10 Pieces of Lighting Equipment for Under 60 Dollars

Once again, the Prince of Cheap is here to save you from the dollar!

The following is a list of studio lighting items that will help you save dollars and help you grab some quick and effective lighting that will allow to you create better photographs!

#1) The first one is my all time favorite: the Light Panel/Flash Wall. This tool is one of the easiest to build and also one of the most useful.

If you have a heavy duty flash or a bunch of hot shoe flashes laying around you can build one of these in 10 minutes with a hacksaw and about 5 dollars worth of PVC pipe from your local hardware store. I recommend using Schedule 40 1/2 inch wide because that stuff is tougher than the larger piping. It is so simple that you could put one together in about 180 seconds (3 minutes) and break it down in even less time. In panel mode you attach some white rip-stop nylon and fire your flashes through it. In flash wall mode placing some white rip-stop nylon backed with a black sheet on the other side (so the light wont pass through it) allows it to be used like a portable wall to bounce light off of. Flash wall orientation reduces light spill that could recolor your images. I use a flash wall in a pinch in a small spaces or for corporate portraits where I want a very soft light. I’ve had even softer results using white satin fabric instead of white rip-stop nylon (its surface diffuses the light that hits it a little better). Here is a photo of my home made diffusion panel in action:

Homemade diffuser in action

This is a super simple design. You can even make legs so that you wont need your light stands to hold it up! How cool is that? Just build an upside-down “T” and you’ve got legs!


#2) My second favorite is the “The Prince of Cheap” Quadgrip Reflector. It’s amazing what happens when you have a 99 cent store that sells foam board, some double-sided tape, and box cutters!

Measure the width of your hand and use the box cutter to cut a rectangular hole for your fingers to allow you to grip the board… BAM, instant secure grip! You take also sandwich together a black piece and a white piece back to back with double sided tape to get a very sturdy quadgrip reflector with a white reflector on one side and a gobo (light blocker) on the other! I’ve been using this while holding my Sony Alpha A100 cross-handed during modeling sessions (Thank God for image stabilization)! Here’s a photo:

DIY Quad Grip Reflector


#3) The eBay Softbox. This pretty little object made the list because, well… its CHEAP! For $60.00 you can get a 31×47 inch softbox that comes with a universal mount. You simply turn screws on a caster and it uses pressure to hold itself onto your strobe. Also note, you can purchase a 47×47 inch octagonal softbox from an Ebay seller! After testing this unit I found that it is cheap but the light is very usable! I was unable to find a grid to reduce spill, but we’re talking $60.00 for a softbox that can be used to do full bodies shots!

Tulle Light Diffuser Scale

I call that a lotta softbox for $60.00! Its bigger than my son!


#4) 60 inch White Convertible Umbrella. Probably the most used tool in photographic history besides the camera and flash itself! Umbrellas are cheap soft light producers!

You can get a Photoflex 60 inch Convertible Satin White Shoot through umbrella with a removable cover for only $ 39.99 at Adorama.com. To use it, simply remove the cover and your strobes reflector for ultra – ultra soft light. Put the cover on to get soft yet slightly directed, specular light. Put it very close and remove the reflector from your flash head and you have a super wrap around effect that can be as soft as silk!

Add a reflector below the subject and get this:

Convertible Umbrella Sample Photo


#5) The “ebay Species” Trigrip Reflector. This little tool is perfect except for one the grip sliding around in the frame making it hard to hold. The good news is that with a little modification it can be perfectly firm. I cut the foam grip off and wrapped duct tape around it until it made a solid handle. for only $20 on Ebay you can get a silver/gold double-sided reflector that’ll help you get glamor light all day and night!

P.S. They also have silver/white models! – Ebay Seller Dream2maker


#6) Britek – Flash lighting that is cheap, usable, fairly color consistent, and did I mention cheap? Think of it this way: I bought a $51.00 BB-200 (200 watts of pop) with a 1 second recycle time for just $51. For just a bit more, I bought the HS-2000 (440 watts of blast) with a 1 second recycle time ($190). Then I added a $75 PS-200 (125 watts). I still hadn’t hit $350.00 and I have 3 flash units that can serve me for nearly setup. The downside to these tools is that there’s only 3 power settings on the HS and BB models (half, full, and quarter). There are only 2 settings on the PS model (half and full).

Of course, you are buying variety of imported strobes whose reputation gets called into question at times, but if price tag is your only consideration, they are an option – look around and read for more opinions! This doesn’t mean that If I had the money I’d choose them over the AlienBees monolights. It’s just that when you cant afford the big toys you gotta start somewhere, and I’ve managed to get some very good quality images out of mine! The Britek line of cheap flashes – www.briteklight.com


#7) Sigma EF 500 DG SuperflashOK, it’s more than 50 bucks, but this flash has it all! Wireless optical slave, high speed sync (as long as your camera supports the feature), bounce, swivel, manual power control, TTL for your camera brand, multi-flash support, and most important. IT’S VERSATILE!! Best of all, it’s still far less expensive than the camera brand flash units. For a review, go here http://shutterbug.com/equipmentreviews/lighting_equipment/1101sb_sigma/.

Sigma EF 500 DG Superflash


#8) The Brolly Box. Its a softbox, its an umbrella, no – no – its – its… the Broooooollly Booooxxx! This tool is similar to a softbox because light bounces around inside and leaves through the front panel. The front, however, is curved like a shoot through umbrella. The resulting light is similar to light from a beauty dish. The brolly box contains the light but it allows the light to go out in a 180 degree surface. As a single light source – in a single light setup, this tool works great! The best part is that since its design is that of an umbrella you can use it with virtually any flash source and it folds for easy storage and transport.

This model comes from Alien Bees for $29.95. A similar model can also be found on Ebay (look for “umbrella softbox”) for a bit less – Ebay Seller Mrstudio1.


#9) Neutral Density Fabric. Now, here’s CHEAP! What do you get when you take 4 layers of black wedding dress fabric called tulle and place it between your light source and subject? Neutral Density fabric -1 Stop! When layered 4 times, this fabric reduces strobe or natural light output like a scrim or neutral density filter! Stretch 1-2 layers over your lens and what do you have? An “old timers delight” – a soft focus filter! What do you have when you place 4 stapled layers over a softbox whose flash doesn’t have enough power options? A neutral density filter thats helps you control your light output! Here you can see it in use:

Tulle Light Diffuser

There it is, draped over the box. Because of this I am able to take my flash down to low power, place it very close and get very, very soft wraparound lighting using only the covered light as my main light as shown here. You can get this fabric at just about any fabric store.

Neutral Density Fabric Photo Sample


#10) The AlienBees Vagabond II. I once hailed the Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200 as the single best deal out there in order to have a portable lighting solution for your studio flashes. Then this gem comes along and changes things! Thanks Mr. Buff!

This one doesn’t exactly come in under 60 dollars either, but I had to mention it! This tool gives you 2 outlets (For monolights, NOT your computer or any other constant drain device) to plug in your strobes and have on-location power! Think of it… use your flashes to get natural looking images outdoors in the afternoon!

AlienBees Vagabond II

Go the Alien Bees web site to see more of see this great new product. http://www.alienbees.com/VIIsystem.html


With these great deals, you’ve go no excuse to experiment, so get ta shootin!

-The Prince of Cheap

David Griffin

About David Griffin

The Prince of Cheap I am a "Jesus Freak" and a DIY photography junkie! I'm also the *second* cheapest man alive... but only 'cause my Dad is the first!

41 thoughts on “10 Pieces of Lighting Equipment for Under 60 Dollars

  1. -H-

    Wow!

    I stumbled across your website and spent the remainder of my workday just reading, and reading and hopefully, I didn’t lose my day gig!

    Thanks for being so: 1) frugal, 2) good at photography, 3) gadget geeky (hey we all like them and all want them, all of them!).

    -H-
    I included my modelmayhem.com ID (207779) if you care to peek & critique – I welcome all help

  2. Jason

    About the “Light Panel/Flash Wall”

    I understand the constrauction of the frame but I have a question about the white rip-stop nylon. How is it attached to the frame? Do you have a diagram of how to build/sew that? Maybe just pictures close up so I might replicate it.

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

    Jason

  3. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    all you do is buy the fabric a bit bigger than the frame and clip it to it with $1 home depot (hardware store) clamps. or you can sew an elastic band into the fabric and it will be a built in rubber band that clips over the frame edges.

  4. Yolanda

    Can you explain in more detail how you accomplished the picture of the baby girl under item #4 on the list. What a beautiful shot!

  5. Cindy

    I have read and read and read what I can find on studio lighting and only get more confused. I take photos for family and friends only, they know they are not getting a professional but I still want to produce good shots. I have the most trouble with portrait lighting. I’d like to buy a very basic setup without spending a fortune….. one light, two or three? I think umbrellas….. 250 W, 500 W? Hot lights, strobes? There are too many choices to make without knowing. I’d really like someone to just say – buy this, it will work for a basic beginner setup to play with and learn from…… any suggestions?

  6. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    Simple. Very simple. Set the 60″ convertible umbrella high aiming downward. hand hold the small triangular reflector below the camera with your free hand. make sure you’ve metered it. fire away. this over under lighting technique is called clamshell lighting or butterfly lighiting or paramount lighting. thats it. very simple.

  7. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    To Cindy’s question:
    Assuming you already have your dslr…
    get the alienbee beginner bee package. http://www.alienbees.com/beginner.html for $358.00 (minus shipping)
    If you cant afford that get 1 $75 britek ps-300 strobe, $29.00 lightstand, and a 60″ $29.00 b&h photovideo convertible umbrella.

    Then go to ebay seller dream2maker and purchase 1 5n1 42″ disc reflector for about $42.00

    There you go you now will have a 1 light setup. When photographing 1 person set the flashes at the lowest power and start with the umbrella about 3ft close. Set your cameras aperture at f5.6 to start. Too bright? Go to f8.0. Waay too dark (even at F5.6) go to F4.0 if your lens will let you. In fact… go to this after you get your flash.

    I dont recommend using hotlights because 1… they’re hot! 2… they dont give out lots of light (we think they do because we’re used to seeing the light from a 100 watt bulb and think 250’ll suffice but it wont). 3… You’d have to find a way for the hotlights to not make your subjects uncomfortable (nearly impossibe… especially with elderly as theyre eyes are far more sensitive to bright light in many cases). 4… it may not seem like it but a flash gives off anywhere from 1,000 to 1,000,000x’s the same intensity of a hotlight, it just happens in a fraction of a second. My advice: 1 – Stay away from hotlights! 1 – get a single powerful strobe like the AB800 ($279.00 for 320 watts output) or the Britek HS2000 ($190 for 440 watts output) and master the 1 light quick start guide here on studiolighting.net and your off to better images!

    Heres the link to the guide http://www.studiolighting.net/quick-start-guide-to-the-one-light-setup/

  8. Cindy

    Thank you! I appreciate your response. I have looked at the Alien Bees but did not want to spend that amount of money not knowing if it would work for my purposes. I do have a 30D Canon and a 430EX flash along with a flash bracket and a flash diffuser that have been able to fudge with and have some ‘good enough’ results using work lights and photoshop. I’d just like to have less editing at the end to get the results I want. I have read the tutorials and they are very helpful. Again, THANKS!

  9. david griffindavid griffin

    to Cindy: If your worried about the depth of field going too shallow thats the only trade off you’ll have to deal with…. all i can say is use two large silver umbrellas or buy 1 more strobe. sorry no way around it. not enough light is not enough light. unless that is your lights are not at higher power… if not… try that for the extra f stop

  10. Xavier

    Great info on the portable power.

    Is the Alien Bee Vagabond II compatible with the Profoto Compact 600? Which one would you recommend the Tronix Explorer or Vagabond to power 4 Compact 600?

  11. mike

    First of all, let me compliment you on your beautiful family.
    Secondly, this article is excellent for those of us (I am and always will be an amateur) who want to be better, but not always ready to invest so much (time and money!).
    Thirdly, you clarified some definitions for me that really helped.
    Thanks again and have a great day

  12. david griffindavid griffin

    To Xavier:
    If the Profoto Compact 600 is a digital strobe unit then no – either the Tronix Explorer 1200 nor the Alienbee Vagabond I or II should be compatible, but check there website.

  13. Annie

    I am in the same boat with Cindy with the same camera. I have done all of my stuff outdoors and would like to begin doing studio stuff. I wonder if I can get away with a softbox and reflectors initially. I am still going to look at all you suggested for Cindy, but I don’t even have enough practical knowledge of flashes yet. I’ve been outside too long….love your work by the way. Thanks!

  14. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    To Annie:
    By all means you can get started with a softbox and a reflector only! I suggest you get the large 31×47 inch ebay softbox to start as well as a $39.00 photoflex white satin optical convertible umbrella from Adorama camera. I say get 2 lights if possible… a $75 britek ps-200 and a $29.00 lightstand. (Its great to be able to put a circle spot of light on the background when you want too!) Definately get a pair of $30 ebay radio slaves (unless you can afford the $200 pocketwizard solution). That way you’d have a very usable 3 point light setup… main (softbox or umbrella), fill (reflector or white board), and background light or backlight (additional flash).

  15. Tony

    Hi David,
    Super articles and super photos ! I am a landscape guy and wanting to get into protraits, do you have any suggestions on how to make some cheap backgrounds, black and white ? and
    easy cheap way to get them up !! What are the best materials for backgrounds ???
    Thanks
    Tony

  16. Anna

    David, thanks for such helpful info! Like Cindy, I am also looking for someone to tell me exactly what to buy! I have heard a lot about alien bees so I think I will bite the bullet and get the beginner pkg as you suggested. You also suggested the reflector disc. Can you explain the purpose of that and when I would use it? I’m so confused with all of the reflectors – hand held, reflector wall, reflector for over the light bulb …??? I am a total beginner and am beginning to wish photography didn’t have so many choices!

    I should mention that I will be photographing children, mostly full body shots, and I am needing a pure white background effect. Thanks so much for your help!

  17. Anna

    David, one more question, please! In a previous post, you mentioned a “light meter” (I think that’s what you called it). Can you explain the purpose of that and when it is needed? thank you!

  18. Ron

    David, I am also just starting out..I have done mostly natural lighting photography up to this point. I am interested in studio lighting and have all but decided to go with a D-lite4 kit from Adorama. This kit includes 2 400ws Strobes, 1 umbrella, and 1 softbox. Is this a smart investment??? I will be doing mostly portrait and wedding photography. Thank you for any advice you can give.. Ron

  19. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    TO RON:
    The D-lite4 kit is a killer right now. It gives you most of what you need to make a killing! All you need after you get that (In My Humble OPINION) is a 42 inch 5n1 Reflector with a stand and holder! If you get it build yourself an inexpensive light panel and go make some money! Dial that power down, put on the reflector, shoot thru like an umbrella viola! Instant makeshift softbox quality. I’m actually shocked that Alienbees hasnt created a special package to counter the Elinchrom deal thats gettin more newbees into the Elinchrom system. Hey, I’d get it if I could afford it. :)

  20. Kris Bresnahan

    Great site and an incredible photographer, too! I will give several of these ideas a try as I am just starting out in this business. One of my inexpensive options, and you’re welcome to use it if you’d like was: purchasing clamp reflector light kits from any discount store ($5-6 each) to use with photo-floods ($3-4), clamping them onto cheap tripods ($20-24) and white studio umbrellas ($8-10) to have an inexpensive umbrella light. Granted, you have some of work to do on the computer to edit, but if you can work your settings right on your camera, it’s not half bad when you’re hard up for cash!

  21. Daria

    Thanks for the tips! I have a question about the 5n1 reflectors…. Can’t find the ebay store you were talking about and want to make sure i don’t get a REALLY cheaply made one…. Can you point me in another direction? Thanks!

  22. Victor

    Hello David,

    I had a question about your e-bay softbox deal… Is there any way to get that to fit onto a Photogenic AKC160 160 W/S? This is the strobe I have and it has a different “body” shape than a lot of the rectangular strobes. Maybe you can point me in the right direction for a speedring adapter? I am using it now with a White shoot through umbrella for soft light but would like to try a softbox. Love your site BTW. I have tried many of your budget ideas. I adapted your light panel design, and made myself a backdrop holder out of PVC and $1.00 clamps. Thanks in advance.

  23. Victor

    Hello David,

    Just thought I would leave another note, happy holidays! I still have the question above though. When ever you get a chance, can you help.

    Thanks,
    Victor

  24. Patrick

    Hi David

    I am photographing furnitures for the store i work at, sometimes floor lamps, sometimes large credenzas meaning i need a versatile set of lights. Can’t spend too much but can’t do so much from scratch.
    Also i only have a point shoot that works fine for what we’re doing when the light is right.

    Thanks

    Patrick

  25. Patrick

    Oh! I forgot, I need for it to be pretty portable since I ‘m shooting in the store which is often full of furnitures.
    Not ideal I know but hey, gotta get it done…

  26. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    TO PATRICK:
    Try this… get a vivitar 285hv… get a wein optical slave that ignores the preflash of your point and shoot… get a b&h lightstand and umbrella hotshoe adaptor combo… place the light at a 45 degree angle to your area and viola! If you have a dslr I say get a britek ps300 flash and get a hotshoe adaptor to connect your flash to your camera and viola.

  27. Nanette

    I’ve got some thing to add to your list. In the auto section at target…. they sell the windsheild/shade protector. they are usually two round fold outs that come as one piece. They are black on one side and silver on the other.. Only $10. cut it in half and you have a two sided reflector x 2. they fold up just like the round reflectors do. Hey.. it is working for me at the moment.

  28. Lanette

    David I have the Sony a100 camera also. I also have the GI wireless triggers (16 channel I think). They are the RF616 from Gadget Infinity. I am now looking to get lights that will definitely work with the sony a100 and the triggers. Which do you recommend?

  29. David GriffinDavid Griffin

    To DEON:
    If you are using a studio strobe you should simply be able to pull a lever or unscrew a few screws or unclick a mount to use your strobe “barebulb”. I really cant tell you how to do this with your brand. Try this… if you cant remove the screw… just back the umbrella up from the flash head as far as you can while its still inserted into the flash heads umbrella slot.

  30. val

    David— Which umbrella will give me the softest wrap around light– A 60 inch satin white or a 60 inch translucent ?? I am shooting portraits in a small spare bedroom, but the room is reflecting too much light. Also, after reading your web articles, I finally decided to purchase a ready-made diffusion panel screen from ebay. Unfortunately, this item have been removed from the site. Wow, what a missed opportunity. Would you happen to have any suggestions where I might be able to find such a thing?? I understand that the nylon material is very hard to find, and it probably would take me forever to construct this from scratch. Thanks

  31. david griffindavid griffin

    TO VAL:
    White optical satin is translucent. Its not exactly as translucent as nylon but its actually softer because it spreads the light a tad bit more. Just remember, after testing I find that both will do the job. The key thing to remember is just move you light in close on a side and it will appear even softer.

    Note: The closer you move a light in the more you must reduce its power to keep the same shooting aperture. If your light is 5ft away and you get F5.6 and thats what you want and you move it in closer you’d have to drop down the power in order to get the same f5.6 (if the light is closer more light is hitting the subject).

  32. val

    David— Thanks for explaining the difference between translucent and satin white umbrellas. Can you please provide some guidance in reference to purchasing a ready-made diffusion panel?? Do you think I might be able to achieve a similar effect with the 60 inch umbrella like some of the photos you have displayed on this page?? Because I am working in such a small space, I question if I should even use a diffusion panel. I look forward to hearing your take on this. Thanks for your insight and willingness to share.

  33. Derek Johnson

    David,

    Your advice is great and your photos are awesome! I just build my diffusion panels. I have two – one huge one (5′ x 6’5″) and one for my indoor studio (4′ x 5′). I painted them black and used velcro to stick the nylon to the frame (I can’t sew). It looks pretty professional and it cost a LOT less than the pro panels I’ve seen. There’s even some guy online (I won’t expose) him that’s simply selling the panel fabric and you still have to buy your own PVC pipe and assemble it. He’s claiming nylon fabric “properly weighted for photography”. Anyway, your cheap tips are great! Keep it up.

  34. Tim Overhulser

    David;

    About the light panel. do you need to use barn doors to control lighting (spill over) And how far away from the panel do you place the strobe? Oh and great site for those of us that are financially challenged:)


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