First home studio

Discussion in 'Lighting Equipment' started by katie_chase|1, Jan 28, 2015.

  1. I just finished a class on studio lighting. I've been wanting to set up a home studio for portraits with a budget of about $250-$300 to start off. Does anyone recommend any kits (2 or 3 light modifiers, preferably softboxes) or just the modifiers costing about $175-$200? Thanks in advance!
  2. See what Alien Bee packages are available at
  3. Second that on the Paul C. Buff Alien Bees.
    One of the best things you might consider is the Alien Bee with one large soft box as your one light source and use two reflectors to modify and control the shadows. One reflector on the side opposite the soft box to fill the shadow side with a soft and delicate light to simply raise the shadow value. The other reflector is to be used in a wedge configuration with the soft box to capture some of it's light and wrap it around the face a bit to create a wonderful three dimensional effect on the shape of the head and features.
    I would not recommend buying any of the super cheap multi light kits that are out there for several reasons.
    Low power, might be fine for table top or a single head portrait, but a family group, especially on location where the lights must be places far back from the subject,.....forget it.
    Reliability, may last for many, many exposures. But if it fails, what kind of warranty and where does it have to be sent for repair and how long must you wait? The White Lightning gear (Alien Bees) are made in Nashville and warrantied for years by one of the most responsive companies I've ever dealt with. The few repairs I've had on gear from them I've owned since the early eighties (maybe six fixes in that time on five White Lightning Ultras) were each handled within one week including shipping both ways.
    Buff also has an extensive line of very well made modifiers including soft boxes and Octaboxes, etc. plus stands and other gear that are very inexpensive and very, very well made.
    System growth, in terms of Buff offering so many accessories and light units varying in power up to as much as you will ever want even on major location commercial shoots. They also manufacture their own remote triggering systems that are completely dedicated to the lights they make, though they can be used on other flash systems as simple remote triggers. Some of those systems also allow you to remotely adjust the power of the flash and modeling brightness so that when you use multiple lights, you can actually view that highlight to shadow balance accurately and adjust as you might wish for your portrait or scene.
    Spend a bit more now and grow your system as you can with real pro gear rather than working with something that may become a great frustration on so many levels.
    One of my very favorite portrait photographers, Edward Steichen, was hired by Conde Nast publications in the early part of the 1900's as their principal portrait artist. He had little experience with studio lighting although he was a brilliant portrait photographer with available light, so he made the decision to start this career by learning one light at a time and using only that in his work until he felt he was ready. Same thing here for you would work well.
  4. Start off with one light and an umbrella and go from there. You can get a moonlight that meets your budget.
  5. Sorry, but my opinion is that umbrellas should be for broad fill light only. They spill light everywhere and so do not allow any refined control of the pattern.
  6. Thanks, everyone. Tim, that's exactly why I want to start off with a softbox. I will check out what you've recommended, thank you! You've been a big help.
  7. I am sorry you think that I am unknowledgeable but your limiting my advice based on your total $300 budget. You need at least 400 watts of power and 600 would be better. Once you get a soft box you will eat up close to half the power. I would invest the $300 on the one light which doesn't leave anything left for a soft box which generally run at least $200 for a decent one. An umbrella is cheap but it works and you can start to make money. Don't underestimate the umbrella, it is not as fancy as the soft box but you can still control the light. It is not just used as a fill light and when you gain more experience you will know how to control the light quality with any light modifier. I have all the fancy lighting from packs to lighting modifiers so I am well aware what an umbrella can and can not do. One should learn to master all the tools. You are going to have to get things in pieces as you save your money. Let us know what you do and post some pictures.
  8. Oh and by the way the soft box is even harder to control refinement of light patterns than an umbrella. Sometimes you need a little harder light to help define your lighten patterns. The umbrella is basically a soft parabolic. Having both silver and white in both small and large size will give you a broad range of control. Again I know this is not what you want but I thought I would make a point for others that may have your same opinion for the poor unpopular umbrella. LOL
  9. Michael, I most certainly did not disparage your knowledge of the medium and so all I did was state a disagreement regarding that one tool. I stand by what I said in terms of umbrellas being a big problem in spilling light. They are wonderful for fill and of course will direct light where you point them, but they also spill vast amounts of lights off the edges which is a control issue and why I choose to relegate them to fill only except when shooting large groups like a reunion.
    By the way, regarding cost factors on soft boxes, you are by and large dead right that they can be quite expensive, but Buff offers damned good ones that cost sharply less money (almost in top line umbrella price range) and work as well as any although I can't speak for their life span compared to the big boys like Larson or Chimera. Their only draw back is that I don't see any that have a recessed face which are my preference for even better directional control, especially when feathering.
  10. These things:
    are the best thing since sliced bread IMO. In fact, since the average loaf of white sliced bread is overpriced and tasteless pap, they're actually better than sliced bread!
    No spill backwards into the room and the same time to erect as a normal brolly. Same soft light as a full-blown octa or softbox - what's not to like? Dirt cheap too! Personally I'd get one a bit bigger than in the link, say 43" to 48". Can be used with anything from a speedlight to a top-of-the-range studio strobe.
    $250 to $300 isn't a lot for a complete studio kit. 3 halfway decent light stands are going to cost you $40 a piece. Consider starting with speedlights, since these can deliver as much light as a cheap monolight (thanks for turning that into "moonlight" autocorrect) and are often better built and safer to use. However, if you decide to get one of the cheap fleabay kits, then consider them as disposable items rather than an investment.
  11. Yes umbrellas spill a lot but they are cheap (about $20 and up). The ones with a black backing like Rodeo cites spill less. Check on for some of their generic or house brand softboxes -- there are some from about $50 on up if you want to go that route. For $300 the best you can hope for is one light, a stand and an umbrella or softbox. But that's all you need to start.

    If you want multiple lights, go to and read the Lighting 101 section on how to get studio lighting with speedlights. Not as powerful and not as convenient as studio strobes but it would more closely fit your budget.
  12. Rodeo Joe makes a good point...Investment. Don't spend twice. If you really think this is the road your going down then make wise choices and get something you can grow with. You need to educate yourself on how studio flashes work and what the functions do or add to your workflow. If you are unsure about your commitment to flash photography then it really doesn't matter what cheap flash you get. You will meet the immediate urge to buy and new toy then it will fall to the way side in time. If you are serious and you still buy a cheap flash then you will be frustrated later when you learn and realize you have limited control and use for it. I think a realistic budget for a mono light should be $500 to $700 which will have useful features and added control to make your life happy. I had to look hard at whats being offered and had to force myself to not look at the $1k and up lights but tried to put myself in your shoes.
    I remember my first mono light was a photogenic power light 600. I didn't care about features I just wanted to take pictures and I did. I had it about a year and a half and sold it and bought dynalites (pack and head system) The point is this will be a stepping stone and a learning process.
  13. Rodeo, Annie Leibowitz uses a brolly box on a stick extensively in her work. Katie, unfortunately, your instructor apparently didn't inform you on the cost of setting up a studio. Just one of the lights in class could have been 3-4 times your entire budget. An approach I would recommend is to start putting together equipment that will be versatile in the future as you build your studio. Sorry, but a decent studio light will eat up most of your budget so rather than going that route, do you have a speedlight? If not, you can find Nikon sb25's for less than 100. I find myself usually trying to restrict light so, like Tim, would recommend a soft box, wescott apollo. Has a large lip for control and the flash bounces off the back of the box from inside rather than coming from the back of the box. Easy, umbrella like set up. Small, but so is your budget yet it will be able to be used with studio lights later on or as a quick and dirty location set up. A piece of white card board will serve as a reflector as Tim mentions and a piece of black material over it can subtract light to darken shadows. Tim is an advocate of subtractive lighting. Learn to use windows as kickers, a free 2nd light or just use window light and the reflector. Once you acquire a complete studio, you still will find yourself in situations where you don't have gear with you, can't or don't have time to use it so your learning to make good shots with little gear now will save you in those situations. As a pro, you are expected to hit a home run, often with little gear and time. Learn how to do that now so not having a lot of gear is part of the learning process. You can add a studio light, a larger soft box as you save for them. The apollo can act as a fill source. A studio in a home often means small length, width and height and white reflective walls of I would tend to stay away from umbrellas if that is the case. I use egg crates on most of my soft boxes for added control and you might consider black sheets as a way to control bouncing light. I believe they are only about 10 at walmart.
  14. There is a great solution. OBVIOUSLY you have a good, flash for your camera already. If you do not, buy one. Then go to and see what they recommend for a first setup.
    I understand you wanting soft boxes, etc but really getting started doing the work with Strobist's minimum setup will give you portability as well as a useful home setup.
    Then when you have a bigger budget, you can add equipment a piece at a time. You can do this based upon filling a need that you have established rather than trying to buy the whole solution.
    By the way....for the home studio there are any number of slaves you can buy for a song. The Excellent Vivitar 285 series for less than $20.00 each. You can do a whole lot with these for not much money. Unless you have a ginormous house you are not going to have to cast light very far.
    If you are ingenious, you can construct quite a number of modifiers from stuff around the home.
  15. Just what is it that makes people recommend the crappy Vivitar 285 and similar? No swivel on the head, no manual control without an additional module, "iffy" trigger voltage, lengthy recycle time, less powerful than an SB-25 for example. The list of drawbacks is much longer than any advantages. They're not even that cheap these days. Your $20 gets you one that doesn't even fire according to a recent listing on fleabay.
  16. Here Rodeo goes again dissing the Vivitars. :) Rodeo, have you ever tried one? Some of us don't need bells and whistles. The 283/285 was the most popular shoemount flash of all time. In my newspaper days, every single photographer at every single event had one either on his camera or in his bag. I'm not saying they are the best flash ever made but they are all you need to do the basics. Once you put in on a lightstand/umbrella mount it doesn't matter if it swivels. Yes, the 283 and 285 both do manual flash without an additional module, and the 285 lets you set it at half, quarter or 1/16th power. Recycling time is a second or so on auto at most distances and the same on full manual with a Quantum Turbo (and all shoemount flashes need an external battery if you want fast recycling on full manual). Trigger voltage doesn't matter if you use a Safe Sync or radio trigger. I don't know how much light the SB-25 gives but I routinely shoot groups of a dozen people with a pair of 285s bounced into umbrellas. And I've seen 283's in good condition for $40 -- you could buy 10 for the price of a new top-line Nikon or Canon flash.

    I really respect your opinion -- even when we disagree -- and agree with you 90 percent of the time on most issues. But on this one I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. :)
  17. Just what is it that makes people recommend the crappy Vivitar 285 and similar? No swivel on the head, no manual control without an additional module, "iffy" trigger voltage, lengthy recycle time, less powerful than an SB-25 for example. The list of drawbacks is much longer than any advantages. They're not even that cheap these days. Your $20 gets you one that doesn't even fire according to a recent listing on fleabay​
    Can we try, perhaps for a change, to give the OP good advice? So if you don't like the Vivitars then propose something else. It doesn't really matter. What matters is that he does not buy some lousy ebay "Complete Professional Deluxe Advanced Lighting Solution" for $199.95. What matters is that he learns about lighting by doing it before he plunks down a couple of grand on Bee's.
    I use the Vivitars sometimes. I usually have enough Nikons to do what I want and I have PCB and Bees available. But the OP needs to get started while his new knowledge is fresn in his mind.
  18. My First commercial job was done with a 285 LOL. I don't think however the OP will go for this only because she has been spoiled already with the class and already got a taste of the good stuff. LOL. But I do like your train of thought Rick, better to know now if this is going to be a long term or short with minimal investment. Like the old saying goes, I can take better pictures with a point and shoot than an amateur can with a professional camera.
  19. I've made many thousands of dollars with those "crappy" 285's and 283's back in the day when I shot weddings. They remain quite reliable today even though I haven't shot a wedding in nearly 20 years. Just fantastically well made gear. Just use the adapter shoes to avoid voltage problems with a digital and they work super well.
    I suspect they are not the answer to what the OP was asking. The Alien Bees to serve that purpose far better even if the budget doesn't allow them at this moment.
  20. Craig, I have almost literally, a shedload of flash equipment, among it a Vivitar something-or-other that I was going to use as a power pack for a ring-flash head. Not impressed. The power regulator module is non-linear and not easy to set to a repeat power. Opening it up revealed a low standard of construction and typical 1970s design technology. Things have moved on considerably since then.
    Far from being a non-issue, the lack of swivel head means that you can't have the flash pointing into a brolly while using AA control - not without yet another cumbersome accessory lead anyway. And I already gave my opinion of what a far better option would be; a Nikon SB-25 (or SB-26 or SB-28). All well-built and powerful flashes with many useful options that aren't available on any Vivitar.

Share This Page