Getting Started
Basic Studio Lighting Setups On A Budget

Essential Lighting Kit PG30ELK from Photographer's Warehouse includes three 100ws monolights, two air-cushioned 8 ft tall light stands, one short backlight stand, two white bounce-in umbrellas, and a set of barn doors for $499 or $599 with case.

Correct lighting is the key ingredient to producing any photographic image worth a second glance. Outdoors you don't have much control over the light other than to possibly use some type of reflector, diffuser, or flash fill. But indoors, when only artificial lighting is used, the photographer controls all of the lighting. The light can be placed high or low, close for strong and direct light, or diffused for soft, wraparound lighting. Normally two or three or more lights are used in a studio situation to better bring out the features and/or textures of the subject. Purchasing the lights for a new studio can be a challenge and costly, but it can be done on a tight budget of under $1000 if you are careful and choose properly. Selecting a studio light kit can be the best way to start out.

Actually, quite good pictures can be made in a studio using one main off-camera studio light by itself, possibly combined with a white card reflector to soften the shadows. However, the usual recommendation for the basic studio lighting kit needed for normal portrait or commercial subjects is three or four light units. Each should have a tilting adjustment for a light head and a light stand. You will also want to get either a flash or ambient light meter (the latter is needed for incandescent hot lights) to determine the correct exposure.

Typically, the lights will have equal intensity or power, though the third light often can be weaker since it is normally used as a background or hairlight. Depending upon the subject/situation, the background light might have a short stand since it is often placed 2-3 ft off the floor to illuminate the background only. But, for some types of portrait lighting it's often suggested that the third (or hairlight) be placed on a higher stand and be directionally controlled by an add-on device called a snoot, which confines the coverage to a smaller circular area of the hair, thus does not spread over the subject's shoulders.

Premium Lighting Kit PG40PLK from Photographer's Warehouse includes two 105ws and one 100ws monolights, two air-cushioned 8 ft tall light stands, one short backlight stand, one white bounce-in umbrella, one large softbox, and a set of barn doors for $695 or $795 with case.

Studio Flash Setups
Studio flash AC units are normally one of two different major types. Some smaller flash heads are powered by a master power pack that either sits on the floor or is housed on the base of the stand. One power pack can provide the juice for up to four flash heads, but they must be hard wired to the pack. All controls are found on the pack for on/off, power level adjustment, etc., but this type of flash can often run $500-$1000 per flash, as it's intended for professional heavy-duty studio situations. The other flashes are AC powered monolights (that is self-contained power supply/light unit combination), where both the power supply and light head are housed inside one relatively compact unit that fits onto the top of a light stand.

Many firms offer reasonably priced monolight flash kits consisting of two or three lights along with a stand for each light, and often some light modification devices such as umbrellas, softboxes, barn doors, snoots, etc. These kits are often packed inside a sturdy corrugated cardboard box, a soft fabric container, or plastic case. This type of case is very handy for location photography.

Strobe And "Hot" Lights
Most photographic lights today are daylight-balanced electronic flash units, though incandescent, continuous output hot lights have regained popularity. Incandescent lights usually are balanced for use with tungsten-balanced color films. If daylight film is used filtration is needed to obtain proper color balance. Electronic flash units produce cool, very bright light that balances with all daylight color films. In addition an electronic flash does not become excessively warm when left on for a length of time. Hot lights do become quite warm when left on. This can make some subjects uncomfortable. If you're photographing any type of perishable food, hot lights can shorten the length of time you can leave the product on the set "cooking" under the lights.

From JTL Corporation, the TL-265 Light Kit contains two JTL Versalight J-110 105ws and one S-45 45ws background slave monolights, two tall and one short light stands, white and silver umbrellas, snoot and barn doors, and a carry bag for $510.

Battery Vs. AC Power
Moderately priced studio electronic flash units are primarily AC powered models for several reasons. The initial cost of DC batteries, especially rechargeable batteries, can be prohibitive. Additionally, very few battery-powered units have a modeling light, an important feature for accurate visual placement to achieve the proper lighting for both portrait and commercial studio subjects. Battery-powered lights also have much smaller diameter reflectors (for easier portability) and tend to take longer to recycle and recharge to full power for the next picture. This can be a decided limitation in a fast-paced portrait shooting session, such as when taking fashion pictures.

Modify The Light
Raw electronic flash units (that is, a flash tube with only a small reflector to direct the light toward the subject) are adequate for some subjects, but produce strong, harsh, point-source lighting with sometimes objectionable strong, deep shadows. This is why for glamour, portrait, and some commercial subjects, diffusing each of the lights is usually preferable. This light modification is typically accomplished by attaching a translucent umbrella in front of the light, which diffuses the light as it goes through the white material.

Other umbrella reflectors usually have a metallic or reflective white surface into which the light is directed then bounced back toward the subject (e.g., the light head is pointed away from the subject into the reflector). Nearly all electronic flash units have a built-in slave electric eye, which will sense when the master flash is fired, and in turn will fire along with the other units, all in perfect synchronization with the master flash. Thus only the master flash, normally positioned near the camera, has to be connected to the camera via a sync cord to fire when the shutter is tripped. This saves having excessive wires cluttered around the light units other than the AC power supply cords.

The larger, more expensive electronic flash units typically have a small circular flash tube with a modeling light bulb in the middle and a built-in cooling fan. This type of flash often accepts interchangeable reflectors, which can alter the spread of the light output for different subjects. Some lights have a wired or infrared remote control with which you can adjust power level and turn the flash on or off from a distance. This can be a decided advantage when the light is placed inside a large softbox high off the studio floor. This type of equipment, however, is considerably more expensive, so it does not fit into the budget category of this article.

Also from JTL Corporation, the DL-600 Starter Kit contains two powerful JTL Versalight 300 monolights, two tall white and silver umbrellas, both a light case and stand carry bag for $740.

The more moderate-priced monolight flash units often have a larger diameter head with four smaller straight flash tubes, non-interchangeable reflectors and use convection cooling. This type of flash usually has a respectable light output GN arrived at by combining the light from four small tubes fired in synchronization to produce a larger amount of total output. This light is not as directional as the light from a single flash tube and reflector, but if used with a diffusion device it will yield a light pattern very similar to the light pattern produced by a diffused single tube flash.

Lighting Kit Startups
Photographers wanting to equip their first studio with electronic flash lighting can do this easiest by purchasing a self-contained kit with most of the components needed for most situations. Several two, three, and four light kits are available from a number of firms. Kits from several firms normally include two or three monolights with built-in tilting adjustment stand clamp, 10 ft long AC power cords, one 10 ft PC tip sync cord for the main flash, two adjustable height stands that extend to 7-8 ft and one shorter background stand, plus two umbrellas and a set of barn doors. The actual kit components vary with each firm. For instance, some kits include a softbox and some have an air cushioned stand.

Once you get started with lights, what else might you need? To properly equip any studio you will also need some background paper, which is available in many colors in 107 wide (or wider) by 12 yard long rolls. If narrower rolls are needed they can either be sawed into two 4.5 ft long rolls or sometimes purchased in narrower 53' by 12 yard rolls. Single and multiple pole background stands are available, or the paper can be just tacked to the wall. For some subjects you will need a soft material for background such as background in a bag offered by several firms. Either a tripod or a wheeled studio stand will be a major asset since for most subjects you will not want to move the camera about much.

So, with a kit of lights and a few other accessories, you can have a business or home studio ready for use anywhere AC power is available in minimal time for minimal bucks.

Adorama Inc. (Adolite, Flashpoint)
(800) 223-2500
(212) 741-0052
fax: (212) 463-7223

Bogen Photo Corp. (Elinchrom)
(201) 818-9500
fax: (201) 818-9177

Brandess-Kalt-Aetna Group Inc.
(SP Studio Systems)
(847) 821-0450
fax: (847) 821-5410

Britek Photo Inc.
(800) 925-6258

Calumet Photographic Products (Balcar)
(630) 860-7447
fax: (800) 577-3686

Dyna-Lite Flash Equipment (Comet)
(800) 722-6638 (980) 687-8800
fax: (908) 686-6682

Imaging Concepts International
(880) 446-5565

JTL Corp.
(714) 670-6626
fax: (714) 670-8836

Mamiya America Corp. (Profoto)
(914) 347-3300
fax: (914) 347-3309

Norman Enterprises, Inc.
(800) 787-8078
(763) 537-3601
fax: (763) 537-2852

Novatron of Dallas
(214) 388-4857
fax: (214) 381-5317

Paul C. Buff Inc.
(800) 443-5542
(615) 383-3982
fax: (615) 383-0676

Performing Light (Hensel)
(212) 727-3067

Photogenic Professional Lighting (Medalight)
(330) 758-6658
fax: (330) 758-3667

Photographer's Warehouse
(800) 521-4311
fax: (330) 758-8010

R.T.S. Inc. (Multiblitz)
(631) 242-6801
fax: (631) 242-6808

Sinar Bron Imaging (Broncolor)
(908) 754-5800
fax: (908) 754-5807

Speedotron Corp./The Morris Co.
(312) 421-4050
fax: (312) 421-5079

Sun Star Strobo USA, Inc.
(888) 999-4598
fax: (732) 536-6906

(973) 227-7320
fax: (973) 227-3249