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Pro Photographer Uses a $20 Lighting Setup With Impressive Results

What happens when a hugely successful photographer grabs a $20 halogen light from Home Depot and uses it in a model photoshoot? You be the judge.

It currently seems that we're all unwittingly locked in some kind of photography gear arms race as companies the world over compete to bring out newer, bigger, and better versions of everything. And with news this week that Nikon will officially enter the full frame mirrorless market sometime soon, it appears we'll all need deeper and deeper pockets to keep up.

So, it was refreshing to see the immensely popular Jessica Kobeissi put out a video showing how she recently used a $20 lighting setup from Home Depot to shoot a model. She talks you through the kind of halogen light she used and how she set it up for her shoot. She also provides three different results from backlit, sidelit, and frontlit angles. Obviously with the limitations of one light source, you could get picky about some of the results, but as she explains, she was going for a certain look and the cheap light helped her get what she wanted. 

The major takeaway for me was that we can always use cheaper gear than we think and there is always an alternative to the vast sums we think we need to spend to get everything right. Indeed, just the other day, I found a bunch of cellophane sheets lying around at my daughter's pre-school. I took them home and they worked perfectly as an alternative to far more expensive gels.

So what hacks out there do you have that not only save you money, but also provide some pretty good results? I'd love to hear about them in the comments, because with an ever-growing family, I simply don't have the cash reserves to keep up with the latest gear trends.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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Good post, I have used these type of lights for shoots. Color grading in post gave me the look I desired. Like to have a big budget for expensive lighting. However, when I look at the results of using expensive lighting. About the same results. Expceitons to this concept is robust. So, no bad mouthing expensive lighting. But as this post suggests. Best keep secret in the “lighting world” . My ego gets punched when I this sort of lights. “Gotta have the best”, on an on. Sometimes its like this. 1/2 my brain is selling Bull Shi. the other half-life my brain is buying my Bull Shi.

...and when you come right down to it, It's All Bull Shi!

They do work great. Biggest downside is probably the heat generated...but sometimes sweat looks good! ;)

Yes. I've tried these before and they're not very comfortable for the models. They'll start sweating pretty quickly if you need anything other than the harsh shadows in this set.

that's good they get a free tan, lol

Did you know you can use lights to light your photos?!
Also: "gave off a golden warm tone to the photo". Sound's like someone doesn't understand white balance.

Not knocking cheep gear. They all have their place. But there is nothing special about this light. Let me know when you find something cheap that also has other useful photography functions, ie: daylight balanced, variable output, not too hot for jells, etc. Otherwise why not review all the lights at home depot.

As this product isn't intended for photography, your mileage will vary. It's cheap compared to photo lighting, but on par for it's true space. But if it works for you, that's what matters!

You're missing the point. Jessica is reviewing the light like its somehow more suited for budget photography. But its just a light. Any light will do. Tell me how this one is more special than anything else i could just grab off the shelf.

Bear with me... it's early here and I'm still mid-coffee. If I'm not understanding your comment, my remarks now are not to meant to be aggressive.

Yes, I realize she's reviewing that specific light. I believe overall, the crux of this piece is about what you initially said - you can use lights to light your photos. And I'm agreeing with that... if you're using a flashlight to achieve illumination for you, that's all you need. I believe FStoppers is getting to that.

I smiled a bit when read your comment. Straight on point, completely agree with what you're saying :)

Get yourself a remote controlled power outlet so you can keep these off until you're ready to shoot to keep the heat to a minimum.

Why would you post this and not the original content she is recycling? No offense to Jessica, she kindly links to her source, but the original content is much better and more intelligently discussed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnFmBzVTtRs

Good point, well made.

Is the word recycle a synonym for plagiarism? If so, should we send her to Russia or CNN for the truth? This is my bad satire for the day.

Not sure how using the same piece of equipment for an entirely different shoot in an entirely different genre of photography classifies as plagiarism, but we all see things differently I guess.

"We've got a lot of sharks out there, tryin' to take a bite of somethin', what's hot... A lot of chameleons out there..." - Cypress Hill

The "original" content doesn't show how it can be used for portraits

Point well taken but I have no connection with food photography, thus I don’t follow any food photography channels on Youtube. When I was notified that Kobeissi had released a video related to portrait work that showed her using a $20 light I thought it would be helpful for people in that line of photography.

I guess it shows that $20 lights have multiple capabilities!

Who knew, light can be used on more than one type of subject! By the way, what happened to being able to rate Fstoppers articles? This one get a thumbs down.

Clearly he is showing it's advantages for food photography and not portrait/fashion photography. Also, she must not have watched (or understood what he meant) about white balancing seeing his looked like nice daylight and her's looks like ambient hell.

I had to watch this twice. If you are hanging yourself out as a professional, one important characteristic is...be professional. Frankly I think there is too much silliness to the outset of this video. I also think the images are not very good technically and since she suggested a diffusion material (she suggested a sheet which is fine) then she should have used one in this video as it's readily apparent that she did not. All is all this video won't do any service to those trying to shoot professional looking images using shop lights. Is it possible? Of course and I think I'll post a video showing how this really needed to be done. This one here shows poor planning

Hey guys. I've seen some newer work lights that uses LEDs on Amazon at 50w, roughly 400-500w equivalent, 4500-5000 lumens. They are around 50 bucks so it's still cheaper than professional lighting. Would those be a better alternative than the halogen work light in this video? Any thoughts?

You can get where you're going by walking, riding a bike, riding the bus or taking your car. Only you know what's appropriate for the task at hand.

I would like to know of anyone's experience with LED worklights. I know the CR ratings, if there are any, are likely inconsistent but the coolness vs the heat generated by halogen makes them attractive to consider. And i could not expect a warm look but then there are filters. Unfortunately in Canada the LED worklights run around 90.00, a bit much for a an experiment.

Well I was using once a LED light that is usually used for a medium film productions. They were quite ok and I was happy with results, but It was like 2 or 3 years ago, and those were looking like a custom one so maybe CRI was higher than the cheap ones. For renting as I remember I paid around 40-50$ which is something around of a renting Canon 1d in my country. However nothing more to tell from my side. I'm also bit of excited of what they can be in future, but currently I do work on flash more and it's fine for me for photography. LED will probably not generate as much power as flash for at least few years from now on :)

Eh, she's more of a YouTuber than a professional photographer. She built her business around her YT PS tutorials. Half the time she doesn't know wtf she's talking about when it comes to the technical side of things. Also, affiliate links off of the products used in the video that another photographer made. Meh... But this is yet another case of a photographer re-hashing material already made. Original content is so dead now.

I suppose this is a debate in itself. What constitutes a ‘professional photographer’? To me, it’s someone who makes a living through the photography field, including, but not limited to, photographic shoots. And I daresay Kobeissi does that. Whether she makes more through her paid shoots or through her YT popularity is anyone’s guess, but I’m pretty sure she’s paying the bills (and then some) through photography related stuff.

I would say one who makes a living off of photography solely is a professional photographer. A professional YTer that does photography wouldn't be a professional photographer. Granted the YT channel has helped her photography career tremendously, and she's even said this a number of times. But she is not booking big brands, or shooting massive campaigns, or working with a ton of clients. She's shooting her models for YT, for the views, for the trends. I don't think she even has a client list out there. It's virility, and tending work she puts out that is keeping her afloat as well as the ad revenue, all of her affiliate links and workshops. She makes more money off of photographers than actual clients.I personally wouldn't call her a professional photographer.

All very valid points. But I wonder how these ‘social influencers’ get so big in the first place. Surely there must be some photographic talent and ability to transmit helpful ideas to an audience in there somewhere?

A lot of it has to do with producing viral, trendy work. All it takes is one thing and it spreads like wildfire.

Rule of Thumb #43 Anyone who begins their how to You Tube video with "Hi Guys" is more of a You Tuber than a photographer.
But that's the new paradigm. 25% reviews, 25% photography, 25% How to and or workshops 25% Barista or Uber gig.

Remember that the folks selling the shovels made more $ in the gold rush than the miners...

I love this video because she’s so freaking good looking!!! Other than that, whoever picks a light for photography without knowing its CRI is no more than a (cute) YouTuber craving for subscriptions/likes... I’ve “liked” her video :)

I pick gear based on how much is left in my wallet each month after my 2y.o daughter and her needs have emptied it....

Likewise I like to spend the least amount of money I can when it comes to gear ( I still use mechanical light meter ). You can buy really cheap LED lights at Home Depot that have surprisingly great CRI. The fact that the cute YouTuber has no mention of that means ithe video should not be posted on a photography website. That goes to show you how FStoppers can be at times a disservice to the photography community.

On the flipside, you have people on this thread insisting most sources of light can do an admirable job depending on the person and the situation.

Interesting video. when I was in school we use to go to Home Depot to gets lights because we couldn’t afford expensive professional

poorly lit, bad photographs. Hot lights (we used to call them tungsten lights) can be used to create stunning portraits. These are not them. Look at the work of Yousuf Karsh, for starters.

"With Impressive Results" ..... Are we talking about the same images !!

"Pro photographer understands lighting and uses whatever she got to make pics. Results turn out great". Wow, seriously, breaking news… If I had advertised every time I used unspecialized lights in photos with good results, I would have done fewer pictures and more videos. Oh wait… That's how you become a hugely popular photographer, right ?