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Photography Lighting Equipment Basics

Photography, as we know it, came into existence only in the 19th century. But the word photograph unfolded from the Greek words phot meaning light and graph meaning writing. Hence, photography, which we associate with taking pictures, is essentially writing with light, that requires knowlwdgw about lighting and photography lighting equipment.

 The best way to take complete control over your photography is by understanding light and how it works. Lighting is, however, more complex than the various controls on your camera. Light passes through some objects while it bounces off others, creating large or small shadows. Lighting also plays a decisive role in the colors of the image.


Different Types of Lighting

Natural light and artificial light are the two main kinds of light. Any light that occurs without human intervention is natural light. Some examples include the direct light of the sun’s rays on a sunny day, the diffused light on a cloudy or foggy day, or the gentle moonlight at night. You cannot move natural light around, but you’ll need to move the subject.

Artificial light, on the other hand, is different. You can move it around and adjust it to suit your situation. It’s also easy to place artificial light at the most appropriate position in relation to your subject. But with natural lighting, you’ll need to move the subject to suit the lighting. You can manipulate both artificial and natural lighting to create numerous styles of lighting.


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Natural Light

You need to understand the various angles of the sun and how each angle will affect your composition to use natural light optimally in your photography. For instance, for the most part of the day, the sun is over the top of your subject. Therefore, your subject is lit from above. This means, on a cloudless day, the contrast of light on the subject is harsh, and shadows tend to be more intense. But on a cloudy day, sunlight will be diffused, and the contrast of light on the subject is not harsh. And the shadows also tend to be less intense.

With this observation, you can make the best use of soft natural lighting during the hours closest to sunrise and sunset. During these hours, the position of the sun is at a slight angle above your subject as opposed to directly above it during the remainder of the day. The advantage is the brightness of the sun tends to be less extreme.

You Don’t Need Any Photography Lighting Equipment During Golden Hour

The best natural light, without a doubt, is the ultra-soft light emanating over the horizon during the golden hours every day. Golden hour occurs during sunrise and sunset. The light during golden hour has an exquisite orange, pink, or yellow tinge, which can be very favorable or even flattering to your subjects. 

Photography Lighting Equipment

Golden hour light is typically diffused, which lights your subject’s face much better than the unidirectional light that’s present during the rest of the day. If your clients aren’t free during golden hour, the next best thing is to pick a location with shade. The advantage of taking a photograph during golden hour is the sun is at a low angle, offering you tremendous freedom to choose an ideal location to shoot outdoors.

Artificial Light

Any light source that isn’t naturally occurring is artificial light. Examples of artificial light include LED light, studio strobe, pop-up flash of the camera, speedlight, streetlight, or table lamp. Technically, all light sources other than sunlight, moonlight, and starlight are artificial.

While artificial light sources may sound elaborate and expensive, they are not. It’s true that premium professional-grade strobes are expensive. But you can also buy inexpensive DIY solutions. Some lights do have complex settings, but most lights are relatively simple to use. The easiest to use is the continuous lighting LED lights, as they have simple dimming switches.

Let’s take a quick look at the 5 main types of artificial lights used in photography.

1. Strobes

A strobe, also known as a monolight, is the industry standard for studio lighting. A strobe light emits a bright burst of light that’s comparable to on-camera flash photography. The key difference is a strobe flash is much brighter and generates an intense short burst of light. Since this independent flash unit requires a lot of power, it’s usually AC-powered.


Strobe lighting is perhaps the most commonly used artificial light in photography. But since the duration of the flash is very short, strobe lighting isn’t suitable for video.

A strobe can be expensive because it requires a lot of accessories, such as stands, light modifiers, and replacement bulbs. This photography lighting equipment is also bulky, and since it runs on AC power, it’s challenging to use it in settings other than a photography studio. Common light sources for a strobe kit include xenon flash lamps, halogen lights, and LED lights.

The main advantage of a strobe is its quick recycle time. The full power output can vary from 100 to 1,000 watts. If you purchase a strobe with higher power output, you can use it effectively over a longer distance. Another useful feature available in some models is the ability to adjust the output to capture close-ups with low-intensity light.

2. Continuous Lighting

Continuous lights, also known as hotlights, are always on. These bright, high-powered lamps don’t flash. Continuous lights are an inexpensive option that’s ideal for beginners. Since the lights are always on, you have a clear visual of how your subject will look before you shoot. Another advantage of using a continuous light kit is that beginners find adjusting white balance much simpler.

Photography Lighting Equipment
In most cases, adding some light will improve the quality of the photograph. But if a flash is too expensive or not functional, continuous lights present you with an effective solution. But the downside is these lights get hot pretty fast. That’s the reason for the nickname “hotlights.” Continuous lights also require AC power or they drain battery juice quickly. Deciding on the best photography lighting equipment for you can be a challenge, as continuous lights come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and color temperatures. Photoflood lights are the most basic type. This inexpensive system uses an incandescent light bulb and reflector. A quartz light system is the next step up. These incandescent bulbs are much brighter than standard photoflood lamps. An even brighter option is the HMI (Hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide) lights that are used on movie sets. These lights generate significantly more power than quartz lights, but they are very expensive. The problem with photoflood, quartz, and HMI lights are they get extremely hot during use. We have two other options that are considered “cool lights.” One is the fluorescent continuous light system. Although this system produces a nasty green glow, it can be offset by using daylight-balanced tubes for delightful flicker-free light. The advantage of this system is its price range can match any budget. A continuous LED lighting system produces less heat than the other four lighting options. This energy-efficient lighting system remains cool even after use for long periods. The main advantage of this lighting system is that the daylight-hued illumination that LEDs produce looks natural. Overall, a continuous lighting system can be an effective home-studio lighting choice. If you’re on a budget, you could start with photoflood lamps. But if you’re ready to invest more money on photography lighting equipment, then fluorescent or LED lights would be great.
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3. Speedlight

A speedlight, also referred to as an external flash, is a camera flash unit that rests on your camera’s hot shoe. This lightweight flashgun is perfect if you want to take your flash outdoors. At the most basic level, you can use one speedlight or several speedlights to add more light to your photographs. You can also use speedlights creatively when the natural light available is not enough.
Photography Lighting Equipment

Compared to a standard camera flash, this photography lighting equipment produces a much faster flash. You’ll also need to use light modifiers, such as flash diffusers with them. You can use speedlights on camera or off. You can also link several speedlights together to flash simultaneously, creating a mini studio on the go. The main downside of speedlights is they are not as powerful as strobe lights. You’ll also need to recharge them often, as they run off of batteries.

The main advantage of using an external flash is it allows you to rotate the flash head. This action, in turn, “bounces” light off a suitable object, such as a wall or ceiling. When you rotate the flash head and bounce light from a wall or ceiling, you get a larger light source. This light will also be much softer than the light that the onboard flash can give you.

You don’t need to invest a lot of money on a speedlight. Buying the original manufacturer’s flash is a great idea, although it’s slightly expensive.

4. Striplight

Striplights are redesigned LED strips that have enough footcandles and higher light output for any type of photography project. With their range of colors and brilliance, LED striplights have revolutionized photography, as they stay relatively cool and last a long time.
Strip light
The main advantage of this lighting is LED strips are adjustable. You can cut a strip a few inches to several feet, depending on the project requirements. You can also curve the super-thin LED strips vertically up to 90 degrees. So their flexibility means you can install them in even inaccessible places. LED strips are also available in a range of colors, from any tone white right up to any color. You can adjust and control the precise color and brightness. You can also dim LED striplights using DMX and dimming controllers, home lighting systems, and remote controls. Their lower cost of ownership makes LED striplights an attractive option. LED striplights present you with full control over the CRI (Color Rendering Index), length, brightness, and voltage. Water-resistant and dustproof LED striplights are also available. These types of light are ideal for shooting jewelry and diamonds.

5. Ring Light

A ring light, also known as ring flash or continuous ring lights, is a circle-shaped light. This light is designed to be placed right in front of a subject. You then capture your photos by positioning your camera in the ring center. You can use a ring light to terrific effect and capture interesting portraits.

Ring Light - Lighting equipment for photography

Other light sources tend to produce bright lighting on some parts of a subject and leave others in a harsh shadow. In contrast, a properly set up ring light will light up all the surfaces uniformly. With this inexpensive photography lighting equipment, you can produce high-quality photographs and videos.

Compared to fluorescent ring lights, LED ring lights use less power and last longer. LED ring lights also have a softer effect. Dimmable ring lights offer you more versatility and better control of color temperature. Ring lights are also available in a wide range of prices.

In Summary

It doesn’t matter what you start with—a strobe, continuous lights, speedlight, striplights, or ring light. You can quickly accumulate the lighting modifiers and other lighting gear you’ll need inexpensively.

Unlike natural lighting, artificial lighting costs money. But regardless of the photography lighting equipment you buy, the fun is in experimenting on your own. Remember, it’s always about variation and refinement. You can easily elevate your photographs to new creative heights by altering the camera settings ever so slightly or changing the position of the subject or light source. Overall, you need lots of practice and patience to perfect your ability to properly light your subjects.

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