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Well, we’ve made it to Day 5, and we’re wrapping up with studio lighting for on-location shoots. Shooting on location has its own challenges:

  1. When you’re shooting on location, one of the biggest hurdles you may have to face is electrical power. Even indoors, you might not have access to an electrical outlet anywhere nearby to power your lights (believe me, I learned this the hard way at a bridal shoot in an old church). So that’s the first consideration.
  2. Secondly, if you’re shooting outdoors in daylight, you’re going to need a fairly significant amount of “flash” power, and perhaps even a long throw parabolic reflector (attached to the front of your strobe) to shoot the light from your strobe farther and brighter than you normally would.
  3. On location, you often wind up with bigger “props” in your shots (like pianos, cars, motorcycles, boats, furniture, etc.), or you wind up doing group shots where you need a lot of coverage.

For these reasons (among others), I recommend to my friends the same set-up I use when when I’m heading out for an on location studio-style shoot, where my main weapon of choice is:

  • An Elinchrom Ranger RX 1100 Watt/Second Kit (which includes a Battery Operated Ranger RX Power Pack, a Freelight S Lamphead [your strobe flashhead], Varistar Kit [a high-end shoot-thru umbrella-style softbox], Battery, Multi-Voltage Charger, Sync Cord, and a Hard Case for Travel). The kit goes for $2199 at B&H (here’s the link). Note: that’s the Flashhead seen in the photo shown above, where the Flashead is fitted with a honeycomb grid spot attachment on the front to narrow the spread of the beam.
  • An Elinchrom 74″ Octabank, which is the ultimate softbox (your Freelight flashhead is mounted facing away from your subject, and it fires directly into the inside of the giant Octabank and the light reflects and travels back to your subject creating the most wonderful, wrapping, gorgeous, light from strobe I’ve ever seen, period!). It’s big in size, and big in price, coming in at $1,109, but you get what you pay for. In fact, in this case, I think you get more than you paid for.
  • Although you could buy a second Freelight S Flashhead for your RX pack (which would run you an additional $729), but that large Octabank covers such a wide area that I usually use it all by itself (along with a reflector, of course), but if I feel I need a background light, or a hairlight, believe it or not, I just use a Nikon SB-800 Hot Shot flash set to Slave mode (in Slave mode, the flash of light from the Ranger flashhead automatically triggers the SB-800 to fire at the same time).
  • I would also recommend buying an Avenger A420 rolling lightstand (I hang my Ranger RX Battery Back off the stand, as seen in the photo above), so the whole thing rolls around as one unit, without having to pick anything up off the floor. If this “hanging off the stand” thing makes you a bit queezy, you can buy a little shelf that will attach to the stand so it sits flat.

Some things you’ll really like about this set-up are:

  • You don’t need to worry about plugging in, thanks to the battery pack. The Battery pack is pretty small in size, and comparitivly lightweight for a battery pack.
  • It can power up to two flashheads, and you can control the power of each from the battery pack itself.
  • You have serious top pro-quality studio lighting anywhere you want it; on the beach, on top of a parking garage, standing in the middle of a field, or up in an office building.
  • It’s rugged as all get-out, and everything but the Octa and the Lightstand fit nicely in one medium-sized hand-held carrying case.
  • When you’re not shooting on location, it makes a killer studio strobe that plugs into a standard electrical outlet
  • Once you use it, you’ll be hooked for life. The first time I ever saw anyone using an Octabank for a location shoot was Joe McNally, and when I saw how magical that light was, I knew I had to get one, and I’ve been in love with it (with a passion that knows no bounds) ever since.

The Downside

  • The Octa is big. Biggity-Big. But it has to be really big to create that “magical” quality of light. Did I mention it was large? It is. Plenty.
  • The modeling light only stays on for 30-seconds to conserve battery power. However, if you’re using Skyports as your wireless triggers (which I highly recommend), you can wirelessly turn on/off the modeling light right from your camera position.
  • This pro rig costs “pro” money. The total for the Elinchrom Ranger RX Kit (with battery back and one flashhead) and the 74″ Octabank (not including the Avenger Lightstand), is $3,308.

The Good News

$3,308 sounds like a lot a first, but you can’t even buy a pro DSLR body alone (i.e. a D3, or a Canon Mark III), for $3,308. If you’re a working pro, this rig will pay for itself in no time because the quality of what you’ll be able to do on location will soar. If you’re a serious amateur, and you set this rig up, not only will you look like a pro, but other serious amateurs will stand aside and let you by, as they gasp in awe and wonder. That’s gotta be worth somethin’.

By the way; in case you’re wondering how I make the determination between using SB-800s and diffusers or umbrellas, vs. bringing out “The Big Guns” of my Octa and RX kit; it’s actually pretty easy. If it’s a “Down and Dirty” job (get in/get out, one person shot, and either time or space is the major consideration) then I use the SB-800s. They do a nice job, but they’re not Ranger RX. I use the Ranger and Octa combo when I want the best possible quality of light, with maximum softness and flexibility. Basically, I use it when I want magazine cover studio lighting quality when I’m outside my studio, and the Ranger and Octa bring exactly that.

Note: You can also use different Elinchrom softboxes with this kit, and I’ve used the 53″ MidiOcta I mentioned yesterday with it a number of times (perfect anytime you think space or ceiling height my be a consideration), and Elinchrom’s 39″x39″ Rotalux square softbox.

So, there you have it; exactly what I would recommend to a friend (especially one with discretionary income) to get if they wanted absolutely pro-quality studio lighting on location. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do the FAQ today, so I’ll try and run it Monday (thanks for your patience everybody).

Have a great weekend everybody, and go get some great shots! :-)

Here’s a couple of quick Thursday Things:

  • Taz Tally, one of the highest rated trainers at the Photoshop World Conference & Expo has just joined the Kelby Training Online Experience, and his first class with us went live today. It’s called, “Photoshop For Printing,” and this class is designed for people who will be printing their images on a printing press (so, they’re preparing images for CMYK separations to appear in brochures, magazines, print ads, etc.), and Taz is one of our industry’s leading experts on the topic. Here’s the link to a list of the topics he covers, and you can watch a few sample classes while you’re there.
  • If you’re planning on coming to Photoshop World (April 2-4, in Orlando, Florida), and you’re planning on taking a pre-conference workshop on April 1st, you’d better snag your spot now, as some of the pre-conference sessions are already selling out. The next two that will fill up (probably by next week), are Ben Willmore’s Advanced Photoshop workshop, and Matt Kloskowski’s Photoshop Layers Essentials workshop, and the Epson Print Academy. Here’s the link to a list of the pre-cons.
  • One last thing: one of the best tutorials I’ve been out there on cross-processing effects in Photoshop is over at Here’s the link to it.

Have a great Thursday everybody, and scroll on down for a continuation of Lighting Gear Week! :-)


Yesterday we talked about my continuous lighting set-up, but today we’re moving onto pro-quality studio flash. Here’s the thing: I could spend the day talking about really low cost strobes, but when it comes to strobes, this is one area where buying the “good stuff” really pays off (I learned this the hard way).

Back in January of this year, I gave up on all my old studio gear (made up of a hodge-podge of Photogenic, White Lighting, and Profoto monobloc strobes, with a host of different sized Chimera softboxes), and I bought a whole new set-up from the ground up and it’s the best thing I ever did. So, before we go on I want to mention two important things:

  1. I’ve been reading your questions posted in the comments sections each day, and I’m hoping (focus on the word “hoping”) to be able to post an FAQ either tomorrow, or on Monday where I’ll try and answer as many of your questions as I can about the stuff I’ve talked about here on Lighting Gear Week.
  2. The set-up I’m about to tell you about is the exact same set-up I now use exclusively when I’m shooting in-studio strobes (tomorrow’s post is what I do for studio shoots on location), but this stuff ain’t cheap. Great equipment rarely is (although I think you’ll be surprised that it’s not as much as you might think). I recommended this same set-up to one of my very best friends a few weeks ago, he bought it, and you’ll read more about his experience later on. So, just so you know now; this is serious pro-quality gear, at pro quality prices, so go forward with that in mind.

Now, why aren’t I showing you a cheap studio strobe set-up? Because you wouldn’t thank me later. I’m giving you the same advice I would, and do, give my closest friends, and this is absolutely what I would tell them to get:


  • Two (2) Elinchrom RX600 600-watt Monolight Strobes (the Monolight thing means they plug right into a wall socket like any other thing that runs on electricity). They are $978 each at B&H Photo (link) NOTE: There is a special reason why I chose these, and I’ll share that in a moment.
  • An Elinchrom 53″ Midi-Octa softbox (this will be your main light. It’s huge. It makes stunningly beautiful light. You will love it) It’s $308 at B&H (link) and includes the speed ring (the thingy that lets you attach the softbox to the your light). That’s the MidiOcta in use in the photo up top (photo by RC Concepcion)
  • An Elinchrom Rotalux 14″x35″ softbox (this is tall and thin like a striplight; and it makes a great hair light, kicker light, fill light, or even a good background light). It’s $198 at B&H (link) and includes the speed ring. By the way; one thing I dearly love about these softboxes is that they collapse like an umbrella for the storage with the speed ring still attached. A huge time (and pain in the butt) saver.
  • An Elinchrom Skyport RX Radio Slave System, which includes one transmitter and two RX receivers. This is what wirelessly triggers the strobes, and are a key piece of this set-up. They are why I stopped using other wireless flash triggers. In fact, these Skyports are so great, that I’m giving them, right here and now, my “Scott Thinks It’s Hot” Award (you’ll see why in a minute). The set, which powers both strobes wirelessly, is $260 (link).
  • Two Avenger A420 rolling 9’10” light stands with Boom Arms added. This things are solid as a rock, handy as all get-out, they roll (rolling is big), and your back will thank you again and again. Don’t put great lights on crappy stands. It’s like putting WalMart tires on your Turbo Porsche. You have to buy the stand, then the boom arm separately. The stands ain’t cheap–they’re $180 for each stand (link to B&H), plus whatever the boom costs (you’ll have to ask B&H which boom arm you should get—I couldn’t figure out which ones we have, because I’m at home tonight). Technically, you could get away with one boom, and leave your main light on just the straight stand, but you’ll always secretly wish you had that 2nd boom, which comes in very handy.
  • A Reflector and boom arm holder (you can use the Westcott 30″ reflector I mentioned yesterday and the day before). You don’t need a fancy stand for this. However, since you’re “movin’ on up” you might consider a larger reflector (especially if you’re doing full length shots), like the Westcott Illuminator Collapsible 48″x72″ Silver/White reflector, for $105 (link).

So, before we go any further, let’s total up our gear:

For everything, except the Avenger lightstands and larger reflector and stand, the total for the two strobes, two softboxes, and Skyport triggers is $2,721 (that’s not that bad, for a kick-butt pro system).

Now that you know what it all is; why? Why did I buy this stuff (and what makes it so great)? I think Elinchrom makes an absolute top quality product, (just ask Joe McNally, who uses Elinchrom, and is actually the guy who turned me onto them in the first place), but they’re still at a realistic price. In fact, I’d say in price-to-quality ratio, they’re actually a real value. But that’s only part of the picture for me. What sold me was how this all works with the Skyports, and the free Skyport software.



When I first saw the Skyports, I was immediately drawn to their incredibly small size (about the size and weight of a box of matches). The Transmitter that sits on your hot shoe is only 1 inch high. 1″ inch! No more trying to see around the big transmitter sitting on top of my camera just to see my subject (you don’t realize how big those other transmitters are until you try a Skyport). The Skyports are so darn small, and so light, that everyone who sees them has to smile. But that’s not why I fell in love.

What made me fall in love with Skyport is:

  • The fact that with Elinchrom RX strobes, I can control the power of each strobe right from the transmitter on top of my camera. If I want the hair light down a half-a-stop, I can do it without leaving my camera position. If I want the background light brighter, it’s just two clicks.
  • I can turn on/off the modeling lights the same way; from right on that tiny transmitter
  • When you buy Skyports, you can also buy a USB key for your computer (it’s around $100), and then you can download this amazing software that lets you run your entire studio, all of your strobes, right from your computer (for Mac and PCs). It actually shows you a visual representation of the exact back of the RX strobes, right there on screen, but it’s live—you can move the sliders, turn on/off things, and do anything you could do on the strobe itself, from right on your computer screen. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of what this software will do (including memorizing and saving your set-ups, so when you come back to the studio a week later, it will automatically feed all the right settings into all your strobes). This “running your studio wirelessly” and by software, is the future of the efficient studio, and it will rock your world. (did I mention this amazing software is free! It’s FREE!)
  • The Skyports cost less than the PocketWizard Plus IIs I’ve been using, because they’re $189 each, and you would need three of them (one on your camera, and one on each of the strobes). That’s $567, vs. just $260 for the Skyport kit (one on your camera, and one on each of the strobes). Go to to learn more about the Skyports. You will dig them, big time.

Once I tried this whole thing out (skyports and RX strobes), at their booth at Imaging USA, I ordered this same kit right on the spot. Since then, I ordered one more RX-600 to use as a background light because I was getting tired of running back there and changing the power output all the time. (Note: While the Universal Skyport kits will trigger any flash units, to get the whole “Raise and lower the power/turn on/off the modeling lights thing, and use the cool software” you have to have Elinchrom RX strobes, and order the RX transmitter kit instead of the Universal kit).

True story: A few weeks ago I flew up to Detroit to spend a day with my buddy Terry White. We wound up in the studio, and Terry was really unhappy and frustrated with his el cheapo strobe system, and of course I teased him about it unmercifully. Terry called a day or two later and said he was sick of dealing with all his strobe issues, and would I recommend a really great pro set-up for him. I sent him a B&H wish list with the same exact things you see there (the same exact stuff I use myself), and Terry went right online and bought the whole system. He shot with it that weekend, and he had to call me in the middle of his shoot to thank me. His exact words here, “Dude, I had no idea that it would make as big a difference as it did.” He was absolutely thrilled, and has thanked me numerous times since then.

Now, I did the same thing for you. I put together a B&H Photo Wish List, with all that gear, with pricing, and direct links for more info, just to put it all in one place. Here’s the link to my Elinchrom Wish List. (I know many of you are probably tired of hearing me repeat this, but just so you know I don’t get a kick-back or commission or referral fee, etc. on anything you buy from Elinchrom or B&H).

That’s it for today folks–tune in tomorrow for my wrap-up, with location lighting using serious strobes. Don’t forget to bring your checkbook—location lighting makes this stuff look like a bargain. See you then!

westshoot.jpgToday we’re moving into the studio, and we’re starting with a lighting set-up that is ideal for:

  • Product photography
  • Portrait photography
  • Studio photography of anything that doesn’t move a whole lot
  • Anyone who wants to get into studio lighting, but is unsure, afraid, or uncomfortable with the whole studio lighting world.

I’m going to give you the same advice I’ve given to so many of my friends who wanted to get into studio lighting, but weren’t quite ready to deal with the complexity of using multiple strobes, wireless triggering, light meters, and all that it entails. Get a Westcott TD-5 Spyderlite.spider5d5.jpgThese are continuous (“always on”) daylight-balanced lights that give you soft, wrapping light, but because they use fluorescent blubs, there’s no heat, so you can use them right up close for shooting everything from people to food. The TD5 is shown above, without a softbox, so you can see what the light itself looks like (photo courtesy of Westcott).Advantages:

  1. Since they’re always on, what you see is what you get. There’s no guesswork, no wondering if the light is going to fall where you want it–you see everything live just like it will look
  2. Since they’re daylight balanced, they look like natural window light.
  3. They’re surprisingly affordable
  4. You don’t need wireless triggers
  5. Since the light is continuous, you can shoot just like you were shooting in natural light, so for the most part you don’t need to use a lightmeter, like you do with strobes.


  1. They don’t put out nearly as much light as traditional studio strobes, so you’ll need to shoot on a tripod, and you want to avoid shooting objects that move a lot (so regular portraits, where your subject stays fairly still are no problem. Shooting toddlers, who are in constant motion, is another story, and you’ll wind up with some blur). However, you can raise your ISO to get a faster shutter speed and this limitation goes away, so if you’re shooting with today’s high-end Nikon or Canon gear, which both have very low noise, you can’t shoot toddlers all day.
  2. The other disadvantage vs. studio flash (strobes) is that there are only three power settings: low, medium, and high on the Spiderlites (I keep mine set on high all the time), whereas with a studio strobe you have much more control over their power output (brightness).

But if you do commercial photography (advertising, product shots, etc.) or portraits, it’s really hard to beat them. Note: I’ve been doing all my cookbook food shoots using Spiderlite TD-3 (TD-5’s smaller, lower-powered little brother), and it’s been absolutely ideal. BASIC KIT: To get started, I’d tell a friend that you’d need:

  • One Westcott TD-5 Spiderlite
  • A Medium (or Large) Softbox
  • A Medium-sized Lightstand
  • A Tilt-Bracket (so you can tilt the light)
  • A 30″ Reflector, and boom arm stand (mentioned yesterday)

B&H Photo has a kit like this (but without the boom arm stand), for $530 (right now B&H is throwing in a free 30″ silver/gold reflector, but I have no idea how long this freebie will last—here’s the link). This DOES NOT include the five 30-watt fluorescent bulbs you’ll need (they’re sold in packs of three, so you’ll need two packs. They sell for $58 a set (here’s the link), and you’ll need two sets, so you’re at $646 for the kit and the bulbs.I would tell you to get that boom stand for the reflector (here’s the link), which will add another $80, taking you to a total of $726. Not bad for a studio kit, eh?If you want to take it up a notch, you can get the exact same Spiderlite kit I used on my nationwide Lightroom Live Tour, which comes with

  • Two Spiderlite TD-5s (I use the other for a hair light, or kicker light)
  • Two Medium Light Stands
  • Two Softboxes: a nice big 36″x48″ softbox for the softest most wrapping light, and a 24″x32″ softbox you can use for a hairlight, or fill light, or whatever.
  • A 5’x6′ Westcott Illuminator pop-up collapsible background (white on one side, black on the other).
  • A background stand to hold that Illuminator background

B&H photo calls it “The Scott Kelby Studio Kit” (just a reminder: I don’t get a kick-back or commission on sales—B&H put this together as a courtesy to my students who saw me using this set-up on my tour and wanted the exact same kit). The kit goes for $1,099, but you’ll still need the bulbs, and for two lights you need 10 blubs, and as luck would have it, they come in packs of three, so you need four packs, so add $232 for the bulbs. Hey, think of it this way; you’ll have two back-ups. Here’s the link to the kit on B&H.I’ve recommended Spiderlites for the past year and I’ve gotten so many emails from people who’ve bought them who are just wild about them. For more info on them, visit Westcott’s site (here’s the link).Tomorrow, we’re taking it up a BIG notch; I’ve sold all my old strobes, got rid of all my existing softboxes, stands—you name it, and switched to an entirely new set-up for when I need strobes, and it absolutely rocks. It’s not cheap, but this is the real deal, and it can change the way you work with studio strobes in a big way. See you then!


OK, so yesterday we looked at a very inexpensive way to do a location portrait shoot, or some wedding photography, using simple a “Hot Shoe” flash, one light stand and an umbrella. Today we’re going to take it up a notch.

There are two main things I’d tell a friend to get next:

  1. An additional hot shoe flash unit
    This gives you the ability to add a hair light, light a bride from behind, light a background, light a room interior, and about a dozen other things that will give your lighting a more professional look.

    Nikon: If you’re a Nikon user and your DSLR has a pop-up flash, you’ll be able use it to wirelessly operate both flash units. If you have a high-end Nikon D2X, or a Nikon D3, they don’t have a built-in pop-up flash, so you’ll need to buy Nikon’s SU-800 Commander wireless transmitter unit (link). It costs around $250, but if you have a D2X or a D3—you can afford it.

    Canon: If you’re a Canon user, you’ll need Canon’s $210 ST-E2 wireless transmitter (link) to operate those 580 EX IIs wirelessly).

  2. A Reflector
    This will help you fill in hard shadows on the opposite side of your subject’s face, and create a smoother more professional looking transition from the bright side of your subjects face to the shadow side facing away from the camera. It kind of acts like a second light, which is particularly important if your second flash is doing something else (like lighting a background, or hair, etc.).westcottref.jpg
    The reflector I use most is a Westcott Illuminator 30″ Square Reflector with silver on one side and gold on the other side. It’s collapsible, so it folds up into a small circle and fits in a little zipper case, and together they weigh next to nothing. It costs around $61 (here’s the link to it on B&H Photo).

Now, if you “work alone” (you don’t have an assistant helping you on shoots), then you’ll need to get a second light stand, and swivel adapter to hold your second flash (luckily, as you learned yesterday, those are pretty inexpensive), but you’ll also need a lightstand with a boom arm and two clips to hold your reflector in place.


The lightstand/boom-arm reflector holder
I one use is from Impact, and it runs about $80 from B&H (here’s the link). It sounds like $80 is a lot, until you have to pay an assistant to hold your reflector for a day, then it sounds like a bargain, and it pays for itself in one gig.

Since you bought an extra lightstand and swivel clamp, you may as well spend the extra $10 and get another 30″white translucent umbrella for that second flash unit.


You can carry all your stands, umbrellas, adapters, and even your reflector (abiet a bit snugly lengthwise), in Impact’s Light Kit Bag #3, which sells for around $45 (here’s the link).


Now, you can toss your new flashes in your camera bag, but if you don’t mind spending a little more, you can really protect your stuff and use the same case I use; the Pelican 1560B Watertight Hard Case with Black Dolly with Foam (in Black). I use it to carry my three SB-800s, my SU-800 Commander Unit, my Nikon Battery Back, three table stands, three sets of gels, and I have room to spare. It’s rugged, it’s pretty small in size, and it rolls. It’s around $139 (here’s the link). (Note: the image above shows a version of the case with padded dividers. Mine just has foam, and I popped out little pre-cut segments to perfectly fit my equipment snug as a bug).

Now, you can stop right here, and you’ll have a very workable system with two lights, on stands, with umbrella diffusers, a reflector to fill in shadows, and a stand to hold it up. Plus, you can work alone, because the whole system is very lightweight, and easy to set-up and operate.

Nikon Users: To add this additional SB-800 flash unit, another lightstand, swivel adapter, umbrella, 30″ reflector, boom lighting stand, the rolling Pelican case for your flashes and flash accessories, and the Impact carrying case for your stands and other lighting gear, it (altogether) runs $700 (so add that to your $375 flash and stands, etc. from yesterday, and you’re at $1,075 for the whole 2-light kit and kaboodle).

Canon Users: To add this additional Canon 580 EXII flash unit, another lightstand, swivel adapter, umbrella, 30″ reflector, boom lighting stand, the rolling Pelican case for your flashes and flash accessories, and the Impact carrying case for your stands and other lighting gear, it (altogether) runs $785 (so add that to your $375 from yesterday, and you’re at $1,160, but realistically you’re going to need that wireless transmitter, which adds another $210, so you’re at $1,370).

But, if you can spend $40 more, you might like this better:

I mentioned yesterday, I’m not a big fan of umbrellas, but using them like we’re doing here (firing directly through them), does work well, and this is the only way I’ll use umbrellas. That being said, I personally prefer softboxes, but I can’t always take large softboxes with me on location shoots, so I use the next best thing: I fire my hot shoe flashes through a Lastolite 33″ tri-grip 1-stop diffusion panel held up by a Lightstand to greatly spread and diffuse the light. This has both advantages and disadvantages:

  1. The advantages are that your diffuser is not tied to the same lightstand as your flash is, so you can position the diffuser as far away from the flash unit as you’d like, to create a very large softbox like quality of light.
  2. Another advantage is that you can use the diffuser as a reflector
  3. You can use it outdoors to diffuse direct sunlight (it works fantastic for this).
  1. The disadvantages are: it requires another lightstand and a clamp to hold it up
  2. It’s more expensive than an umbrella. (The trigrip I’m talking about costs $68).

B&H photo has put a special kit together called “The Scott Kelby Location Kit” (I don’t get a commission or kick-back on sales; they put this together as a courtesy for my students), which includes:

Two stands to hold the flashes

  • Two Impact Air-cushioned lightstands to hold your Flash units
  • Two Impact Air-cushioned lightstands to the hold the Trigrip diffusers
  • Two 33″ Trigrip diffusers
  • Two Bogen Clamps to hold the Diffusers
  • Two “Justin Clamps” that let you swivel your flash in any direction using a mini hot-shoe ball head. They rock, and you can remove them from the light stands and mount a flash just about anywhere
  • A 30″ sliver/gold reflector
  • The Impact Boom Arm that holds the reflector


They sell that kit (shown above), altogether, for $495 (Here’s the direct link). It’s been hugely popular, which makes me wish I was getting a kickback. ;-)

Now, you’d still have to buy your two flash units, and at $310 a piece, you’d be at around $1115 for Nikon users, or $1293 for Canon users plus the $210 wireless transmitter.

(Important Note: it’s very late at night when I’m writing this, so if I were you I’d double-check all my math).

So, that’s it for Day 2 of Lighting Gear Week. Tune in tomorrow when we take it “inside” for some studio lighting. See you then!


This past weekend I was talking to my Peachpit Press Editor, Ted Waitt, and he was asking for my advice about getting some new camera gear. The next thing he wanted to get into was lighting and he wanted to know what his options were. After talking for a few minutes, Ted said, “Ya know, you really ought to do something like that for your blog, where you recommend different lighting set-ups for people with different budgets and needs.”

I thought it was a great idea, and well, here we are: Welcome to my first “Lighting Gear Week.” Each day this week, I’ll be sharing my recommendations for different set-ups and budgets, just as if a friend had asked me what they should get. Here we go:

Day 1: Wedding/Portrait Location Lighting Setup (on a Budget)

I would tell a friend to start by getting a hot shoe flash (one that has the ability to “bounce” flash, and the ability to work in wireless mode, which is important since many of today’s DSLRs, like most of the Canon and Nikons, support wireless off camera hot shoe flash).

I think these hot shoe flash units are ideal for wedding and/or event photographers, or photographers who do on-location portraits. The key benefits are:

  1. Low cost
  2. Small Size
  3. Portability
  4. Flexibility

To do this right, I would tell a friend they’re going to need these four things:

  1. The shoe mount flash unit itself
  2. A lightweight portable light stand
  3. An adapter so they can mount their flash on that lightstand
  4. Some kind of diffuser to soften and spread the light from their flash

Now, here’s the specifics:

(1) Flash Unit:

sb1.jpgNIKON: If you’re a Nikon shooter, you can’t beat the SB-800 Speedlight hot shoe flash. It’s $315 (from B&H Photo—here’s the link to it), and honestly it’s amazing what you can do with this one little flash, and if you have a Nikon camera that has a built-in pop-up flash, you can use it to make your SB-800 an off-camera wireless flash (which is your goal). Other great things about this flash: it comes with a plastic snap-on diffusion dome, which helps to soften and spread the light a bit; it also comes with a little flat table stand , and it comes with some color gels so you can color balance your light, or use them to add color.

580.jpgCANON: If you’re a Canon shooter, the Canon 580 EX II is an excellent flash, but there are two downsides over the Nikon flash: (1) it’s more expensive, at around $410 (from B&H Photo—here’s the link to it), and (2) you have to buy either a 2nd flash, or a transmitter to use the flash in wireless mode.

OTHER: If you don’t have a Nikon or Canon camera, sell that first, then we’ll talk about flashes. (kidding. Kind of). If you have another DSLR, take a look at the Metz flashes, like a 58 AF-1 flashes. They run in the $360 to $399 range.

(2) Lightstand

335283.jpgThese flash units don’t weight that much, so you don’t need a big heavy lightstand (in fact, lighter is better), and you don’t need it to go higher than 8′ feet tall. I use an “Impact” (that’s it brand name) stand from B&H Photo; it only weighs 2.4 lbs. and it runs around $35 (here’s the link to it over at B&H).

(3) Hot Shoe Adapter/Swivel for the Lightstand

298709.jpgThe idea here is that you’ll raise the stand, and then angle the flash so the light comes down at an angle at your subject. This means the adapter you get must let you do just that—angle the flash. But beyond that, the fourth thing you’re going to need to do is diffuse the light, and the most inexpensive way is to use an Umbrella to soften and spread your light (you’re going to position your flash so it shoots right though the umbrella). So, you’ll want an adapter that not only tilts your flash, but holds (and tilts) your umbrella for you at the same time. Impact makes one of those, too, called the “Impact Umbrella Bracket with Swivel Mount and Flash Shoe,” and it’s only around $14 (here’s the link to it).

(4) A Diffuser to Spread and Soften The Light

362385.jpgThe cheapest, lightest, and easiest way to diffuse your light is to shoot it through a white translucent umbrella, and as luck would have it, Impact makes one of those. It’s 33″ and it’s dirt cheap, at just $10. Here’s the link to it. (Scott, didn’t you say you weren’t a big fan of umbrellas? Yes, I did. It’s just this is really cheap and will get the job done—especially if you shoot through it—rather than shooting into it and having it reflect, which is the method I don’t particularly like). Tune in tomorrow to see what I prefer to umbrellas, but when it comes to price—-this is the cheapest ticket in town).


So, your whole kit; flash, stand, swivel umbrella/flash adapter, and the umbrella itself, would run about $375 for Nikon users, or $475 for Canon users (Note: if you’re a Canon user, to use your flash off the camera [which is what you want to be able to do during portrait shoots for formal bride shots], you’ll also need to buy either Canon’s wireless ST-E2 transmitter for $210, or a sync cord to connect your camera to your flash on the stand, so figure on another $70, for that. Don’t shoot the messenger).

If my friend said he didn’t mind paying a little more for some better gear, I’d still have him/her get the same exact flash units (Nikon or Canon), so that doesn’t change, but you could buy higher quality accessories like a Westcott umbrella (and spring for the 43″ model at only $10 more), and a Bogen/Manfrotto 3361 light stand (around $69), and maybe a nicer umbrella swivel (like the Lumedyne, for around $40).

Well, that’s it for Day 1, and our super “Budget” location shoot kit. Tomorrow we’ll take it up a notch, and see what we’d do if my friend had a little more cash, and wanted more flexibility, and the next level of lighting control.