Lighting Kit – Just Starting Out

If you are just starting out, my first suggestion is to buy yourself a good book on lighting (but then I’m biased about books—see #1 below). My second suggestion is that you buy the best-quality gear that you can afford. Durable gear is cheaper in the long run than shoddy gear that will have to be replaced. Thirdly, I recommend that you NOT buy a ton of gear. Rather, buy a few pieces and learn to use them well. Then buy a bit more gear and learn to use it well. So, if you are just starting out, here are my suggestions on the essentials.

1. Lighting for Digital Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots

My newest book, Lighting for Digital Photography, covers the world of light and lighting. It starts with a systematic way to look at and describe light: Direction, Intensity, Color, Contrast, and Hardness. Then it goes into how your camera settings affect your lighting decisions, how to shoot in natural light, how to shoot with flash, ways to make great portraits with one light, and ways to make great portraits with several lights. 

Peek Inside • More details on Amazon

2. An External Flash That Will Grow With Your Camera System

There are two good uses for the pop-up flash on your camera: to provide a breath of automatic fill flash when shooting in bright light and to command an off-camera flash (check your user manual to see if your camera has this capability). To craft useful light in a wide range of situations, you’ll want to have an external flash that is dedicated to your camera brand—meaning that if you shoot Canon, you buy a Canon Speedlite. I’ve tried third-party flashes that say they are compatible, but I’ve never been impressed, hence my bias. In the long run, it’s better to learn the details of the system built into your camera, then to learn another system and have to switch in the future. The three flashes that I list here are not the top-of-the-line units. Rather, they are middle-of-the-line units that have enough power and features for you to learn with for some time.

Canon 430EX II Speedlite – Read full specifications at B&H

Nikon SB700 Speedlight – Read full specifications at B&H

Sony HVL-F43AM Flash – Read full specifications at B&H

3. A Cord That Enables Your Flash To Move to the End of Your Arm

Truth be told…the hotshoe of your camera is a perfectly lousy place to put a flash. When it’s parked right above your lens, the flash lights both sides of your subject equally. The shadows are flattened as is the sense of shape and depth in your shot. An easy way to create some shadows is to move your flash to the end of your arm on a dedicated cord (one designed to work with your brand of camera and flash). The cords listed below have pins and wires that match the configuration of the intended brands. If you use a cord made for another brand or a generic (“multi-brand”) cord, it will fire your flash, but it will not communicate the camera’s instructions to the flash about power (which is very important when taking your first steps with flash). 

Off-Camera Flash Cord for Canon – Read full specifications at B&H

Off-Camera Flash Cord for Nikon – Read full specifications at B&H

Off-Camera Flash Cord for Sony Alpha – Read full specifications at B&H

4. Something That Makes Your Flash Appear Bigger

Making your flash appear bigger will soften the shadows just like clouds take away the hard edges of sunlight on an overcast day. I discuss many types of modifiers in this section. For starters, the mod I recommend is the Rogue FLashbender Large. It straps onto your external flash (Speedlite / Speedlight) and can be shaped in a number of ways. It can also be used when your external flash is held at the end of your arm.

Rogue Flashbender Large – Read full specifications at B&H

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