Studio Equipment Recommendations

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I have $800, now what?

I am asked at least 3x a year what sort of equipment I use in my photo studio. I have also been asked for recommendations for setting up studios & strobes for beginners. Below is a list of equipment that I love & if I had to start over, this is how I would invest in new equipment.


I love Alien Bees equipment, I have lights that are 10+ years old, they have been tossed in suitcases, traveled around the country, dropped onto rocks, rolled down beaches, left on for 3 days in a row…. These strobes still work & still produce fantastic lighting. Paul C. Buff customer service is amazing as well.


I do not have a brand that I prefer with modifiers, I use Alien Bees modifiers by default since they fit the strobes & I don’t wish to make purchases from several different vendors. Anything can be a modifier, from thousand dollar custom beauty dishes, to umbrellas to foam core sheets.


I am currently using Phottix trigger, my goal for triggers & receivers is the smallest weight & footprint possible, I do not wish to add any more weight & bulk to my cameras. One downside is that they do use AAA batteries, so that is another thing you have to keep stocked and on hand.

Note: For a while I used a $20 trigger, yes, the cheapest one I could find, and it lasted me over 10 years before it needed to be replaced, this is a comparable one that is currently for sale. While someone else is complaining that triggers can cost $400+ YOU don’t have to purchase the $400 triggers, you CAN purchase a set for $30, or $100, or $400.

If I had to set up a small studio from scratch & only have a $800 budget.

This is my shopping list.

$ 279 Strobe

$ 120 Foldable Strip Box

$ 30 Grid for Strip Box

$ 135 Triggers for strobe

$ 60 60” Shoot through umbrella

$ 40 Light Stand

This list is enough to get started & learn about how light works with different modifiers and create great images. I see many people buy sets of 2-3 lights without the basic understanding of how to use just one light. I see people purchasing hundreds of dollars in low powered  “hot lights” to learn that they don’t have the power to use modifiers & then the new photographer is back at the store buying more powerful lighting equipment spending more money. I also see people purchasing excessively expensive equipment when a lower prices option will last for over a decade & work just as well.

Bonus = Your strobe will come with a 7″ reflector, this will bring your total modifier count to three. Three modifiers is enough to get anyone started creating their vision.

Now that we have the bare photo studio necessities covered, let’s have a little fun!

This is a list of equipment I love to use regularly & while outside a strict $800 budget, would be my next in line to purchase.

$70 Set of grids

I love grids, I love using them to light smaller areas of a studio, model, I love using them with gels.

$49 Set of 20 gels

Gels can be used to add a pop of color to a photo

$120 Small Soft box

I use this smaller softbox on many sets down on the floor pointed upwards to fill in light from below.

$30 32” white shoot through umbrella

I love these 32” umbrellas so does everyone else, they are the MOST common “gone missing” piece of photo equipment I have, I buy 3 at a time….

Background stand: I have had my background stand for over 10 years & a knob JUST fell off this year, still works though. I will replace it sometime in 2017.

Special tip: I color coded each side knob with bright colored electrical tape!

Bottom = Blue

Middle = Green

Top = Yellow

This stops the confusion of what is the “Top” knob when others are helping you raise & lower the stand. (There are technically 5 different knobs, but you only use 3 to raise & lower the cross bar.)

Then I start adding in more lights…..& doubling up on my favorite modifiers, I LOVE using TWO of the gridded strip boxes.

Collecting dust:

Every studio is different & each photographer uses different lighting equipment based on their style, I have purchased many pieces of equipment to just let it collect dust or sell it off to someone else. Recently I’ve been doing a bit of winter cleaning and this is a partial list of equipment that I just don’t use often enough to justify purchasing it again if I had to rebuild my photo studio.

22 Inch Beauty Dish: This heavy, bulky, finger smooshing modifier is used by hundreds of thousands of photographers, I just don’t like it, it is great of your client has perfect skin and not a single line in their face, but it is a pretty much a one hit wonder, you can’t use it to light entire bodies, only faces, and with the grid, the light quality is hard enough to show off cheekbones, acne, & wrinkles. I only keep mine around for other photographers to use.

Barn doors: I had a set, then I was going to sell them, then I lost them, who knows where they are… If I want to carve my light into tiny strips, I use the strip boxes.

Portable Power: Over the years I have purchased several portable power systems, then I realized that I was spending money on studio rent, AND portable power systems so I could shoot on location, splitting my time and income between these differing styles was slowing me down, and risking faster wear & tear on my strobes, (Note: the poor strobe above that crashed onto some rocks and rolled down a beach) Once I settled into the idea that I wanted to excel in studio work all the outdoor equipment just collected dust on my equipment racks.

Now if people ask me about outdoor styles I refer them to my photo colleagues who have mastered outdoors styles & they refer clients to me for my studio work.

I’m not buying this with YOUR money:

This is a special item, the plastic chain drive, I have worked in photo studios all over the US. This one piece of equipment keeps smashing my fingers then breaking & crashing to the floor. I would never recommend one of these ever. The plastic breaks & you are left scrambling to fix your seamless paper that is now hanging 9 feet in the air….

I might just be good at breaking things, but I hate these plastic chain drives.

Photography studio rental:

If you’re looking for a great place to do some photography & test out equipment without the cost of purchasing everything up front. Rent our fantastic photo studio! Who knows, you might just love the beauty dish & want to have one of your very own!