Round Up: The "Starving Student" Off-Camera Light Kit
The SSO-CLK (for lack of a more poetic term) is designed to give you the most bang for your buck - with a nod toward extreme portability. It will work well with any camera that can be controlled manually and has a PC synch jack. Most SLR's, digital or film, fit this bill. The flash is a vintage Nikon model, but it will work off-camera with anything that has a PC jack.
If you have been reading through the Lighting 101 course, you know the gear already. But I wanted the info all together in one place now for linking convenience and for the newer readers.
The total damage comes in at about $180, which is a little more than half the (street) cost of a Nikon SB-800.
Starting at the ground we have a Bogen 3373 collapsible light stand, which is described in detail here.
For maximum portability, you'll want to drill and strap it. Details for how to do this are on the same link as the stand. Cost: About $57.
Next, an umbrella adapter, which you need to mount your flash to the stand. At about $20, the shoe-mount adapter is included. Details on taping to prevent flash damage (important) are here.
The wonderfull 43" double fold umbrella ($19.95, here) carries well on the small, collapsed light stand. It's a full-sized umbrella in a pint-sized package (and price.)
This umbrella is a wonderful bargain when it comes to making your little strobe act like a much more expensive light. I wish you could get this kind of result for $20 more often in this field.
UPDATE: Since this article was originally written, I have come to find that I use the "shoot through" umbrellas far more than the reflective ones. More info here.
Up top, you'll want to find a used Nikon SB-24, which can easily be had by the patient scrounger for $75. If you have a few extra bucks to spare, you can be flexible on the flash and try to find an SB-25, -26, -28, etc.
And if you are going for your second light, make it an SB-26 for the built-in slave as seen in the link.
For light control, make a quick, cheap snoot to fit your flash. To save money, you can use duct tape instead of gaffer's tape if you must. But get yourself a roll of the real stuff ASAP. It's too useful not to have.
You slide the folded-up umbrella into the snoot tube for neat and easy transport. You never know when that little tube is going to come in handy - I use it more than I use an umbrella by far - so always have it with you.
To connect to your camera, build the synch cord detailed here. It's reliable and cheap at ~$24.00, but you'll eventually start lusting after a set of Pocket Wizards. Trust me on that.
Hold it all together with a pair of 8" ball bungees (more info here) which double as light clamps in a pinch. Cost; Less than $1 for two. (A four-pack is $1.93 at WalMart)
With this spartan outfit, you could do most of the photos that you have seen on Strobist. Heck, with the exception of Pocket Wizards, that's pretty much what I did them with.
Adding a second (or third) light vastly expands your possibilities, as does the wireless trigger. But this kit - and the brains to use it - will allow you to do some amazing stuff on a very tight budget. Learn to use it well and you'll quickly start knocking down the assignments that will fund the other light sources. (It's a ready-made headshot setup, where there's always money to be made.)
Moving on to other gear, I have had many, many "what kind of camera/lenses/etc should I buy" e-mails. And I am working on some sample starter camera outfits that give you a similar bang-for-buck ratio. It hinges on what photo career path you expect to take, and just how much you have to spend when starting out.
But the SSO-CLK is the cornerstone for making a big leap in picture quality for a small price, so we are starting with light.