Home photo studios are easier than ever to set up with affordable pre-packaged home lighting kits. Less gear, lower prices, and high-quality, entry-level digital SLR cameras all mean you can start taking great studio photos in your home without investing the time and money of a pro. If you’re new to studio lighting, you need the right lighting gear and one or more photography backdrops to create a functional studio. But the array of choices can be dizzying.

The best way to get started with at-home studio lighting is to do a mountain of research, plan out your purchases based on your budget and the types of photography you want to do, and then make incremental purchases over time to build up your gear in the most cost effective way possible. However, if you just want some help finding a basic intro lighting kit, these essential tips can help.

Why Lighting?

In order to get the right lighting kit for your plans you need to understand the purposes of studio lighting. Ambient indoor lighting is flat. Ambient outdoor lighting is usually very high contrast. Studio lighting gives you control over every shadow, highlight, and contrast, which give you more control over the final photo. So you need lighting gear that lets you control the intensity, temperature, and direction of multiple lights, and which coordinates well with your digital SLR camera.

Essential Home Lighting Equipment for Your First Studio

Continuous versus strobe (flash) lighting is the first decision you have to make. There are a number of benefits and downsides to each.

Benefits of Continuous Lighting:

  • Versatile – They work with photography and video.
  • DIY – You can build a perfectly good set of continuous lights for under $200 each if you are crafty.
  • WYSIWYG – Because the lights are always on, you can evaluate the scene before you snap, since that’s exactly what the camera will see. This is great for learning studio lighting.
  • Color Tone – Many people prefer the tone and atmosphere of continuous lighting.

Continuous Lighting Cons

  • Less power – Lower amperages mean cameras find scenes with continuous lighting dimmer, so you have to leave the shutter open longer and/or open the aperture.
  • Can’t shoot movement – The slower shutter speeds necessary for a good exposure with continuous lighting make it virtually impossible to shoot moving subjects without any blur.
  • Size – Continuous lighting kits are larger because each light is weaker, making them individually larger and more difficult to move as an entire setup.
  • Power source – Continuous lights use a lot of power, so you basically need to be plugged in, whereas strobes are more portable.
  • Heat – They are called hot lights for a reason. Extended periods of time under continuous lights, such as the length of a common photo session, can be very uncomfortable for subjects.

Strobe lighting’s strengths and weaknesses are generally the opposite of continuous lighting.

Other Accessories

Your home lighting kit needs at minimum three lights, including a main light, one for fill and hair if you’re doing portraiture, and a background light. You should also consider a few gels and frames for balancing color mood, and some simple bounce cards to further diffuse harsh lights and create softer contrasts and shadows.

This basic info on essential lighting tools for your home studio should get you started. If you don’t want to invest thousands to take some fun shots with your digital SLR camera in a studio setting, they can help you make some educated decisions before you try diving off the deep end of studio lighting research.