My First Lighting Kit

A few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to better understand lighting and pay more attention to light in landscapes that I photograph. I’ve also been intrigued by studio lighting portraits for quite some time and decided this was the perfect opportunity to explore studio lighting.

As I am prone to do, I began scouring the internet for information about working with artificial lighting in photography. My search led me to, among other places, the Strobist free online resource and CreativeLive courses that are free if you watch while they are “live.”

All this new information had me seriously excited to start experimenting with artificial light and so after some more online research, I began to understand the options that are available and the capabilities of each. Some of the considerations I had in mind as I settled on my first lighting kit solution were (1) price, (2) portability, and (3) the ability to expand the setup in the future. This led me to purchasing the following kit which is an affordable, generic-brand speedlite kit that is highly portable and allows for off-camera flash:

When I was looking to purchase, I was lucky enough to come across a sale on speedlites and purchasing all the items above only cost me $200, which I think is pretty excellent considering lighting kits can easily cost a few thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, however, the softbox was on backorder and so I was trapped with a new lighting kit, a crazy enthusiasm to capture some artificially lighted portraits and no light modifier to create the light I knew I wanted. So I made my own. (In fact at the time of this writing, I still don’t have the softbox.)

No softbox? Nothing a cardboard box, foil, wax paper and tape can't fix.

During my research, I had become fascinated by low-key, cinematic photography that takes inspiration from the classic Dutch painters. I had quickly become obsessed with work by Joey L and Chris Knight. And so I set out to do my best to take some of my own images that captured a similar mood.

Having recently moved, my network isn’t tremendously large, and so my model search quickly led me to my family and my niece became my first test subject. I knew her mom had made her a pretty cool parrot costume for Halloween and so we dressed my niece up and had a photoshoot. Going into the photoshoot, I knew I wanted some serious portraits that gave a bit of a presidential vibe with a cinematic feel, liking the idea of the juxtaposition of a child in a parrot costume with a regal, dramatic mood.

The regal macaw I had envisioned before the shoot.
The result of giving this photogenic girl some free reign to pose.
After asking her to open her eyes a little more. Child directing is hard.
Some of the macaw personality.

I doubt the images are what my niece had in mind and there are certainly many things I can improve, but I came away from the shoot quite excited about what I had created from my first attempt at studio lighting.

While shooting on a budget (and backordered light modifiers) certainly doesn’t create ideal lighting, it’s powerful to know that you can create photos that you’re excited about even with limited resource and I’m excited to see how I can stretch the equipment and my own creativity as I expand my understanding of light.

Disclaimer: You might notice that the middle images are not tack sharp. Not having a portrait lens for my Sony camera, but knowing that I wanted to shoot a narrow depth of focus, I borrowed a Canon lens which I used with an adaptor. Unfortunately, the adaptor doesn’t allow my camera to autofocus in low light. That variable mixed with photographing an energetic child and limited experience with manual focus, led to some soft focus. In hindsight, I should have shot at a smaller aperture to compensate, but that’s the nature of budget shooting and learning.