Lighting on a Budget - 2 Speed Lights

Most amateur photographers assume that they need to buy a ton of expensive gear in order to compete or reach the level of most professional photographers. I’m quite guilty of doing the same. As a matter of fact, I spent the first couple of years studying the work of photographers that I admired and I was quickly intimidated by their level of production. I didn’t think that I could possibly afford to invest in the type of equipment they used. It wasn’t uncommon to see these photographers use 3+ studio strobes on set, along with a seemingly endless list of modifiers they had access to. Their level of production just didn’t fit my personal budget at that time.

Move forward several years and I’ve finally acquired all the lighting and camera gear that I drooled over years ago. The irony is that, as I acquire more gear, I use less and less of it. Why? Well, I learned simplicity was important to me. The less of a production a photoshoot was, the more likely I was willing to do it again. I believe that in order to succeed as a photographer, you have to love the process of creating new imagery. If you don’t, it’ll quickly feel like work and you are less likely to do it again.

Simplicity is the foundation of my happiness as a photographer.

So what relevance does that have to this article? Well, as a fashion / commercial photographer your gear is ALWAYS scrutinized by your team. Not just photographers… These are wardrobe stylists, hair stylists, makeup artists, etc., who only know lighting gear based on the name brands they’ve seen on larger production sets. To them, owning name brand lighting isn’t about quality or efficiency, it’s about status. That boils my blood.

So, this got me thinking… could you create respectable commercial work on a shoe-string budget? Could you create respectable commercial work with contents that would fit in a backpack? (As an avid motorcycle rider, mobility is important to me) My short answer is, absolutely.

I recently teamed up with the staff at ExpoImaging to produce a couple of short videos using solely 2 speed lights and their modifiers, which easily fit into my camera bag. Over the next few weeks, these videos will be released sequentially on their YouTube channel. I will however, post them here on FStoppers as they are released.

Before you spend any more money investing in lighting gear, I’d recommend watching these videos and seeing just how much you can accomplish with very little equipment.

The image below was taken with:

Canon 5D Mark III w/ Canon EF85mm f/1.2L II USM

Phottix Mitros+ w/ Rogue 3-in1 Grid


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Jeff Rojas's picture

Jeff Rojas is an American photographer, author and educator based in New York City. His primary body of work includes portrait and fashion photography that has been published in both Elle and Esquire. Jeff also frequents as a photography instructor. His teaching experience includes platforms like CreativeLive, WPPI, the Photo Plus Expo, and APA.

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It drives me crazy when people who don't shoot judge your gear. Obviously you can get great results without spending a fortune. Great Read!

Ditto! Exactly my point. lol

Thanks so much btw! :)

I have been known to try to make a point of telling other people how to do their jobs after they critique my gear. "What straightening iron do you have? OH, I've heard good things about this other one." I mean, I have obviously zero sense of fashion, at least talk about that instead of my lenses LOL.

HAHA!! I will have to steal this technique! Classic "Wow, what a great cake, you must have an AMAZING oven!!"

Lol Exactly! :sigh: It's so frustrating. lol

I really think the reason I prefer to photograph outside (as in historic places) has everything to do with the fact I can accomplish it with a single body and lens, mirrorless system at that as to not weigh me down. I want the minimum amount of crap to fool with in order to get the job done. Lately I've been just sticking an extra lens in my pocket and not even carrying a bag (the benefits of mirrorless :) ) but I also don't have a need for lighting.

Unfortunately, I do feel photographers are judged by their gear before anyone sees the outcome, and perhaps that first impression sways the opinion of the finished product. It would be an interesting social experiment to test out how people view photography in relation to their perception of the stuff we carry. I've heard stories about photographers who bring every piece of gear they own (or can afford to rent) and every intern they can find to a shoot only to use a single light. Is this why it's called "production"?

I think that would be an awesome social experiment. I'd love to see a video of people reactions... similar to a blind taste test. :)

I assume that big soft box behind you was just for the video?

That is correct! :D

Light is light is light, learning how to control it is key. But in this case yes you can create great results but there are other considerations such as power to shoot at a decent DOF (I know you can up your iso) and also recycle time, most pros will shoot with a high wattage pack per head so they can keep the pack dialed down for recycle purposes. I remember seeing Michael Thompson shoot beauty with two large soft boxed right behind him, each had a bi-tube head with (2) 2400 packs so a total of 2 heads and 4 pack just for power and recycle. Most modern packs will recycle much faster than the old Profoto 6's so I'm sure he would be shooting with 2 2400 packs now.

I only use small flashes (admittedly I own 7 ... 5 manual and 2 TTL). And that's what I use 99% of the time.
I'm not Peter Hurley but I think i'm pretty decent.

Gear helps but in the end it's just a tool.

I don't ask the guy doing the walls in my basement what brand of tools he uses. All that matters to me is that the job is done well.

I couldn't agree more! Great photo! :)

I think I am down to 7 monolights, but the only one I ever use has a 36x48 softbox with a grid on it. Same with my speedlites. I got a trio of 600 EX units with the remote, but only use one or two at a time. So now y'all now two things about me. One, I like to have spares. And two, I rarely pass up a sale.

For 'Speedlighting' read Syl Arena's class 'From Snapshots to Great Shots'. A lot of DYI. Zach Arias is no slouch either. Using just a minimum of flashes is nothing new, doing it well is rare.

...and remember: Light doesn't know where it comes from.

Thank you for the video, does anyone happen to know what the brand of hot shoe support he was using on the light stand for the key light to support it off to the side like that?