Photo Tip of the Month: Seriously Cheap Studio Lighting Kit…and Happy New Year!

Stephanie and the Emergency Kits 4 All brochure

Stephanie the Chihuahua of Emergency Kits 4 All wants you to know 1.) that it is possible to buy good studio lighting on a shoestring budget, 2.) these lights don’t make me pant because they don’t give off much heat,  3) that you should have an emergency kit for you, your family, and your beloved pets, and 4.) HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!  This is a raw photo before I color-corrected or did much of anything else, just so I could show you how it comes out.

Seriously Cheap Studio Lighting Kit For Photographers On The Go
Professional photographers who do a lot of work in studios need a professional setup. This can cost a truckload of money. But what about the rest of us who might only occasionally require studio lighting? Was it possible for the photographer on the go to get cheap studio lighting that was light, portable, and durable…something that didn’t suck?

What Was I Looking For?
I’m a WYSIWYG person and don’t need to freeze fast action, so I was looking for continuous lights, not speedlights (although I do have a Nikon SB-600, a good quality speedlight).

I initially considered hot lights, but dismissed them because photofloods were not terribly energy-efficient and require replacing more often, while halogens look great but also aren’t as energy-efficient.  And they both give off a lot of heat, something that wasn’t too fun to think about during the summer when I was considering these.

That left cool lights.  Fluorescents, to be exact.  These gave off less heat, were far more energy efficient, the bulbs lasted a long time and were cheap to replace.  Nice.

Now to find the exact kit. After searching the photography forums, looking at reviews, and other sources, I came across a kit that fit the bill:  theFlashpoint 3 Fluorescent Light Kit from Adorama.  They mimic daylight at 5500 degrees Kelvin. Each 85 watt bulb was the equivalent of 425 watts of light output.  Not bad. They had three lights with seven foot stands that were reported to be solid, one 33″ shoot-through umbrella and one 33″ reflective white umbrella with a black back, and a carrying case.

I assembled everything while watching TV in 30 minutes. I undoubtedly could have done it in less time if I were actively focusing. Assembly is easy, in other words.

The lights were plenty bright. The stands, including the base and the latches for allowing you to extend the stands, seem surprisingly sturdy for a $149 budget kit (note:  the kit now sells for $169 as of this writing, still a great bargain). You can adjust the stands for wider stability if needed. The kit breaks down and packs away in the included bag in a matter of minutes. I put a bit of bubble wrap around the bulbs to make sure they’re well padded. The black bag fit everything with room to spare.

The lights are fluorescent and did not flicker during the 20 minutes I was using them, giving off noticeably less heat than their incandescent counterparts.  I used the lights in the evening, and turned off my regular house lights so I could control the color temperature better. This worked very well, and I was able to get some test shots quickly and effectively without much maneuvering of the lights.

I have since shot three commercial product shoots, and it’s worked really well every time, setting up in minutes, perfect for the photographer on the go, shooting on location.

My friend has a hot light lighting kit that she purchased for about $200.  I used her kit when I was shooting her wedding last year. Her kit came with two lights/stands, two shoot-through umbrellas, and no carrying case.  The lighting kit I purchased had three lights/stands instead of two, gave off more light, ran cooler and “greener”, and had noticeably sturdier stands.  I’d say I got a great bargain.

What I Added To My Portable Photo On The Go Studio Lighting Kit
It was $149 (okay, now $169), so I was beyond happy.  Still, I felt it needed a little bit more.  The cords are rather short.  This was easily remedied.  I threw in a couple of power strips and a few extension cords.

Also, I wanted a black backdrop.  Now, I happen to be a recording engineer, so I have numerous microphone boom stands laying around, so I didn’t need to buy stands.  I never priced them out, but boom stands cost anywhere from $50-100 each. I also went to Home Depot and bought a few clamps for several dollars.  I wanted a black black black backdrop.  Construction paper is awful for this.  It reflects too much of the light back.  I don’t like things that wrinkle, so I dismissed curtains.  Black bedsheets aren’t black enough and are too sheer.  I decided on a large $40 black velour cloth, which soaks up the light quite well, almost as well as velvet.  With not too much hassle, I had my backdrop. If you look at the photo, you can see that it is a good dark black…black black.

I already mentioned that I also threw in some bubble wrap and a couple of towels to protect the kit.  With this and a couple of spare fluorescent bulbs, all is good.  I have a kit that gives provides good flicker-free lighting, sets up easily, and is durable and cheap.

This worked out very well for me.  What are your needs?  What are you looking for in a budget studio lighting kit?

Disclaimer
I do not work for or own stock on Adorama, nor am I sleeping with anyone from the company. I just like this product.

The above photo was shot with a Nikon D90 and a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens.

One thought on “Photo Tip of the Month: Seriously Cheap Studio Lighting Kit…and Happy New Year!

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