We’ve all fallen victim to being influenced, peer-pressured, or even duped into buying lighting gear that may not be the best for our niche of photography or budget. I wanted to help create a guide for buying lighting gear so that in the future, you’ll know what red flags to look for when you see ads pop up marketing a product to you or if you’re in the market for new lighting gear. When you come across a piece of lighting you think is worth the splurge there are several logical steps to take in order to make the best-educated purchase and get the highest return on your investment. I chatted with Jared Gant over in the SLR Lounge Lighting group on this subject which then created the outline for this article – you can watch the full discussion here.
What Should You Do When Buying Lighting Gear
Just like purchasing cameras or accessories for your profession, there is no right way to buy things, nor is there a perfect item to solve the problems and obstacles you will face. This guide is just meant to help you decipher when you should buy gear and if you have the budget for it, how much should you spend on which types of gear. Let’s start with our do’s before we tackle what not do when gear shopping.
1. Look At What You’ll Need In the Future, Not Just for the Present
Don’t look at only the flash you need today, look into the flash you’ll need down the road. It’s easy to fall under the guise of marketing and jump on the bandwagon to buy the latest and greatest, but you have to ask yourself several questions in order to have the best return on your investment.
- Are you planning on evolving your work?
- Are you a studio photographer now who will be working on location in the future?
- Are you shooting solo portraits now but plan to add family photography to your services?
2. Buy Into a System
Doing the 30 minutes of research to figure out what flash system works best for you and your required needs is eventually going to save you time further down the line in your career. Say you buy a flash from one company and then realize they don’t have a full kit of tools, modifiers, or higher-powered lights to eventually graduate to. You’re now stuck trying to make it work or completely switch over and lose your initial investment. Profoto and Godox are both prime examples of quality systems that work for multiple camera brands and offer a massive library of speedlights, compact portable strobes, large portable strobes, studio strobes, and modifiers to fit.
3. Look for Durability for Your Purpose
Make sure your flash is capable of the environments you want to shoot. This has 4 primarly variables that require you to ask yourself a couple of questions to ensure that the light you buy fits the style of your photography and requirements of your caliber:
- Distance: does it work from a distance for those that don’t shoot only close up portraiture?
- Modifier: will you need modifiers over time, does the system you are buying into have those modifiers?
- HSS/Standard sync: will you need HSS capable flash knowing that you’ll be shooting in strong daylight?
- Personal taste of settings: what is your desired ambient light exposure and is your flash strong enough to handle dark/dramatic/creative lighting or is it better used for correctional purposes?
Here’s a resource I made for picking what level of flash you need for shooting outdoors at various distances and with different modifiers.
4. Budget for Modifiers
FOMO exists even when purchasing gear which is why it’s important to budget for modifiers prior to splurging on your desired light. Modifiers are equally, if not, more important than the light itself. Yes, there is a steeper learning curve for utilizing flash with modifiers, however, that extra step and the extra items makes a world of a difference in the quality of your light.
5. Buy Gels with Your Flash
A flash gives control of brightness, a modifier gives you control over the quality of light. Gels open the door to controlling color, creatively altering the course of your images with a single modifier.
Gels are used not only used to make colorful images but also for balancing flash with different ambient
light to create a more natural-looking flash-lit image.
What Shouldn’t You Do When Buying Lighting Gear
When it comes to seeing ads or being in Facebook groups where it can lead to “peer-pressure” to buy similar lighting systems, it’s easy to fall into a trap and buy something you don’t really need. Now that you’ve learned some of the more logical and responsible ways to shop for lighting gear, here are things to avoid.
1. Don’t Buy AA Battery Required Flash Systems
Starting with most contentious point, Lithium-Ion is just better. You get faster recycling times, greater capacity, longer battery life in between charges, and less charging in general (which means less wear and tear on the actual battery). If I had to pick advantage of AA batteries over Lithium Ion, it’s that you can get the batteries from anywhere and they are a cheaper short term investment, but long term you actually end up paying way more to replace them.
2. Don’t Buy Into a System Because of Influence
If I go to a bakery and love the donuts, asking the baker what flour they use won’t make me able to make the same quality donuts. The same goes for popular camera brands. Living in a time where influencer culture is trending and people are heavily influenced by the opinions of (essentially) a complete stranger, I can’t stress enough how important it is to do your research and then make an educated purchase rather than getting excited by the use of a product in the hands of others.
3. Don’t Buy Too Big of a Light
If the light is too big to manage, you won’t enjoy using it, and you won’t use it much. This is a classic case of FOMO, especially when you’re in Lighting Facebook Groups and get easily get suckered into thinking that because X light works for this person, it should for me too. You may be tantalized by others using 600w/s monolights, but it may be far too cumbersome for your workflow Like I mentioned above in the Do’s section, pinpoint the purpose and environment you’ll be shooting in most frequently, then find a light that fits those requirements.
4. Don’t Fall for the Marketing Hype of Round Headed Flashes
Profoto A1, Godox V1, Godox H200R, we’ve all seen these products and have heard the hype, but what are these companies really trying to say? All of these products market themselves as producing a superior quality of light, often associated with softer light, which isn’t true. Only increasing the size of a light source will make it softer. I’m not saying these are bad products, I think they are all fantastic, Just don’t think they are breaking any laws of physics by being round, you’ll still need modifiers for control and varied qualities.
5. Don’t Neglect the Education
Finally, the point that matters more than anything else on this page. Light is light. This may be an overly used term or cliche, however, the most important thing is to actively train yourself to learn how to better use light, no matter what company it’s from or how many you have. There are so many aspects to mastering lighting in photography:
- Light quality
- Light direction
- Distance of light
- Inverse square law
- Color of light
- Speedlight zoom
- Modifiers – softboxes, grids, beauty dishes, reflectors, umbrellas, parabolic softboxes,
- Flash durations
- Lighting ratios
You would only be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t take the time to learn, understand, practice, and execute in order to perfect your lighting abilities. There is no excuse to not learn with the overabundance of courses on the internet like SLR Lounge’s Lighting Series, free YouTube videos, and in-person workshops to attend.