the best method Developing your skills as a photographer or videographer is all about learning the art of off-camera lighting – using flash or continuous lights that are set on a stand around your subject or held in your hand rather than mounted on your on the camera.
I’ve written a complete guide on how to properly light up photos and videos. It’s filled with advice from experts who have spent their careers mastering complex lighting. It’s a lifelong process, but with some basic concepts and some cheap tools, it’s a surprisingly approachable process.
Below are my own and expert product recommendations. We’ve rounded up great options for those just starting out, as well as options for seasoned photographers and videographers looking to upgrade to a more professional setup.
Be sure to check out our many other photo buying guides, such as the best mirrorless cameras, best compact cameras, best camera bags, and best action cameras.
We may earn a commission if you purchase something using a link in our story. This helps support our journalism. learn more.
Start with a light
Camera lighting doesn’t have to be expensive. Of course, if you want the best Swedish-made lights in the world, they’ll cost as much as a used car. However, if you just want to sharpen your skills and start experimenting, you can start with an affordable single-lamp kit.
“With a single light kit, you can easily create more impactful and three-dimensional photos,” says photographer and lighting instructor David Hobby. “For this reason, I would advise any serious photographer to have her buy an off-camera lighting kit and learn how to use it before she gets a second lens.” The hobby even recommends getting one second light Before getting a second shot: “With a second light (even cheaper than the first since you don’t need a second wireless trigger), you can control your subject in layers. Or without any Create a lighting environment with good ambient light.”
Hobby recommends choosing a reputable third-party flash—something made by a different manufacturer than the one that makes the camera—as they are generally more affordable. Camera companies are highly profitable on flashes to make up for the meager profits on camera bodies and lenses. Hobby explained that by purchasing a third-party, you can assemble a complete kit that includes the flash, light stand, swivel adapter, lighting umbrella, and wireless remote trigger for less than the cost of a basic first-party flash.
Another thing to be aware of is that if you buy a high-end light that has a proprietary accessory mount around the bulb to stick different dimmers, then not only are the lights more expensive, but the accessories are more expensive too. If you buy your gear with a Bowens mount (the standard mount for most third-party accessories), the price of buying the accessory will be lower, which will encourage more freedom to experiment with different options.
A good entry-level flash
For $65, this is David Hobby’s recommended flash for an entry-level single-light kit. (This flash is also sold as the Flashpoint Zoom R2 and comes with a US warranty) You can either mount it directly on the camera or buy a stand to mount it on a light stand with modifiers like an umbrella or softbox . This is the flash included in the complete $229 kit that Hobby recommends on his Strobist website.
Also get remote triggers
When using an off-camera flash or flash, you need a remote trigger to remotely fire the flash when the shutter button is pressed. This remote trigger must be compatible with your flash and specific brand of camera. If you use Godox or Flashpoint, it’s easy to read your adjustments thanks to the large backlit screen. If you use a smaller mirrorless camera like Fuji, Hobby recommends the smaller version. is the same price.
Flash upgrade option
This hybrid flash is also sold as the Godox AD200 Pro, but the Flashpoint version has a US warranty. This 250 watt strobe comes with a flash head and a bare bulb head, the latter offering better light spread and can be used with a softbox or umbrella. (See our recommendations for these add-ons below, and learn more in our comprehensive lighting guide.)
Affordable and highly portable, this light is far more powerful than a typical flash without adding bulk to your kit. If you’re choosing between this flash and a normal flash, keep in mind that it won’t be mounted on your camera like a flash. It includes a swivel mount for the light stand, but the $25 Glow S2 Mounting Bracket (or Godox S2) lets you mount it (or any flash) to a light stand. The S2 has the added bonus of having a stand for umbrellas and a stand for softboxes.
Video continuous light
This new 65-watt continuous LED video light from Amaran is ready to plug in, and if you use a Sony L-series (or compatible aftermarket) rechargeable battery, it can also run without a power cord. When shooting video that is plugged into AC power, the locking connector will ensure you can’t accidentally pull it out during shooting. Using the companion mobile app, you can control up to 100 Aputure and Amaran branded lights from your phone or tablet, dialing in your entire multi-light setup on your mobile device.
Both the 60d and 60x have just been released. The 60d is $30 cheaper and offers more brightness at full power. But the 60d’s color is daylight-balanced, while the 60x is bichromatic, meaning it can be adjusted to emit anything from the bright white of daylight to a more candle-like yellow. I appreciate its versatility in practice rather than the 60x added brightness. Both versions have a standard Bowens Mount, so they should work with plenty of affordable 3rd party light modifiers such as softboxes.