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Photography Lighting Equipment: The Essential Guide

When you first dive into photography lighting equipment, you’re bound to feel massively overwhelmed. Studio lighting seems complex, it’s full of confusing jargon, and it certainly isn’t designed for the beginner.

But here’s the truth:

While photography lighting might seem complicated, it’s actually pretty easy to get started – assuming you have the right teacher. That’s where this article comes in handy; I aim to share all the professional stage lighting, so that by the time you’re done, you’ll have a strong understanding of both studio lighting equipment and the accompanying vocabulary.

Let’s get started.

Types of light

In this section, I cover the main types of studio light. Note that each lighting type varies in terms of usefulness, portability, cost, and more.

Strobes

A studio strobe, sometimes referred to as a monobloc or monolight, is a dedicated flash unit. Strobes generally use cords, though more battery-powered offerings are brought to the market every day. Power output between models can vary greatly; cheaper strobes offer about as much power as cheap, third-party flashguns, while class-leading strobes are some of the strongest lights in the business. For this reason, strobes are the most common studio light used by professionals.

Continuous lights serve the same function as strobes, but they don’t flash. Instead, they are high-powered, constant lamps that can (usually) be fitted with modifiers. While associated with video, continuous lights still have their place in stills photography. LED lights are currently flooding the continuous light market, and many of them are viable options for stills shooters.

Note that continuous lights are sometimes referred to as hotlights – because they tend to get very hot. Be careful with modifiers that sit close to the bulb, as they present a fire hazard. (This does not apply to LED lights.)

Flashgun/speedlight

Flashguns are small lights that mount on top of your camera. They are highly portable, and some come with reasonably high power outputs. Although flashgun versatility is ultimately limited by size and power output, they are still an extremely useful tool for any photographer interested in off-camera lighting. They’re also less expensive than dedicated studio strobes.

Whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional, understanding that light is a vital part of the outcome of your images is crucial. Gaining extra light can be an easy fix, whether it be from a window, a lamp from your living room, or a professional lighting kit. In some cases, you will need the latter for it’s convenience and the ability to control the lighting in your situation.

It can be confusing to decipher which photography and lighting equipment might be best for you to utilize and potentially invest in for your business. To simplify things, ask yourself: what are your main needs? what is your purpose for using artificial lighting? These two questions can assist in shaping which lighting kit is best for you.

In this article, we will provide details about the various types of lighting equipment that you can purchase to create stunning images!

Light, or Visible Light, commonly refers to electromagnetic radiation that can be detected by the human eye. The entire electromagnetic spectrum is extremely broad, ranging from low energy radio waves with wavelengths that are measured in meters, to high energy gamma rays with wavelengths that are less than 1 x 10-11 meters. Electromagnetic radiation, as the name suggests, describes fluctuations of electric and magnetic fields, transporting energy at the Speed of Light (which is ~ 300,000 km/sec through a vacuum). Light can also be described in terms of a stream of photons, massless packets of energy, each travelling with wavelike properties at the speed of light. A photon is the smallest quantity (quantum) of energy which can be transported, and it was the realization that light travelled in discrete quanta that was the origins of Quantum Theory.

Visible light is not inherently different from the other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, with the exception that the human eye can detect visible waves. This in fact corresponds to only a very narrow window of the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from about 400nm for violet light through to 700nm for red light. Radiation lower than 400nm is referred to as Ultra-Violet (UV) and radiation longer than 700nm is referred to as Infra-Red (IR), neither of which can be detected by the human eye. However, advanced scientific detectors, such as those manufactured by Andor, can be used to detect and measure photons across a much broader range of the electromagnetic spectrum, and also down to much lower quantities of photons (i.e. much weaker light levels) than the eye can detect.

How does light interact with matter?

It is no accident that humans can home party light. Light is our primary means of perceiving the world around us. Indeed, in a scientific context, the detection of light is a very powerful tool for probing the universe around us. As light interacts with matter it can be become altered, and by studying light that has originated or interacted with matter, many of the properties of that matter can be determined. It is through the study of light that, for example, we can understand the composition of stars and galaxies that are many light years away or watch in real time the microscopic physiological processes that occur within living cells.

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