What is a good basic lighting kit?

I am interested in purchasing lighting for a home studio, but I don’t know where to begin. Basic lighting, an umbrella? a soft box? slaves? I am looking in the $500-$1000 range and just need some advice on the “must haves” or basics. I use a dedicated flash now and bounce light off the ceiling and that works pretty well, but not perfect whites with my white backdrop. I just need a little extra light, but don’t know what would be best. Please help!


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5 thoughts on “What is a good basic lighting kit?

  1. StudioLighting.netStudioLighting.net


    We get asked this beginner setup question a lot. In fact, we recorded an episode of LightSource where we discussed this topic at length. I suggest you download and listen to that show as a beginning point. Episode one of LightSource also has some great perspective for beginners concerning equipment. Finally, read the articles on this web site concerning the selection of lighting equipment for the studio photographer.

    The type of photography you are interested in producing will have much to do with your lighting needs. For general portraiture that gets good results without being hard to set up, I recommend a lighting kit with 3 lights and two softboxes. The third light for your background. Softboxes give even light and are fairly hard to mess up. Umbrellas are a great alternative and can be much less expensive, but may require a bit more practice. Photographers argue all the time about which primary modifier is better.

    Having laid this out as a general purpose starting point, keep in mind that many people never use more than one light. A powerful strobe and a good modifier can produce consistently good photos in all sorts of configurations. This is especially true if you add a reflector on a stand for fill. Getting good with a single light will really help when you decide to add lights in the future.

    As you grow in skill, you will find that there exists a gadget for every lighting setup that you can think of. The trick is only buying (or making) the gear you need to get the shot you want. Since you are using a bounce flash, it sounds like you have the hang of that!

    Some common strobe units recommended for starters are Alien Bees and the house brand from Adorama called Flashpoint. Read reviews and talk to others that own these lights to get a better idea for the pros and cons.

    Keep shooting and thanks for writing.


  2. Tina

    I have a SV 1200W hot light three piece light kit. I use the umbrellas on the main and fill, but I am having a hard time getting the lighting set up right in my small studio.
    There is usually a red tint and I am constantly battling overexposure.
    Should I ditch the umbrellas and go for the softboxes? Is there anything that I could do to make my own softboxes to compliment the lights I already have? I currently shoot with the CanonXT, are there settings on my camera(other than the tungsten WB) that I should try? The AV priority seems to give me the best results, but I am dreading the indoor photo season.

  3. JD

    Hey Tina,

    Make sure you are shooting in RAW format and take a shot with a white piece of paper in the scene. When converting the RAW image take your white sample from the paper.

    As far as your over exposed problems. Shoot in manual mode with a mid level aperture (5.6 – 8) and keep bumping up the shutter speed. You may want to back your lights off a bit as well.

  4. Scott Hampton

    Hi Kristen.
    Bill is right, those first podcasts are very good resources. Very good. I constantly listen to them on my iPod when it’s my turn to cook dinner.

    Ideally you’d put in what kind of shooting you’re doing, as portraiture would differ somewhat from product, fashion, food, etc.

    Let’s say you’re doing portraiture/headshots. I learned that in order to rock with lights you’ve got to master the one light setup. That’s one light (tungsten, strobe, shoe-mount flash, whatever) and a reflector.

    Here’s a suggested kit: One 300 watt-second Calumet Travelite kit in a softbox, one Photoflex 5-in-1 reflector, one Photoflex light stand holder with boom arm, one sturdy tripod, one Sekonic L-308s flashmeter (if you’re using strobes) and I believe you already have your background and paper.

    Set up your main light where you want it and meter it to what you’d like it to be (typically f/8 for portraits). Adjust the power and/or distance if necessary. Put your reflector on the light disc holder and boom arm. Typically, you’ll have the white side showing. Put it on the opposite side of the subject, facing the light. It will reflect some of the light back into the subject, lightening the deep shadows.

    ALWAYS do a custom white balance. Shoot a grey card, not paper or a wall (which can have a color cast already. That’s for you, too, Tina!). Take a look at your shot. Your color should be dead on, without any color casts.

    That’s a basic, basic, basic lighting kit that will work wonders. Once you outgrow that you’ll KNOW why you need Profotos!


  5. Laura

    Hi There,
    I was hoping to get a second opinion/advice on purchasing my first lighting setup.
    I’m deciding on purchasing a kit here is the list of what is included:

    * Fotogen Studio Blitz Maxi Strobe 300W (GN55) Flash (x2)
    * Fotogen Studio Lite Black / Silver Umbrella 110cm (43″) (x2)
    * Fotogen Studio Lite Flash Softbox 90x90cm (35″) (x1)
    * Fotogen Hercules Maxi Heavy-Duty Studio Light Stand (2.6m) (x2)
    * Included Sync Cables (x2), AC Power Cables (x2), Standard Reflectors (x2) and Spare Modelling Bulbs (x2)
    * 12-Month Australian Advanced Replacement Warranty#

    My question is – do you require stronger lighting ie 600v instead of the 300v in order to achieve great quality photos?
    does it make a huge difference?

    Thank you

    Laura :)

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