Everyone hears that they need many lights and a whole lot of light modifiers from soft boxes, barn doors, gel holders, and a lot of other things to be a good photographer. This isn’t really the situation, as it really means more about the person who is behind the camera and who knows the lighting they are using than someone with a lot of equipment and doesn’t have a clue how to use it all.
For starters, I really recommend getting a simple flash and working with it off camera. There are already several posts on doing this earlier in the blog posts. But, what do you do when you want to progress a little further? Buy another flash and start working with two flashes. But, say you want to move to studio lighting – heck, they are cheaper than most flash units today and they offer a lot more flexible lighting options than the portable flash. I personally would recommend staying with portable flash units as long as you can – they are easy to take with you, carry, and are actually cheaper in the long run than studio lighting equipment. But, say you really want to move forward with studio lighting.
Buying studio lighting means you will have to make some serious thoughts on your budget and what you want to do with the subjects you are photographing. For instance, working with water splashes and smoke will mean going to either a digital flash or the hand held flashes you didn’t want to use. A regular studio light won’t flash fast enough to stop fluid in motion. Or, going to something more basic, it means deciding on hot lights (continuous) or strobes (flashing). Most of the phtographers who I see starting out opt for continuous lighting because it allows them to see the lights as it will show up in the image. There aren’t any difficult settings – everything is as you see it. Continuous lighting can also be a little cheaper. The cost is that you will either have to work with fluorescent lights or incandescent lights. This means that you will need a LOT of power to get a decent amount of light on set. If you have some high power outlets that let you draw a decent amount of power, you might opt for a Fresnel (pronounced “Fra-nell” in the US; “Frez-Nell” in the UK and Europe) light source. But, they get hot and provide a lot of light. They are also more expensive than florescent or incandescent hot lights.
If you consider getting studio lighting, seriously think what you will be doing and how you will be using the lights. Once you know this, then you can start looking for lights that meet those requirements.
One other thing I need to mention is that most people will tell you that you need several lights to start off. True, it is helpful, but you will find that it hampers your skills in learning how to light with those studio lights. Therefore, I would highly recommend that you start with one light and maybe a reflector or two with stands. You will find this much more useful than multiple lights.
The next entry on studio lighting will start talking about the different types of modifiers. For the purpose here, I will only cover using studio flash units – either mono lights or a power pack type flash. If you purchase a Fresnel or other hot light, they are fairly self explanatory and you won’t need help from me in using them.