How I Shoot High-End Portraits with Low-End Budgets

Over my past 7 years as a professional photographer, I have received many questions from startups and amateurs who are worried about the considerable investment they thought they had to make on cutting-edge equipment. Luckily, I am able to suggest more affordable alternatives while keeping quality as high as possible.

In this article, I’ll share examples of affordable equipment that I personally use and the results of my work using it.

I am Lia Konrad, I started photography as a hobby when I was only 17 years old. I began with a very modest budget and could only afford lower-end equipment, some of which I continue to use nowadays. I soon found out that it is more important to focus on delivering creative content and developing my technique.

In this way, I managed to achieve massive improvements in the quality of my work, which compensated for the lower quality of the equipment I used — it is possible to create stunning images with budget equipment, and it will motivate you to develop your skills as a photographer.

For HORIZONT Magazine. Model: Sophie Lang. Photographer: Liancary. Makeup Artist: Mila Moments.
Costs: Canon 6D + 50mm f/1.8 ($1,400), red fabric ($10), colored light ($12), daylight bulb ($16), skin glue ($15).
This behind-the-scenes photo shows a test shoot that our make-up assistant did on a grey background. In the end I chose the red and black fabric for the photos, it suited the look much more.

For the first images above, I used a daylight bulb illuminating from the right, setting its height above the model’s head. From the left, I used a LED light with blue and red color settings for each of the pictures; these were located at the height of the model’s head.

This illumination setting allowed me to generate the contrast between the opposite sides of the face and capture it in the shots, saving me a great amount of editing time in comparison to achieving this effect artificially. Therefore, during the post-processing, I could dedicate more attention to retouching the details such as removing hair strands, smoothing the texture of the skin, and polishing make-up details (such as enhancing the effect of the highlighter make-up).

For the last part of the edit, I intensified the color effect generated with the illumination adjusting the brightness, contrast, and saturation; finally, I enhanced the presence of shadows creating an additional contrast with the former.

Before I took the above self-portrait, I wrapped white tulle around the 50mm f/1.8 lens, to give it a softly dreamy look in-camera already. I connected my smartphone to my Canon Camera through the remote control App and clicked on the shutter.

In post-production, I started with cleaning the background, while keeping some of its texture. I used the Clone Stamp tool on duplicated layers, changing their opacity, combining them to one, and blur some parts in the end. The next step was basic retouching, correcting small make-up mistakes, smoothen the skin, and sharpen the eyes.

After that, I enhanced highlights and shadows with the dodge-and-burn technique, adjusted the overall brightness, and added a color look. And in this one, I also gave the hair more volume by using the Liquify tool, because that way the viewer’s focus is more on the wind grass)

Self-Portrait “Wind Grass”. Costs: Canon 6D + 50mm f/1.8 ($1,400), greenish fabric ($11), 1 daylight bulb ($16).

Here are more examples of my work:

High Fantasy Portrait. Costs: Canon 6D + 50mm f/1.8 ($1,400), Anastasia Liebe couture rental ($83), sword and headpiece rental ($30), smoke ($8).
Butterfly Queen. Costs: Canon 6D + 50mm f/1.8 ($1,400), secondhand costume ($35), smoke tube ($8).
Costume design and make-up: Florence Heyer, Jewelry: Sky is no limit, Model: Laura, Photo: Liancary

You can find more of my work on my website and Instagram.

About the author: Lia Konrad is a photographer based in Germany and the UK. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Lia has been collaborating with designers and models around the world and creating expressive images with them that tell their own story. You can find more of her work on her website and Instagram.

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