Not everyone can afford, or need, the most expensive kit when it comes to lighting. As a matter of fact, small and portable lighting kits make a photographer's work even more efficient. Here's a selection of tools to help you assemble your lighting kit even with the smallest of budgets.
Speedlights are portable alternatives to heavy and bulky studio lights. You'll get the most precise control when shooting in Manual mode on your speedlights. Sure, using TTL with Nikon's Creative Lighting System is easier, but it has line-of-sight limitations. If you need multiple speedlights in your setup, the costs of TTL dedicated speedlights can quickly go astronomical.
One of the most cost-efficient additions to your speedlight arsenal is the Yong Nuo YN-560 Manual Flash. This manual speedlight is about as powerful as top-of-the-line TTL dedicated speedlights, yet the cost is 5 times lower.
With manual speedlights, your only viable option for triggering the flashes is to use radio-controlled triggers. The gold standard is the Pocket Wizard. But nowadays there are more affordable options. The Phottix Atlas matches the Pocket Wizard in terms of range and features, at about half the price. It's also compatible with the Pocket Wizard system, which means that you can mix both systems in your kit.
But the radio trigger with the most value for money is the Phottix Strato, which is very well-built and has a range that matches the Atlas and Pocket Wizards. Its trump card is the TTL pass-through, which enables you to use an on-camera speedlight at the same time. This is useful for wedding photographers who need to use an on-camera speedlight while at the same time triggering several off-camera speedlights elsewhere.
The easiest light modifier to use which almost guarantees a softly lit portrait is a Speedlight SoftBox. The softbox works by increasing the size of your light source, thereby creating softer shadow-highlight transitions.
Once you progress beyond this safe zone, you can add other light modifiers to shape your light the way you want it. The Speedlight Pro Kit Pro Package is a good choice to start off with. It comes with 3 sizes of honeycombs (also known as grids) which enables you to create a tightly focused pool of light where you want it. The different sizes allow creative control over the size of your pool of light.
A third option is a Beauty Dish for your speedlight. A beauty dish creates a small pool of light which is still soft, making it perfect for portraits. The effect can be described as somewhere in between a softbox and a bare speedlight (which gives hard light).
In order to have your speedlights and light modifiers positioned at the right height, you will need at least 2 light stands that can be adjusted to the desired height.
This bracket is needed to connect your light stand with your speedlights. The Lastolite Triflash Bracket is very versatile because it allows you to mount 3 speedlights, creating a more powerful light source, useful for overpowering the sun outdoors.
There are times when you would need to position your speedlight in odd corners where you may not be able to place a light stand. This is where the Manfrotto 175F Spring Clamp comes in handy. It clamps onto curtain rails, door frames or wherever you may need it, to provide a nifty hair light. You can even use it to mount a second or third speedlight onto your light stand.
There you have it, a bare-bones lighting kit which will give the high-end setups a run for their money, at a mere fraction of the cost.