When we consider “why” photographers have or use studios, one of the primary reasons is that studios provide safe harbor. They afford a bit of control and stability in contrast to shooting on-location. Aside from the weather, the element we can most control in a studio is photography’s key ingredient: lighting. Just as studios vary in size and style, from larger, more traditional spaces to small designated spaces in homes, so, too, do “studio lights.”
In an effort to help you better understand what studio lights are and which ones you might consider using in your designated studio space, we put together a short “best of” list of the best studio lights for photographers. Most of the lights we’ll focus on in this article are considered “budget” lights. We’ll continue to update the article until we’ve covered a full array for all budgets and styles. In the meantime, while it may not be exhaustive in its limited scope, it should still prove helpful.
Let’s get started.
[Related Reading: Professional Lighting for YouTube or Podcast Sets in 4 Easy Steps]
What Are Studio Lights?
Studio lighting covers a wide range of light sources. Although we typically think of speedlights and strobes in softboxes when we think of studio lights, we must also include natural light. Windows, preferably large windows, make up an important part of any well-designed studio space. A nice big window with a frosted surface or sheer curtains can provide beautiful soft light for flattering portraits. The issue with relying solely on natural light, however, is that we give up control. We’re forced to shoot at certain times of day and our lighting styles are limited, which is why studios usually house a number of lighting options.
In addition to natural light, studio lights include both flash and continuous lighting. Within the latter two, we have a variety of options. For continuous lights, options include fluorescent lighting (efficient and don’t overheat), tungsten lighting (known to overheat), and LED lighting (don’t overheat but not super efficient). You can find affordable options for each of these light sources. It’s worth noting that with continuous lighting, what you see is what you get, but it’s not the best option for freezing action.
Speedlights & Strobes
Regarding flash, we can choose from a variety of flash or strobe units. Strobes tend to be bigger and more powerful (between 200Ws-600Ws). They’re also pricier. Regular flash units or speedlights, on the other hand, are smaller in size (more portable), less powerful (50Ws-75Ws), and lower in price, too. Speedlights give you the power to freeze action, but they may require more test shots to dial in the appropriate power setting.
Before you purchase either style, be sure to consider your specific needs for your studio as well as your budget. If you plan on doing multiple light setups (main/key light, fill light, hair light, and background light), for example, and you’re on a tight budget, you’re likely going to need to purchase several compatible speedlights, or maybe a combination of a single strobe for the key light if you need more power and some speedlights to serve your other lighting needs.
Why Do Photographers Need Studio Lights?
We’ve already noted that studio lights give photographers more control in terms of when they can shoot. Studio lights also provide photographers with more options for style and creativity. Lighting modifiers can take that a step further with color manipulation (via color gels), different levels of diffusion, and more. Using these lights should also increase the quality of the photos. Like I said at the top, lighting remains the main ingredient in photography, and having access to quality lighting should lend a helping hand to creating quality imagery.
What Are the Best Studio Lights for Photographers?
The truth of the matter is that the “best” studio lights for photographers will vary based on each photographer’s needs. That said, we can highlight some great starting options for your studio light setup, especially if you’re coming in with a lower budget. Most of these lights will work perfectly well for both photographers and videographers.
Here’s our list.
This studio lighting kit contains two of each of the following: lights, stands, and softboxes, as well as one carrying case. The Godox SL-60 2x LED Video Lighting Kit is perfect for your home studio, or office studio. It also travels well enough for other photography locations.
Plus, it doesn’t matter whether you intend to capture photographs or record videos, these studio lights will have your covered. This kit features a continuous light feature for quick or prolonged sessions.
The kits are equipped with 60-watt bulbs and are dimmable by 10-100%. You can also set them up to replicate a typical daytime brightness which is 5600-kelvin temperature.
- Sturdy and high-end build quality
- Suitable price range for both beginners and experts
- Professional lighting
- Basic features and basic equipment only
Price: $369 (Adorama)
Neewer Photography Studio Lighting Kit
Another studio lighting kit that you can consider is the Neewer Photography Studio Lighting Kit. It is completely versatile and is powerful enough to meet a variety of studio photography needs. Whether it’s for portrait photoshoots, product photography, or quick video content (with 9 brightness levels for a 150W modeling light), these studio lights can do the job.
The kit includes two powerful S101-300W Monolights (with stable 5600K daylight color temperature) with Reflector, one RT-16 Transmitter, two receivers, two 24″x35″ softboxes, two light stands, two power cables, a 5 in-1 collapsible reflector, and one carrying bag.
- Fast recycling times
- Cooling system to avoid overheating (quiet enough for video recording)
- Highly portable with compact carrying bag
- Quality build
- Does not support TTL and HSS Mode
- Requires use of receivers rather than built-in radio
- It may not be affordable to some
Price: $429 (Neewer)
A great alternative for the Neewer Studio Lighting Kit is the Weifeng Premium Portrait Photography Studio Lighting Kit. The kit comes with four adjustable lighting stands, two white umbrellas, two black umbrellas, four (45W) light bulbs, three (black, white and green) backdrops and one backdrop frame.
For photographers who don’t have basic studio lights for their setup, this constant light option might be a good place to start. Much like the two options mentioned above, it’s versatile and can handle a variety of photography styles, but it does come in on the lower end of the power spectrum. Despite the many pieces included in this kit, it is surprisingly portable.
- Super affordable kit
- Portable and complete setup
- Includes three backdrops (good for its price range)
- Lights are not powerful
- Budget build quality
Price: $150 (Amazon)
StudioFX 2400 Watt Large Photography Softbox Continuous Photo Lighting Kit 28″ x 20″ + Boom Arm Hairlight with Sandbag
Here’s another entry on the constant light studio lights kit list, this time with a three-piece setup. The StudioFX 2400 Softbox Lighting Kit includes two 28″x20″ softboxes as well as one overhead boom-mounted softbox (for a hair light). This kit also includes 11 bulbs in total, with five bulbs for each of the two 28″x20″ softboxes and one large bulb for the overhead softbox light.
- Ideal for indoor studios
- Easy to set up
- Bright lights for various photography and videography needs
- Comes with an overhead boom
- Smaller softbox compared to other kits on the market
Price: $157 (Amazon)
For agencies, studio owners, or teams of photographers who are looking for a complete constant light setup of studio lights, the ShowMaven Photography Lighting Kit may be it. Whether for filmmaking, portraits, editorials, or product photography, this kit provides ample lighting and accessories. Each kit contains
one 6.5’x10′ background stand, five 6.5′ light stands, five bulb holders (US Plug Cable), two 33″ white umbrellas, two 33″ silver black umbrellas, one 33″ golden black Umbrella, three softboxes, five 45W light bulbs, three 5.9’x9.2′ polyester fabric photo backdrop, one carry bag, six fish mouth clamps, and one 24″ 5-in-1 reflector. That’s a lot of gear!
- Reasonable price
- Several lighting modes to suit different photography options
- Heavy and bulky
Price: $140 (Amazon)
It is important to remember that the list above isn’t ordered by preference. After all, each kit serves a different purpose for varied photography styles. They all fall under the lower budget side of the spectrum. Do you have a favorite on this list? Have you experienced using any of the kits above? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
**Feature image by Harrison Haines