The three basic types of photography lighting equipment are continuous lights, strobes, and modifiers. Continuous lights are always on and produce a soft light. Strobes are flashes that can be either manual or TTL. And modifiers change the direction, intensity, or quality of light.
Each type of lighting has its benefits and drawbacks. So it’s important to understand how each one works before purchasing. This guide will teach you everything you need about photography lighting equipment. So you can make an informed decision and start taking amazing photos!
Buying all the necessary equipment can be overwhelming when you’re just starting in photography. But don’t worry! This guide will help you figure out what you need to get started.
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Types of Photography Lighting Equipment: Studio Lights
Many types of photography lights are used in the studio at various price points. The lights you choose will depend on how much power you need and will be influenced by your budget.
Luckily, there are cheaper photography lighting brands like Godox. They put out some decent equipment for an affordable price. If you understand how photography light works, you don’t need top-of-the-line gear to get the best results.
You can invest in more expensive photo lights as you develop your career and get higher-paying clients. Here is a rundown of the most common studio lighting equipment.
1. Strobe Lighting
Strobe lights are a flash type that dominates the world of studio lighting. We often think about strobe lights when we talk about studio lights.
A strobe light can be a mono head, such as the Neewer Vision 4 300W. It houses the battery and light in one compact unit. Or it can be a light that needs to be hooked to a high-powered battery.
With both of these types of strobes, the strength of the flash output can be controlled. Their power can be measured in watt-seconds. And certain studio lighting situations require more flash output than others.
For example, food photography or product photography might need one light with 400 or 500-watt power. This is because the scene is usually small. An example strobe to use would be the Godox SK400II.
A much larger scene, like a group portrait, might need to have double that or extra lights.
When buying or renting strobe lighting equipment, you want to make sure you can plug it into the studio wall without tripping the lighting. But some strobes do not need to be plugged in. There are battery-operated ones that can be used outdoors as well.
These days, you can buy a powerful strobe at a low price. It’s not the power that makes one strobe more expensive than another. It’s often the lash’s build quality, durability, and quality and consistency of the flash output.
With strobe lights, you need a syncing device to help you sync your strobe to your camera.
2. Continuous Lighting
Also known as “hot lights,” continuous lights for photography don’t “flash.” Rather, they are a steady light source. They let you see exactly how the light falls on your subject before you press the shutter.
This is a great advantage for product shots or other types of still life photography. But continuous lighting has not been as popular as flash units.
These have less power. And matching the light to other ambient light sources that can influence the scene is a challenge.
Another disadvantage is that they can get very hot. Hence the nickname “hot lights.”
Like these VILTROX 2 lights, LED lights have changed the face of continuous lighting. They don’t heat up as other continuous lighting does and provide a high quality of constant light.
The best LED lighting equipment costs thousands of dollars. They rival the price of the best strobes.
Speedlights are small flashes used in and out of the studio. They provide light or, in the case of outdoor daylight, add fill light.
They are a relatively weak power source compared to strobe lighting. They emit about 1/4 of the power that the average strobe can output.
They also produce a narrow beam of light due to their small size. This can result in harder shadows and a more obviously artificial look.
That being said, they are relatively inexpensive. Several speedlights used together can produce great studio lighting. They also offer a light, portable option with a lot of versatility.
Speeedlights like the Neewer TT560 are compatible with many DSLR camera brands. You can also buy more expensive, camera-specific ones. An example would be the Nikon SB-700 speedlight.
Speedlights can be mounted on your camera’s hotshoe to provide an on-camera flash. For best results, speedlights should be fastened to a light stand and used off-camera.
Modifiers for Studio Lighting
A modifier is a type of lighting accessory that is fastened to your studio light source. It helps you control and shape your light. Unless you want to use hard, direct lighting, you need a modifier to use with your light source.
And the modifier you choose will depend on your goal for the image. For example, if you shoot food photography, 99% of the time, you want soft, diffused light.
Like in the beverage image below, hard and direct light has its moments. But it can make food look cold, distant, greasy, and unappetizing. A soft light will give you soft shadows and bring out the best qualities in your subject.
A softbox can be square, rectangular, or octagonal, like Neewer’s 47-inch umbrella softbox. In the latter case, it’s referred to as an octobox.
Softboxes are probably the most popular studio modifier. This is because of the soft, diffused light they provide.
This flattering quality of light works so well for most genres of photography. You can use it for everything from portraits to food.
A strip box is a rectangular and very narrow softbox. It is ideal for photography where a long, narrow beam of continuous lighting is required, such as in liquor photography. A popular option is the Godox strip box.
It can also effectively produce rim lighting when placed behind a portrait subject. The beam of light is more narrow. And because of this, you can have more control over where the light falls when using a strip box.
An umbrella is another common modifier. It doesn’t always produce the best studio lighting results compared to other modifiers. They come in silver or white.
The light is shot into the umbrella to reflect it into the scene. This helps you create a larger and, thus, softer light source.
The problem with umbrella lighting is that the light tends to spill. So umbrellas can be harder to work with.
7. Shoot Through Umbrella
A shoot-through umbrella is made of translucent material. You also shoot into this umbrella to achieve softer light. But it won’t give you the directionality of a regular umbrella.
Some of these function almost like a softbox, like this translucent Neewer umbrella. This is a preferred modifier used by famed portrait photographers like Annie Leibovitz. They use it for the incredibly soft light it provides.
In the case of creative portrait photography, this can be very flattering. But the lighting might be too flat with other photos, such as food or products.
8. Beauty Dish
A beauty dish is a great modifier for portrait, beauty, and fashion photography. A beauty dish will help you sculpt facial features and create beautiful catchlights. And it illuminates light from all angles due to its unique shape.
For easier storage, you can buy a collapsible beauty dish, such as the Fovitec collapsible beauty dish. With a beauty dish, the light wraps around the subject. It creates both beautiful shadows and highlights.
9. Dish Reflector
A dish reflector is often included when you buy a strobe light like a monohead. They are a standard lighting modifier that attaches to your strobe.
They are useful for a wide variety of genres in photography. They create very hard, directional light. Typically, they are used with a variety of grids.
Grids come in several sizes and forms. They are an attachment you can use with other modifiers to create lighting with a larger degree of contrast.
Some of these grids are made of a hard material and can be attached to a dish reflector or beauty dish. Or they can be soft and attach to the front of a softbox or stripbox.
In the case of a hard grid, they often come in a honeycomb pattern like the Godox and different sizes. The purpose of a grid is to add contrast and control the quality of light and the area of coverage.
A snoot is a very specific modifier. It allows you to create a very focused beam of light.
It is most useful for tabletop photography when you want to shine a focused light on a very specific area. Examples would be background light or highlighting the filling of a burger.
Required Studio Lighting Accessories
You need several accessories to get the best out of your lighting. These are the basic ones.
C-stands (Century stands) are a must in every studio. They are used to set up your modifiers, hold reflectors and diffusers, or even rig your camera over your set. The Neewer Pro C-stand is popular.
Every pro photographer has several C-stands in their studio. For big jobs, they rent even more.
13. Light Meter
You’ll need a light meter to set the power on your lighting and achieve the proper exposure. This light meter by URCERI is popular.
A light meter lets you see if enough light falls on your scene. This way, you can make adjustments to your flash output or aperture.
Silver and gold reflectors in a variety of shapes and sizes. Their purpose is to affect the shadows in a scene.
The gold will add a bit of warmth to your scene. The silver will create a brighter scene than can be created with a white bounce card.
You can place the reflector opposite the light to bounce some fill light onto your subject. It can also be placed in the lap of a portrait subject to soften shadows under the eyes and chin.
A Lastolite reflector is a top brand choice. But you can also buy a reflector from brands like Neewer.
In addition to using the correct modifier, you may also further need to diffuse your light source. When purchasing a reflector kit, a diffuser will usually be included.
You can also create a DIY diffuser from a translucent shower curtain or otherwise translucent material.
16. Gobos and Flags
Gobo stands for “go-between.” It is placed in front of a light source to change its shape. It can be used to narrow the light or otherwise create a pattern.
For example, you may need to cut down some of the light hitting a burger bun, creating a patch of glare. This is known as a “hotspot.”
You can buy a set of flags or a gobos kit. But they can be a bit on the pricey side. You can instead make your own by cutting out shapes from a piece of black cardboard or foam core.
You can attach a wooden skewer to create a handle. And then you can hold it where you need it to affect the light.
Gels are a very inexpensive and handy way to correct for color when shooting in a lighting situation that’s less than desirable.
For example, you may be using lights that vary in color temperature. You can match them by placing the appropriate gel color on your modifier.
You can also use gels creatively. They can put a bit of a given tint to your images without making them look like a filter has been added.
18. Color Checker
A color checker is a device that will help you get accurate color in your images. The Datacolor SpyderCHEKR is a relatively inexpensive option.
It is particularly helpful if you mix your lighting. It will also help you get the right white balance in your images.
To use a color checker, take a shot with it placed in your scene. It should be where the light is not too bright but not in the shadows.
And when you do your color correction in post-processing, you can match your images. Just select the appropriate color in the image featuring the color checker.
Common Studio Lighting Questions (FAQs)
We answer a few questions we get a lot about the types of photography lighting equipment.
What Photography Studio Lighting Is the Best?
This depends on your photoshoot’s purpose. There is no best all-around studio lighting that works for every scenario. The best lighting is the one that helps you achieve your goals. In general, strobes are the most versatile lighting gear to use in the studio.
How Can I Make My Interior Pictures Look Good?
Turn the lights off when photographing in a room. When using mixed lighting, balance out light temperatures when retouching.
How Do Professionals Take Interior Design Photos?
The pros supplement natural light with fill light o interior design photos. And they shoot on a tripod using a wide-angle lens.
What Are the Lighting Techniques in Photography?
Photographers use a wide variety of lighting techniques, depending on the genre. This can include broad lighting, rim lighting, direct or indirect lighting, etc.
The three-point lighting system is versatile and comprises a key light, fill light, and backlight.
Conclusion: Types of Photography Lighting Equipment
As you can see, many types of photography lighting equipment are available. And what and how you use them will be up to you.
Studio lighting can be a bit overwhelming when you are just venturing out. But we hope this guide helps you learn the basics. And we encourage you to get started on your photography studio equipment journey!