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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

So you’ve had your camera for a while now, but your photos don’t look quite as interesting as you wish they would. Natural light can only get you so far, so maybe it is time to step up your lighting game and invest in some good lighting equipment.

In this article, we will show you how to choose the right lighting equipment to start with, without breaking the bank.

Where to Start

Incandescent, fluorescent, LED and flash are the main kinds of artificial light sources used in photography.

These light units range from studio AC-powered equipment to portable equipment that runs on AA batteries. They all output different ranges of light power.

All of them have pros and cons, and you need to decide on the key factors of your type of photography and choose your lighting gear accordingly.

What Are Your Lighting Equipment Options

Incandescent bulbs

These generate light by running electricity through a tungsten filament until it starts to glow. They produce colour temperatures ranging from 3000 to 3400 K.

incandescent bulb for photography lighting equipment

Pros:

  • High brightness index
  • Inexpensive bulbs
  • Focused light

Cons:

  • Dangerously high temperatures
  • Short life span due to filament sensitivity
  • High power consumption

Fluorescent aka Photo Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)

These generate light by running electricity through a tube containing argon and a small amount of mercury vapour. It creates  invisible ultraviolet light. This excites a fluorescent coating called phosphor on the inside of the tube, and emits visible light.

fluorescent lights for photography

Pros:

  • Low power consumption
  • Low temperature
  • Long life span

Cons:

  • Soft light
  • Expensive bulbs
  • Low brightness index

LEDs (light-emitting diodes)

LEDs use semiconductors and electroluminescence to create light. They are small diodes that do not get hot, and work because of the constant movement of the electrons located in the semiconductor material.

LED beginner lighting equipment

Pros:

  • Low power consumption
  • Low temperature
  • Long life span (durable and shockproof unlike glass bulbs)
  • Directional light

Cons:

  • Soft light
  • Made out of expensive materials
  • Reduced lumen output over time

Flash Bulbs

They generate light by applying a high voltage pulse to both ends of the bulb. This creates a spark between two electrodes that excite the xenon gas inside the bulb. It produces a white brilliant light that is daylight colour temperature.

flash bulb for beginner lighting equipment

Studio strobes and Speedlights are variations of the same light technology, but studio strobes are large units that require AC power. Strobes are usually used in studios, while Speedlights are small units powered by AA batteries that are usually mounted on the top of the camera.

speedlight for photography lighting

Pros:

  • High power light output
  • Daylight colour temperature
  • Produce directional light

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Fragile bulbs
  • Hard to plan the light composition

Considerations

Taking all these pros and cons into consideration, it all boils down to this:

  • Incandescent lights are cheap, but they get really hot and are banned from some countries due to their energy inefficiency.
  • Fluorescent lights are expensive and even though they don’t get hot, you need more than one bulb to get close to the light power you get out of incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs are a new and evolving light technology that do not need much power to work and can be colour controlled.
  • Flash has high-power light output and controlled daylight colour temperature.

Good equipment choices for beginners

Yongnuo YN360 Light Wand

[Note: ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here. — Ed.]

So if you are starting out, the best choice would be LEDs for situations that require continuous light and Speedlights for flash photography. These will cover most lighting situations and give you control with modifiers that will shape the light according to your needs.

Here you have a few options that would be ideal for beginners.

Light Units

Yongnuo YN360 Light Wand

This light wand combines 40 full-colour RGB lamps, 160 LEDs with a colour temperature of 3200K, and 160 LEDs with a temp of 5500K.

You can remotely adjust colours through a smartphone app, either by selecting from a provided colour palette, or adjusting manually to create your own preferred colours.

It’s a great product for the price, allowing control of light and portability for situations when you need light on the spot.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Yongnuo YN360 Light Wand

Yongnuo YN600EX-RT

The YN600EX-RT is a cheaper clone of the Canon 600EX-RT speedlight.

This unit is a great option for beginners, taking into consideration its price, compared to its Canon counterpart and the fact that it has a built-in radio system. It’s a great option for off camera flash photography with TTL or manual power control of different channels through another master flash unit, or the YN-E3-RT controller mounted on the camera.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Yongnuo YN600EX-RT

Essential Accessories

assortment of photography accessories, including Manfrotto light stand and a flash gels filter kit

Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand

This is the smallest light stand made by Manfrotto and is probably the best choice for beginners due to its small size and portability.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Lite-Tite Umbrella Adapter

This adapter allows the connection of light units and umbrellas to the stand with swivel control.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Manfrotto 026 Swivel Lite-Tite Umbrella Adapter

Westcott 45-Inch Optical White Satin with Removable Black Cover Umbrella

Speedlights are like bare bulb flashes, and are considered harsh lights. If you want to diffuse them, you need some modifiers.

A shoot through umbrella is a nice and affordable way to start to control your off camera flash.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Westcott 45-Inch Optical White Satin

Flash Honey Comb Grid

This accessory allows the control of the speedlight’s light spread. It’s a good and affordable choice when you want to produce a controlled light spot.

Flash Gels Filter Kit

Coloured filters, or gels, are used on accent lights, or to add colour to backgrounds or selected portions of a scene for artistic effect.

Most common uses of colour filters are to convert the colour temperature of tungsten light toward daylight, known as CTB (Colour Temperature Blue). CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) is used to convert daylight light sources toward the color temperature of tungsten lights.

With flash light, these correction filters are typically used to adjust the color temperature to better match other light sources. This improves the overall colour balance of an image.

Flash filter holder

Even though you can hold colour filters in front of the speedlight with duct tape, most speedlights generate high temperature when fired at full power. A flash holder will help you avoid damaging the filters or the speedlight unit itself.

There are many affordable options for flash filter holders on the market, so you should always consider one that is compatible with your speed light head size and shape.

Conclusion

Even though this suggested equipment doesn’t compare to professional studio lighting, it’s a great place to start if you want to improve the quality of light in your pictures.

Different photographic situations require different light equipment. These choices allow you to have a small light arsenal. You can combine and modify them in many ways, and get creative.

Portability and easiness of assembly/disassembly are also key factors when it comes to equipment. Small, light and battery-operated gear allows a lot of freedom and mobility.

New LED technologies and speedlight units with built-in radio triggers are one of the most significant breakthroughs for photographic lighting equipment. This makes lighting gear affordable and accessible for all photographers, but especially beginners.

Continuous light and flash light require different camera settings and light control. The mix of these two light sources requires some knowledge regarding colour temperature, flash duration, sync speed, motion drag/freeze and lots of other considerations that will make you learn while you experiment.

The possibilities are endless. It might look like this setup is just an LED wand, a speedlight and a few accessories, but you produce amazing results with just this and push forward your photography.

Give it a try, you might be surprised. 

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Ivo Guimaraes

Ivo Guimaraes is a Portuguese photographer and college teacher. His passion for lighting and image editing has gotten him to the next level in studio photography and led him to work with leading brands in the Portuguese market. You can check out some more of his work on his blog and YouTube channel.

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