Impromtu Cheap Camera Challenge

If you're a photo geek like me, you might be familiar with DigitalRevTV's "Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera" series. If you're not, the jist is that they give a pro photographer a really cheap camera and then book a variety of professional shoots for them to use said gear with. Good fun to watch and inspiring to see how crappy gear can be still used quite well in good hands.

So, on my way to Chumphon via Thai sleeper train, I was befriended by a happy German traveler named Curt.

Taken with my Fuji X100

As it often does in my presence, the conversation turned to photography. I asked to see Curt's camera and was presented with this beauty. Time for a Cheap Camera Challenge!

So, I grabbed his camera and had him put his face next to the window. Photography is, in general, mostly about lighting. I've found that with low end cameras, you can still get pretty good results if you carefully work with your lighting. As Chase Jarvis famously said, "The best camera is the one you have with you." 

I don't have any fancy lighting quote to go with that. 

My favorite go-to style for a quick portrait is the window lit headshot. I picked this style up from a blog some time ago, and I've found it works wonders. Windows tend to act a natural softbox, providing constant, nicely diffused light at your fingertips. In fact, I used this method in a similar situation just a few weeks before in Hong Kong, with my friend Sylvain's X10.


Taken with his Fuji X10


Let me break it down.

1. Get model to stand next to large window.

2. Have model look into camera, but angle the shoulder or face a bit.

3. Take picture!

It's pretty simple. if you need some fill light on the other side of their face, you can use a sheet or piece of white paper to bounce some light back in. Classic lighting, with things you have lying around. Sylvain's portrait required no additional fill, but Curt's was turning out too contrasty, so I used a piece of white paper as a ghetto reflector.

A couple more tips. Using a focal length greater than 50mm is best, as it will flatten the subjects features and be more flattering. This means zooming your camera to its long end. The bigger the aperture you can use the better, as it will put the background out of focus (though this is much harder for cheap cameras to do as they have smaller sensors, which prevents them from having a shallow depth of field). Finally, focus on the eyes.

As for post processing, that's a whole different can of worms. If you feel comfortable with Photoshop, you can really touch up your photo nicely. But if don't know it or have it, focus on the lighting. Good light makes all the difference. Play around.


Taken with his Sony W710


This is what I came up with. Not pro-grade, but pretty respectable for a sub-$100 point and shoot, shot on a bouncing train in Thailand.