When you’re just starting out in photography, the thought of buying all the necessary equipment can be overwhelming. But don’t worry, this guide will help you figure out what you need to get started.
There are three basic types of photography lighting equipment: 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 own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to understand how each one works before making a purchase. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about photography lighting equipment so you can make an informed decision and start taking amazing photos!
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Types of Photography Lighting Equipment: The Different Studio Lights
There are many types of photography lights used in the studio, at a variety of 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 photographer lights as you develop your career and get higher-paying clients.
Here is a rundown of the most common studio lighting equipment.
Strobe lights are a type of flash lighting that dominates the world of studio lighting. When we talk about studio lights, we’re often thinking about strobe lights.
A strobe light can be a mono head, such as the Neewer Vision 4, which houses the battery and light in one compact unit. Or it can be a light that needs to be hooked up 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. Certain studio lighting situations require more flash output than others.
For example, food or product (tabletop) photography might need one light with 400 or 500-watt power, such as the Godox SK400II. This is because the scene is usually small.
A much larger scene like a group portrait might need double that or extra lights.
When buying or renting strobe lighting equipment, you want to make sure that you’ll be able to plug it into the wall of the studio without tripping the lighting.
Though there are some strobes that do not need to be plugged in. They are battery operated and 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 build quality/durability and the quality and consistency of the flash output.
With strobe lights, you need a syncing device that will help you sync your strobe to your camera.
Also known as “hot” lights, continuous lights for photography don’t “flash”. Rather, they are a continuous lighting source. They allow you to see exactly how the light is falling on your subject before you press the shutter.
They 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”.
LED lights, like these Viltrox lights, are changing the face of continuous lighting. They don’t heat up like other continuous lighting does and provide a high quality of constant light.
The best LED lighting equipment costs in the thousands, rivalling the price of the best strobes.
Speedlights are a type of small flash 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 look that is more obviously artificial.
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 such as the Geekoto Flash are compatible with most DSLR brands. ou can also buy more expensive, camera-specific ones, for example, the Nikon SB-700.
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 are using hard, direct lighting as pictured in the image below, you will need some sort of modifier to use with your light source.
The modifier you choose will depend on your goal for the image.
For example, if you are shooting food photography, 99% of the time you’ll want soft, diffused light.
Hard and direct light like in the beverage image below is having its moment. But it can actually make food look greasy and unappetizing.
A soft light will give you soft shadows and bring out the best qualities in your subject.
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 softbox that is rectangular and very narrow. 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 be used effectively to produce rim lighting when placed behind a portraiture subject.
The beam of light is more narrow. 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 when compared with other modifiers. They come in silver or white.
The light is shot into the umbrella to reflect back into the scene. This helps you create a larger and thus softer light source.
The problem with umbrellas is that the light tends to spill, so they can be harder to work with.
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 as a regular umbrella.
Some of these umbrellas function almost like a softbox, like this Neewer model. This is a preferred modifier used by famed portrait photographers like Annie Leibovitz. They use it for the incredibly soft light it provides.
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. It illuminates light from all angles due to its unique shape. You can buy a collapsible beauty dish, such as the Fovitec collapsible beauty dish, for easier storage.
When you buy a strobe light like a monohead, a dish reflector is often included. They are a standard lighting modifier that attaches to your strobe.
They are not useful for a wide variety of genres in photography. They create very hard, directional light. Typically, they are used with a variety of grids, as seen below.
Grids come in several sizes and forms. They are a type of 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 and in 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 that 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.
For example, background light or the filling of a burger.
Required Studio Lighting Accessories
You need several accessories that will allow you to get the best out of your lighting. Here are the basics:
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 Kupo C-stand is popular.
Every pro photographer has several c-stands in their studio. For big jobs, they rent even more.
To set the power on your lighting and achieve the proper
A light meter will allow you to see if there is enough lighting falling on your scene. This way, you’ll be able to 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.
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 DIY a diffuser from a translucent curtain or shower curtain, or otherwise translucent material.
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 and creating a patch of glare. This is known as a “hotspot”.
You can buy a set of flags or gobos, but they can be a bit on the pricey side. 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 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 less than desirable lighting situation.
For example, you may be using lights that vary in color temperature. You can match them by placing the appropriate color of gel 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 to them.
A color checker is a device that will help you get accurate color in your images. It is particularly helpful if you mix your lighting. It will also help you get the right white balance in your images. The Datacolor SpyderChekr is a relatively inexpensive option.
To use a color checker, take a shot with it placed in your scene where the light is not too bright, but also not in the shadows.
Once you are doing your post-processing, you can match your images. Select the appropriate color in the image featuring the color checker.
Common Studio Lighting Questions:
What photography studio lighting is the best?
This depends on the purpose of your photoshoot. There is no best all-around studio lighting that will work for every scenario. The best lighting is the lighting that will help 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 a room. When using mixed lighting, make sure you balance out light temperatures when retouching.
How do professionals take interior design photos?
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.
Studio lighting can be a bit overwhelming when you are just venturing out. This guide will help you learn the basics to get started on your photography studio equipment journey.