Photographers – What is your studio lighting setup?

My inexpensive and very portable "Portrait kit". Works easily for indoor or out of doors lighting.

My inexpensive and very portable “Portrait kit” works easily for indoor or out of doors lighting.

Last week an online forum in which I participated asked the question, “What is your studio lighting setup?”

Most participants were posting the brand name they used, and how many lights they owned, however, my post was about what I would call “kits”, that I used for each different situation or environment.

My opinion has always been that there are different tools for different jobs, and I have four individual lighting setups that fit particular photographic undertakings.

My “event kit” consists of four TTL hot shoe flashes. My “portrait kit” consists of three older manual hotshoe flashes mounted on wireless receivers. I also have two “studio kits”. The first studio kit, for those situations where I can find power, has a 1000w power pack with four strobe heads. The second kit is a battery-operated 280w strobe that will go anywhere.

Some forum members complained that they would have to wait till they had the money before a home studio lighting situation could be set up. I believe they only paid attention to those responders that included the manufacturer’s names for their expensive studio type lighting setups.

Yes, I agree, if one wants big powerful studio strobes there will be a considerable price attached.  And each manufacturer will hope to sell their own brand of light stands and light modifiers along with the lighting units. Yes indeed, all that will be expensive.

Most home photography studios are in the basement, or in a spare room to be quickly set up for a portrait session. However, the big name brands never discuss light volume or power vs. studio size.

My opinion is, if the room is less than twelve feet high, thirty feet long and only used for small group or single person portraits, those big, powerful, fast recycling, and expensive studio lights might be overkill, and a real hassle when one wants to soften the background by shooting a wide aperture because there is just too much power.

I wrote about the four kits that I use for different situations. The small hotshoe flashes I use for events and portraits, and the bigger less portable units I use with large groups, moving subjects, or when I just want coverage out of doors. I think those photographers intent on setting up small home studios for portraits and small groups don’t need to go to the expense of the brawny, studio type lights. Photographers can easily, and without much initial cost, set up a studio with what I called my “portrait kit”.

My portrait kit only has three hotshoe flashes, each with it’s own wireless receiver and two stands. Depending on the space a client provides for me to use, I use a small shoot-through umbrella, an umbrella brolly box, once in a while I use a soft box, and sometimes include a reflector. And it’s the inexpensive and easily stored “portrait kit” that I would recommend for most first-time, home studio photographers.

Wireless senders and receivers come in all sorts of incarnations, and can be, depending on brand and manufacturer, if one shops around, purchased for prices less than $100 for two receivers and a sender.

I use the inexpensive sender/receivers that fit under my flash, seated on a light stand bracket, and holds an umbrella, a brolly, or sometimes a softbox. And I use three Vivitar 283 flashes dating from the 1970s that I bought used.

My total cost for 3 flashes, the wireless sender & receivers, 2 shoot through umbrellas, stands, and 2 flash/stand brackets, and a small tabletop tripod that I can place behind my portrait subject was under $400 Canadian.  All of this is much less expensive, and a lot easier to store and/or move around than the big. studio-type flash units.

I make lighting tests before the person who I will be photographing arrives to get the correct exposure, and when he/she does show up, I take two or three more test shots as I move the lights for the most flattering effect.

Even if there were a wad of cash burning a hole it your pocket, my advice would be to proceed slowly, and learn how best to photograph a person first. Using hotshoe speedlights off-camera will be perfect for that educational process, and when they are no longer a good fit with your creative growth, the choices as to the next step in lighting equipment will be educated decisions instead of emotional.

As always I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

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