I'm going to be shooting some photos in pitch darkness at a campsite -- we had a friend shoot them last year, but he's a professional photographer and brought expensive strobes and lighting gear. This year, that person and their gear won't be available, so I'm taking over the job. I need to assemble a reasonable lighting setup for as cheap as possible, and I don't really know much about this stuff.

I was thinking about buying:

Do you think that'll be enough light to take a reasonable photograph of ~3 people at a time? Anything else that you'd recommend?

Thank you, and sorry for the newbie question!

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Will you have power at the campsite, in order to plug in the lights? Also, are those lights the only light source, or will there be campfire light in the scene as well? \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    Jul 24, 2017 at 19:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What does "cheap" mean to you? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jul 24, 2017 at 19:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ yes, we'll have a 2000W generator of which probably 1200 watts are unused. would like to keep this ~$150 if possible -- super DIY :) \$\endgroup\$
    – user358829
    Jul 24, 2017 at 23:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Get yourself a few strips of white LEDs. Very low power (or you can even use batteries) and extremely esay to transport. You can create very soft light and a unique look that you will not get with strobes. \$\endgroup\$
    – user39557
    Jul 25, 2017 at 0:21

1 Answer 1


Using an existing camera's built in flash is the cheapest option. From there I'd probably recommend a speedlight/flash to provide more power and control. Even inexpensive speedlights/flashes offer significantly more power than the CFL bulbs in question and provide directional control -- without a hood, most of the light from a point source (bulb) will not fall on the subject.

A flash bracket can be a relatively inexpensive and easy way to place speedlight/flash light source off the optical axis to improve butterfly style portrait lighting. Light stands and umbrellas may allow for more flexible portrait lighting (e.g. broad, short, profile) but will require more practice and setup and hauling more equipment and better environmental conditions (i.e. less wind).

An advantage of a speedlight/flash is that operating it without additional light sources is very straight forward and well documented and can be determined directly from a particular speedlight/flash power specification.

Related Links:

Chuck Gardener's Tutorials are worth reading to learn more about lighting portraits.

David "The Strobist" Hobby's Lighting 101 course is also a good (and more polished) introduction to lighting.

  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for these resources! I'm reading them now and they're great -- exactly the intro to this stuff that I need. my main question before I press "order" on that gear and start playing around: from a pure output perspective, do you think that the bulbs + umbrellas will provide enough light at night? \$\endgroup\$
    – user358829
    Jul 25, 2017 at 0:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user358829 that's going to depend on other factors including distance to the subjects (inverse square law applies: photography.tutsplus.com/articles/…), the aperture setting of the camera, and the ISO setting (and ISO performance) of the camera \$\endgroup\$ Jul 25, 2017 at 9:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user358829 sorry, by distance to the subjects I mean the distance of the light sources to the subjects. The camera distance to the subject isn't going to make any difference here, unless you're in very foggy or smoky environment \$\endgroup\$ Jul 25, 2017 at 9:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user358829 Bulbs and umbrellas might or might not provide enough light depending on their placement and the camera settings and how much light they output (and in what directions) and the reflective properties of the umbrellas. A speedlight/flash will put in out enough light and the camera settings and spatial relationships for getting reasonable output are well understood and documented and hence leave less to chance in the field. To put it another way, my answer points at two informative websites regarding speedlights and there's not really an equivalent for the bulbs you are considering. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Jul 25, 2017 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ To continue, the "speed" in "speedlight" relates to the intensity and duration of the flash (high and brief). A speedlight will freeze motion by providing 'enough' light for the shot in an instance. A bulb will eventually provide enough light over some period of time. If that time is 1/10th of a second, then expect human subjects to move and create blur. If the subject is a block of cheese, 1/10th of a second is no problem, however. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50888
    Jul 25, 2017 at 14:01

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