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Design & Style

What Are the Different Types of Studio Lights? How To Pick the Best Studio Lighting Setup

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 4 min read

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If you’re just getting started in studio photography, it can be overwhelming to put together a full studio lighting kit. Understanding the pros and cons of a variety of different types of studio lights will help you evaluate the best equipment to acquire for your own personal lighting collection.



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What Are Studio Lights?

Studio lights are any form of lighting equipment used by photographers, often when working in a photography studio, to enhance their photography. Most professional photographers have different light kits they use depending on the situation they find themselves shooting in.

3 Things To Keep in Mind When Choosing Lighting Equipment

The lighting equipment you use will depend on a variety of factors including:

  1. Budget. Lighting equipment can be very expensive. Although it’s possible to put together a decent and suitable collection of professional lighting equipment on a budget, you should expect to be spending a fair amount of money. Some lights are more expensive than others, so when deciding what types of lights to acquire, it’s good to know how different types of light stack up against each other.
  2. Location. If you’re primarily shooting inside a studio, your lighting needs will be very different than if you’re doing mostly outdoor shooting using natural light. Although you’ll probably be shooting a variety of subjects in a variety of locations, evaluate where most of your photography sessions will take place to better decide what types of light to purchase.
  3. Type of shoot. The lighting required for a product shoot is very different than the artificial lighting you might want to supplement an outdoor portrait shoot. Think about the types of shooting you find yourself doing most often, and try to find versatile equipment that can help you in a variety of different shoots.
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What Are the Advantages of Continuous Lighting Kits?

Continuous lighting setups allow you to keep your subjects pre-lit using the same light levels as when you take the photograph. Other lights, like traditional flashes or strobe lights, produce light only in momentary flashes, making it harder to adjust the lighting before shooting.

Continuous studio light kit are:

  • Great for beginners. Unlike strobe lighting, continuous studio lighting equipment is always on so you can get a good sense of what your light levels are before beginning to shoot. Adjusting the white balance and gauging color temperature is much easier for beginner photographers when they are using a continuous lighting setup. Continuous lighting gives you time to adjust your lights and camera while viewing the subject under the same lighting conditions as during the actual shoot.
  • Great for video shoots. A continuous lighting kit not only works for photography lighting but can also double if you need to shoot video. Video light is almost always done with continuous lighting, which makes these light sources versatile and well-suited to working with video cameras.

Keep in mind that continuous lighting kits tend to produce a lot of heat because the lighting setup remains illuminated for a long time. If you’re working in a small photo studio, continuous professional lighting equipment can make your workspace very hot and uncomfortable.


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What Are the Advantages of Speedlites?

Speedlights are external flash units that produce a faster flash than a standard camera flash and are often used in conjunction with photography umbrellas and softboxes.

Speedlights are:

  • Lightweight. Speedlights are a lightweight and portable form of photography lighting equipment. This makes them incredibly versatile and ideal for setting up temporary photography studios on the go.
  • Good for remote shoots. Speedlights work well with remote control if you need to trigger them from afar.
  • Versatile. Speedlights are incredibly versatile and can be used for a wide variety of shoots including still photography (especially product photography), and fast action shots.

It can be tough for beginners to use speedlights, however, as they flash only when the photo is taken, making it difficult to determine how the photograph will look. With continuous lighting, photographers can adjust their light source and gauge light conditions much more readily.

What Are the Advantages of Monolight Strobe Lighting Kits?

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Monolights are self-contained strobe lights that come with a light stand and power source.

Monolights are:

  • Self-powered. Standard strobe lights require AC power, but monolights come with a self-contained source of power. This makes them very portable and useful to have, both in and out of the studio.
  • Effective at lighting a variety of subjects. Monolights produce very high-powered directional light and can be incredibly effective at lighting a variety of subjects. Monolights produce powerful light comparable to larger strobe lights without being as bulky or requiring an external power source.
  • Keep in mind that monolight bulbs are very fragile and easy to break. Monolights are also very expensive when compared to simpler types of light, like a continuous lighting kit.

In addition to getting your first set of studio lights, you’ll want to get accessories like diffusers, umbrellas, and light stands as well as making sure you have replacement light bulbs and batteries.

Using your studio lights in conjunction with a standard DSLR camera—like a Canon, Nikon, or Sony—will allow you to take great quality photographs and start building a professional portfolio.

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has spent decades mastering her craft. In her first online class, Annie reveals how she works to tell a story through her images. She also provides insight into how photographers should develop concepts, work with subjects, shoot with natural light, and bring images to life in post-production.

Want to become a better photographer? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master photographers, including Annie Leibovitz and Jimmy Chin.