This topic comes up frequently, so it deserves it's own FAQ.
"I want to set up a studio but I don't know what type of lighting to buy".
The choices are continuous lights or strobes. Continuous lights are usually halogen or fluroescent bulbs that put out a constant amount of light. The advantage of these is that they're cheap, but they're also very warm, which can make your model sweat, squink, and generally uncomfortable. Strobes have a small modelling light (100-250W) so you can preview the effect of the strobes before they fire. The constant light is very small and doesn't affect the exposure or color temperature. The light output of strobes is very high compared with the modelling lamp or continuous lighting.
"I've found a cheap studio lighting kit on ebay (or elsewhere), is this good?"
Probably not, you tend to get what you pay for with studio lighting. A lot of the cheap kits are quite low powered and aren't well made, so you'll probably regret buying them sooner rather than later. In my opinion it's better to spend a little more now and have lights that last, rather than save a few dollars and have to replace them in six months.
"What cheap studio lighting should I buy"
There are a number of manufacturers of low cost studio lighting, and a good roundup of some of them can be found here.
There are a few common recommendations for good value (ie cheap but not nasty) studio lighting (strobes):
- AlienBees are very popular. The lights are powerful, well made, and good quality, and their customer service is excellent. Their packages are good value. The only place to buy AlienBees is from their website.
- Excalibur lights from SP-Systems are widely recommended as good quality, reliable, and durable. They're available from B&H, and come in cheaper than the 'Bees, especially if you buy the kits.
- Elinchrom are getting good reviews from people at the moment (August 2008). The D-Lite 2 kit and D-Lite 4 kit are recommended. It's hard to
compare power based on manufacturers specifications as "w/s" and "effective w/s" confuse the issue, but the 4's are twice as powerful as the 2's. If anyone has information PM me and i'll update the thread.
"How many lights do I need?"
Some people recommend starting with one light and learning to use it properly before you go up to larger numbers of lights. You can do great things with one light. You can add a reflector to help fill in the shadows. Once you get good at using one light you can add in other lights to get the effects you want.
"What accessories do I need?"
See the post by Longwatcher below. My suggestions for umbrellas are the Photogenic 60" white (for studio work) and Westcott umbrellas. For softboxes I like Photoflex, here's their 72" Litedome and 48" Litedome.
"How do I learn to use my studio lights?"
The best introductory book i've found on the subject is this one, though there are many out there. I find the book Light - Science and Magic an excellent, if technical book for difficult lighting problems, such as for glass or metals.
The very basics - you set up the lights, the modelling lights (a small constant bulb) let you see where the strobe will fall when it goes off. You set your strobe power and ratios using a light meter/flash meter, put your camera on manual, and start shooting. A good quality, good value light meter is the Sekonic L-358.