When you first start dealing with studio equipment, it can be completely overwhelming. There are so many gadgets and tools to learn about, and that’s even without looking at the lights themselves. While it would fill a whole book to exhaustively discuss each piece of equipment, we can give you a good overview here of some of the most commonly used items and how you can use them.
It’s also important to know who will use them, as not every single tool will be useful to you depending on your area of focus! Through this article we’ll look at light sources, modifiers for the lights, and accessories.
Let’s start here. Lighting is the most essential part of the studio lighting kit, and it’s one that you absolutely can’t ignore. There are two types of light in general: a kit with a flash head connected to a power pack, or a monolight.
When you have the power pack attached to your light, you have your power supply as well as your controls in one box. You might have one box between two or more heads, or you may have one box per head. These are easy to use as you can change the settings of all your heads at once, and they also pack a big punch in terms of power. They recycle faster and have quicker flash times, which means you can shoot faster and more.
For working inside a studio, and particular a smaller space, you might not need as much power. Monolights are more compact and less powerful, but very portable. The controls are right on the flash head itself, which means you have to adjust each one separately – which is great if you have a smaller setup. There’s nothing wrong with using monolights for indoor work, as you may find that they are more than powerful enough even on the lowest settings.
Normally, the more powerful the light, the higher the price tag. You will also find that cheaper lights are made from plastic, while more durable ones are made from metal. You can also find extras built in to the lights, like zoom reflectors, which allow you to control the width of the light more easily.
There are so many modifiers out there that it’s hard to cover them all, but let’s go for a quick run through! Most modifiers can be attached to your light head directly, although in some cases you may need to purchase an extra attachment to join the two together. You might also be able to DIY a few of these modifiers, though it’s always most effective to get the real thing (and looks more professional too!)
- Beauty dish – this is used to reflect even light onto the face, normally used for beauty portraits (i.e. make up shots)
- Honeycomb grid – gives a more focused spread to the light. The smaller the grid cells, the more focused the light!
- Wide reflectors – give a larger and softer pool of light
- Narrow reflectors – for a smaller and harsher pool of light
- Umbrellas – reflect light back towards the subject (point the bulb away from them) with a diffused and soft effect. You can use white, silver, or gold linings; silver is the most efficient but white gives a wider spread, while gold offers a warm tone
- Softboxes – create a diffused but also focused soft light. You can find different shapes and sizes of softboxes, with the standard being square or slightly rectangular. The spread of light is more contained than a softbox
- Snoots – these are cone-shaped attachments that narrow down the light coming from the flash head. These create a very harsh and very focused light and are often used as a spotlight, or a background light. They can also be used as a rim light… they’re very versatile! They’re often used by fashion photographers because of the high drama looks they create
- Barn doors – these are flaps which can be opened or closed around the light. They control the light very tightly, ensuring there is no light spill.
- Gels – These are placed over the light to give it a particular colour cast. You could also use tissue paper or other materials that have some transparency!
You might want to grab some accessories to have around the studio too! These are little pieces which can make all the difference when it comes to the little adjustments. Particularly when you are shooting still life and product photography, you might need the accessories even more than some of the main modifiers.
- White card or polystyrene – balance it out with black card to create the light and shade you need. Often needed by product photographers
- Reflectors – with white, gold, silver, or black sides, reflectors are used to direct the light onto a model in a more controlled way
- Fishing wire – this is used by product photographers to hold items in place! For example, a handbag can be photographed with the handle standing up when it is attached to a bar out of shot. The thin wire is easiest to cut out in post-production as it is clear and barely shows.
- Double sided tape – again, best used by product photographers! You can use it to ensure that a strap lies flat, or dress the scene with props
- Remote trigger – use this in conjunction with a tripod to get the sturdiest set up possible. When doing still life, the remote trigger allows you to take a shot without touching the camera, eliminating shake.
- Backdrop – get a range of different colours, fabrics, papers, and so on to create different scenes. Portrait artists should get seasonal backdrops in order to sell seasonal packages! Don’t forget that backdrops don’t have to be expensive: a plain bed sheet, steamed to be wrinkle-free, can go on a backdrop stand just as easily as a paper roll.
What’s your favourite piece of lighting equipment – or the piece you would like to know more about? Tell us in the comments!