Portrait Photography Lighting Kit (Beginner or Pro)(What I Use)(2018)(Godox Lights – Best third party flash?)
Qu. Want to buy a speedlight & wireless flash trigger but unsure what to get? + Why every portrait photographer should own a flash!
Here I explain the 3 types of light, Why every photographer should use flash, TTL vs non-TTL, & recommend my Godox flash- 3 best speedlights + 3 wireless flash triggers
*See Part 2 for reflectors and other equipment I use
- Part 1: My Recommended Portrait Photography Lighting kit
- Part 2: My Recommended / Essential Portrait Photography Equipment list (x5)
Part 1: Recommended Portrait Photography Lighting Kit + Time to come clean! (What I use)
Time to come clean about my portrait photography lighting kit
Here I detail all the things I’ve never/ rarely spoke about in my 400+ previous blog posts. What do I use to make my portrait photographs excluding cameras and lenses. Specifically for this part 1 post – what portrait photography lighting gear I use.
Why I kept quiet
In the past you may have noticed I always wrote a vague description of my lighting equipment such as “speedlight” or “strobe”. I did this as whenever I mention a make and model of a product I use someone often wrote to me just hours later saying thanks Matt I’ve just bought one! While I love to help share what I have learnt with my self-taught photography I was worried that everyone’s photos would start to look the same as mine. The same camera, same lens and same lighting (if I detailed the specifics of the lighting gear I was using). After my post yesterday you can now even use the same MrLeica Lightroom presets!
Is it bad if everyone uses the best camera kit?
In reality if 10 photographers all had the same camera, same lens, same lighting kit and even same Lightroom preset and all took a photo of the same model there would still be 10 different photos. Every photographer sees the world differently and literally almost everyone has a camera of some sort now. Me telling a few readers the exact kit I use is hardly going to change anything. And so that is why I will detail exactly what photography kit I use. I already write in great detail about my Leica cameras and film cameras. I have also spoke about the lenses I use and recommend for the different cameras I have.
In this part 1 post I will cover my most used portrait photography lighting kit that I recommend to my students (people who come for photography tuition).
Open and transparent
I will be honest. One reason to write this post is to jump on the Amazon affiliates bandwagon. I upgraded the MrLeica blog platform a few months ago to make it easier to customise and hopefully read for viewers as I noticed most of the 400+ blog posts were impossible to find. Upgrading the blog now means it costs me around £400 a year to run it. I decided if I included a few Amazon Affiliate product links as part of a review it might be able to help cover some of the cost.
I guess the good thing for readers is it prompted me to write about sharing my favourite portrait photography lighting equipment that til now I had avoided. For anyone that has not heard of Amazon affiliates it basically means if you buy a product through clicking a link on this page it helps to support the MrLeica blog. (Amazon pay me a small commission for any referrals). To the buyer there is no extra cost, I am just providing a direct link to the standard Amazon website.
I only recommend photography equipment I own
For all the photography products I recommend I tried to include photos of the equipment being used and where possible the actual products in my hand. Many people write these sorts of posts and share a stock photo of an Amazon product that they might not even own. I only write about products I use, tried and tested and have proven themselves to me. (I have many many other lights and kit that were not as good so I guess I did the light testing for you!)
Best Speedlights 2018? Latest lighting equipment
The items I review may not all be the latest variants as the technology changes so fast. They might not be the newest / best speedlights in 2018 but have not seen anything better that has made me want to upgrade from my current lighting kit. Also the benefit of some slightly older models is they have a proven track record and older version are cheaper to buy vs the new model.
US and UK readers
If you don’t know from my previous ramblings I am a UK-based portrait photographer. I noticed however that most of my MrLeica blog readers live in the US followed by the UK then everywhere else in the world. I can’t setup product links for everyone I’m afraid but I will include UK and US links to the Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com website. For everyone else the camera gear I recommend is just the same but I can’t send you a direct link to buy it. Sorry.
When anyone buys a new camera the first thing to buy is a decent memory card. As a portrait photographer I thing the next thing I bought was a light (a speedlight). Photography lighting is a huge topic but I will talk about how I enjoy using a photography lighting system rather than one product for portrait photography.
Photography Lighting Equipment – Beginners Guide!
Why all photographers should use flash!
Many new photographers shy away from using their camera with a flash. I know I did for a think the first 2-3 years. Even some professional photographers label themselves as an “available light photographer” which basically means they can’t use flash. I say this because if you could you would! I’m not picking at anyone but I know as a portrait and wedding photographer sometimes there just isn’t enough light to get the photo you want. That being with the quality of light you want. Why struggle at ISO 6400+ and produce a low quality noisy image when you can fake daylight with a flash and shoot it at ISO 100-400. Here is a good example from my recent trip to Poland. It was the last photo shoot of the day and almost dark outside. I could have probably shot it at ISo 12800 or something but instead I just faked the daylight with an off camera flash and shot it at ISo 400.
Using photography lighting is fun and effective! Off camera flash
Modern cameras spoil us now with even low-cost camera having like ISO 1-million! As a film photographer I usually need to shoot at ISo 100-400/800 (try too) so I use lights quite often if the available light levels are too low. As you can see then I’ve gone from an “available light photographer” to a “lights are amazing!” photographer. Once you start it’s addictive stuff! You can almost always better a scene with a light and there is unlimited creative ways to use a light. I talk from a people photography stand point whether posed models or run and gun wedding photography. Even some landscape photographers use lights now (light painting a landscape). The guys over at F Stoppers have been playing around with these techniques if you are more of a landscape photographer type and interested. I guess street photography is an exception to needing a flash though some famous street photographers flash light their “prey” in the street too to great effect.
3 Types of Photography Lighting for Beginners
In very basic terms there are 3 types of light –
1. Sunlight (Light originating from the sun)
Whether direct sun on a blue sky day, diffused sunlight through clouds, light at dusk and dawn, light reflecting off water, a building, the floor, it all originates from the sun. (I ignore moonlight but would group it here also). We can’t control how the sun is hitting the earth/ the objects around us. This is often referred to as continuous light but to be specific lets call it natural continuous light. (I exclude firelight from this).
2. Artificial continuous light
This is usual a light source as a result of mankind. Street lights, car lights, lighting in your house, light from you iPhone, light from a candle if you light it. Any light that can be seen for a longer duration of time than a fraction of a second. In the studio there are a now a few different types of continuous lights. Tradition hot lights (tungsten bulb studio lights) and cold lights like LED lighting and Fluorescent tube lighting. Each give a different quality of light. Generally speaking (there are some exception) continuous lighting normally requires more power so tends to be mains powered and is often found in the studio. (Some of the modern LED lights are portable and use battery packs).
3. Flash lighting (with speedlight, stuido light or similar device)
Flash lights are commonly refered to as speedlights for photography. They are generally smaller and more portable than traditional artificial lights and battery-powered. Flash light is instant on/off where as daylight and artificial light is continuous. This make flash lighting much more difficult to use as you cannot see the effect until you fire the flash and take a photo. This means using speedlights to good effect can take practise but it’s worth it! (It took me many hours of experimenting and I never stop learning).
What portable and studio lights do I use in 2018? / Flash for Leica M cameras
I love lights so have bought so many over the years. I use traditional hot lights, modern fluorescent right lights, main powered studio lights, portable battery pack studio lights and speedlights of every size and power. In this recommended list I try to share details on the lights I use the most. I am a studio based photographer but much of my photography is on location (for weddings and photo shoots) or overseas (all the model trips I do outside the UK). Each time I travel I try to find ways of making my photography lighting kit smaller and smaller yet still have larger high power lights for when weight is less of an issue.
Best Photography Lighting Kits (Godox vs Nikon vs Canon)
As mentioned above I have bought many brands over the years but the brand that I have stayed with (and grown with) is Godox. When you buy photography lighting kits you soon realise you are investing in a lighting system. I guess it is similar to cameras. If you buy a Nikon DSLR you can’t then use a Canon lens as it doesn’t fit. The same with lighting to a degree. Once you start using off camera flash you need triggers or transmitters and receivers. With modern speedlights often some features are built into the flash units themselves so it’s really beneficial to use everything from the same brand.
Follow the TTL / E-TTL flash trend or do lighting properly?
TTL or E-TTL (for Canon users) seems to be all the rage these days. Most photography light (speedlight) manufacturers now offer a TTL flash. What is TTL? In very simple terms it is a computer inside the flash that gives a perfect exposure for every photo. This is great for people who use a camera in full auto mode and don’t know a F stop from an ISo. A full auto camera with a TTL full auto lens is now completely automated to give a perfect exposure every time without needing to know anything about photography. Great for wedding photographers in it to make a quick buck but boring as hell for anyone hoping to get some fulfilment from the art of photography and learning the craft. I can’t think of anything worse / more dull myself. Surely the kick from getting a good photo is when you put the effort in to achieve it? If it is offered on a plate to you as a finished article and you had no input in the result then where is the fun in that. When I teach students I always teach to use a manual flash and full manual camera settings. I think they know more after their first day than many of the wedding photographers! 🙂
Benefits of non- TTL speedlights? (Godox V850II vs Nikon SB-910)
Ans: The same light power but a less than a third of the cost!
If you (like me) don’t want a TTL flash then you can save a lot of money. For example a Nikon SB-910 TTL Speedlight is around £300 on Amazon whereas a Godox V850 without TTL is only £90! Both lights are a similar size and power output. Worth noting when you look to buy a speedlight. If a flash looks expensive check if it is TTL. If it is there might be a cheaper alternative without TTL you can buy (Like the Godox V850/V850II).
Why I recommend Godox lights & top 3 Godox speedlights (2018)(for me). Are Godox the best third flash? + Godox are a Flash for Leica cameras! (Great!)
> 3 Godox speedlights I still recommend in 2018 (What I use)
Godox Portable studio light – Godox AD-360 (Profoto B1 alternative!)
I am in no way linked to Godox (also know as Cheetah, Witstro, Flashpoint and other names) but ever since my first Godox flash I have been hooked. Originally I was lusting after a Profoto B1 (don’t we all!) after seeing one of their adverts but I couldn’t bring myself to spend such a large amount of money on a light. The research then began to find a cheap Profoto B1 alternative. I wanted a portable high power light to photograph on location. I looked at Paul C Buff’s Alien Bees like the B400 but I couldn’t find a stockist for them in the UK. I looked at Elinchrom Ranger Quadra after seeing them in a photography magazine. I loved the small head units but again they were expensive. At the time I had a Nikon D700 not Leica cameras so my photography budget was a lot lower!
Eventually I discovered Godox when they were just hitting the UK market (see graph above – Godox is everywhere now but they weren’t 5+ yrs ago!) I might have even imported my Godox flash I can’t remember. I was just so keen to get a portable high power light to give me a similar tool to a Profoto B1 that I probably did import it I was that excited to find it!
Godox AD-180 & Godox AD-360 Flash (Cheaper than Profoto and better than a regular flash!)
I remember when I first used my Godox flash at a big Indian wedding. Rather than needing like 3 speedlights I could just light the whole room with one pop of the Godox flash! It recycles really fast too so for weddings it is amazing. Non-stop high power flash – living the dream! No more missed photos from little speedlights not recycling fast enough! I had studio power lighting on location and photographers often came and asked me what I was using so they could buy the same. My first Godox light was (still is) a Godox AD-180 and then I later bought the more powerful Godox AD-360 that I recommend here. I use the pair of them for my wedding photography and never worry about batteries needing replacing etc. For these Godox flash I needed triggers so I could fire the light off camera. I bought flash triggers from Godox so now I had lights and triggers to fire them. Great. (Triggers detailed below). My lighting system had begun!
> Godox Witstro AD-360 Portable Flash Kit + PB960 Battery
Studio power flash with separate battery pack. Comes with USB port for FTR16 receiver (but will accept new XTR16 receiver also)(Great as I can then fire with FT-16/ XT-16/ X1T triggers!) I use it as a cheap Profoto B1 alternative but that is not an exact comparison.
Godox large flash – Godox V850II (The best speedlight for my needs) (A brief Godox V850II review!)
Then I wanted a large speedlight that was more portable than the Godox AD-360 but still powerful and still worked with my same triggers. I didn’t need a TTL flash so that would save me a lot of money. I bought a Godox V850 and then Godox V850 II (that I recommend here). The V850II is a 4x AA battery size flash similar to the size of main brand flash units that i used previously (Nikon SB-900 size or Canon equivalent) but with a lithium battery. The Godox V850II is the best speedlight for me as it works with my existing flash triggers. Now I had multiple off camera lights that I can fire from a single Godox remote trigger on my camera hotshoe. This was my photography lighting kit for models and weddings in the UK. When overseas I just took a smaller Godox V850 /V850 II and left the larger lights behind. The V850/V850II with “Li-ion” batteries normally last a full day on one charge and recycle quickly too. No more faffing around with piles of AA batteries! (I remember in my early weddings I was charging some AA batteries at the wedding as my 3 Yongnuo flashes were working hard and eating through the batteries!).
> Godox Ving V850II GN60 Flash Speedlight
Powerful flash, lithium battery, built-in XTR16 receiver (but will accept FTR16 receiver also via USB port)(Great as I can then fire with FT-16/ XT-16/ X1T triggers!)
Godox small speedlight – Godox TT350 (Best flash for Leica M camera / cheap Leica flash alternative!) (A mini Godox TT350 review!)
As a Leica photographer I enjoy using small cameras for digital photography. I wanted to find the best flash for Leica M cameras (specifically the Leica M240, M8, M6 and M4P)(The Leica M3 and M2 have a cold shoe not a hot shoe). Leica flash are expensive but they are a nice small size. I wanted a cheap Leica flash alternative as didn’t want to pay crazy money for a Leica flash (like a Leica SF40). A Leica flash would also not be compatible with my existing light setup anyway. The Godox V850II is too big really to mount on a small Leica M camera so I did some research and settled on the new Godox TT350 flash. The Godox TT350 flash is a small 2xAA battery unit more similar in size to a Leica flash. The small unit can be used as a trigger to fire other flash units yet still emit flash itself too (like a normal flash). I had the situation as some weddings where I was using all off camera flash and had a trigger on my camera hotshoe. Someone would then want a photo or I needed to light something up right in front of me (away from my lights). I couldn’t use a standard speedlight on my hotshoe as then the other off camera lights would not fire (say to light a venue room). I needed light on camera that would also fire lights off camera. Hey presto! Godox answer my dreams with the Godox TT350. Perfect size as a Leica flash and does all I need. It actually does more than my needs as it is TTL but they don’t make a non-TTL version sadly. The price is slighty higher but it has a lot of functionality as part of a wider camera system. There is a small problem though. This latest Godox speedlight doesn’t work with my usual FT-16 Godox triggers. (see below).
> Godox TT350N TTL Flash Speedlight
Small TTL speedlight that can work as a flash, trigger same units and units compatible with the new XTR16 receiver (Note* Can’t fire Godox TT350 of camera with FT-16 trigger, only XT-16/ X1T/ another TT350 or similar modern flash)
Top 3 Best Wireless Flash Triggers 2018: Godox wireless triggers and receivers for flash photography
> 3 Godox wireless flash triggers I recommend for the Godox flash system
This bit gets a little complicated so try to hang with me! So my original Godox wireless flash triggers are called Godox FT-16 transmitters. They look a bit like pocket wizards (see photo below) and have an aerial on the top. FT-16 triggers use 2x AA batteries and are a perfect weight for small cameras such as a Leica. FT-16 triggers have their own receivers. Different flash units use different size receivers. The Godox AD-180, AD-360 and V850II have a USB receiver port so can be fired from new receivers (XTR-16) and old receivers (FTR-16) (you just plug the receiver into the side of the unit). The old receiver that pairs with the FT-16 wireless flash trigger is called a Godox FTR-16 receiver. The new receiver looks nearly identical but is called a XTR-16 receiver. (Godox have now released a new version of the FT-16 transmitter called the XT-16 wireless flash trigger)(with same aerial style). I don’t have the XT-16 transmitter but will recommend it next to the old FT-16 transmitter (below) as I only just discovered it while writing this post! I will be buying Godox XT-16 triggers soon! Why. Well this is the problem I faced. So the old FT-16 trigger will fire the bigger speedlights but wont talk to the latest Godox v350 flash. The Godox TT350 will fire the older speedlights now that I fitted these units with new XTR-16 receivers. But what if I want to fire the little Godox TT350 off camera? I need a new trigger to do this. For this I bought a new style of Godox trigger and receiver called Godox X1T trigger and X1R receiver. (See further down).
> Godox FT-16 Wireless Flash Trigger & Godox FTR16 Wireless Receiver kit
I still prefer the older Godox FT-16 wireless flash trigger to the new X1T trigger
Old version (Trigger/Receiver kit) for AD-180/AD-360/V850/V850II+more. Pocket wizard design and works great on small cameras. Trigger will fire any older Godox flash or older “F” receiver. Receiver will work with ANY Godox light with a USB port (new or old).
> Godox XT-16 Wireless Flash Trigger & Godox XTR16 Wireless Receiver kit
The Godox XT-16 wireless flash trigger has all the benefits of the FT-16 (+ more!)
New version (Trigger/Receiver kit) for AD-180/AD-360/V850II/TT350 +more. Same pocket wizard design and works great on small cameras. Trigger will fire any new Godox flash or new “X” receiver. Receiver will work with ANY Godox light with a USB port (new or old).
> NO IMAGE AS I’VE NOT BOUGHT THESE YET (SAME AS ABOVE GODOX FT-16 DESIGN)
> Godox X1T – Wireless Hot Shoe Flash Trigger Transmitter
New different style Trigger – for AD-180/AD-360/V850II/TT350 +more. Big advantage as when on hotshoe it can fire any new Godox flash or new “X” receiver off camera and will accept any brand speedlight to sit on top for a combination of on camera and off camera flash option. I find it too big for Leica cameras but use it with Nikon D800/ F4/ F5/ Hasselblad and others.
> Godox X1R N 2.4G Wireless Flash Trigger Receiver
New different style receiver – for ALL SPEEDLIGHTS! (any brand) Different design where speedlight sits onto receiver unit or connect with cable
Non-Godox Lights (Mains Powered Studio Light)
Ring Light – Great for Perfect Instagram Selfies!
In addition to all the various Godox speedlights and triggers above I also use continuous lights. The beauty of these is you can see what you will get (ie. the effect on the subject) before you take the photo. Beauty lights or ring lights are very popular with makeup artists, vloggers and some studio photographers also. The main point to note as a photographer is continuous light is very low power compared to a speedlight / flash so they are of no use on a bright day or if you are a studio photographer that photos everything at f16. Great for low light and fast lenses like F1.4-f2-f2.8 etc.
> Neewer RING LIGHT – 75W (600W Equivalent) 5500K Camera Photo Dimmable Ring Fluorescent, Diameter 18 inches Outer 14 inches Inner
You can always see if a photo was taken with a ringlight as there will be polo shaped highlights in the eyes (see Stacey above in the studio).
Part 1: Recommended Photography Lighting Equipment – Summary
Above I have detailed the main photography lighting I use for most of my photography, 3 sizes (and power outputs) of Godox speedlights to suit different occasions, new versions and old versions of Godox wireless flash triggers and receivers needed to use the flash off camera. I also listed my Ring flash as they are very popular for Instagramers trying to take the perfect selfies! I appreciate I went into quite a lot of detail but I hope it made some sense. It took me ages researching these products before buying to try to get the best product for the money and then practice and experimenting to understand what triggers and receivers can fire what speedlights. Luckily I enjoy experimenting with flash photography!
Part 2: To Follow
I had planned to list all my gear on one blog post but it was getting a bit to long and messy. In part two (when i get time!) I will list more of the photography equipment I use and it will be less light specific.
Here are some photo shoots as examples of the abovementioned lighting
- Budapest Models – “2 Small Speedlights”
- Budapest Models – “1 Speedlight”
- Hamburg Models – “1 Speedlight”
- Hasselblad Wedding – “1 Big Speedlight”