S@H – 7 Home Studio Lighting Options

Photography Studio @ Home

There you have it. You managed to convince your wife/hubby to spare some space under the kitchen table where you can do your photo business without interruption. You have managed to scrounge up some bed sheets for backdrops. What’s next? Next is the really big thing that will instantly convert your den to a fine studio after hard labor and learning will give you the ability to take wonderful photographs. Light!

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As a home based studio photographer you have plenty of lighting options. The most available light is of course Available Light, then comes a range of lights that differ in their power, price, how well they store, and how controllable are they. In the post below I will explore the options there are for the home based photographer to achieve Light. In later posts I will dive into all those options. 

Available Light

Cocoa Beans at available light

Available Light is the photographer’s best friend – as long as it’s day time.  Not using any artificial lighting means that you have almost zero expense. On the other hand it means that you can not shoot on your own time and that your control over light is limited. Now don’t get me wrong, some great photographs can be taken with available light and some reflection and flagging. Still your control is limited Vs. any of the other options, not to mention you must have a window near by and shoot daytime only.


10 Reasons Why FriendFeed is a Better Place to Browse Flickr Photos Than Flickr ItselfNext in line are tungsten bulbs. Here you get a bit more control. You can place tungsten bulbs in space and control the direction from which the light is coming from, you can control the intensity of it, heck you can even make a ringlight using tungsten bulbs. And they are cheap. 

There are a few things to bear in mind when using tungsten light bulbs:

– They are hot – not only to the touch. They emit heat. If you are working in a closed space, it will be no time before the room will get hot and steamy.

– They have tungsten white balance. Now, this is not an issue if you’re shooting digital. If you are shooting film, however, make sure you get some tungsten balanced film.

– They do not produce a lot of light. To get a sharp image you need to use a tripod.

One nice thing which I totally dig with tungsten bulbs (well, this applies to CFL as well) is that they are a perfect match to clamp work lights. This takes care of the mounting issue.

Halogen Lights

Halogen is similar to tungsten in the fact that it produces a lot of heat and warm light tone. Still cheap and easily stores.

In my mind they are better in two ways:

– They give more light (but also more heat). Halogen lights come in variety of power settings from 100 Watts to 500 Watts. That a lot of power.

– Some halogen work lights have great tripod mounts that are almost like lightstands. 

– You will need plenty of power to use those in big quantities. Those 500 Watts a bulb quickly add up to a burned fuse.

Other than the inconvenience of working under heat, both tungsten and halogen are too hot to attach any homemade light modifiers to them. Bummer. Luckily there are cooler options:

Florescent / CFL

CFL Study 1 - GlowFlorescent lights and CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) are great options for indoor lighting. They are still on the lower price range, however they have a significant advantage Vs. Halogen or Tungsten – they are cooler.

Cooler means that you’ll be more convenient working, it also means that you can use regular household electricity to get some nice lighting. 

CFL’s will also work great with work light stands and with clamps, so you gain the power of multiple lights with no heat and some great modding options.

Two notes:

– CFLs come in a variety of white balance settings. If you are getting more than one, make sure that they all have the same WB value. In fact, it is best to get multiple bulbs of the same type and from the same brand to make sure that WB will be coherent.

– Make sure you get a high CRI (Color Rendering Index) bulb. High CRI means that you will get better color accuracy on your shots.

How can you tell the WB and CRI values of the bulb? The box should say it. If the box doesn’t say it, it is probably not worth the buy.


a glass of water - bright field with LED Light Emitting Diodes are great for lighting small objects. They are small, super portable and are close to nothing cost-wise. 

On the power side – not that good. LEDs make for great direct light source, but try to diffuse ’em – all light is lost.

Since LEDs are so cheap and so small you can use quite a bit of them on a setup. Use them as mains, fills, kickers. You can throw tens of them on a set.

As with florescent bulbs make sure you get high CRI LEDs.

Small Strobes

Exploring Small StrobesSmall strobes (AKA hot shoe strobes) are great for shooting indoors. Strobes are not a continuous light source. That means that at the time of the shoot the strobe will produce a short, yet powerful burst of light.

Cost is going up a bit with those, a used flash will cost about 100 USD and to get top line new strobe you’ll have to say goodbye to 400 green ones.

On the flip side, there is a lot you can do small strobes. Other than reduced power, they are one to one with the big guys. You can place ’em anywhere on a stand, snoot ’em and use them with a softbox or an umbrella. 

They store nicely. Only thing is that strobes like friends. Batteries,  sync cords, radio triggers, cold shoes, hot shoes, light stands, you’ll never hear the end of it…

Studio Strobes

Studio Strobes are the big brothers of hot shoe strobes. They share many of the properties of their little brothers with two major differences: they are bigger and more powerful.  

More powerful means you can use more lighting modifiers and still retain close apertures. Sadly, it also means they cost more.

Bigger means that you’ll need more storage space.  

A third difference is that Studio Strobes usually have a feature called modeling light. Modeling light is a continuous light that the flash emits that allows you to see what the burst of light will look like.


Below is a table to sum up all that’s said before.

   Available Light Tungsten  Halogen  CFL  LEDs  Strobes  Studio Flashes 
Cost  + –  – 
Easy to store  + –  – 
Power  – —  –  -/+  – 
Modifiable   – –  –  – 

Photo Credits:Cocoa Beans at available light by mobilestreetlife, 10 Reasons Why FriendFeed is a Better Place to Browse Flickr Photos Than Flickr Itself by Thomas Hawk, CFL Study 1 – Glow by fangleman, a glass of water – bright field with LED by mr.beaver.