in your smash cake sessions. This will get them great exposure locally, provide them with a usable image in exchange for their product, and create a great partnership for you. The best way to find bakers like this is through facebook. Just do a simple search- you’ll be amazed at all the creative, in-home, cake businesses popping up all over the place!
Crate for newborn and kids sessions- I love the look of dark wood, but am not about to pay the price for high quality wood pieces (yet). Unfinished wood crates like this are cheap and so easy to stain with a tiny, sample size tin of floor stain. This crate took me about 30 minutes to stain and seal and it works beautifully as a something to put kids INto, or on TOP of. Just make sure you do this well ahead of a photo shoot so it has time to de-fume.
In the above photo, baby is laying on top of a small beanbag tucked into the wooden crate. It was great to get her up off of the floor so she was at a better shooting height.
Chalkboard wood slice- I love chalkboards. Like, seriously, love. So customizable and really, really easy to make. I made this one on a store-bought piece of wood (sold at the craft store for a few bucks) and painted both sides with black chalkboard paint. You can buy it in tiny little tins from the hardware store and they are very reasonable priced. I want to get some chalk pens to use on this but until then, regular chalk works wonderfully.
Toddler rocking chair- we picked this gem up at our local Goodwill a while ago. After a few rounds of sanding, I coated it with 3 coats of yellow spray paint. I used it in my daughters first birthday pictures and have since taken it to the park for a session. Goodwill is a GREAT place to scavenge for photo prop finds (and trust me, you will be scavenging…it’s not pretty most times…).
Quilts- once again, I’m lucky enough to make my own. I’m kind of obsessed with quilting which is a whole different subject but I have a beautiful surplus of quilts to use for shoots. These are great for use outside, underneath playing kids, or draped over chairs, benches, etc. etc. If you aren’t a quilter, you should become one. Just kidding (kind of). But try browsing etsy for quilts that catch your eye. If you find a maker you love, offer your services again- professional photos in exchange for a discounted quilt. Or scour the depths of ebay to find used, slightly damaged quilts that are being sold for a steal. Even if it has tears or rips or stains or damage, you can set it up in a way that hides the flaws, or edit them out in photoshop later.
This was my biggest internal struggle. There is one very particular stand that I wanted so badly. It was the exact set up I wanted- a “T” shape instead of a (?) bottom half of an “H” shape maybe? I love that there was only one base- less to trip over- and that it was centered in the middle. Again, though, this lovely stand was close to $200 before shipping and was just one of those items on the not-in-the-cards (read budget) list.
There are two similar pieces that might work together from Cowboy Studios. It’s technically a studio lighting stand, but with some clips from Home Depot ($2.50 for 4 giant clamp clips), and the center mount boom, I think this will work for me.
Sorry, I know that’s really hard to explain. I’ll post about it when it comes in the mail. I’m not exactly sure why, but it takes up to 2 months to ship. Saving money takes a loooooong time!
Camera, Lenses, Flash
My camera came from craigslist. I have no idea what it cost as it was a gift, but I’m SURE it was $100’s less than what it would have cost retail. So craigslist and ebay are a great place to search. All of my equipment, actually, was gifted. But that’s a good idea too, right? For all future birthday’s, mother’s day (if that applies), Christmas, etc. Ask for gear!
And finally, my greatest pride-
My Camera Bag
So this is a totally non-essential item on the list. I could have made-do just fine with the bulky black bag that came with my camera- no big deal. But I’ve been eyeing some absolutely gorgeous bags that are feminine, and pretty, and stylish. Besides that, I love the idea that a camera “purse” is much less conspicuous and less likely to be stolen. Apparently that happens more than I thought. Long story short, the beautiful bags cost between $300-$500 which, needless to say, is not in the budget. Are you ready for this?
SkipHop Duo Diaper Bag turned PERFECT Camera Bag. No joke, this bag was made for me. Take a look inside.
These two, outer, bottle pockets are PERFECT for my external flash and my lenses. When I’m not trying to show you what’s inside, I have the lenses and the flash wrapped in two of the foam pieces from my original camera bag (did you know those black separators can come completely out?!) but you can’t see them that way which isn’t really the point of this post… Totally protected, easily accessible.
And look at these zipper pockets. The shallow one is perfect for small items- batteries, memory cards, connection pieces. The deeper one fits an ipad perfectly! And the zippers are different colors, one red and one gold making it easy to keep track of what is stored where.
Using the pads from my old camera bag, I fit together a perfect compartment for my camera body inside. Protected from all sides, and deep at the bottom. The two wide pockets down there are where I keep my external hard drive that I use only for photos and all of my cords/charger/etc.
And here’s the bonus I was not expecting. The outside sleeve fits my laptop perfectly! I can wrap it in the changing pad so it’s safe and protected and carry all my gear with me all at once. Perfect for traveling.
I snagged it from an online retailer with one of those “inside access, 30% off coupon codes, only good for .39 seconds” emails and dubbed it my brithday present for the year- yippee! Side note- I just unsubscribed from nine million email coupon websites to alleviate email checking anxiety, so goodbye coupons, but sometimes all that junk email is worth it in the end.
My last tips:
*I do most of my crafty shopping at JoAnn Fabrics with 40%, 50% and even occasionally 60% off coupons. It’s slow to wait and only buy everything with coupons but worth it. And I also get a 15% discount on everything with my educators discount. If you are/were a teacher- take advantage!
**My favorite spots to find photo prop “treasures” are thrift shops, Goodwill, and places like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. Find out when your stores stock new merchandise and be an early bird. Good stuff is snatched up by treasure hunters in a heartbeat!
***Sometimes I hunt specifically for baskets that are damaged (there are always a few at the bottom of the pile!) and ask what the discount would be for that item. Sometimes these discounts are between 70 and 90% off which is HUGE. If it’s something you can cover with blankets, a baby, or some other prop- it’s totally usable.
I hope this list gave you a few ideas you can try yourself, or get your gears turning on how you can save some money while increasing your own “kit” too.
Have other DIY ideas for your photography kit? Share them below! I’d love to hear about them 🙂