BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Kimberly Miller

lighting kits? Advise

Ok...I finally saved the money for lighting. Turning my garage into a studio. now WHAT DO I BUY?
I am so lost. I have looked on ebay there are so many lighting kits. How do I know what is not a good deal?
Like watts, cords, how many lights, etc. Here are a few I was considering, are these not a good deal? #'s Item number: 190082269996, 290084819702, 190081447611 ETC. I have about $350.00 to work with. THANK YOU FOR ALL OF YOUR HELP!

To love this question, log in above
2/17/2007 3:50:40 PM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Kimberly,
Unfortunately $350 is not a very large budget, but you probably know that. 190082269996 is based on tungsten bulbs; these are hot and have color accuracy problems. 290084819702 is a better system at least it is based on strobe, but really low power strobes. 190081447611 this has the same power problems as the previous system.

I would look at used Norman gear, generally a good deal on EBay. The Series 900 stuff, particularly the P800D and P1250D powerpack and the LH2000 or LH2400 heads. This is quite as cheap as what youíve been looking at but you can get a power pack and a head and a stand and an umbrella and not bust you budget. You can get more heads later up to 6 heads can be run from 1 pack. This will require a little more research and patience, but you wonít want to replace it right away.
Thanks, John Siskin

To love this comment, log in above
2/17/2007 6:44:55 PM

Kimberly Miller   John,

Thank you so much for your advise. I feel SO lost. I realized after I posted that my $$$ was not enough.
Can I use any of these lights for continuous light and not have it hooked to the camera? Just curious.
when you say low power how low in WATTS is too low? Or what should I stay above?

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2007 6:15:43 AM

Anna N. Spruill
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/2/2006
  While $350 isn't a huge budget it is enough to get started. If you don't have any experience with studio strobes it is probably best to start out with one light. Learn how to use it and save up to add on to you kit. You can produce great portraits using one light. Alien bees has a "beginner bee kit" for $359 and would be a good starting point and very expandable for the future.
If you start out with cheap lights or continuous lights you will quickly outgrow them and be shopping for new lights again shortly.
Go ahead and invest in 1 nice light that you will still use 10yrs from now!!!
Good Luck!

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2007 9:17:14 AM

Kimberly Miller   Anna,
Wondeful advise! Thank you so much!

Do you have a link for the lighting you suggested?



To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2007 9:29:14 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  Hi ya Kimberly. You've gotten some solid advice here that I agree with too. And Anna really is correct when she mentioned outgrowing those systems you mentioned. I'm a strong advocate of learning to use one light then adding other lights (preferably from the same manufacturer) to your system over time.

The ones John mentioned are great, so are others like Bowens monolights that you can find used, and Bowens also makes the Travelites for Calumet Photographic which are a bit less than Bowens label. Alien Bees are ok, but whatever you get should in part at least, depends on what you intend on using them for later like commercial vs. non-commercial use and what kind of accessories are available for them like reflectors, snoots, etc.

Figure on paying about a buck per watt second for new lighting equipment but good used equipment is always an option too. How much light do you need? Portraits, I always recommend at least one light with an actual output of 750 watt seconds. 500 is ok, 350 is getting down there because it's going to be even less effective when you attach a modifier like an umbrella or softbox on it. The Norman P800 system John mentioned, puts out 800 w.s. total in a number of heads, I think 4 total that would give you about 200W.S per head total but it's switchable so you can vary the output per head up to 800 max per head. There are also some nice Norman P500 packs around, that will put 500 watt seconds at full power into a single lamphead.

Alienbees can be found at

Lastly, I wanted to ask whether your garage is heated or are you in a warmer climate? Hot Dog gas-fired space heaters are pretty effective for heating large open spaces like shops or garage studios.

Take it light.

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2007 10:14:12 AM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
John's Photo Courses:
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  Hi Everybody,
I use a lot of light because I like big diffused light sources. I also have a camera sensor that has considerable noise at any ISO over 160. So for me any light less than 600 watt-seconds (not the same as watts) could be a background light or an accessory hard light but not the main light source in the picture. Of course there are exceptions; there are always exceptions. I like alien bees I have suggested them to many students, but the B800 only has 320 watt-seconds. I would start with more power. Also if you go with used Norman your second light will cost maybe $75. a second Alien Bee will cost about what the first one cost. If your sensor is good at ISO 400 the Bee should work well for you.

Watts are a unit of power used to discuss the power usage of a continuous light. Watt-seconds are used to discuss the power of a strobe. A unit with 600 watt-seconds has about twice as much power as a unit with 300 watt-seconds. There is no simple way of comparing the power of a strobe with a continuous light except to say the continuous light will do what the strobe does in a certain amount of time. The problem is that I donít want to shoot at 1/2 second or even 1/30th of a second. Strobes go off in about 1/1000th of a second so I donít need to worry about camera shake.

Any of the strobes can be hooked up to most digital slrs with either a sync cord or a radio slave. I have recently finished a couple of blogs that discuss this; they should be posted soon.

Thanks, John Siskin

To love this comment, log in above
2/18/2007 12:36:09 PM

Log in to respond or ask your own question.