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The Essential Guide on Lighting Equipment for Your Photography Studio

The Essential Guide on Lighting Equipment for Your Photography Studio

If props and accessories are the chicken, lighting is the broth. Finding the right lighting equipment for photography is a necessary foundation for crafting readable and interesting photos.

Lighting is an incredibly influential feature that affects everything from our mood to our ability to study. In fact, the human eye even works like a camera by pulling in light to attach to a retina. Although natural lighting is ideal for many purposes – such as bringing out the warmth in someone’s skintone – it’s not always available. Enter the flexible power of studio lighting.

Choosing the right equipment for your studio is necessary to budget smartly and help you craft the portfolio of your dreams. This guide will help you narrow down your ideal set-up.

Source Image: Pixabay

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. What are Different Types of Studio Lighting?
  3. What are the Three Main Studio Lighting Styles?
  4. Top 10 Lighting Modifiers for Your Photography Studio
  5. How to Set Up Photography Lighting
  6. Conclusion: Lighting is the Heartbeat of Striking and Visually Pleasing Photography

a black studio lamp with a red stripe in a white room with a white chair

Source Image: Pixabay

What are Different Types of Studio Lighting?

Any lighting is better than none for your photography studio, sure, but why stop there? Studio lighting that suits your personal preferences will make it much easier for you to create photos that suit your style or photography niche.

Continuous Lighting for Maximum Flexibility

This type of lighting is exactly what it says on the tin – there are little to no visual changes for a seamlessly soft result. Continuous lighting is incredibly beginner-friendly because it suits multiple subjects and you don’t have to fiddle with settings much. 

All you really need to do is brighten or dim the light, not unlike a flashlight. Since continuous lighting is so straightforward and flexible, it’s well-suited to most indoor photography. Portrait, pet, and fashion photographers commonly use this lighting method to generate a well-rounded light source to reveal the entire subject. You can also bring out the best in food and beverage photography by enhancing every last little detail. 

Have you ever looked at a photo and immediately felt at ease due to the low, ambient lighting? Continuous lighting is also wonderful for creating a mellow, mysterious atmosphere. Just replace standard lightbulbs with colored versions to generate a warm tint or cool glow. 

Strobe Lighting for Smaller Settings

When you want to get a particularly bright and sharp result, strobe lighting is a must-have addition. These lights work by emitting an intense flash, similar to the flash setting on your DSLR or smartphone. 

If you’ve ever witnessed a fashion photoshoot or product line-up in a magazine, you were likely witnessing the result of strobe lighting. This studio lighting type is useful for capturing the most minute details in a close-up.

On the downside, strobe lighting isn’t exactly beginner-friendly due to its intense light and short duration. There isn’t quite as much wiggle room for adjustments like continuous lighting, either. Expect to spend a little more time experimenting with this light source before it becomes second-nature.

Speedlights for Subtle Effects

Similar to strobe lighting in its bright flash, speedlights stand out with their handheld design. If you like to actively move around your subject when setting up a scene, this tool will make things easier.

Speedlights also come with a compact size, so they’re easy to pack with you and take on a trip. Travel photography is well-suited to speedlights for transporting a studio on-the-go.

It’s important to remember these speedlights rely on battery power, so you’ll need to carry a few extra packs. They also don’t have the same brightness as an in-studio strobe light, so your results won’t be quite as sharp. 

What is the Best Studio Lighting for Photography?

Only you can determine what the best studio lighting for photography is. While certain types are better suited to specific niches, your personal preferences and budget still matter.

One photographer may prefer continuous lighting for its simplicity and versatility, despite having a larger budget for other types of lamps. Another photographer may vastly prefer speedlights for their portability for travel or street fashion photography. 

Ask yourself what kind of lighting will make it easier for you to achieve your ideal result – you’ll already be on the right track to creating a studio that suits your needs. 

a black DSLR camera on a white table with an orange notebook, a pen and a cup of tea

Source Image: Pixabay

What are the Three Main Studio Lighting Styles? 

When you set up your studio, you may feel overwhelmed by the possibility at your fingertips. How do you start organizing a tool as subtle and diverse as a light source?

For starters, there are three main types of studio lighting that hobbyist and professional photographers alike rely on. 

Key Light

The dominant light source of your photo should center on the subject. This is the function of key light – the bulk of your lighting to carve out your subject and set the stage.

Depending on how you angle the light off-camera, the key light can be brighter or dimmer. A common position is to place the camera at a roughly 45-degree angle next to the subject to create rich shadows. How dark these shadows are will depend on the next type of lighting.

Fill Light

While key light does the bulk of revealing your subject, the fill light essentially ‘fills in’ the gaps. This lighting is vital for creating an even and smooth lighting result.

Without fill light, a shot could appear uneven. Certain details or colors could be drowned out in hard shadows, while other areas could be far too bright. 

That said, you can still go dramatic with fill light. With a few adjustments, this light source is still great for creating a low, dramatic result by balancing out the extremes from the key light. If you brighten things up, fill light can also make everything light and poppy, not unlike walking through a well-lit department store.


If you’ve ever appreciated a photograph where the subject looked particularly three-dimensional, you might’ve been witnessing backlight. This useful lighting technique adds a little extra slice of light to help the subject stand out from the background.

Filmmakers and photographers often use strong backlight to create a chiaroscuro effect, a dramatic result based on a classical painting style.

Using these three types of light simultaneously is known as three-point lighting, an approach that creates the most well-rounded and visually pleasing photos. It’s important to remember that there’s no ‘perfect’ way to use three-point lighting. Just like there’s no perfect focal length or shutter speed, the specifics all depend on your personal style or the demands of your niche.

an overhead shot of a black DSLR camera on a wooden floor with natural light flooding in

Source Image: Pixabay

Top 10 Lighting Modifiers for Your Photography Studio

There are many lighting modifiers you can tap into to bring out the best in your subjects. These handy tools adjust the light source, highly popular among several niches and personal styles.

Standard Reflector

With a small size and low cost, the standard reflector is a wonderful place to begin your studio lighting journey. These flexible little additions work by reflecting light off of various surfaces, such as a bounce card or a grid. 

Bounce cards are reflective squares or rectangles that ‘bounce’ light back onto a subject. You place these just off-screen so your subject can enjoy a little extra light to carve them out or add visual flair. 

You can also place a grid over a standard reflector to adjust the lamp’s light intensity. These are useful for creating extremely hard, crisp light – popular for food and product photography.

Omni Bounce

Not all light needs to be intense. Sometimes the most suitable lighting for a subject is hazy and soft – enter the omni bounce diffuser.

While far from the only way of diffusing light, omni bounce stands out for how well it softens shadows and reduces the risk of leftover red eye in portraits. This diffuser is designed for strobe lights, though there are other diffusers you can try. 


The wide face and distinctive name of the softbox makes it one of the best-known lighting accessories for photography. Unlike other accessories, this lighting source can be the main one or as a supporting light. 

These lighting sources are square in design to ensure light is falling along the subject as evenly as possible. Photographers use softboxes to create gentle, soft light to reduce harsh shadows.


Similar in design and function as the softbox, the stripbox comes in a different shape for different purposes. This long, skinny light makes it easy to light up a person’s entire body.

As such, stripboxes are incredibly popular in fashion or figure drawing photography. However, they can still be used for other purposes as long as the photographer seeks soft yet balanced light.

an example of a white umbrella light modifier in a photography studio

Source Image: Pixabay


For photographers on a tight budget, you can’t go wrong with the umbrella lighting modifier. With its self-explanatory shape and low cost, it appears in most studios.

What makes the umbrella so well-suited to different photography niches is how easily it can be used with different light types. It’s great for continuous light and strobe lights, though you can even use sunlight depending on its position. 

The umbrella is also quite useful for illuminating larger areas due to its size. 

Shoot Through Umbrella

When your lighting still isn’t soft enough for your tastes, swap out an umbrella for a shoot through umbrella. While both modifiers have the same design, the shoot through umbrella uses a semi-translucent material.

The standard material is white or off-white, though you can swap in any color fabric depending on your needs. Light then moves through this fabric to break it up and create a soft, almost hazy result. 

Beauty Dish

Is it possible to get the best of both lighting worlds – dramatic and soft? With the beauty dish, you can hit an impressive middleground for some truly subtle photography.

The beauty dish works by reflecting light toward the subject using a shiny surface. It’s helpful for sharpening and brightening up detail, but not so harshly it creates heavy shadows. This middleground makes the modifier well-suited to fashion and portrait photography, hence the name.


Also known as flash grids, these light modifiers give you extra control when lighting a scene. Rather than diffusing and spreading out light, you can create beams or spotlights.

The grid has a criss-crossing pattern – similar to hatching or honeycomb – to break up light. The end result is dramatic and even a little classic, not unlike something out of a noir film. 


Do you want to create beams of light to hearken to stage plays? The humorously named snoot is a tube placed over a light source to shape light into beams.

This tube can be flared, pointed, or square in shape – whatever type of light shape best suits your subject. A snoot can be used for either continuous or strobe lighting, letting the background fade to put the subject in sharp focus. 


If you ever did shadowpuppets for fun as a kid, you already have an idea what a gobo is. This light modifier is essentially a stencil placed over a light source to create shapes or designs.

Sometimes these shapes are intentionally vague to simulate the effect of sunlight filtering through leaves. Other times they can be specific, such as a grid to mimic the shape of a window. 

an example of studio photography showing a black camera taking photos of grapes and wine

Source Image: Pixabay

How to Set Up Photography Lighting

Once you’ve chosen the appropriate lighting equipment, it’s time to set everything up. Learning how to set up studio lighting means placing light sources so they can be moved at will, but close enough to the subject to do its job.

Find a Suitable Position for Easy Access to Your Subjects

One of the most important factors in strong lighting is positioning your light source. How close or how far you are from your subject will completely change the tone of the scene.

Take stock of your studio space and try to find suitable positions to easily access your subjects. Try to place lighting sources where there’s space to move around, as you don’t want boxes or bags in the way of a sudden burst of inspiration. 

If they need to be next to a window, make sure you have curtains to control the daylight streaming in. 

Determine the Power Source

Some light sources can be plugged into a wall outlet, while others are battery powered. The former needs more consideration due to the limitations of wall plugs.

Instead of dragging power cords all over the studio, try to place lamps closer to their power source. This will prevent you from tripping on dragging cords or being limited in how far you can position each lamp.

Keep Supplies Organized for Easy Retrieval

Part of becoming a skilled photographer is being flexible and adapting to new ideas on the fly. Lighting equipment comes with a slew of modifiers, so try to keep all these supplies organized for easy retrieval.

For example, try creating labeled boxes for each type of modifier, such as grids or softboxes. If your studio space is particularly small, you can separate each modifier on shelves or place them in opposite parts of the room. Whatever keeps you from fumbling and digging through supplies during a moment of inspiration.

a photographer in blue jeans sitting down with a black and red DSLR camera

Source Image: Pixabay

Conclusion: Lighting is the Heartbeat of Striking and Visually Pleasing Photography 

Without the power of lighting, photography wouldn’t even exist. Whereas composition is the soul of a powerful photo, lighting is like the heartbeat.

Lighting equipment for photography studios enables you to take control of this powerful foundation and create atmospheric and playful results. The three main types of lighting are continuous, strobe, and speedlighting, all of which can be adjusted using light modifiers. These modifiers come in a plethora of shapes and sizes to help you strengthen, weaken, shape, or redirect light.

Softboxes and umbrellas are particularly beginner-friendly for their soft and even lighting results. However, practice and experimentation will reveal to you which lighting equipment is best suited for your portfolio. 

There are a million ways to approach the same subject. With every new lighting modifier you add to your toolkit, you literally illuminate your potential.


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