If there’s one distinguishing factor that sets the work of leading professional photographers apart, it’s the masterful use of lighting. Indeed, the literal meaning of photography, “writing with light,” reflects one of a photographer’s primary missions. And that is controlling the light that defines the subject and best expresses the photographer’s (and client’s) personal style and vision. Of course, the means to that end is studio lighting gear.
What better place to master lighting than in the studio; it is a controlled space set aside for lighting fashion models, portraits of people, products, pets, artwork as well as an infinite variety of inanimate objects. With this in mind, let’s look at a concise selection of studio lighting equipment.
To give studio photographers a better handle on current lighting gear, we’ve selected 12 great items in four popular categories and a wide range of price points. However, studio lighting equipment is a huge, expanding (and dare we say profitable) upmarket category. So, we urge retailers and shooters alike to use this selection as a starting point for checking out the many worthy and fascinating studio lighting products out there.
Of course, not every photographer has a studio. However, every one of the studio lighting items on our list can also be used on location indoors or outdoors so long as an AC or DC power source is built in or readily available.
In the end, “studio lighting” is really a state of mind. But great lighting is always in style, and the equipment we’ve covered here will help illuminate your vision and brighten your bottom line.
Studio Flash Units
This attractive 400Ws flash strobe operates on AC power using its standard U.S./North American power cord; it is also powered by its removable 14.8V, 4400mAh lithium polymer battery. Moreover, the battery provides 480 full-power flashes per 2.5-hour charge. It recycles in 0.05 to 0.9 sec and also has a 9-stop power range settable in 0.1- and 1.0-stop increments.
In addition, it provides LED charge lights to indicate battery status and includes a low-drain 20W LED modeling light. Further, it provides color temperature stability of 5500K (±150K) across its energy range.
The flash ships with a magnetic 5.5-inch reflector as well as a magnetic gel set. The set bundles three color correction filters, one diffusion filter and an insert that lets photographers mount Westcott softboxes. Other features include high-speed and rear-curtain sync. It also provides TTL capability via the integrated FJ400 radio receiver for Nikon; Canon; Sony (with adapter); Fujifilm; Panasonic; and Olympus flash systems.
Six groups and 31 wireless channels prevent interference; what’s more, the optional FJ-X2m universal wireless trigger enables remote power and exposure compensation adjustments up to 985 feet away. The FJ400 comes with a USB Type-C to USB Type-A cable and a case. $599.99.*
Straightforward and economical, this well-made Godox AC-powered 300Ws monolight delivers an impressive array of features at a modest cost. Photographers can vary its daylight-balanced 5600K output from 1/16 to full power in 40 steps. In addition, the DP300II’s built-in 150W modeling light is adjustable to a percentage or proportion of the flash power to allow accurately previewing of the final shot.
Users can also make all these functions manually on the unit or wirelessly via the flash head’s built-in 2.4G wireless X system receiver (however, full remote operation requires an optional XT16 or FT-16 wireless transmitter). Flash durations range from 1/2000 to 1/800 sec. The unit also provides and anti-pre-flash function (for single pre-flash cameras), as well as auto recovery of settings after restart. It also features a 1.2-sec recycle time at full power. Moreover, it comes with a Bowens accessory mount; a power cable; and a protective lamp cover. $145.
Neewer Vision 4
This top-rated, German-engineered 300Ws electronic flash is powered by a high-capacity 7800mAh, 11.8V lithium battery; it provides 1,000 full-power flashes per charge. It also boasts fast recycle times of 0.4–2.5-sec; short flash durations to freeze fast action; and a high guide number of 60. The Neewer flash compatible with Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Olympus and Pentax cameras with standard hot shoes as well as Sony cameras with the multi shoe.
The unit includes a built-in 2.4GHz receiver with 8 channels and comes with a remote flash trigger (CR2 3V battery included). Furthermore, it provides a 6-step power adjustment (1/64 to 1/1) and enables successive flashes (3, 5, 7, 10, 12 and 15 shots). In addition, the Vision 4 delivers stable color temperature (5600K ±200K) over its entire power range.
Other features include an umbrella socket with a spring steel stabilization plate; a 13W, 1370 lumen energy-saving modeling lamp; and a lightweight (4 pounds) design with a standard Bowens mount that users can handhold or affix to a standard light stand. Also in the box are a standard reflector; a protective cover; a 110–120V AC charger; and a 3.5mm sync cord. $259.99.
This powerful 600Ws lamp head is based on the battle-tested Norman standard head. However, it adds a blower to stabilize its operating temperature when using softboxes, grids, filters and gels. It also facilitates extended high-output shoots. In addition, the fan operates at constant speed when the built-in 150W halogen modeling lamp is dimmed. What’s more, it operates on 115V and 230V AC with all Norman series 500 power units, including the P404, P808m, P808/TLC and P808-1200/TLC.
Made by one of the iconic names in studio flash, the head also features a dent- and scratch-resistant, high-impact resin housing; a modeling lamp on/off switch; a top-mounted, tilt-control knob; an integrated stand mount; an umbrella receptor; an easily replaceable, plug-and-play FT6-UV quartz flashtube; and a friction float stand adapter.
It accepts all series 5 reflectors and comes with an attached 20-foot cable; it also accepts extension cables when longer distances are required. Portable, it weighs in at 3.5 pounds. $615.95.
*Prices do not include stands or reflectors unless noted.
Studio Flash Lighting Kits
Godox SK300II 3-Light Kit
For location shooters, this portable kit includes three SK300II flash heads; three light stands; one 23.6×35.4-inch softbox; two 40-inch umbrellas; a standard reflector; and a Godox XT16 wireless trigger with a 328-foot range. It all fits into an included hard rolling case for transport and convenient storage. The SK300II strobe is a 5600K daylight-balanced light source with a guide number of 58; 0.1–1.0-sec recycling; variable power in 40 steps from 1/16 to full output; and flash durations as short as 1/2000 sec.
Its built-in 150W modeling light has a proportional mode for previewing effects as well as a brightness adjustment from 5% to 100%. The unit also features rear panel pushbutton settings with an LCD readout screen. It offers triggering options via sync cord, test button or the included slave trigger. Other features include a built-in 32-channel X1 radio remote and an anti-pre-flash function. Each SK300II flash weighs 4.2 pounds, has a Bowens front accessory mount, a tilting stand mount and runs on 100–120V AC power.
The Godox hard carrying case has a spacious main zippered compartment; a zippered interior pocket for accessories; an external pocket with a flap; a top handle and side carrying straps; and two robust inline wheels. $599.
Studio Essentials 200Ws Value 2-Light Kit
An economical, multiuse setup for in-studio or on-location shooting, the Interfit Photographic kit includes two 200Ws Value flash heads, each with a 5-stop power range; a 7-inch reflector; and a built-in radio receiver. The kit also bundles two 20×27.5-inch softboxes; two 7.5-foot spring-cushioned, twist-lock Value light stands that support 6.6 pounds and fold to 27.5 inches; a 4-channel 433MHz wireless remote control with a top sync speed of 1/250 sec; and a carry bag.
The FLA200 Value flash units recycle in 2 seconds and provide variable flash power from 12.5Ws to 200Ws; this is settable in 0.1 stop increments. Along with the built-in wireless radio transmitter is a sync cable for hard wiring. T
he units also feature rear power output LCD screens. In addition, they include a 75W halogen modeling light that photographers can set to proportional for previewing effects. Moreover, the heads have a Bowens S-type modifier mount that accepts Studio Essentials and Interfit accessories as well as those of other brands. $265.
Elinchrom One Off-Camera Flash Dual Kit
This new kit by an iconic flash manufacturer may be the ultimate lightweight, high-performance on-location outfit. The ultraportable, high-end setup includes two Elinchrom One off-camera flash heads; two OCF adapters; two OCF diffusion domes; two 65W USB Type-C wall chargers; two 5.9-foot USB-C cables; and a robust Elinchrom One backpack.
Each portable 3.3-pound 131Ws Elinchrom One flash runs on an internal Li-ion battery capable of 750 full-power flashes per 100-minute charge. Moreover, thanks to Active Charging technology, users can keep shooting while the battery charges.
The units also provide TTL, have a streamlined touch interface and recycle in a lightning fast 0.06–0.9 sec. In addition, they support high-speed sync at a blistering 1/8000 sec. There’s also a built-in 20W LED modeling light that provides proportional, on/off and full settings with presets of 2700K–6500K and a CRI of 95. Furthermore, it can be used to shoot video!
The flash units also feature 20-channel receivers that allow remote operation and adjustments up to 656 feet with an optional Skyport transmitter. Users can control settings wirelessly via Bluetooth and a smartphone app. $1,799.99.
Genaray Spectro LED Essential 500IIB
This nicely made, compact bicolor Genaray LED light panel employs an array of 504 tungsten and daylight LEDs that put out a soft, even light. Photographers can vary the light from tungsten-balanced 3200K to daylight-balanced 5600K; they can also adjust it anywhere in between to match other light sources without using filters. Color output is controlled by a twist knob, and the unit’s high CRI/TCLI ratings of around 96 ensure extremely high color accuracy.
In addition, light intensity is adjustable from 0 to 100% without flicker. Consequently, photographers can capture pro-quality slow motion video at high framing rates. Moreover, it draws only 40W of power and has a built-in cold shoe mount so users can stack up three units to triple the power.
The Spectro LED Essential 500IIB comes with a 100–240V AC adapter and has two ports that accept optional NP-F-type batteries for field use. The 2.8-pound light panel has a standard 5/8-inch socket for stand mounting, 1/4-20 top and bottom taps, and a removable 1/4-inch yoke for vertical or horizontal stand mounting. It’s rated for 50,000 hours and puts out 439 fc/4720 lux at 2.99 feet. $350.
Smith-Victor KT500U Thrifty Basic Kit
A timeless classic, this economical 120V AC-powered incandescent lighting outfit is built around two standard 250W, 3200K photoflood lamps. They feature medium screw-base phenolic sockets; 10-foot, two-wire cords; improved angle adjustment knobs; and standard 5/8-inch stand mounts. Furthermore, the lights produce an even 50º beam angle.
The Smith-Victor kit also bundles two 10-inch hand-spun aluminum reflectors that are chemically etched to maximize light output and have black enamel exteriors; two RS8 8-foot aluminum light stands; two UM-6 umbrella mounts; two 32-inch white umbrellas; and an “Imaging with Light” guide. The kit weighs in at 11.6 pounds. $123.95.
Westcott Convertible White Satin Umbrella
This classic Westcott 45-inch umbrella has an 8mm diameter shaft with a 7mm tip as well as durable fiberglass ribs. It can be used in typical bounce mode with its removable black cover in place or employed as an impromptu softbox with the cover removed. However, it’s not as light efficient as a real softbox in that application.
Umbrellas are great for softening and broadening the output of an electronic flash or continuous light source. Moreover, a white umbrella like this yields a softer, weaker, less directional light than those with silver linings. Westcott umbrellas are rated safe with hot lights of up to 300W. In addition, this 45-incher is ideal for a one- or two-person head-to-waist shot or a product setup shot measuring up to about 4×6 feet. $32.90.
Impact BD-22 Beauty Dish Reflector Kit
A compromise between a softbox and an umbrella, a beauty dish yields a soft but crisp light with sufficient contrast to bring out textures. As a result, it’s flattering to models wearing makeup and adds a touch of character to portrait subjects. The key to this Impact unit’s success is an integrated deflector that bounces the flash output backwards into the shallow dish, thus casting a wide beam of light forward. This renders natural-looking round catchlights in the subject’s eyes.
Photographers can also use this 22-inch beauty dish in combination with the included diffuser sock or honeycomb grid; this allows for further modification of the light output. The grid adds increased directionality and spill light control, enabling painterly effects.
Furthermore, removing the grid and installing the diffusion sock gives wider coverage and softer detail. Note: This unique light-shaping tool requires an adapter (not included) to mount it on a flash head or other lighting unit. However, optional adapters are available to fit most brands. $175.95.
Angler BoomBox 48-inch Octagonal Softbox
For Bowens mount flash heads and monolights, this Angler softbox opens and closes like a regular umbrella. In addition, it incorporates removable front and inner diffusers that enable photographers to vary the lighting effect.
Lightweight and portable, this sturdy octagonal 48-inch softbox employs an integrated aluminum Bowens speed ring (mounts for other systems are available), which eliminates time-consuming setup. Moreover, integrated support rods are attached to the umbrella mechanism to keep it taut.
The softbox also has a removable internal deflector that transforms it into a beauty-dish-type light; it disperses the light, resulting in a light pattern that’s even from edge to edge. It also can be adjusted to vary the degree of softness. Another feature is a reflective silver interior to maximize flash output. A carry bag is also included for easy transport and storage. The kit weighs in at a total of 3.4 pounds. $336.95.