Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lighting 101 - A Beginner's Lighting Kit


In this post we'll talk about the small, inexpensive gear kit that you will need for going off-camera with your flash. And this is all you really need to make the jump into being a lighting photographer.

You can see it in use above. It will allow you to do some very cool things as a photographer. But as you can see, it is extremely portable and lightweight, too. (Which makes sense to this 40+ guy who does not want to carry around a lot of gear.)

So here are the basics, i.e., what you'll absolutely need:


1. A Light Stand


Budget about $40. This folds or extends, and holds your flash in the position where you want it. The main choice is compact or full-size. I recommend compact, as they will go from seven feet (extended) to about 19 inches (folded). These models will also hold your flash at about 21 inches off the ground, which is cool for low shots.

Full size stands typically go to eight feet, but only fold to about three feet so they don't travel as well. Plus, they cannot get your flash very low to the ground if needed. The vast majority of people go with compact.


2. An Umbrella Swivel

Budget about $15. This is a small bracket that attaches to the top of the light stand and holds your flash (and an umbrella, usually) and will tilt to any angle. They are small, cheap and rugged. With one of these you can also mount a flash to any type of a standard, 5/8" post (like a photo clamp) if you are not using a stand.

For this and the light stand above, I also recommend LumoPro models as they are inexpensive, well-made and guaranteed for five years. LP has built a great reputation as an off-camera lighting supplier, and for good reason.


3. An Optical White, Shoot-Through Umbrella

Just like in the photo up top. Budget about $20. It will be your very first light modifier. And even after 25+ years of shooting professionally, it's still a go-to choice for me. The most versatile umbrellas are those that open up in the 40" range.

I can recommend the Westcott White Double-Fold with removable black backing or a normal-fold white shoot-through version. This double-fold umbrella goes from 43" to just 15 inches when folded. Which, of course, makes it travel very well alongside the compact version of the stand listed above.

Or you may well prefer the single-fold (standard) umbrella which is, I think, a little stronger and more durable but does not pack quite as small. If you haven't guessed yet, we are building a small, light kit that will sling over your shoulder (on in a small bag or pack) and let you take your new "studio" with you anywhere.

It's really kind of a pick 'em. Both work fine.

The only thing with lighting umbrellas is that they are just as fragile as normal umbrellas. If you use care they will last you quite awhile. But you can't be rough with it and expect to hand it down to your kids.


4. A Sync Kit

Budget $30-$40. This three-piece kit will marry your off-camera flash to your camera and sync it to your shutter. It consists of two Universal Translators (seen on previous page, one for the flash and one for the camera) with a 16-foot sync cord (fitted with a ⅛-inch plug at each end.)

You can go with wireless, and eventually you probably will. But shooting wired is the simplest, most reliable and cheapest way to start. It also becomes your backup (important) should you move to wireless later. Trust me, this is the way you want to start.
__________


If you have been running the math in your head, we have totaled out at about $100, give or take. That's amazing to me. As much as DSLRs, lenses and high-end flashes cost, just the addition of about $100 (and some basic knowledge) can get you from "meh" to gorgeous, studio-style lighting. And you can easily take that light anywhere you want it to go.

By the way, here's the actual shot from the setup photo shown at top:


__________


Two Very Good starter Kits

Below are two pre-packaged options for beginner kits as described above. I recommend Midwest Photo as a source because they are reputable, reasonable and carry the full line of LumoPro gear. (The 2- and 5-year warranties are a big deal, and to my knowledge no other brands have it.)

Plus, when things do go wrong I have found MPEX to be responsive (to the point of bending over backwards) via phone, email or on Twitter. Life's too short to deal with needless stress.


Compact Kit (DOES NOT include flash: $107)
Kit WITH Flash (Includes the much-loved LP180 flash: $276)


Note: If you do not yet have a flash, for a long list of reasons explained here, I recommend the current model LumoPro LP180 Quad-sync speedlight. It is less than half the cost of the Nikon and Canon flagship flashes, twice the guarantee and, frankly, a better flash.
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So that was a lot of gear talk to throw at you. Sorry. But we just wanted to get you started off on the right foot, with the basic equipment and not spending more than you needed to.

While we wait for the new toys to arrive, let's start learning about them—and how to use them...

NEXT: L101: Get to Know Your Light Stand


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46 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1st Thank you!!!!! You are not only showing us that there are options to photography lighting you are also showing us how to use them. Lighting is the KEY!!! Honestly I have browsed the internet for info on lighting numerous hours and your site is one of the very best!!! Yeah some people may have to do a little homework (hmm GOOGLE) but overall it is one of the most informative sites that I have discovered on strobe lighting. I look forward to utilizing the WEALTH of knowledge I have learned from your site. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

Thanks again,

T. Rouse

November 01, 2007 11:16 PM  
Blogger gewhite said...

I can't be the first one to think of this. No I have not searched the comments I am using a Gorrilapod as a lighting mount it is pretty versatile in that it can be used as a stand clamp etc... wanted to share and suggest to you david putting a bit up about it.

November 20, 2007 2:24 PM  
Blogger DelCallo said...

[less is better so we won't be popping painkillers at 40]

I'll have you know, young man, I'm over 50 (well over) just discovering this wonderful and new to me area of photography, so, watch your manners!

Great site, wonderful info, I'm having a blast!

Del

February 24, 2008 7:20 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

another over-50 photog chiming in here who carries heavy large format gear everywhere. never use flashes but am becoming interested. i use magnesium ribbon occassionally

June 25, 2008 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

Excellent series of tutorial/articles. Please don't interrupt the flow by explaining every term. Easy enough for people to Google and besided, education was never about just having the information dumped in one's lap.

Thanks for all of your work.

July 08, 2008 5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with letting beginners google some terms or items that go over their head. Afterall, if you're just starting out you should have to do some "legwork" to get a feel for all photography has to offer. Besides, you usually come across some great sites along the way. That's how I found this one.

August 20, 2008 1:03 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

I found a bag that may be interesting to the Strobist community. It's from countycomm.com and you can see it at: http://countycomm.com/satcom.htm.

I have one, and it appears that the double-fold umbrella and compact lightstand would fit perfectly with room to spare (I measured a little over 20" of inside length). The thing's built like a tank, and 35 clams ain't a bad price, either.

February 15, 2009 1:29 AM  
Blogger Dyi said...

Hello....

I am a "newbie" although I've been shooting with a photographer for about two years, I just recently decided to "get serious" whatever that means. Your is amazing and gives beginners like myself a place to start. If you ever update your blog, it WOULD definitely help to have terms at the end of the article (to not interrupt flow and be a compromise for beginner and veterans), we already have 1million1 other things to google. I hope my suggestion does not take away from how much I appreciate the site! Thanks!

March 02, 2009 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Pat Bloomfield said...

Hi David,

I wonder if there has been an update for ideas on carrying a lot of kit around easily since this was written?

Especially as there is a lot more flashgun equipment available.

I mainly use off camera flash for weddings especially for group shots indoors in bad weather - not very artistic I'm afraid.

Anyway I have been carrying two light stands in a studio shoulder bag to date. But this is a real pain when I pack up to leave with a big camera shoulder bag and tripod. I've been looking around for a roller bag that would be able to carry a lot of kit including light stands. Most of the camera bags don't have provision for carrying stands. The best I've seen so far seems to be the Think Tank Airport Security case shown in the Minimalist Lighting book. However this could be a bit bigger and seems expensive for what it is.

The idea is to leave most of the kit here and carry only what's required in the should bag until the reception. Then take out the roller bag with everything else in that I might need. This would also be perfect for working with clients on location. And save my back! :-)

Have you come across any alternatives you'd recommend or perhaps DIY solutions?

TIA

Pat Bloomfield
www.patbweddingphotography.com

July 11, 2009 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Steve Causon said...

@ Pat, I'm also a wedding 'tog.

I use a cricket bag to carry 2 lightstands, a decent tripod, cables and light heads, a softbox, umbrellas etc. (I realise it's neither minimalist nor strobist.)Cricket bags are great, as they have wheels, are the perfect size for stands etc, have seperate padded sections are light, cheap and don't look like they're carrying expensive lighting equipment. Not sure if you have cricket - maybe hockey has a similar type of wheeled bag??

For my strobist (portable) setup - i.e. on trash the dress shoots in remote locations - or for far flung countryside weddings, I just have one drilled stand, a couple of modified spring clamps (vynl DIY clamps) with mini ball heads attatched - super light, super cheap, and will happily attach to tree branches etcand hold a strobe with Softbox / umbrella. I use Cactus V4s to fire a Vivitar 285 (£75) and an 580 exII (£350). Then, 2 ball heads with umbrella holes (ebay - £8 each, delivered) I have an umbrella with a DIY removable silver cover (modified emergency blanket) and a DIY white silk "cover" to convert it into a softbox with Velcro. I can then use one item for shoot thru, Softbox, and Reflector umbrella. The whole setup weighs a few pounds, and cost a few hundred.

July 29, 2009 10:14 AM  
Anonymous Steve Causon said...

@ Pat, I'm also a wedding 'tog.

I use a cricket bag to carry 2 lightstands, a decent tripod, cables and light heads, a softbox, umbrellas etc. (I realise it's neither minimalist nor strobist.)Cricket bags are great, as they have wheels, are the perfect size for stands etc, have seperate padded sections are light, cheap and don't look like they're carrying expensive lighting equipment. Not sure if you have cricket - maybe hockey has a similar type of wheeled bag??

For my strobist (portable) setup - i.e. on trash the dress shoots in remote locations - or for far flung countryside weddings, I just have one drilled stand, a couple of modified spring clamps (vynl DIY clamps) with mini ball heads attatched - super light, super cheap, and will happily attach to tree branches etcand hold a strobe with Softbox / umbrella. I use Cactus V4s to fire a Vivitar 285 (£75) and an 580 exII (£350). Then, 2 ball heads with umbrella holes (ebay - £8 each, delivered) I have an umbrella with a DIY removable silver cover (modified emergency blanket) and a DIY white silk "cover" to convert it into a softbox with Velcro. I can then use one item for shoot thru, Softbox, and Reflector umbrella. The whole setup weighs a few pounds, and cost a few hundred.

July 29, 2009 10:16 AM  
Blogger Lunardi said...

My cricket bag ain't got wheels, but my golf bag holder has, plus extra pockets. Great idea.

September 15, 2009 7:14 AM  
Blogger purplepanda30 said...

Hi.. I am fairly new to photography and don't understand alot of the terms used but like alot of other people it helps me to learn if I have to search to find out what it actually means... It less easily forgotten if you have to search for it's meaning.

Purchased my very first Canon 580EX ii today and can't wait to dive in to learning how to use it!!

I must say I have already noticed an improvement just having it on my camera :)

Thanks so much for the great advice :)

March 01, 2011 3:21 AM  
Blogger josh said...

Re Terminology - i spend ages "googling" cross referencing - then googling that info - and it's kind of a good feeling when you arrive at the answer yourself...
I remember thinking ... "How can a Lens be Fast ? why is it Fast..!??" of course it's nice to have things fully explained to you...even better an actual human being telling you how to do it.. and sites like this are the nearest one comes to that.. I'm new to the world of the Strobist, altho i've just been GIVEN! 2 Gemini 400 Strobes - now what to do with them ! looking forward to the challenge! great site !

May 17, 2011 11:57 AM  
Blogger Annabelle said...

THANK YOU!!! your articles really help me understand strobes and lights and angles, and effects.... now I have to go start doing this, it makes the image

June 10, 2011 5:11 PM  
Blogger Annabelle said...

THANK YOU!!! you are doing an awesome job with this blog and you are helping people so much!!

June 10, 2011 5:12 PM  
Blogger Megon said...

I am thouroughly enjoying this site and all the info and education you have to offer. As a (somewhat) beginner in photography I have searched the world over and found nothing that compares to this site. Although I don't know every term you discuss, I am interested which makes me perfectly willing to look them up if necessary. Thank you for offering up your knowledge to the rest of us and I will certainly be passing this site on to my friends!
-Megon

November 08, 2011 3:23 PM  
Blogger Jenna Schoenefeld said...

Hi there! I was looking at the Midwest photo exchange starter kits on this post, and saw with the produce info when I clicked on the link- "PLEASE NOTE UMBRELLAS WITH REMOVABLE COVERS ARE OUT OF STOCK, WE ARE SUBSTITUTING THEM WITH TRANSLUCENT UMBRELLAS"

Does this substitution make a big difference? Or should I search for these parts elsewhere now where I can get the umbrellas with removable covers? I'm ready to buy, just want to be certain before I do. Thank you!

September 17, 2012 12:16 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

He Jenna-

Nope, it shouldn't. IMO, the two different model umbrellas are IMO pretty interchangeable. It's the compact stands that I think are particularly useful.

Best,
DH

September 17, 2012 1:48 PM  
Blogger J.A. Miller said...

I'm loving this blog, even if I feel like I'm late to the party. I'm waiting for a SB-28 flash and a SC-17 sync cord that I got off ebay. Will I be able to use that cord with my D5100, or do I still need the universal hot sho translator kit? Thanks again for all wealth of knowledge.

October 17, 2012 8:21 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@JA-

That combo will work, but only in manual mode. Which is to say, it'll work just fine.

FWIW, this is a comment on a six-yr-old post, and probably not the best place to solicit help/info. Try the Strobist group on Flickr instead. Thanks!

October 17, 2012 4:08 PM  
Blogger Richard Egger said...

Is HSS capability important. I'm just wondering because there's one wireless trigger thats getting good critics although it's cheap. Its made by Yongnuo. But they can't do High Speed Sync.

November 29, 2012 7:32 AM  
Blogger Fermín Etxenike said...

Hi David,

So far I have resisted to use artificial lighting on my shots (I do mostly street photography), but for a project I have in mind I will have to finally get into the world of flashes.

I have a question that I haven´t seen addressed here. I shoot film, mostly on old cameras. Do those universal translators you recommend work with just a hotshoe or are they dependant on any of the electronics of the camera? And what about those radio flash triggers like the ones made by Yongnuo? I have seen some on e-bay, but all labeled with Nikon or Canon. Are they really brand specific?

Thanks a lot!

December 04, 2012 2:03 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Fermín-

I am happy to report that the Universal Translator is in fact universal. Anything with a hot shoe should work.

Your only problem shooting film will be the lack of instant feedback that allows us digital folks (mind you, I shot film for 25 years) to zero in so quickly.

Film is beautiful and I will not try to dissuade you from using it. My suggestion: Get a cheap, used digital body in your lens mount and use it as your "polaroid back" when shooting film.

December 04, 2012 5:00 PM  
Blogger Fermín Etxenike said...

Thanks, David.

I am in fact negotiating price on the cheapest DSLR I could find for that specific use, or at least practice until I can eyeball it.
Not on my lens mount, though, because I don´t use just one (and some of my cameras don´t have removable lenses).

So, radio triggers are also universal, right?

December 04, 2012 7:15 PM  
Blogger aniruddh said...

Hey,

While other start with catchy lines and write paras after paras of nothing-sensible-stuff, you my friend are a person who makes sense of every word. Loved it!

All meaningful posts! Very helpful.

December 06, 2012 5:06 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Fermin-

Radios are in theory universal but in fact there are a lot of crap radios out there. Especially the cheap ones.

Word to the wise: Use a wire to start.

December 06, 2012 6:01 AM  
OpenID 8bef73da-3ff9-11e2-827d-000f20980440 said...

what are your recommendations for one who does not have a flash yet?

December 06, 2012 6:07 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Look for a flash with full manual control -- that is a necessity. It's nice if it also has an external sync jack, preferably a 1/8" mount. And a slave is useful, too.

If you have Q's about specific gear, ask in the Strobist Flickr Group.

December 06, 2012 6:17 PM  
Blogger plphoenix said...

Great site, wonderful article for a first timer like myself. Any chance of recommending a different kind of kit for somebody that doesn't mind spending just a tiny bit more? I've been reading a few reviews on the weakness of the Westcott 43" collapsible umbrella and don't mind paying just a little more to get something of a higher quality. If I'm going to buy better gear eventually, might as well by it now instead of buying a beginner's kit and then buying a sturdier kit in the future.

December 26, 2012 3:49 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@PL-

The Westcott double-fold is pretty much the only game in town as far as I know. That's about to change soon, tho. But either way, at $20 they are a very good value.

December 26, 2012 3:57 PM  
Blogger Paul Chambers said...

Quick Question: I have an Oly EPL-1 with a pop-up flash. Can I skip the hotshoe sync kit for now or is that essential?

December 31, 2012 1:21 PM  
Blogger Ruy Lopez said...

You missed the most important, valuable, and either cheapest or most expensive piece of kit: a photo assistant...

January 03, 2013 4:52 PM  
Blogger fee leap said...

Hello,

Im new to the site and like the info I have seen so far, but have question concerning flash bracket.
I dont like to shoot the flash straight to somebody's face so I need to have a bouncer or use the walls I guess. However it looks bulky and was wondering if the business card will do the trick.
Also why do people buy flash bracket when they can just bounce the light?

January 16, 2013 4:39 PM  
Blogger edward_magowan said...

I've been shooting (amateur) for 40 years, much of it landscape and astrophotography, and realize that portraits are something I've done very few of. That is about to change, thanks to you. I find myself looking at magazine covers while in the checkout line and trying to determine how the lighting was set up for the photos.

March 31, 2013 2:08 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Hi Strobist,
I'm new to the world of photography, and am extremely grateful to the likes of you and anyone else who takes the time out to teach others. It seems from your style of teaching that you're a natural. Keep up the great work, and continued success to you.
-Charles

May 26, 2013 2:34 PM  
Blogger sean lancaster said...

I am reading the "lighting 101" beginner's series and it seems to imply that I already have a pop up flash. I am using a Canon 6D and have no flash, so I am learning about the equipment to add to my perceived flash, but I really need to figure out which flash to begin with before I start buying the accessories, I think. Hmmm. I'll come back to this tutorial when I find a pre-beginner article first. ;~)

June 06, 2013 8:35 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Sean-

Dunno where you are getting that need for a pop-up flash, dude. Maybe you are misunderstanding.

It's just that most people have *some* kind of *detachable* (not pop-up) flash, and this section is built on showing them how to easily and cheaply convert that to an off-camera lighting kit.

The compass point here is utility without spending unnecessary dollars. (Or Euros, Pesos, Baht, Dirhams, yada yada.)

June 06, 2013 9:02 AM  
Blogger Valente said...

Hi, is there a similar compact kit that I can get from Amazon? I live abroad but my brother-in-law goes a lot to the US and buying at Amazon is easy for me. I could not find the items you suggest here over at amazon. I would appreciate if you could point me to the kit there. I already have a Canon 430ex ii flash.
Thank you,

June 27, 2013 9:35 AM  
Blogger Jeff Stover said...

I purchased a similar lighting kit that you suggested. I went to work in harsh sunlight taking pictures of a child jumping in a small pool. Wow! Who would have thought using flash in the Sun? Thanks for the great information.

June 30, 2013 9:27 PM  
Blogger Arrovel Levorra said...

Dave,
7 1/2 years after, any update in the starter's kit?
Are the parts still available? Any other suggestions?
Please enlighten my ignorance before embarking as a new strobist.
Thanks
Arrovel

September 04, 2013 9:09 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Arrovel- This is all recently updated info; you're good to go, my friend. -DH

September 04, 2013 3:59 PM  
Blogger Tracy said...

Thanks for this great info!

I purchased these hotshoe adapters http://www.amazon.com/Pixel-Flash-Adapter-Extra-Flashguns/dp/B00554PCDG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1386180445&sr=8-2&keywords=hot+shoe+adapter and cannot get the setup to work. It seems these are the wrong adapters, but when I searched for universal translators, this is the only kind of thing I was finding. Any tips on what/where to buy?

VERY much appreciate any help you can offer!!!

December 04, 2013 1:11 PM  
Blogger Daniel Lorch said...

David, MPEX has a discounted bundle for the compact starter kit with flash (article code is compactjumpstarter). The LP180 is only $179.90 in the bundle instead of $199.90 as a separate item, and the universal connector kit is replaced by a cheaper, dedicated cable (not sure that's a good thing?), giving overall savings of about ~$30.

Anyway, I almost missed out on that cheaper bundle, thought it was worth mentioning (would be great if you could directly link it too for the other readers! :-)).

June 02, 2014 3:16 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Daniel-

Many thanks. If you have a link for that kit, I can add it to the post and help save people more money. Best,
D

June 09, 2014 4:32 PM  
Blogger Daniel Lorch said...

Hi David, here's the link: http://mpex.com/compact-off-camera-flash-jump-starter-kit-with-flash.html

June 10, 2014 12:10 PM  

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