A Guide to Putting Together Your First Lighting Kit

When you are new to artificial lighting, the veritable plethora of terms, modifiers, prices, and more can be a bit overwhelming and paralyzing when you are attempting to put together your first kit. This helpful video will give you all the guidance you need to put together your first lighting kit and be up and shooting in no time.

Coming to you from Daniel Norton, this excellent video will get you up and running with your first lighting kit. Creating your first lighting kit can be a bit daunting, particularly from the perspective of price, as dedicated monolights can run anywhere from around $150 to several thousand per light. As Norton mentions, you can accomplish almost any shot you'd like to with three lights. Personally, I'd recommend not spending too much on your first kit. Artificial lighting is a far different game, and I know many photographers who get a light set, only for it to languish in their closet after a few shoots. It takes a bit of time to really master the basics, and that will test your commitment to working with artificial light. If you end up mastering it and deciding to continue, you'll also have a better idea of what you really want and need in a premium kit at that point. Check out the video above for Norton's full thoughts. 

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26 Comments

William Howell's picture

I enjoy Daniel Norton, his live stuff on Adarama is good and sometimes brilliant and I subscribe, have been for quite awhile.

If you want to get hooked on flash photography, I say buy 3 or 4 of the Neewer 750II. And some umbrellas, shoot through and reflective.

That was it for me then I became hooked, but flash isn’t my drug of choice, that’s still OxyContin and cocaine!

Alex Herbert's picture

II'd say go Godox, Neewers ecosystem isn't there yet. I made the mistake of starting out with Yongnuos which I had to sell when I switched to Sony.

William Howell's picture

Yeah I agree, the system isn’t as good as some of the other triggers and stuff.
But for the price, I say stay away from Neewer speedlights, because of the cheapness. They are functional and the least costly, that I know of.

David T's picture

This would've been a great written article...

Imho best try different rental studios or lighting workshops. Nothing beats hands-on. Ease-of-use is very individual.

Maybe we should start a wiki somewhere with Pro's and Con's, e.g. putting gels and softboxes on Broncolor is a pain, but easy on Profoto.

Chris Rogers's picture

I wish i could rent a studio. I can't find any studio space to rent where i live. Where i live you either own a studio or you know some one who owns one. other than that you'll never get to use one :(

Alex Herbert's picture

I have my first proper big studio space experience a couple of months ago. I'm a member of a freelancer photographer's website. Part of the membership is free studio time. Maybe look around for something like that. Or bite the bullet and rent a cheap space, it won't be that bad.

Chris Rogers's picture

Oooh hey that's not a bad idea. I'll look into that. thanks for the tip!

you don't need a studio for flash photography.

Chris Rogers's picture

No you're right. I never said you did. But there are shoots I'd like to do where out door weather becomes a huge problem. Also privacy for some shoots is a must. Where I live you can't go any where in the evenings with out getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and during the day temps hover around the triple digits. When that happens the shoot becomes even more miserable than just dealing with sweating buckets. The winters where i live become bitter cold. There are maybe 4 weeks in the spring and 4 weeks in the fall that you can shoot "Comfortably" out doors.

Daniel Medley's picture

https://strobist.blogspot.com/ is one of the best sources out there for getting started.

In my opinion.

William Howell's picture

David Hobby’s Strobist web site is where I learnt the Jill Greenberg style of light.
I would say it is the best place to start, after you have learned your camera.

perfect! well said, everything. I agree completely. and for more: scrims on DIY frames with a c-stand mount are all you need for stunning professional (seriously) results. Forget the gadgets (including softboxes that are basically useless if compared to a simple scrim. Any monolight will do (ANY).
Flags are for fine tuning , and so are also the reflectors. A good ratio (that comes with the experience and can't be sold in a box) is way more important and good scrims are the first step, and almost all the time are enough already.
About time.Less gadgets and more substance in a web site for photographers who don't need to sell gadgets to the amateurs.

Alex Herbert's picture

Softboxes tend to be a lot more convenient when shooting on the go. I'm not going to bring an extra light stand with me for each scrim needed, spend time setting them up, and then hoping that the wind doesn't knock them over. Also if space is a factor soft boxes are going to help a great deal.

what? a softbox is a royal pain to carry, to bring, to mount. What are you talking about? plus they don't diffuse, don't avoid spills, way too harsh on the target: basically useless

Alex Herbert's picture

Not a pain to carry, collapsible umbrella softboxes fit in a nice bag with a shoulder strap. Bowens mount is easy enough to mount (for me). Not sure how they dont diffuse, given the diffusion that sits in front of the light source. Avoid spills if you use a grid. Harsh depending on size, power and distance, not terribly hard to get right.

Alex, the problem stays. Look... for convenience I see no advantages (none) using a softbox, for quality of the light I see no advantages, for diffusion I see no advantages. It depends on the size of the softbox and the distance of the diffusing panel from the source. I agree. Now imagine how BIG a softbox must be to be as effective as a scrim. See my point?
a scrim must be closer to the target and away from the source (of light). The diffusing material on a softbox is too close to the source and away from the target. So basically useless.
Make a frame, put a material (artificial silk or PVC paper), attach a c-stand mount to the frame, get a c-stand and set your stage. shoot and look at the pictures. day and night... see?

softboxes are a substitute to the banks on motion setups. Not as good but better than nothing. In stills the "better than nothing" concept has no place. If you setup a stage for stills then please.. setup a stage, no excuses or shortcuts.

Alex Herbert's picture

I'd be intrigued to see some of your work mark mark, you obviously have EXTREMELY high standards and I'm sure this is evident in every aspect of your photography. As I originally stated, if you're in a studio, or have a large crew to work with you then yes, a scrim is the way to go. However, as I also stated, if you're outdoors, shooting with no assistant, in anything but the most still winds you're going to have a problem keeping that massive scrim standing. Also, seems you're alone in the view that soft boxes have NO purpose, from amateurs to very seasoned professionals, everyone seems to use them.

alone? you think so? think again. All the product studios I know use scrims under a softbox or bare lights for example . Products require perfect ratios and perfect light.
You are confusing applications : softboxes are for TV setups (they need the crisp highlights to re-create a theater-like attention-grabbing kind of lighting (the spot concept, basically). Then look under the chin of people.. see what they have to compromise?
decent movie productions use scrims (and flags and reflectors) because they don't compromise
Stills are contaminated by the marketing departments of the equipment and manufacturers of gadgets.
Give me one reason (one) why stills with the spot light concept (burned highlights on faces or surfaces) will be ok to produce. No reason. Plus in fashion the softbox will get in the eyes of the models perfectly shaped. What a joke (in lighting terms I mean...) LOL
with a c-stand mount and sandbags on the base you don't need assistants to place a scrim.

Alex Herbert's picture

Again, you're talking about studios... I have already stated that in a studio where you have time, space and no wind a scrim is going to be the best choice. I own a massive 2 x 1.5m shoot through for products, and situations where I can set it up (not outdoors in the wind). Anyway, unless you're going to reveal some of your magical photography I'm done talking out this point with you. Soft boxes have a use and a place, and I'm certainly not the only one who thinks so.

Alex let's do a test, (we are all friends in here, so let's do a test)
get a softbox and shoot something
now remove the softbox and move back the stand with the bare strobe like.. 3ft back?
get another stand and open a white umbrella (15" is enough, shoot through position) place it close the the same target of before.
I rest my case.
yeah.. it is that simple.

Alex Herbert's picture

A 15" umbrella is not going to produce as soft a light as a 48" soft box. It doesn't matter how far away you place the strobe you're only going to have a 15" light source. Also I'm using AD200s with a bare bulb, not a speedlight which will just throw all of the light forward and at the centre of the diffusion panel.

so you didn't do the test. Now I'll say it again and for the last time: a diffusion panel close to the source of light and away from the target wont diffuse anything. You'd be better off shooting bare and work the aperture if a mediocre lighting is your goal.

Alex Herbert's picture

I don't think you've actually read (or understood) anything that I've written. I have a perfectly good understanding of light. Have fun with your opinions and empty portfolio.

I don't think you've actually read (or understood) anything that I've written. Plus you didn't do the test.

Will your lights be elevated? If so I prefer power pack units if a head is going to be out on a boom. These are light with the heavy power pack remaining on the floor. You can usually power more than one head from a single power pack. Modern power packs allow the power to each head to vary. Older units had set power levels and you tuned the light to the subject by moving the strobe closer or farther away. The newer units use terms like variable power to sometimes asynchronous power when referring to a power pack. https://dissertationfirm.co.uk

Someone please tell Alex Cooke he's really cute thx.

Back on topic, it's great to see so many educational articles coming out of this site. I think a lot of us recognize the gaps in our own ability by seeing how professionals make deliberate choices in their craft. Thanks again!