Budget Lighting

Great lighting can be the difference between a decent photograph and a great photograph…yet, for some, the cost of the gear can be prohibitive. Below are a few thoughts and links on getting into proper lighting without breaking your budget.

You have probably heard this before but to get the best light, get the flash off the camera. This requires a remote trigger for your lights or working with a constant light source. The difference? A constant light source is as the name implies…lights that are always on. This type of lighting works best if you are in a studio or fixed location, indoors and doing more of portrait type shoots. Remote triggers are used when you need to fire off a flash. These are radio transmitter and receiver devices that are mounted on your camera and light sources. These are useful when you are outside, not in a fixed location and/or when you need to fire off a light that is more intense or need to stop action. There are other applications for either of these options but the above are some basic reasons for using either of these.

For remote triggers, the PocketWizard brand is considered to be the industry standard but is also quite expensive to purchase. The cost is approximately $338 for a transmitter and receiver set. It gets even more expensive if you have multiple flash units. I use the CyberSync remote triggers from Paul C Buff (makers of Alien Bees strobes). You can get started and expand your setup with CyberSync controllers at a fraction of the cost of using PocketWizards. The cost is approximately $140 for a transmitter and a receiver set (basic models). So far there has been only one downside I have run into using CyberSyncs – when second shooting a wedding with a friend who uses PocketWizards, we were not able to share all the flashes because we did not have enough PocketWizards. Other than that, the CyberSyncs have been a great remote trigger solution for me.

If you want to use constant lights, you can go to your local camera store and spend $99 and up on a variety of lighting solutions or you can head over to Home Depot and spend $32 dollars on a set of halogen work lights. Yes, halogen work lights are a great option for constant studio lighting. You can even use clear or various shades of white shower curtains to diffuse (soften) the light. Finding it hard to believe this? Check out this video on Petapixel from a photographer in Europe who uses this setup – http://www.petapixel.com/2011/03/25/quality-portraits-with-budget-lighting/.

Already have a flash for your camera? Then learn to use what you have more effectively. You can go buy a lighting stand, a flash mount with umbrella holder and an umbrella and start experimenting. There is so much you can do with a simple, standard flash. To read more about ideas and settings, check out the Speedlighter’s Handook or Zack Arias’ site on One Light shooting. Need a little more power than an on-camera flash, check out the Alien Bee flashes. This line of flash units is powerful, flexible and budget friendly. These types of flashes will let you block the sun on a bright day and create other effects when shooting outdoors.

Want to see some creative lighting setups, how the photos were made and get some lighting ideas, check out the Strobist Lighting Techniques books – Strobist Lighting Techniques Vol 1 and Strobist Portrait Lighting Techniques Vol 2.

This is just the beginning of learning about the options for getting into off-camera lighting. More posts to come as I try new things and learn about new gear or setups. An example of a lighting setup I used in a recent shoot can be found in this post. Enjoy and have fun experimenting with light.

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