An Inexpensive Speedlight Studio

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Nikon SB-700 by Yoppy on Flickr Creative Commons.

One of the most often-asked questions we get is, “What do I buy to get my Speedlight off of my camera and start taking great pictures in a small home studio?” I have a Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash (which I LOVE, by the way), and recently picked up a few things to make its off-camera use a lot more creative, flexible, and useful. I spent just over $200 and got two light stands, a softbox, an umbrella and umbrella adapter, a person-sized reflector with a mounting arm, and a small hand-held reflector (all of which work with any brand of Speedlight, like the Nikon SB-900, not just Canon).

Keep in mind that these prices are from Amazon as of 11/13/11, prices might be slightly different for you. (Also, I would have been able to do a better job giving you photos of these things had my husband and son not commandeered the living room to play Medal of Honor. But then you would have missed my trademark pool table, right?)

Softbox and reflector

Fotodiox 40×60″ 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector Disc Pro Kit, with Stand and Holder Arm, Soft Silver/Gold/Black/White/Diffuser(right), currently $54.95. This thing is HUGE and could easily be used for a head shot backdrop on the black or white sides. It throws an amazing amount of light when paired with a Speedlight.

CowboyStudio Photo / Video 24in Large Speedlite Flash Softbox with L-Bracket, Shoe Mount & Carry Case(left), currently $45.42. While a wee bit flimsy, this is a great little collapsible softbox for the money. The hotshoe mount is pretty iffy to me, so I would definitely screw on the little plastic foot that comes with the flash and mount it that way.

Impact Air-Cushioned Heavy Duty Light Stand – Black, 9.5′ (2.9m), currently $38.95. This is an extremely sturdy stand, and air-cushioned so if you forget to hold on when you loosen the fittings, the whole thing won’t slam down. The only gripe I have with it is that it’s hard to collapse for storage.

Umbrella, adapter and stand.

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Lite-Tite Umbrella Adapter – Replaces 2905, currently $28.26. You need an umbrella adapter when you mount an umbrella to a light stand. This one is flexible and does the trick.

CowboyStudio 40in White Satin Umbrella with Reflective Silver Backing and Removable Black Cover, currently $30.05. Your standard reflector umbrella, but the backing can be removed so that it becomes a shoot-through umbrella as well.

Flashpoint 22″ 5-in-1 Collapsible Disc Reflector, Translucent, White, Black, Silver & Soft Gold.(not pictured), currently $16.95. Everybody needs one or two of these to toss in there or have the model hold for that added bit of extra light.

Add another Speedlight (such as the much less expensive Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash or Nikon SB-700) and another light stand and you’ve got a REALLY flexible and well-equipped home studio, just using Speedlights. Add a Pocket Wizard Flex Transceiver TT5/Mini TT1 Transmitter Bundle (here’s one for Nikon) and you’ll really be rocking.

*The Author did NOT receive any products or compensation in exchange for mentioning the Provider’s products and/or services on this website. The Author purchased this product for personal use with personal funds. We will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. This is not an advertisement.

Photo of Nikon SB-700 Speedlight by Yoppy on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Steve Russell

    Great article and what a good way to build a home studio that really works and doesn’t break the bank.

  • Dave

    search ebay. i got a set of 3 strobes with two umbrellas, two soft boxes, radio trigger set for around 250 bucks. and it all came in a firm enough bag, easy to cary around…

  • http://www.cateyefotos.com Brooklyn Photographer

    This is a good guide, the only thing perhaps missing is mention of a backdrop mounting stand. I know it’s not ultra critical , but if you’re buying more than one speedlight, it may be something worth looking into. I think a backdrop stand and a muslin backdrop can be bought for an additional $120-40 bucks. 

  • http://www.cateyefotos.com Brooklyn Photographer

    This is a good guide, the only thing perhaps missing is mention of a backdrop mounting stand. I know it’s not ultra critical , but if you’re buying more than one speedlight, it may be something worth looking into. I think a backdrop stand and a muslin backdrop can be bought for an additional $120-40 bucks. 

  • http://twitter.com/ohnostudio ohno studio

    I have some things from Cowboy – the stuff is not horrible. Although I could not refold the 24 in softbox. Some metal poked through the binding. I recommend something like Westcott Apollo for out on the road. The Cowboy box will be used in studio only anyway so no big deal – I fixed it with duct tape and wire.

    Even if you can’t afford to put together a stand kit, the best suggestion I can make is get yourself an off camera cord. Even though I have triggers, I still take the cord with me when I am strolling because I don;t have to fiddle with things too much. Works for me. And you can get the flash off camera and angle it to a wall to get different fill.

  • Anonymous

    Hi, thanks for your comment.  I do agree that Cowboy Studio’s stuff is functional if a bit flimsy, I wouldn’t haul it all over the place either.  Try pushing one corner of the softbox toward the opposite corner – it should pop over to bend in the same direction as the other creating a “V” that can be folded.  I had to fiddle with it a bit myself.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a great point, thanks!  I tend to just tack things up on a wall.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Dave, thanks for commenting.  Did you buy new or used?  How was the quality of the items you received?

  • Anonymous

    :D  Thanks Steve!

  • Tgpogames

    You can knock off a big chunk of change with this inexpensive and excellent-for-the-money speedlight: http://amzn.com/B004WRSIBU