Lighting 101 - An Ideal Starter Lighting Kit

Abstract: An introduction to the basic lighting gear you'll need, including our current recommendations. [This post was updated on Feb. 5, 2020.]



In addition to a flash, you'll need some basic gear to begin using that flash off-camera and shaping it into a much better quality of light. The good news: getting started with a basic kit is very inexpensive, compared to the cost of your cameras and lenses.

For starters, you'll want to work with a simple inexpensive one-light kit, which you can see in action above. If you stick with it and grow as a lighting photographer, you'll probably choose to add a second light later. A two-light kit will serve the needs of the majority of lighting photographers across many circumstances.

A lot of time and thought has gone into the selection of the current recommended gear. The components have evolved frequently over the past fourteen years at Strobist, guided by first-hand use and the feedback of countless photographers who have taken Lighting 101 before you. This is a similar, but more capable, kit to what I used for two decades (and over 10,000 assignments) as a photojournalist.

You can get cheaper gear — especially from some of the pop-up brands shipping direct out of China. But a lot of that stuff is crap, with little (if any) warranty and destined to disappoint. A well-chosen lighting kit can last you the rest of your life, and be used with a variety of cameras both present and future.


An Ideal One-Light Kit

The current recommended lighting kit for beginners is built around a manual Godox TT600 flash and remote trigger and LumoPro grip equipment. (FYI, "grip" is a catch-all term for the gear that positions a light and/or modifies its quality.)

Below is each piece of recommended gear, along with why it was chosen. We'll discuss how to use it in subsequent lessons.


Flash: Godox TT600 ($69.00)



If you do not yet have a flash, our current recommendation for Strobist readers is the Godox TT600.

This is a manual flash, which means it is universal to nearly every brand of Camera. The one exception is Sony, which has a non-standard hot shoe for connecting a flash. If you shoot Sony, you'll need to get the Godox TT600(S) as noted below.

At less than $70, the TT600 is an inexpensive yet extremely capable manual speedlight designed for off-camera lighting.

A NOTE ABOUT FLASHES MADE BY CAMERA MANUFACTURERS:

Camera-branded flashes are sold at a very high profit margin. This is because they see you as locked into their system, and they have you where they want you.

Don't believe me? Consider this. For the price of a single flagship Nikon SB-5000 speedlight (*cough* $597 *cough*) you could have instead had a high-quality, three-light mobile studio with flashes, light stands, umbrellas, and radio remote trigger. This is a very capable and versatile gear set.

And you'd still have a chunk of money left over.


At less than 12% of the price of a Nikon SB-5000, there's a lot to love about the TT600. It is as powerful as the more expensive OEM flashes. It has the same 1-year warranty. When used with NiMH rechargeable AA batteries, the TT600 has a fast recycle time — 2.6 seconds at full power, and much faster at lower power settings. (But as most flashes do, it recycles more slowly when used with alkaline AA batteries.)

The TT600 syncs four different ways:

• Hot shoe, the physical connect atop your camera
• Slave, meaning it can fire the instant it sees another flash firing (VERY useful)
• 1/8" minijack, the current industry standard for a physical external triggering jack
• A built-in, radio transceiver (more on this below)

The TT600 has a zoom head that reaches to 200mm equivalent throw. This is not a universal feature among flashes, and can be very useful for concentrating a beam of light to reach out further when needed.

Its built-in radio belies its low price point. It has plenty of groups and channels, and works as either a transmitter or receiver. This is a game changer that makes a flash feel a little more complex at the outset, because the limited number of buttons necessarily get dual functions that require press-and-hold actuations. But the increased utility more than makes up for the learning curve.

Best of all, the transceiver is compatible with a wide-ranging Godox system that runs the gamut from mini-sized flashes (for smaller cameras) all the way to very powerful studio flashes. Honestly, there is a bewildering amount of choices.

For lighting photographers who are starting out, this is a great way to leave your growth options open while also minimizing your startup costs.

Godox TT600 (for all brands except Sony)
Godox TT600S (fits most modern Sony cameras)
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Remote Trigger: Godox X2T: ($59.00)



A remote trigger wirelessly synchronizes your flash to your camera, even when they are not physically connected.

Our remote trigger recommendations assume that your flash is the recommended Godox TT600. If your flash is different, you'll have to sort out the appropriate remote trigger on your own. This is also why if you are just starting out you should strongly consider patronizing a real camera store as opposed to one-click Amazon. For newbs, it can be really helpful to have a knowledgeable support person just a phone call or email away.

Many of today's better speedlights have built-in "transceiver" remotes, meaning the radio can work either as a transmitter or a receiver. To use this feature, you'll need to get the remote for your camera brand that marries to the transceiver in your flash. That is why we recommend the Godox TT600 and Godox X2T in tandem.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS REMOTE IS BRAND-SPECIFIC. For example, if you are a Nikon shooter then you will need to get the X2TN. Similarly, Canon = X2TC, Sony = X2TS, Fuji = X2TF.

Here are brand-specific links for the appropriate model X2T for:

Nikon | Canon | Sony | Fuji

A CHEAPER, BUT ALSO GOOD, OPTION

If you want to save $13, you can go for the Godox X1T remote trigger ($46). Functionally, it is just as good and is available for more camera brands. It just doesn't have the most current user interface. And in addition to to above brands, the X1T also is made for Olympus/Panasonic.

Brand-specific links to X1T triggers:
Nikon | Canon | Sony | Fuji | Olympus/Panasonic



Light Stand: LumoPro LP605S ($44.99)



Because your flash is not going to magically float in the air. So you'll need something to hold it up.

For a first light stand, I recommend a compact, five-section model. (Compact stands extend to 7 1/2 feet but fold down very small for easy transport.) This design is made by several manufacturers, but the LumoPro LP605S adds a few nice extra features.

The LP605S is a heavier build quality than its competitors, is reasonably priced and has a five-year warranty. It also has foldable ground spikes—unique to its class—that make it more stable when used outside. Lastly, it is drilled for (and includes) a strap. This is a nice touch to make your assembled one-light kit super portable when needed. Just throw it over your shoulder and go.

At $45, the LP605S is an easy choice.


Umbrella Swivel: LumoPro LP679v2 ($15.99)



The umbrella swivel connects the flash to the light stand, allowing it to tilt and/or swivel. It also provides a clamp to hold the umbrella, hence the name.

Umbrella swivels typically go for under $20. Since the swivel will be supporting your flash, it is good not to scrimp here. There are also several different designs available.

We recommend the LumoPro LP679v2, (shown above, $16) for several reasons.

First, it has a large-lever friction elbow, as opposed to toothed. This gives you better — and faster — control when adjusting your light. And I feel that it is more secure, because the teeth (on the other kind of swivel) can grab when not fully tightened — and then come loose when jostled.

Second, it has a removable cold shoe (the thing that mounts to your flash) up top. This gives you a lot more flexibility than the models with a fixed cold shoe mount.

Finally, the LP679v2 adds a nice, big thumbscrew on the umbrella lock. This was a photographer-suggested feature. It may sounds like a little thing. But once you have used a swivel with a bigger thumbscrew, you'll wonder why you ever put up with the thumb-eating small-screw versions. They are a comparative pain in the ass.

This is one of the best things about the large volume of photographers who have come through Lighting 101 and Strobist in general. Every now and then, someone would come up with an idea to make a common piece of gear better and/or more useable. And LumoPro has been especially responsive about listening and incorporating the improvements.


A Convertible Double-Fold Umbrella ($29.99)



You'll be using an umbrella to soften the light from your flash and give it a beautiful, wrapping window light quality.

Most of the time, you'll use it in (translucent) shoot-through mode. But sometimes you might want to use it as a black-backed reflective umbrella, which can be very helpful in controlling spill light. (More on that later.) Suffice to say that having an umbrella that is convertible between the two types can be very useful.

I like the LumoPro LP735 convertible double-fold umbrella ($30). But it is not always available. In that event, the similarly priced Westcott double-fold convertible umbrella is also a good choice.
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That was a lot of gear talk to throw at you. Sorry. But this is a basic off-camera lighting kit that can open up many doors to the way you shoot. It can also grow with you, and last you a lifetime.

For example, here's the resulting shot from the setup photo shown at top:



We just wanted to get you started off on the right foot, with good quality equipment. And most important, not spending more than you needed to.

Your kit will take a few days to get there. But while you wait for it to arrive, a sneak peak into what you'll be able to do with it...


NEXT: First Steps With Your New Lighting Kit


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