UPDATE, JUNE 2024: Strobist was archived in 2021. Here is what I am up to now. -DH


Lighting 102: The Two-Light Kit

Abstract: Adding a second light is inexpensive, vastly expands your lighting repertoire, and gives you backup in the case of a lighting equipment failure.

If you are working with one light, you already know that a single light can create many possibilities but also can force compromises. Do you place the light for creating the best shape for someone's face? Or do you cheat it a bit to minimize those deep shadows you just created?

I have long viewed two speedlights as a sweet spot for a portable lighting kit. That second light is critical to me, because it allows me to light two different planes. Or light from two different directions. Or establish an enviroment with the first light source and then augment it with the second.

The shot above? Done with two speedlights. (But they are probably not placed where you think they are. See the OA post from this photo, here.)

And it should go without saying that a second light gives you redundancy. If something happens to your first light (or umbrella or whatever) you are still a lighting photographer. You;re just temporarily back to using one light.

Give me a camera, a kit lens and a two-speedlight bag, and I can earn a living. In fact, most of the editorial work I have lit over my entire career could have been done with this gear. And every photo you'll see in Lighting 102 was done with a maximum of two speedlights.

Second Light: Cheaper Than Your First Light.

If you are already using a single light kit and want to more fully explore the posibilities of off-camera lighting, my advice is this: forego that next lens or shiny new camera for a little while. Instead, spend ~$160 and add a second light kit.

Since you don't have to re-buy the remote, it's less expensive than when you were starting out. You'll just pick up a second one-light kit (flash, stand, swivel and umbrella) but NOT the remote. You do not need a second one of those.

With one light, you can enhance the reality of your environment. With two lights, you can create entirely new environments from scratch. And as you'll soon see, you can do it with control and nuance.

NEXT: Shape and Detail


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My current project: The Traveling Photograher's Manifesto