Shop Talk

How to Use a Gallon Milk Jug as a Lighting Hack for Photography

As most photographers can attest to, photography lighting equipment can be hideously expensive. But don’t loose hope. There are ways to avoid breaking the bank while still improving your photos. One trend I’ve noticed is the use of gallon milk jugs or plastic bottles to create DIY diffusers, soft lights, and beauty dishes. In June of 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the USA slapped the average price tag on a gallon of milk as $3.43, so that’s a whole lot cheaper than most brand name photography accessories out there. But these hacks should prove to be a very inexpensive and fresh ideas on how to approach making your photographs.

Below are four good examples of using the humble milk bottle to transform your photography.


1. Milk bottle plastic makes a perfect diffuser 

The nearly white, semi-opaque material of milk bottles make them perfect for diffusing harsh flash light. By creating a strip of milk bottle plastic which widens in the middle (like the shape of a wrist watch) you can easily latch on a DIY diffuser to your mounted camera flash. Diffusers ensure you don’t wash out (or burn) subjects, especially at parties where there is a variety of lighting conditions.

Image Credit: Photo(shop) Contest

2. Need a soft glow? Add a gallon of water and a head lamp

This is not only an awesome photography hack to perfect a subtle glow, it’s also a pretty good camping and life hack too. It’s pretty self-explanatory, you wrap a head lamp around a milk jug  filled with water. You could probably use milk too, but it would be duller and less like staring into a heavenly extraterrestrial star shower. A subtle glow can also be achieved by using a monitor screen to provide a slab of lighting, I’ve seen folks choose a color in photoshop, open up their laptop and presto, instant lighting source.

Image Credit: listorama on Flickr

3. Hack a beauty dish or ring flash

The ring flash was invented by Lester Dine in 1952 as a tool for taking super close-up (and gross) photos of the inside of peoples’ mouths. If you’re into taking photos of things very close to the camera, then you’ll know the value of a good ring flash, and a beauty dish when lighting your portrait subjects. While technically, this hack isn’t a ring flash, as there isn’t a continuous circular source of light coming from the area around the lens, you can fake your way (partially) into getting a better macro shot by bouncing light off the surface around your lens. When you’re working on a small scale, even the slightest shadows are picked up, and this hack can help smooth them out.

You can easily turn this into a beauty dish by expanding the size of the gallon plastic around the lens so there’s a wide scope of plastic to balance out and diffuse the light over your subject. You can also use disposable roasting and baking trays made of tin foil for this, it also works wonderfully.

Image credit: Antoine Khater of All Day I Dream About Photography

4. External flash diffuser

If you’re in the lucky position of having your own external flash that you can dismount and poke around in your friends faces, then making a diffuser is a must. They’re great as they can be slipped on and off and can move with your (hopefully) adjustable flash head for angled lighting. This is a simple small box that can be cut out of the milk gallon plastic and super glued together.

Image Credit: R. Campbell Field Herp Forum

For more on this, check out our post on using free paint sample cards as diffusers.

Have you tried any milk bottle hacks or other photography lighting hacks? Share yours in the comments below.

[Header image: “Hot Tub Cookie” by Teo Zirinis]