Artistic portrait photography on a budget

How to make an amazing concept photograph without breaking the bank.

There are a lot of concept photoshoots nowadays and all of them require some kind of preparation and budget. Let me show you how you can make an amazing concept photograph without breaking the bank.

It all begins with an idea. You see an inspirational picture either in the media or your mind and with that idea in your head you create a story board.

What makeup, hair, clothes, and props are you going to use? What location are you going to choose?

You can easily create a story board by printing the inspirational pictures and gluing them onto a board. In your town there might be a tfp (trade for photos) Facebook group that gets hmua (hair and makeup artists), togs (photographers) and models together to practice their art to mutual benefit.

I had an idea of shooting a beautiful wicked witch after seeing pictures of Charlize Theron in The Huntsman. In fact if you google “dark queen” or “beautiful witch” or “evil queen” invariably Theron will be among the pictured. I wanted something dark like that, a powerful warrior queen and I saw her in my mind’s eye standing on the white dunes of Lancelin (Western Australia) while behind her the sky roiled with dark thunderous clouds. Alas you can’t always get what you want and it ended up being slightly overcast only, but I am not complaining it saved us the hassle of having to try and hold a diffuser over our model in the strong coastal breeze.

While researching the dress I wanted her to wear, I imagined a long billowing black dress boiling off her and I found a picture of a woman standing in the desert with her dress billowing out behind her. I was inspired to try something similar and I approached my sister –in-law Tatyana Tarasova who is a designer (lucky me) and asked her if she would design something like that dress for me. She looked at the picture and deduced how it was made and together we went shopping for material.

If you fish around a bit you will find a designer or someone capable of making you a dress, willing to work with you either for a reduced price or trade for photos and a mention on your website or Facebook page. Otherwise second hand shops like Salvos or St.vinnies are a great place to find unusual clothing on a budget.

We went to a textile trader.

Silk would've been perfect but too pricey so we settled on chiffon polyester, 15 m in all.

Dark Queen

I named the shoot "Dark Queen" and I pictured a woman in a long flowing dress with a black crown and a two handed sword standing on the white sand dunes of Lancelin (Western Australia).

I found a beautiful Pinay-Australian Model named Nikki Madison. She gave Tatyana her measurements and Tatyana set about creating the dress.

Meanwhile, I called “Costumes in the valley” shop and found a crown that was perfect albeit golden so I grabbed some black spray paint and made the crown jet black.

Trying to source the sword was daunting but turned out to be the easiest part. I found a local sword dealer Leon Griffiths from “Sword World Australasia” who kindly agreed to lend me the sword if it came back undamaged in fact he gave me two, a German Bastard sword and a golden hilted one, both beautifully crafted works of art.

We met with the model on the morning of the shoot day and Nicola Jane Chapman (makeup artist) did Nikki’s makeup. Her hair was done by “Hair and beauty Affairs” for a small fee but the rest all volunteered their work. If you can't find the trade for photos artists you require you might have to pay someone to do the job you need done.

As mentioned earlier, if you are not part of the local scene that has photographers meet up with models and hmua do some research and join such a group. They are always friendly and networking is an important part of getting to know the local talent.

If you are from a small town and no such groups exist go out and create your own! Put an ad in the paper or start a Facebook page. The Facebook group I am part of here in Perth is called "Perth Models, HMUA, photographers -TFP Only".

And it is where I posted a casting call for models and Hmua along with some inspiration pictures.

Once Nikki was ready we picked up the dress from Tatyana who explained that despite our initial thinking the chiffon polyester is actually quite heavy and we all hoped for a strong wind as we headed out to Lancelin dunes.

As it turned out the breeze in Lancelin is pretty strong most days and with a little help the dress blew as intended. You plan for every eventuality but sometimes you need a little luck!

Having a good idea where you want to shoot you need to have visited the place beforehand, it always pays to scout the location otherwise unforeseen complications can arise.

I knew where we were headed and after confirming with a local at a coffee break we went to set up.

At the Shoot

Access to the white dunes of Lancelin is best where everyone goes to ride their bikes and quads and where you can hire for $10/hr a sand board similar to a snowboard. Go have some fun afterwards!

You can almost drive right up to the dunes, but it was only a 5 minute hike.

I brought a backpack with all my lenses and another backpack with my B1 Profoto travel kit plus two light stands and I decided to grab the fishing rod just in case.

It was very windy and the dress blew beautifully but struggled to stay fully airborne so we tied fishing line to two spots and lifted up the train with the fishing rod and with an 8 foot light stand.

My wife / assistant held onto both while I shot Nikki.

Here are the results

After deleting the knots and fishing line in Photoshop you can't notice either and you judge for yourself.

Cost of project "Dark Queen":

  • 1 Crown $10.00
  • 1 Black Spraycan $3.00
  • 1 Black dress $79.00 on special for material only.
  • 3 days work volunteered by House of Tarasova
  • 1x makeup volunteered by Nicola Jane Chapman
  • 1x Hairstyle $35.00 Hair and Beauty Affairs
  • Model Nikki Madison volunteered
  • Photographer Mike Beltrametti volunteered
  • Assistant Anna Beltrametti volunteered
  • Fuel for drive to Lancelin $20.00

Total cost: $147AU

Author Credits ::

Mike Beltrametti runs Mike Beltrametti photography