Good lighting plays a pivotal role in photography, which becomes even more important if you are trying to sell customers what they cannot experience physically yet. Photography equipment can be expensive and although there are cost-effective alternatives for almost everything, there are certain things you need to consider before buying. This post focuses on budget lighting equipment, but let’s quickly go through the basics of a photography setup.
Key Components of a Photography Setup
Professional photographers can make an affordable camera work like an expensive one with the right skills. It’s the bread and butter of a photography setup and you need to be able to make the most out of it and know its strengths and weaknesses. Sure, you can also start with a mobile phone, but you need a capable camera to create professional-looking photos. Although an expensive investment, DSLRs have become the standard and capable of capturing detailed photos.
You need to keep the camera/phone stabilized in order to get blur-free pictures. Tripods help you capture steady pictures/videos, but good ones can be expensive and you might not need one anyway in certain situations. There are many cheaper alternatives to tripods, including a spiderpodium and gorillapod, which can be bought for as low as $20.
Being an essential part of a photography kit, a great lighting setup is a must if you are serious about photography. A lighting setup allows you to illuminate product intricacies properly, which is not possible using dim or low natural light. The important thing to remember is that you don’t necessarily need the best or most expensive lighting setup, rather the right setup according to your needs.
Studio Clamp Setup
There is no shortage of enclosures and lights to choose from, but a studio clamp is one of the most affordable solutions that works well in most situations. The setup includes clamp lights and some diffusion material sheets, which are available for well under $100. The characteristics of a light bulb and sheet varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, so you might have to research online about a few to get a fair idea of what you should buy.
White backdrop has become pretty much the standard in business photography because of its excellent light reflection and simple setup. Most online marketplaces specifically require sellers to use photos with white backdrops, which makes using a backdrop a good idea for business photography. If a white backdrop is not a must, you can also try other colors and get more creative with your photos.
White sweep backdrops create a seamless background behind the photos and surround the product for a consistent looking and even image, which works well when expediting the post-production process. Backdrops are usually inexpensive and work great if you are photographing small products. However, you need to be careful that there are no creases in the board when photographing. A backdrop also saves photographers from a lot of photo editing work they have to do when not using a backdrop.
A turnable aka product spin allows you to capture 360-degree immersive spins of products and have become popular in the e-commerce industry. They work better when it comes to increasing customer engagement and offer a better product experience. Turnables may require automated settings and need to be connected to a computer using a software, but the budget options are mostly standalone and simple to operate.
Taking photographs under direct light produces images that have sharp/harsh highlights and shadows, which is not a great way of taking product shots. That’s when you need to diffuse light to make everything look better, smoother and more professional. There are many ways to diffuse light including:
Direct light creates harsh highlights and photos taken under it can look unprofessional. Diffusion sheets soften the light coming from the source and make highlights and shadows less harsh. Using diffusion sheets is one of the many approaches to diffuse light. You just need to suspend a diffusion sheet in front of the light source you are using such as sheets made of frosted plastic or nylon fabric.
You can even use a tracing paper in a pinch, but that’s not going to work in the long run if you have to take hundreds of product shots. The main disadvantage of using a diffusion sheet is that you have to create your own stand and clamp setup, which can be tricky and requires some time and effort.
Lights tents are quick to set up and a great and relatively affordable alternative to diffusion sheets. The results these produce are also reasonable, but their main disadvantage is that light bounces around the inside, which can result in flat-looking photos.
Soft boxes are more expensive, but they also deliver better results. In addition to the quality of photos, soft boxes are sturdy and can be easily set up, attached and adjusted.
Things to Consider When Buying Lighting Equipment
Pick the Right Type of Bulb
You’ll come across different types of lighting sources, including LEDs, CFL, halogen and HMI. LEDs are very energy efficient and work well if you use lights for extended periods of time. Compared to CFL bulbs, LEDs also last for a long time. HMI lights consume a lot more energy than LEDs and even CFL bulbs.
High power consumption also means more heat generated, which can be an issue in small studios or when photographing certain products such as ice-cream. LEDs are easy to recommend in these situations because of their high efficiency (90-95%) compared to incandescent bulbs that waste up to 90% energy as heat.
Identify Needs Before Buying Any Lighting Equipment
There is no point in wasting money on lighting equipment you don’t really need. That’s what makes identifying your own requirements so important. Light tents are a suitable and more affordable option if you only want to do product photography. You get the backdrop and diffused light without having to buy any expensive lighting kit.
Simple and inexpensive ring lights work well for beauty bloggers and YouTube streamers. Consider what you’ll be shooting and pick the right product for your needs, which can save you both money and time.
Cool and warm white are two main color temperatures. Warm white light is relaxing and usually used for portrait photography, while cool white light is more suitable for product photography. Many studio lights are bi-color, allowing you to change the color temperature according to the situation.
Color Rendering Index refers to light’s ability to reveal colors faithfully compared to natural light. Unfortunately, a lot of budget lighting equipment manufacturers don’t mention CRI in the specifications, leaving customers in the dark regarding this important aspect. The maximum CRI is that of the Sun (100), which means real color. A CRI of 95 is considered to be a very high value, while the CRI standard for most museums is 90+.
Power draw might not be an issue in small studios where you just have to light up a few LED bulbs. However, you need to consider it when using thousand-watt setups and when there is a chance the total power consumption might exceed the studio limit. You don’t need to worry about it when buying most budget options that consume around 100W power on average.
Size and Weight
Size and weight might not be of paramount importance when shooting indoors, but it matters a lot for mobile photographers. Most lighting equipment can be folded and easily stored in a bag, but some items occupy more space and are heavy. Mobile photographers should pick lightweight studio lights and avoid buying kits that can make them feel exhausted when outdoors.
Our Picks for the Best Budget Lighting Equipment
People are often concerned about the high prices of photography lighting equipment, but you also have a lot of budget options to choose from. If you are not much concerned about brand names, the options are many with varying features and prices.
The lighting kit works great for beginners who want to experiment with lighting equipment without spending a ton of money. It’s inexpensive and easy-to-setup and includes three bulbs (CFL), two umbrella reflectors, three stands and other accessories such as a carry bag. If you are looking for a lighting kit in a tight budget that includes everything, then this affordable kit is worth considering.
The lighting is continuous, allowing you to also use it for video shooting. The three lights can be used as key, fill and background light. The main disadvantage of this kit is that it uses CFL bulbs (6000K, cool white, 1820 lumens), which are not energy efficient and have a shorter life span. This might not be an issue for casual photographers, but you might have to consider these factors if you want to use it for extended periods of time.
Being an affordable kit, it does not include a backdrop, so you have to buy it separately. However, the money you save by buying this kit can be used on upgrading other lighting gear such as the backdrop and turnable.
The kit comes with two LED bulbs, two softlight boxes/reflectors and stands. The LED bulbs (5400K) are rated for 45W power (luminance equal to 85W CFL, 2020 lumens), and use an E27 socket. The kit works well for portraits, including product photography and videos. The LED bulbs are more long lasting and energy efficient than the CFL bulbs.
The inner silver coating and granular stone patterns maximize light, while the silk covers of the box spread soft light evenly. The design of the softboxes allow you to adjust the projection angle and point them in different directions. Softer, uniform and brighter lighting makes this budget lighting kit a great option for portrait shooting, product and fashion photography, still life photography as well as live shooting.
While not really a professional photography equipment, the selfie light ring comes handy when you need something cheap for makeup lighting or casual YouTube videos. It works well for beauty bloggers, live streamers or anyone who wants a decent light source.
The best thing about the product is that it allows you to adjust brightness (11 levels) and color temperature and makes it easier to create different environments. The color modes include cool white (4500K), warm light (3000K) and daylight (6000K). The kit includes a tripod and a phone holder, but it does not come with a power source. You can use a power bank, a usb charger or a laptop to power the ring.
The product is suitable for photographers who want something that’s easy-to-setup and don’t have the time to set up softboxes. The light can be attached to DSLRs and tripods and can be controlled through the app. The 176 energy-saving LEDs support 0-100 saturation, adjustable brightness (0-100%), 0-360-degrees hue and Bi-color temperature from 3200K to 5600K. You even get many lighting scenes like ambulance, police car and fireworks if you are into that kind of photography.
The LEDs can be controlled via the app for Android and iOS devices. The package does not include battery, power adapter and power cable. If you already have all or some compatible accessories, then this kit is easy to recommend because of its affordable price and extra features.
Compared to continuous lighting equipment covered before, this strobe flash light can also produce instant bright light needed for special photo effects. You can mount it on a stand, which you have to buy separately and is not included with the light. Although it comes with an umbrella hole, you have to buy the umbrella separately.
In addition to being a strobe light, it can also be used as a continuous key light for lighting up the indoor studio, which makes it a good multi-purpose budget lighting option. You can see the output on the LED panel (0.1 increments, 1.0 to 6.0, total 60 steps). It’s made using aluminum alloy, so durability is not much of a concern here.
Although a little costlier, the 2-pack LED panel light comes with a wireless remote control that allows photographers to easily adjust different settings, including brightness, color temperature and dimming parameters. It also comes with a dual power supply and is compatible with NP-F series batteries (not included with the product). You can either use it in plug-in mode for indoor photography or use batteries for outdoor jobs.
The foldable tripod stand can be adjusted between 20-74 inches. Temperature can be adjusted from 3000K to 8000K. The soft diffuser is built-in for natural, real-like and saturated colors.
The budget option works great for product shooting and includes a light tent, 2 LED lights, a small tripod and colored backdrops. You can simply put the product inside the tent and take photos with a clear background of your choice. This also saves you from a lot of photo editing work later.
The package includes separate backdrops and lights, giving you more control over background color and how much light is inside the tent. The tent walls soften the light and work as a diffuser. Since it’s a budget option, there are some compromises you have to make, including its small size and lights that are not bright enough.
Although the post is about lighting equipment, it’s worth mentioning another product that can help boost customer engagement. With a diameter of 12.6-inches and weight capacity of 88lbs./40 KG, the turnable comes with a remote control that allows you to adjust speed, (20-68 seconds per cycle) and rotation (step-by-step rotation and continuous rotation). The package includes the turnable, a remote control and power adopter and is an efficient and easy way of showcasing your products to the target audience.
Investing in lighting equipment is worthwhile because it improves the photo quality and ultimately the customer experience. Decent photos can make a huge difference in customer’s perception about your product and brand. However, this also does not mean that you have to spend tons of money on the lighting equipment alone. There are plenty of affordable options that work fine in most situations, allowing you to save money and invest it in other photography gear.
A camera, a stabilizing stand, lighting equipment, the backdrop and a turnable are the five key pieces of a photography kit. Identifying your own needs and matching them with what a product has to offer is the first and important step, which can help minimize waste of money and time. In addition to products covered above, there are plenty of other products too that might be more suitable for you. But make sure to read customer reviews and watch online videos to understand how a product performs and improves the photo/video quality.