A photographer’s lighting kit may seem like an afterthought when compared to the camera and the skills involved. However, the right lighting can make or break a photo-shoot by emphasizing the things you want to focus on and minimizing other elements that are less desirable. With so many options available from a wide swath of retailers at a variety of price points, it can feel a bit overwhelming when you’re considering investing. In truth, the process need not be intimidating. Whether you’re just starting your photography career, or looking to develop a hobby, here are some tips to help you decide where to direct your money in order to see the greatest return on investment.
What Are the Basics?
Lighting kits run the gamut from a few lights up to a dozen, depending on how professional you are and what you’re hoping to achieve. However, a standard lighting kit will come with a broad light, a fill light, a hair light (including a focusing tool) and possibly a background light. The broad light is the main source of light for a shoot. Coupled with this is a softbox or umbrella that helps spread the light out over your composition. The fill light is so named because it fills the remaining shadows that are cast by your broad light. A hair light gives you highlights on details such as your subject’s hair. The last piece that you’ll often find is a background light, which provides the illumination in the backdrop.
There are three main types of lights to explore: hot lights, cool lights and flashes. The latter is the one preferred by the vast majority of studio photographers, due to their easy-to-use nature and the amount of power offered. They come in two main types: shoe flash and studio flash. Hot lights are best employed when you are shooting subjects needing a steady light source, e.g. video, and not ideal for taking photos of people. Cool lights, by contrast, give you a more natural-looking result, and do not have some of the risks associated with using a hot light.
Making sure your lights illuminate simultaneously is a consideration as well. You can do this in four ways, each of which have their own benefits and drawbacks. Most of these can be adversely affected by environmental factors such as external light source interference, and therefore should be carefully examined.
- Hard wiring (your flashes are connected by extensions and sync cords)
- Small light-sensitive triggers (the least expensive)
- Infrared sensors
- Radio signals and receivers that are linked to the master and slave units (usually the most effective)
Selecting the appropriate lighting kit for your specific purpose requires some research and forethought, but the payoff is evident in each picture you take. Keep in mind that it’s best to buy brands that have some existing popularity from reputable retailers such as Markertek, as you’ll be able to easily find accessories and replacement parts. It can also be helpful to start with the basics and add things as you get more detail-oriented and experienced. The most important thing is to use your lights – experimentation is the only way to get better and figure out what you like. You’ll soon be producing images that you’d previously only dreamed of.