Beauty, Glamour + Fashion

How to Create Luxury Beauty Photos Anywhere (and on a Budget)

March 15, 2019

By Angela Marklew

Photos © Angela Marklew

Whether it’s a hobby or your career, photography is an expensive undertaking. From the hardware to the software and all the little things in between, the costs really add up. In addition, it can be daunting to think you need to rent a studio to create a professional-looking set of images.

This simply isn’t the case.

Out of necessity, I’ve become adept at creating beauty images from pretty much anywhere, and 95 percent of the time, “anywhere” is not a traditional studio. At times self-imposed or due to client limitations, I’ve also become familiar with working on tight budgetary restraints while maintaining a consistent level of quality.

Let me share a few of my secrets with you.


Just because you can’t yet afford lights or a studio space doesn’t mean you can’t shoot amazing beauty images out in the world using natural light. I think learning to manipulate natural light is one of the most important things a photographer can have in his/her arsenal. As far as I’m concerned, the sun is my best and most versatile light source.

The series of images above were all shot out in the world, using untouched sunlight. When shooting this way, I often try and use hard shadows to add some visual interest. I remain aware of the concept’s color palette and will move my subjects until any distracting elements or colors in the background are gone.

If you want to go for something softer, open shade is going to be your friend. And since we’re shooting beauty photos, you don’t even need a lot of it!

These images were all shot outdoors in open shade. I almost always use a reflector to fill in the shadows when working in open shade. If you don’t have a reflector, try a white bed sheet for a softer fill or tin foil for something more specular.


For this set, I knew I wanted the quality of sunlight, but I wanted a studio feel. I simply opened my garage—it’s an older building with wooden doors that open upwards, creating an overhang area of open shade. I then stopped down enough to ensure that the background would be a deep and solid black. To make sure I got catchlights in the model’s eyes and to fill in shadows under her chin, I had my makeup artist hold a gold card just out of frame.

Something like this can be achieved almost anywhere; all you really need is some open shade for the model to stand in—I like to find areas of open shade that butt up against areas of sunlight—and a solid color in the background. A simple wall works just fine.


I shoot the majority of my personal beauty work in a space measuring roughly 6 x 9 feet (aka, my living room).

My go-to beauty setup is a single strobe bounced into a parabolic silver umbrella. I typically place the light directly above my head or slightly to my right. Depending on the level of shadow intensity I’m looking for, I always have a round reflector on hand to act as fill when needed. I use a 100mm macro lens—my go-to for beauty. With this minimal setup, I can easily achieve a variety of looks.

The one inherent problem with my small space, and using a fairly hard light source, is that I often get a shadow on the backdrop. If I want to eliminate that, I simply place a second light (bounced into an umbrella) behind the model, pointed in the direction of the offending shadow.  This will give much cleaner backdrops, and it allows me to shoot wider on lighter colors. If I angle the light a little bit toward the model, I can get beautiful soft highlights on the side of her face, too.

The moral of the story: You don’t need a studio, a ton of space or fancy gear to create compelling beauty images. All you need is some imagination and perseverance.

Angela Marklew is a beauty, fashion and portrait photographer based in Venice, California. Before she was a photographer, she worked as a chemist testing explosives for the Canadian government.


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