David Talley2 Comments

How to Get Into Studio Lighting WITHOUT Spending Thousands of Dollars

David Talley2 Comments
How to Get Into Studio Lighting WITHOUT Spending Thousands of Dollars

Q: "Studio Lighting is too Expensive for Me?"
A: "Wrong."

"Flitter" (2014)

"Flitter" (2014)

I heard this from a workshop student recently. A week later, I heard it at a coffee meeting from an aspiring young photographer. After that, it was my buddy from high school who just picked up a camera but wanted something a little bit more out of his new passion for light hunting.

No matter who it is, it's always the same: "I want to get in to studio lighting, but I just don't have the money to do it." 

Well, you actually do. And if you care THAT much about studio lighting, jumping in to it is actually MUCH EASIER than you think... and much more affordable. If you're resourceful enough, you can produce studio-quality images without spending the price you would on strobes. Luckily, I've done the legwork for you so that you can get to creating. 

I'm going to show you 5 cheaply-priced pieces of lighting gear you can use to build a studio lighting kit without breaking the bank. 

Working with the kit I'm about to show you has improved the entire look and feel of my imagery, and allows me to communicate a more beautiful, effective message with the images I create. 

The image above, titled "Flitter," was created the very first time I used studio lighting. You wouldn't know it from the final image, but we shot this in a dense forest off a highway in Atlanta, Georgia, around noon on a particularly stormy, cold day. By bringing the flash close to the model's face and powering it at a certain setting while my assistants held it at a distance, combined with the correct camera settings, I achieved a studio look with a TON of mystery and subject isolation to bring bringing out the deep emotion of the model and a story that wouldn't have otherwise been told.

Ever since that day, I knew I couldn't go back to just natural light shooting. The experiment I took on in studio lighting that day in the forest changed everything for me and opened my world to an entirely new way to create.... all for 2% of the cost of normal studio lights.

Yes, we are hacking the system.

When I got in to the flash world a few years ago, I didn't have very much money at all, and my career as a photographer had only just begun. I made a very small, very affordable investment in to 5 key pieces of gear that I still use to this day.

Let's talk about the 5 pieces of gear I used to create the 3 images you see below: 

73,438 views on Flickr

73,438 views on Flickr

23,776 views on Flickr

23,776 views on Flickr

45,056 views on Flickr

45,056 views on Flickr

What follows is my super affordable, 5-piece, studio-powerhouse kit... (and a bonus piece) and it all cost me less than $149.

Compare that to the $2,000-$4,000 many photographers THINK they need to have in order to create beautiful, share-worthy, and popular images. 

Let's review each piece of gear itself. For each piece, I'll include a link where you can easily purchase it directly from Amazon if you decide to build this kit. We'll start with the stand... 

Kit Piece #1: The Stand

Flash Stand: CowboyStudio Aluminum Adjustable Light Stand with Case:

This is my go-to lighting stand and I own about 3 or 4 of them. It's sturdy, practical, and travel-worthy. The height is adjustable to 9 feet, and it closes down to just 28 inches long when folded. It also supports up to 7 POUNDS of gear on top, making it the perfect candidate for what it supports... the flash! You can pick up 1 (or 5) of these up by clicking the link on the right. 

Kit Piece #2: The Light

The Light: Aperlite YH-500N

The KEY ingredient to this kit is the flash unit itself. This is obviously the most expensive piece of gear, and also the most important. Right now, I work with the. They're a company based out of China, with a focus on creating affordable flash units for photographers looking to break in to the world of Studio Lighting. I think they're doing an awesome job - their flash units are everything I look for in a Speed Light: lightweight, well-designed, have TTL with an infrared lamp, have multiple zoom and firing modes, have wireless connectivity, and most importantly, they are AFFORDABLE as HECK! These babies go everywhere with me, and they light 100% of the studio images you see in my portfolio. You can get one for about 70 USD by clicking the link on the left. 

Here's what the light looks like on the stand:

Kit Piece #3: Sandbags

Sandbags: Neewer High-Visibility Sandbags

Now, because we're all bootstrappers here... You don't want your newly affordable and likely irreplaceable investment to fall over on a windy shoot or in the studio. That's where these high-reflective sandbags come in. After I smashed a kit shooting in the foothills in Southern California, I decided to pick two of these up and take them to every shoot. They come in handy when you have teams around or you're teaching a workshop, too. Highly noticeable and essential to your new lighting kit. Get it by clicking on the image to the left.

Kit Piece #4: The Softbox

The Secret-Sauce Softbox: The Neewer 24" Softbox

This is the secret-sauce ingredient to this kit. Lightweight, majorly-packable, and giving you the same look as a 6-foot octabox, this softbox modifier from Neewer is the key gear piece that improved the entire look and feel of my images. I remember how stunned (and scared) I was the first time I used it, not knowing what to expect. Now, I use it to light literally 100% of my photos that use studio lighting. I take this to workshops, on airplanes, and even used it for my last book cover job, which was a $2,000 contract. This piece of gear will change everything for you, just like it did for me. Get it by clicking the link on the right. 

Kit Piece #5: The Triggers

Let's Communicate: Yongnuo RF-603 Triggers

Here's where we bring it all together. Without a trigger on top of your camera, you won't be able to make your camera talk to your flash without a cord, unless it has wireless connectivity. Pick up a pair of these guys from Yongnuo and you'll be set for years... and hundreds of feet. Literally. I once tested the range on the flash triggers and was able to walk 200 feet away on the other side of a wall and still fire the flash, which I could see lighting up the room from the studio door. You'll probably need these, so don't skip 'em. You can pick them up by following the link on the left.


The total cost of this kit comes to exactly $148.58 USD at the time of this post (November 23, 2016), which is an amazing value to be able to create studio images. Of course, this is a budget level kit. It's not going to stack up against strobes, but for anyone looking to get into the studio flash world to see if it's worth the investment, or if you want an affordable travel and location kit like I have, this is a great option.

To end, here's a quick tip on how to light a studio shot well almost always:


This is a basic lighting setup that I use often, something I call the "Oblique Upper Right" lighting. There's probably a more technical term for it; I don't care. I like to use this technique to really isolate my subject from their background. Enjoy using your new kit!

- David

I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.