Setting up a Photographic Studio - Part 3

In part 3 of our look at setting up a photographic studio we take a look at the types of lighting you should explore.

Posted 11/Jan/2009 - 7:51AM

While most minds will automatically picture a venue with large studio style strobe (flash) units, in this day and age there are other alternatives you should consider depending on the type of work you intend to use the studio for.

Studio Strobe lighting.

This is the traditional standard of lighting for the average photographic studio. Two, three, four or more dedicated strobe units, along with a selection of modifiers such as softboxes, barn doors, snoots and umbrellas are the normal way to rig out a portrait or general studio.

The power required for these will vary according to the size of the photographic area. Strobe units are generally measured in watts (200w, 300w, 500w etc) but most manufacturers also give a guide number that is calculated in line with the guide number given for speedlights, allowing some comparison with on board or dedicated flashguns. They are almost all more powerful than the dedicated guns that are more often used at weddings and suchlike events. For the most part they are mains powered (although battery powered units are available at a price). Apart from the power, one thing to note when selecting these type of units is the re-cycle times as, unlike speedlights, they dump any unused power at each activation. Studio units are normally supplied with a modelling light, a low powered tungsten bulb that allows you to set up the lighting. Check that it is as variable as the strobe itself for the best results.

Ensure that you choose a set, or a selection of units that will give enough versatility. Anything below 200w should be disregarded for serious use, and a good selection for the average size studio would be a 200w unit, a couple of 300w units and perhaps a 500w unit, all with controllable output (normally from full power down to 1/8 or 1/16th power). Try and stick with the same make, or, if not the same make, ensure that they all take the same fittings. The most common fitting is the Bowens 'S-bayonet' if you are buying third party units.

You also need to budget for a selection of reflective and translucent brollies, octagonal and rectangular/square soft boxes, reflectors and barn doors. You may also require a snoot. These all enable you to control the light that the units produce, diffusing or concentrating it and allowing you to achieve differing effects.

Continuous Lights.

 The other main type of light is continuous, and nowadays that includes two types whereas in the past it normally just included tungsten type bulbs. In this modern age, daylight balanced bulbs are much more readily available, and normally longer lasting than the tungsten 'photofloods' of yesteryear.

These are of much greater interest if you produce any sort of video work, and with video capture now getting into SLR cameras, and likely to become mainstream in the near future, it is an area that you should ignore at your peril! Their forms differ to a much greater extent than strobe units also, with units available in various formats including singe, triple, quad and five bulb configurations as well as those using various lengths of tube style elements.

The cooler running daylight ones are excellent for things like food photography where the ambient temperature stays lower for longer than either tungsten or flash with modelling lights.

Another advantage of daylight balanced bulbs is the possibility of mixing it with either flash or ambient light to create differing effects. Be aware though, that the very cheap bulbs available are not true daylight but run at a higher level than the 5400-5600K of true daylight, often 6500K. You'll pay a little more for the true daylight type, but it is worth it in the end to get the colour balance right if you are mixing sources.

You will still need to budget for modifiers although a little more thought is needed here due to the widely varying size and shape of the units. An ability to modify the modifiers is handy here. Brollies are fairly universal as long as the fittings have a large enough hole to take the shafts.

Natural Light

This is a consideration despite the fact you are starting up a studio. If your venue has windows you need to be able to utilise or exclude the light from them according to the set-up. Blackout blinds or curtains should be fitted, and in my case where the windows face south I used black roller style blinds to exclude the strong sunlight that comes through at many times of the day and year. Should you have skylights or south facing windows you may want to include the ability to diffuse the light as well as exclude it!


It is possible to use the camera manufacturers own series of dedicated flashguns in a studio environment, although these will lack power compared to the larger studio strobes. If you already have a number of these units and the work you do requires them, their TTL capabilities do allow their use. However, be aware that the running cost are likely to be higher as most do not have the ability to be used via mains power.

They do, however, have some advantages over the studio strobes in that they are typically much smaller and their method of changing power output is significantly different, allowing much shorter flash durations than conventional units. The type of photography you do will determine whether this facet would be of use to you.


These are an essential item that we should consider along with the lighting system. You may well have one or two already in your camera kit but at least a couple of large studio type examples need to be included in your budget. And the bigger the better! Remember too, that you will need to support them in position safely, so the stand mounted style are favourite here. The smaller sizes will come in handy also and a few clamps to fix them to stands will not go amiss. Like umbrellas, consider white, gold, silver and translucent versions.


All of the above (with the exception of the windows) will need supporting and a range of stands will be required. Don't be tempted to use the lightweight versions often supplied in cheap lighting kits, especially for the main lights. Get the stronger and more stable types as you are likely to have your clients wandering around and you don't want things falling on them! In my studio I've also included a couple of the lightweight decorators ceiling props, sometimes known as a 'deadman' which are expandable poles that fit between the floor and ceiling. They can be obtained from decorators suppliers or ocasionally from supermarkets and make excellent places to clamp reflectors and props.

In part 4 we will look at the other bits and pieces needed around the studio.

Part 1      Part2      Part 4


K. Hill06/Feb/2012 - 3:08PM
Web site might be reformatted, but contents are VERY old - Latest Freelance Articles are from 2009 and 2010, etc ....
David (Site Moderator) 06/Feb/2012 - 3:11PM
Hi K. Hill,

Thank you for your feedback. You are right, alot of the latest stuff is a couple of years old. However, alot of it isn't really time sensitive. We also have plans to start posting more fresh content from here on out.

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