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Studio Lighting Kits for Beginners

Studio lighting kits for beginners are not necessary the cheapest ones. However, if you already have a good flash, you can compile you studio lighting for really little money. I remember the days when I first wanted to try studio lighting at home. What I did was simply to use my Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight and a 36” shoot through umbrella. I can tell you that even though this doesn’t sound like a serious equipment for studio I have made some good portraits of my son with it. Here is an example:

Portrait with shoot through umbrellaShoot through umbrella works pretty well for this kind of shots. I don’t want to go too much into details why, but the most important reason is that the distance of the light source to the subject is very little but yet the light is really soft (because it is defused by the umbrella).

These studio lighting kits (if we can call them so) are good for beginners because they are easy to assemble, they are cheap – you only need a light stand and a shoot through umbrella. Another advantage is that this setup is very portable.

However, there are some disadvantages compared to strobe studio lighting kits:

– Strobes usually have much more power than flashes. Just to give you an example with my SB-900. This is amazing flash but here is what I read in it’s specifications regarding recharging time – 4 Seconds with fresh alkaline batteries & full power; 4.5 Seconds with Lithium batteries & full power. Usually, powerful flashes like mine produce 90-100 ws. Compared to a 300 ws. strobes you can imagine how much faster a strobe flash would recycle at 1/3 of it’s power.

– This setup is good as mostly because it is portable. However, if you want to try something with 2 or 3 lights than it becomes very expensive (a Nikon SB-900 is around $500!).

You probably already know that for $200 – $300 you can buy studio lighting kits which are really good for beginners. They come with everything you need to setup your studio – light stands, umbrellas and softboxes, backdrops etc. If you need to buy these separately you would spend much more. Of course they are not as potable as a flash and a shoot trough umbrella. However, all studio lighting kits come with handy bag so you still can move it if you really need to do so.

Here is what I would expect from a “beginners” studio lighting kit:
– Two or three 200 to 300 watt MonoLight strobes with stands for each of them
– Two 20×28” Soft Boxes
– A wireless trigger kit
– One reflective umbrella
– One shoot through umbrella
– One barndoor with 4 gels
– One gold/silver reflector

Please, take a look in some of the studio lighting kits listed in our site. You will definitely find something which will suit your needs.

One Strobe Studio Lighting Kits – Pros and Cons

Couple of people asked me  “How many strobe lights should my first studio lighting kit have?”.
I’d say that you only need one strobe in the beginning. Why? There are many reasons to consider one strobe studio lighting kits. Here are some of them: (Please let me know if you can think of something else…)

We naturally are used to have only one source of light (the Sun). When we have more sources of lights we may become a little bit confused. We nay get even more confused when light is coming from different position from above the subject. Imagine light coming from bellow. The shadows produced are so unnatural that the picture may even become scary. Anyways, this is another story and I will try to provide some examples here in the near future. Another reason to consider studio lighting kit with one strobe is the fact that it is much easier to find the proper position of your light. When you have multiple light sources it’s not obvious how to position them. Also, if you are like me you will always want to use whatever you have. My studio kit has 3 strobes and to be honest I sometimes feel like I don’t want to setup so much equipment just for “few shots”. Of course there are some cases where you definitely will want more than one strobes. The first (most obvious) usage of a second light would be to lit the background. And also you can use third light source as “hair” light, so that you will achieve nice separation of your subject and the background. This is long discussion and we have already discussed some studio lighting techniques, but in general I really recommend starting experimenting with only one light. In my opinion it is better in the begging to become more used into using light modifiers like umbrellas, softboxes etc… Also, positioning your subject is very important. I remember my first attempts in studio photography – I was so focused on my equipment that in some cases I completely have forgotten my…

Next time I’m planning to talk a little bit about light modifiers. Have you ever tried to use your studio lighting kit without assembling the softboxes and shooting just with strobes? I almost always use some modifiers, but I recently realized that some great results can be achieved with hard light.

Some Simple Ways to Protect Your Studio Lighting Kits

Today I want to talk a little bit about the light stands  and how important they are. Most (if not all) not all of the studio lighting kits on the market include light stands. However, some of them are not reliable enough as they should be. My studio lighting kit is a cheap one and even though I’m very happy with it I have to admit that the quality of the light stands is really poor. :-( Here is what happened the other day. Friend of mine came to my place to take picture of him and his family for the US DV 2011 lottery. I went trough the requirements and prepared my studio lighting kit and started shooting. Everything was going just fine when at one moment one of my strobes fell down and flashed 5-6 times in a second. Then it stopped working.  You can imagine my frustration when one of the strobes stopped working. :-(. Of course, one of the first things I checked was the safety fuse and of course it had burned. Fortunately we have finished with the shooting session it was not so urgent to fix the strobe right away. All this happened because of poor quality light stands! I knew how important it is to secure the light stands with sandbags, or with whatever you can, but this time I didn’t do it, relying solely on the light stands. This mistake may be will cost me a lot… Anyways, I’ve ordered some 5A safety fuses from eBay. These are cheap, and I hope that when I replace the fuse the strobe will work fine again. We’ll see… I could avoid all this if I have taken some simple precaution steps:

1. Use sandbags to make your light stands sturdier! (Just want to mention here that some sandbags can be filled with water, which makes them really very portable). This is really affordable solution and is proven way to protect your studio lighting kit for long time!

2. Avoid too much wire around you. If there is some make sure to ask your clients to be careful with it. The simplest way to avoid some of the wires is to replace your sync cord with radio remote flash trigger if you haven’t done this yet.

3. Tape your stands to the floor. This is simple, yet very effective solution to protect you studio equipment.

So, that’s all from me for now. I’m planning to make an in-depth review of some of the studio light stands next week, so stay tuned and make sure you check our site regularly.

Are the Strobes Coming With Studio Lighting Kits Reliable Enough?

So many people ask for a complete package of lights to get them off and shoot like professionals. Studio lighting kits are great way to start with because you can literally save hundreds of bucks! In addition, they contain all the accessories to make the perfect portrait package so the beginner and professional can receive all the equipment at one time. This is very important as you save money and time.
Today I’m going give you a brief idea of what a good studio strobe is. As you know strobes are the most important part of a studio lighting kit and how it functions and what light it produces is the key of a successful shot. Depending on their quality they can be used in commercial studios, location photographers as well as advanced amateurs at home. Strobes are used for a main light, fill light, back light, or hair light.
Today all strobes come with variable power setting which give complete control over the light output. Depending on the quality you can adjust the output light to 1/10 of a stop or even less. Also, strobes come with modeling light which means that you get pretty good idea how your final shot will look like. Some people have asked me if the modeling light actually affects the end result. The answer is “No”, as the light from the strobe is tens to hundreds times brighter than the modeling light.
There are two main distinctive kinds of studio strobes – monolights, and power-pack/head system. Which one is better? My personal preference is the monolights. Mostly because it requires less wire. Also if the power-pack fails completely there is no workaround. And last monolights are much more portable. Today, most of the studio lighting kits come with monolights.
Which brand to choose? This is a tough question. It is almost the same as choosing a SLR camera. However, for home studio I would recommend a studio lighting kit with as much as possible accessories. If you later want to go for professional studio lighting you can use your kit for on location events…
What power do I need? The power of a studio strobe is measured in watts per second (w/s). For home studio I recommend at least 300 w/s.
What else? Here are some of the other things that you should consider when choosing your strobes:
Reliability and consistency – this is very important! Once you adjust the power you should get consistent result (output light). Otherwise you will end up with poor results. Most studio lighting kits come with strobes which produce light within 1/5th stop. Of course more expensive studio kits and strobes come with better accuracy – 1/25 stop or even more.
Recycling time – most home studio lighting kits come with strobes with recycling time of 2 to 3 seconds. In my opinion this is good enough for home studio.
Portability is another factor you may consider when choosing you studio kit. Fortunately, most studio lighting kits come with a good bags and are easy to assemble.
Cost – I’m not sure if I should recommend something regarding price. At home I personally use a good studio lighting kit which I bought while ago for less than $300. I’m very happy with it as I have made some of the best portraits of my family and my kids. This is something that nobody can buy for me. I could wait a bit more to buy better kit for sure, but then I would regret all missed moments.

Studio Lighting Kits – Which One to Choose?

Choosing the right equipment for your studio is not an easy task. Today, there are so many Studio Lighting Kits to choose from available on the market and often, most of them are with very similar specifications. This is especially true for the entry level studio lighting kits.
Photographers are always trying to achieve the most impressive and attractive pictures. That’s why there is big number of gadgets that they want bring into play. Studio Lighting Kits are great way for all of us to save some money when we want to have them all.
The usability of the studio lighting kits makes a border between professional and beginner’s ones.
Basic studio lighting kits should be stretchy, that is, they should be able to accommodate different shots. They should consist of at least two soft boxes and two umbrellas. If you have an intention to shoot people, then you can make use of the studio photography strobes. They are handy and produce camera flashes. For the same idea, floodlights can be effectual for producing an extravagant result. However, negative aspects for the later equipment include the heat and energy usability.
If you research the market, you will come across tremendous number of products that can suit your necessities as a beginner. Below are some of the features and questions you may want to consider while comparing some of the studio lighting kits:
– Strobes: Photography Strobes are the most curtail part of studio lighting kits. If you are looking for beginner (home) studio lighting kit, than 250w/s power should be enough.
– Is it possible to easily replace the strobe tube lights? Check what’s their lifetime? Usually most bulb last for more than 8000 flashing.
– What is the modeling light power? 75w/s is good enough for beginners.
– Light Stands – look for sturdy, stable light stands. Also make sure they are easy to fold so that you can transport them if needed.
– Softboxes – most beginners studio lighting kits come with 2 20’’ X 30’’ softboxes.
– All studio lighting kits come with the shaping tools and light modifiers like reflectors, soft boxes, umbrellas, detachable grids and barn doors, color gels, intensifiers etc.
–    Backdrops – most studio lighting kits have 2 or 3 backgrounds.
–    For continuous studio lighting kits the ventilation system is very important as it accommodates the smooth running, maintenance of colors and temperature. All these factors help to run the system for a longer life.
The appropriate usability of light can only give you the best result. For this reason, the option for using the lightning source in a controlled environment is the best option. The studio lighting kits come along with two options, including video lighting or the flash lightning. Both have an influence over the shooting of your photographic session. It wholly depends upon you, that what type of studio lighting kit you want to use. For a starter, you might try all the options and see the results. Further on you can use which gives the optimal results.

studio lighting kits

Photography Strobes – the basics

photography strobesThe world of photography encompasses two categories of lights, including cold lights and hot lights. The former undergoes by the name of Photography Strobes. Photography Strobes are mostly used in a studio environment. They work best when making portraits, as they are really easy to work with.
Photography Strobes are considerably affordable studio equipment and are the most important parts included in a studio lighting kit. They come either as monolights or as powerpack system.
My personal opinion is that the monolights photography strobes are the right choice in most cases. All monolights provides 5-6 f-stop adjustment and they trigger by a flash and modeling light which gives idea how the light falls onto your subject.
You can get a 250 w/s Flash Strobe for less than 100 dollars.
Here are some of the parameters you should be interested in when buying Photography Strobes:
•    Power – 250w/s is good enough for beginners
•    Modeling Light Power – Should be at least 75w/s
•    Color Temperature – 5400±200K (i.e. around daylight temperature)
•    Recharging Time: Look for something at least in the range of 0.5-2s. Anything beyond 2 seconds in my opinion is not good. You may end up missing some really good moments and will regret that you haven’t invested a bit more money.
•    Flash Duration: 1/2000th to 1/800th of a second in most cases is good enough and will freeze the motion. Just to give you an idea why flash duration is important imagine a hokey match where you need to take pictures. First, players are moving fast, so even with 1/1000th of the second you won’t get as sharp images as you may want. Also, the flash will be noticed by the players and may disturb them. That’s why in most cases, facilities where this is not acceptable, have “build-in” photography strobes which may have 1/10000th of the second duration time or even up to 1/25000th of the second!

The first time you put in an external strobe on trial, it may take a slight time to obtain high-quality results. You need to take your time to become familiar with your photography strobes.
A new-fangled strobe photographer frequently is so wrapped up in captivating pictures that he or she fails to remember about the photography strobes completely. The strobes end up positioned off into open water, missing from the subject, and no matter how many times the photographer clicks on to the shutter, the focus ends up dark.
If your pictures churn out dark, the initial thing to do is make sure to see where your strobe is pointing. If you take time to point and angle your strobes properly, and to put the light levels right, you will almost immediately start taking stunning pictures overflowing with a sense of color different from anything you have seen before! At that time you may want to explore some of the basic portrait studio lighting techniques. For even better results you may want to invest some money in photo light meter too. Measuring the amount of light and assessing the quality of light are topics which we will discuss in other articles.

Studio Lighting Kit

I purchased my studio lighting kit few years ago when I was a student attending a photography course. I wanted a studio lighting kit just for portraiture photography and to experiment with lighting. What I really like in studio photography is the controlled environment.

You probably already have researched the market and you know what to expect from a studio lighting kit. Here is what was included in the lighting kit which I’ve purchased:

  • Three sync photography strobes
  • Three stands
  • Two soft boxes
  • Two umbrellas
  • A wireless remote trigger kit
  • A honeycomb light filter
  • Three backdrops (black, white and grey)

Let’s take look into the most important parts of a studio lighting kit:

Photography Strobes: There are two basic design types of strobe systems – with power pack built into the strobe unit (monolight) and with power pack separated from the head. My strobes allow me to adjust the power into one tenth of a stop. They give me enough power (400 w/s) but I rarely use half of it. It has audio beep, so I know when they are ready to fire again. Also, the recycling time is pretty good (less than a second). Of course I can turn the modeling light on and off whenever I want.
By the way, you don’t always need three strobes in a studio. You can achieve very good results with just one strobe and a white card or reflector for fill light. However, with three lights we have much more freedom and we can achieve much better results. The first light is called the “key light”. It is the main source of light. We usually place it just in front of the subject. In that configuration we have dark shadows on one side of the face. So we fill the shadows with the second strobe (“fill light”). Similar we get rid of the shadows on the wall behind the subject with “background light”. This configuration is also known as “three-point lighting”. We can also add a fourth light behind the subject to bring more details in the hair. This is so called “hair light”.

See Portrait Studio Lighting for the most common portraiture lighting techniques.

Reflectors: Every strobe head can accept different kind of accessories. Mostly used are reflectors. A 7 inch reflector is known as standard (universal) reflector and we mostly use it with an umbrella. We can also attach all other different kind of accessories like grid spot (honeycomb) light modifiers.

Umbrellas: Umbrellas are the mostly used light modifier. They are attached to the reflector and the light unit. The light is bounced into it and then backed to the subject. They come in different colors – white is the most common type but there are also silver and gold umbrellas. Some umbrellas can be used as shoot-through umbrella which further defuses the light.

Softbox:Similar to umbrellas softboxes are used to defuse the light. They come in different sizes. A 3×4 ft softbox is considered as large softbox.

Light stands: Usually light stands extend from about 30 to 90 inches. Some floor stands however, allow attaching an adapter to them and you can have strobe light very low to the ground. What you would expect from a light stand is to be sturdy. You may want to invest in a light stands with air cushion. This will prevent you from incidents and eventually damage expensive strobes.

Studio Lighting Kit

Portrait Studio Lighting

Today we will be reviewing three different portrait studio lighting techniques using a typical studio lighting kit. We’ve talked about the very basic photography lighting techniques and how to make the light work for us.

One of the most popular portrait studio lighting style is Rembrandt Lighting. This technique forms the basis of all portrait studio lighting… The way we identify Rembrandt lighting is by a triangular light on the cheekbone. To achieve this we need one light stand, strobe, reflector and umbrella. We put the light on a so-called 45/45 degree angle.  We first point the light to 45 degree to the subject from the top and then move it to 45 degree from the center. Here is what we should approximately get:

Portrait Studio Lighting
As you can see without much effort we get pretty good results here. Note the triangular light on the left cheekbone.

Now, lets add a just a little bit of a fill. Just place a white fill card on the right side to reflect some of the light. This soften the shadows and simply make the face more alive.

Portrait Studio Lighting - Rembrandt Lighting With Fill

Note that we are using just one light and still we get very good results…

Another portrait studio lighting is Butterfly Lighting. We still use only one light but its more glamorous, it creates beautiful catch light in the eyes. It is call “Butterfly” because it creates a butterfly shadow below the subject’s nose.

To achieve it we place the light in front of the subject pointing down.

Portrait Studio Lighting - Butterfly

The third portrait studio lighting we are reviewing today is called Hatchet Lighting. Again, this is a very simple setup – we drop the light down lower at around the height of the model face and we pull it so its pretty much even off to the side. The results we get is that one side of the face is lit, and the other is complete shadow…

Portrait Studio Lighting - Hatchet

We can use again fill card to control the depth of the shadow if we want…

Portrait Studio Lighting - Hatchet with Fill Light

In general we see that these three portrait studio lighting techniques use just one light. Though we can get great looking results.

Photography Lighting Techniques

One of the most important aspects of effective photography is the understanding of and ability to control lighting. Photography lighting techniques are curtail to take our photographs to next level. Be it sunlight, diffuse sunlight, indoor natural, artificial or studio lighting, a photographer’s knowledge of how light affect film (or sensor) , and consequently, the photograph, cannot be understated.   We already discussed the quality of light and a typical studio lighting kit equipment earlier. Now, let’s take deeper look into some of the very basic practical photography lighting techniques. These guidelines will help you to avoid the disappointments that difficult lighting can present. Remember, the most important photography lighting technique is to make light work for you!

If you have the choice of shooting either at noon or later in the afternoon, you’ll be much better-off choosing the latter. Later in the afternoon the light is still bright, the direct sunlight is softer, and, for human subjects, easier to pose in. This light creates wonderfully long shadows, which can certainly be incorporated as major component of any type of photograph. On a cloudy day, time-of-day is less relevant, as cloud cover acts as a diffuser of the sunlight. This is far less of a challenge for a photographer, in particular one that chooses to shoot portraits. However, colors may become muted, and contrast lowered, so there are distinct advantages to photographing under direct sunlight.

If you have to do a portrait photograph at midday on a sunny July day, you’ll generally be much better-off if you take your subject into the shade, which will immediately make the subject more comfortable, as well softening the light in a dramatic fashion. If you want to create soft lighting from direct sunlight you can fashion a diffusion tool from a thin curtain stapled to a simple wooden frame, which, when held (by an assistant of some sort) between the sun and the subject, will take that harsh lighting and soften it to the degree that shadows virtually disappear. Similar to placing your subject in the shade, it does, however allow you more versatility in your people photography. Piece of white card can prove invaluable when photographing people, regardless of lighting quality; used to reflect light into the subject’s face, they can provide extremely effective fill-in-light (similar to fill-flash) to soften shadows and simply make the face more alive. Virtually any light-colored surface, in fact, can be used to bounce light back onto a subject.

Without getting too deeply into studio lighting, there are some photography lighting techniques that beginners can utilize easily, simply by using natural light in a thoughtful way. For instance, one of the most popular lighting styles for portraiture is one known as “Rembrandt” lighting, named after the Dutch realist painter renowned for his ability to capture the quality of the light that bathed the sitter in his window-lit studio. Emanating from a high, 45 degree angle, it bathes one side of the face in light, while shadowing the opposite side, though also creating an appealing triangular highlight beneath the eye. This style sculpts the face very effectively and gives it depth, which flat, frontal lighting fails to do. So next time you want to do a portrait, place your subject next to a window and observe how the light strikes their face. You will be amazed at how a simple photographic lighting technique can be so effective!

Another useful, and very simple photographic lighting technique is hatchet, or side-lighting, which can be also created using window light or outdoor direct sunlight. Side-lighting, as its name suggests, emanates from side of the subject, which results in one side being lit, and the other complete shadow, the depth of which is easily controlled by a fill card, as described earlier. This is very dramatic lighting, not necessarily the most flattering for a portrait, yet potentially very effective for people photography as well as still-life and other genres.

Whichever  of these photographic lighting techniques you chose to employ, start looking more closely at what it does to your subject, and you will begin to get a feel for what lighting does to a subject, and how it can make an enormous difference the effectiveness of your photographs.

Quality of Light

In this article I will explore the quality of light. Quality of light is extremely important for your end picture result. You can have superb content, but with lousy light you get lousy pictures!

We all know that when we take a photograph what we see in the original scene is not necessarily how the camera records it. The reason for this is a complex interplay between the human vision system, the properties of the camera and the properties of the light. The color temperature, the quality and the direction of light all contribute to end result.

Color Temperature: Color temperature is a descriptive evaluation of the dominant color of a light source from red (warmer) to blue (cooler). It’s measured as degrees on the Kelvin scale. The human eye doesn’t readily distinguish between different colors of light in the environment you may be in.

Certain lights give of their own color cast to the gases contained in the bulb itself. For instance a fluorescent bulb will give of a green cast. Sodium vapor has an orange feel similar to a household bulb. However, mercury vapor has blue-green look.

Knowing the color source of the light illuminating your scene and selecting the appropriate white balance setting on your camera will render a more realistic color balance in your final image.

Quality and Direction of Light: A combination of the quality and direction of light will make or break every shot you do. The lighting used creates the mood of the image. A hard direct light will create a dramatic portrait full of texture and contrast, where as a soft even light may be more flattering and show less wrinkles or blemishes.

Quality of light refers to the spectrum between the hard and soft light. To determine the light quality, look at what’s happening in the highlight and shadow areas of your scene:

Hard light produces “harsh”, contrasty illumination with dark shadows (if no fill light is used). The transition from highlight to shadow is abrupt, and specular highlights (a reflection of the light source seen easily on reflective surface) are small, bright and distinct.

Soft light is characterized by softer edges between the shadows and highlights, broader, less distinct (diffused) highlights with light wrapping around into the shadow side.

In general, the bigger the light source in relation to your subject, the softer the light. A small, point source will produce a harsh light. On-camera flashes and sun are both point point light sources. Although the Sun is very large, it’s so far away that it effectively becomes a point light source in relation to your subject.

To determine the direction of light, note where the light source is (if possible) and where the shadows are falling. On a bright sunny day in the middle of the afternoon the sun, your light source, is directly overhead. This will cause deep shadows under the eyes, nose and chin of your subject if photographing people.

Lighting ratios

Lighting ratios are the difference in exposure between the highlights and shadows in a scene. More often than not they are referred to as the difference in the number of stops. When thought of as a volume of light, ratios appear similar to factions and understanding them will greatly benefit you in more complex lighting scenarios as you continue to advance your photographic skills.

When you determine your main, or key light for your subject and take an exposure of it as well as the lighting for other areas of your scene. You should always expose for your subject and not try to average out the readings of different areas. Doing so will not properly expose your subject, and that’s the reason for a photograph. The difference between the exposure value of your shadows and highlights will create the mood of the photograph. A high ratio indicates your shadows will have a little detail and create a dramatic image, where as an even lighting ratio will have a “softer” feel.

For example: If your subject main light has an exposure of 1/60 @ f5.6 and a near by shadow has an exposure of 1/60 @ f4. That means there is 1/2 the volume of light in the shadow, or 1:2 ratio. If its brighter in an are of your scene than where your subject is and your reading there is 1/60 @ f8, there is a double amount of light and the ratio is 2:1. If another area of your scene also has a reading of 1/60 @ f5.6 it’s an equal volume of the light, or a 1:1 ratio.

A 1:1 ratio on a face will tend to flatten out your subject and not leave much shape. If you have a 1:2 ratio the face will have a lot of detail and still show some features. With a 1:4 ratio the shadows will darken yet you’ll see a noticeable difference from the highlight side of the nose to the shadow side. If you use 1:8 ratio for a portrait it will become much more dramatic with only slight shadow detail. The 1:8 (or 8:1) ratio is an important point to be aware of, as anything beyond will have little or no detail.

quality of light