Portrait lights on a budget

So what is the minimum you can get away with in terms of flash light for a head shot?  I’ve had this question a few times over the last month or so and I’ve put together a list of kit you can take great portraits with for almost no money*

So what do you need?  A light, some way of triggering it, something to hold it, maybe some way of softening the light and maybe a reflector to fill in shadows.  Now – you can get away with *buying* just the light and a trigger or cable.  All of the rest you can make, however I am going to recommend you buy things – as to be honest they are not expensive.

The light

Yongnuo YN460-II.  This is a manual light, with a power adjuster on the back, and a flip down wide angle screen and deflector. I have 4 of these – they work great, and they cost about £28 shipped from China, or about £33 shipped from the UK.


imgresTriggering the light off the camera

You can use a cable however this is gonna get messy and restrict the distance you can work from.  My advice is to buy a *cheap* and simple radio trigger.  You can find these on ebay and should aim to pay no more than £15 for one trigger and one receiver.  make sure the reciver has a 3/8th thread hole to screw onto the top of a lightstand.  The Meking softbox comes with a ball mount that mounts on any lightstand, and a cold shoe to slot in a radio receiver.  It mounts over the spigot on any standard light stand, so in that case, the trigger doesn’t need the threaded mount – it just slots into the cold shoe on the soft box bracket.


Holding the light-font-b-Stand-b-font-Kit-Flash-font-b-Speedlight-b-font-Photo-Studio-24

Buy a lightweight light stand via ebay for around £10.  You can use a tripod instead, and in windy conditions, this will be more stable than a light stand.  You can also buy things like super-clamps and Justin clamps that will allow you to clamp your light to a door, door frame, railing etc

A small softbox

Several options here.  I like the 24″ pop-up from Meking Studios in Shanghai – via ebay.  It costs £26 delivered from Portsmouth next day.  You could spend £120 on the Lastolite Ezybox 24″, but it is the same product.  If you want real cheap, I found some small softboxes from Hong Kong for £4.65 delivered.  Alternatively, you could also use a shoot through umbrella.  This will produce very soft light with a hot core, however it will bounce light all over the place as it isn’t enclosed.  Not an issue outside though.  You can of course just make your own – light modifiers, unlike cameras and other complex bits of equipment, do not require the might of Canon or Nikon et al to create.  A bed sheet, piece of paper, plastic take-away carton or anything fairly neutral in colour and translucent, will diffuse light.

41GRHEKtqcL._SY300_A reflector

Buy a medium sized reflector, either white and silver, or a 5-in-1 including black.  you can use this to fill in shadows, or increase them by using the black surface.  Buy a pop-up one for £10

So, altogether with a light, stand, trigger, softbox and reflector you should look to budget £100  *which really is nothing in the world of photography – Westcott charge twice that for one softbox, and you can use this setup for so many other things especially product/macro shots.






Current items available on ebay (as of 5th April 2013)



Radio Trigger

Light stand





One thought on “Portrait lights on a budget

  1. Pingback: Budget portrait flash gear | Holmes Chapel Camera Club

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.