Back in February, I created several self-portraits using only lights from around my house. I wanted an exercise in something outside of my current comfort zone and to challenge myself to get back to my photography roots.
I then challenged any takers who might have felt like taking to also create a self-portrait image without any traditional photography lights.
Below you will discover some of the awesome pictures taken by photographers from all over the place using nothing but a camera, some imagination, and whatever lights they happened to have in their homes.
#1. Marissa McPeak
Marissa McPeak used some sort of a salt lamp situation to create this warm “crystal mage” image. I love the contrast, rich deep colors, and the subtle use of double exposure. Is it just me or does this picture make you want to give hugs?
#2. Christian Aaron
Christian Aaron was also feeling the salt-lamp-mystical-wizard-type-vibes and created this picture complete with a hooded cloak, badass headpieces, flying particles, and magical swirly circles of … magic. Because magic.
#3. Laurence Boswell
Laurence Boswell made this sleepy whimsical little composite that, much like Marissa’s image, just makes me want to give hugs … and also possibly take a nap? I think it was a good move making the pillow yellow so it didn’t match the background too well, and it really draws you into the center of the image. Also, I love seeing the lighting setups with all the chairs and things stacked on top of each other to get lamps at the right height. Not only do you not need fancy lights for great images, you don’t even need light stands! (Just ask Kristina and Anton from the next entry below.)
#4. Kristina Kashtanova
Kristina Kashtanova took advantage of these incredibly cool 3D printed sun (or Mars maybe?) and moon lights she has and decided to pull inspiration from them to create an image of cosmic balance. I love the mixed light colors and how perfectly symmetrical her hands/pose looks. (She is a yoga instructor so I wouldn’t expect anything less.) Also, can we talk about Anton, her amazing human light stand? Nailed it.
#5. James Sterling
James Sterling is my BFF/cousin and, much like Kristina, he also made excellent use of one of those fancy 3D printed moon lights. He threw in a tiny desk lamp for some backlighting and SHAZAM, a perfect little lighting setup. I really enjoy how you can just barely see some of his surroundings and there are books and things on shelves. I’m not sure if this was his intention, but it makes my brain immediately dream up some sort of a modern-day wizarding school – Like he is off in his dorm room and has just successfully cast some spell he shouldn’t be meddling with. Also, he kinda looks like Quentin Coldwater, the main character from the SyFy show “Magicians,” which is about that very thing. Perhaps that’s why my brain went there, but either way, it’s a super simple shot that apparently has all kinds of stories built in, whether he meant for it to or not. Oh, and it looks super cool, too.
#6. Valerie Kasinski
Valerie Kasinski also had “Magicians” on the brain because she says her piece was directly inspired by the show. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s def worth a watch!) She had quite the top-notch home lighting set up – I really dig the flashlight bouncing off of the white surfaces for some soft fill light. Also, apparently even when a light has a tall stand of its own (as seen on the right side of her lighting setup pic), this challenge still leads to lights on stools. I’m not really sure why she bothered to take the actual picture, because the “digital rendering” of her in place for the lighting setup is perfection hahaha. But seriously though, her finished image is SO COOL!
#7. Roderique Arisiaman
Roderique Arisiaman decided to make use of super nifty lights he has and included wild colors in his image using “Philips Hue lights” that let you intricately change the light colors! (Where do I sign, take my money.) He also used something called a “Nixie Clock”…? Not sure what that’s all about or what is even going on in the picture, but it looks dang cool and makes me want to figure it all out – so that’s a major win in my book.
#8. Madeline Shayne
Madeline Shayne did some serious “set building” and world-creating for her image. How adorable is this baking themed shot, including her ridiculously cute boxer Freya!? I just love all the details and props, plus she really brought me back to my early days with her lighting setup (shown below). My bedroom often looked quite like that, with several lamps from all over the house smooshed in as close as possible without being in-frame so I could get enough light for a decent exposure. She actually did a whole blog post about her experience with my home lighting challenge — you should go check it out.
#9. Chuck Eiler
Chuck Eiler created some sort of an alien-like-arm-plant-mutation-situation with just a handy desk lamp and a reflector/flag as a backdrop. Really goes to show that you don’t need much to make something super badass! Photoshop always helps, obviously. (Oh, also, bonus point for the cat in the setup shot. I’m not sure what the points are for … but you get them.)
#10. Aleah Michele
Aleah Michele did some incredibly crafty craftsmanship with a couple chairs, weights, a work light, and a bunch of plastic leaves. She crammed herself beneath her perfectly haphazard little setup and shot down through plexiglass with plastic plants set on it creating a fancy depth-of-field-enhancing foliage-in-the-foreground look, and for this I bow down to her brilliance. Such a lovely shot, Aleah! (She did ever so slightly break one of my “rules” for the challenge and used a little daylight, but I’ll let it slide this once on account of how genius of a setup she used. Plus, the whole point of the challenge was to get everyone to shoot differently than you are used to, and see what we can come up with using what we have lying around – so I think this counts.)
#11. Joshua Pheneger
Joshua Pheneger was also playing for Team Plexiglass, but went in a totally different direction. He smeared Vaseline on the glass, lit the glass with a small desk lamp, and hung Christmas lights in the background to create some bokeh. Josh then made the interesting artistic choice to focus on the texture on the glass, and let his body (lit by his garage ceiling florescent light, not shown in the setup picture) fall out of focus. I feel like this is a real poem of a photograph, one that you have to read several times and still leaves you wondering what the author means by each and every line … if that makes any sense. Oh, and did I mention that he shot on 4×5 film? He was really kickin’ it old school. So. Awesome.
#12. Bethany Perron
Bethany Perron really went all out in the character-creation-department for her self-portrait and brought this mysterious Djinn lady to life. I really enjoy the muted purplish color palette with the pop of the red lips. Also, can we just take a minute to appreciate how she created a beautiful soft light using a desk lamp and a plastic bag for diffusion, complete with a dresser-light-stand? Such ingenuity!
#13. Amani Alshaali
Amani Alshaali made rather excellent use of a super simple setup of a desk lamp (the real champion of this challenge is apparently the desk lamp) and a piece of cardboard for a backdrop. Then she took a mannequin head and shot it in the same position as her portrait and edited the two pictures into one perfectly creepy masterpiece. Such a cool idea and so well done, Amani! For being such a simple setup, the end product is so professional looking and such a powerful image.
#14. Loren Schmidt
Loren Schmidt only used a tap light and her cellphone’s flashlight. (That’s what it says in the bottom right of the setup picture, “phone Here.” The clamp the arrow is pointing to was holding her phone.) She shined the flashlight through a few strands of lace to get some snazzy in-camera texture and then in post made the tap light into a bouquet of glowing flowers. I love a motivated light source, especially when it’s a magical one.
I’m so very pleased that this challenge popped into my head and that so many amazing artists played along with me. I’m not sure about all of you, but I know for me this little jog down lighting-memory-lane has left me feeling all kinds of inspired and excited for future shoots. Not only did it make me super appreciative of the professional flash equipment I’ve grown accustomed to, but it actually made me want to do more shooting with household lights. If I’ve learned anything it’s that all you really need are stools and, above all else, deck lamps!
About the author: Robert Cornelius is a photographer and an award-winning Photoshop guru based in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website and read more of his writing on his blog. This article was also published here.
Image credits: All photographs copyright their respective artists.