Most photographers are interested in learning flash photography, but often shy away when they see how much a name-brand speedlight flash costs. Up to $500 for just one flash is a lot! Fortunately, I’ve been on a mission for the last few years to find the best quality flash photography gear for photographers on a budget. I have extensively used the gear for over a year now, and I’m confident that these are the very best products for the very cheapest price.

I have spent several THOUSANDS of dollars purchasing and testing different flash photography products to come up with this list, so I hope it saves you from buying junk.

I promise that if you are just willing to TRY flash photography, it will dramatically improve the quality of your photos. I’ve always said that knowing how to work with light is what makes you a photographer–anyone can use a camera.

Have questions about flash photography in general? Check out Jim’s super handy guide to flash photography.

I have been using and recommending the YN-560 flash for many years.  It’s only $70 and compatible with almost all camera systems (including Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Fuji, and most Sony cameras).  It’s dead simple to use, triggers reliably, and is very durable. I know that sounds like I’m advertising for them, but I’m not.  They don’t sponsor, endorse, or pay to advertise on Improve Photography and I don’t even know anyone at the company.  They just make great gear at a cheap price so I recommend them.

I’ve probably owned two dozen YN560s over the last few years and haven’t been disappointed yet.  Get one!

Beginner Flash Photography Kit – About $140 including the flash

YN-560 IV flash – This is the flash that I have recommended for years.  It’s reliable and one QUARTER the price of comparable Canon and Nikon flashes.  It can be used by simply putting it on top of the hotshoe of your camera, or you can take it off camera and trigger it wirelessly with the trigger below. Buy it on Amazon.

YN-560 TX trigger – This trigger is cool.  You can get a Yongnuo trigger for a little less than this, but this one allows you to control the brightness of the flash even when the flash is not connected to the camera.  That’s handy when you’re out shooting.  Simply put this trigger on the camera, take the flash and put it on a light stand wherever you want, and the flash will fire right as you click the shutter.  Beautiful! Buy it on Amazon.

White umbrella – I recommend a white shoot-through umbrella as your first flash modifier.  The purpose of it is to soften the light of the flash to create more beautiful lighting on the person you’re photographing.  You may be tempted to get a softbox instead, but I think that’s a mistake for your first modifier.  An umbrella is easier to use because it spreads the light more, and is therefore more forgiving of having the flash in slightly the wrong spot. Buy it on Amazon.

Flash Bracket – The flash bracket simply fits on top of the light stand and allows you to connect your YN560.  It also has a hole in the center so you can put your umbrella on it as well. Buy it on Amazon.

Light Stand – The light stand is simply a tripod for your flash.  I like the little Cowboy Studio light stands because they are lightweight and easy to move around.  Buy it on Amazon.

Hobbyist Flash Photography Kit – About $425 including three flashes

Three YN-560 IV flash Units – Now that you’re getting a bit more serious about your flash photography, I highly recommend bumping it up to three speedlights.  You’ll find a lot of situations where you can create gorgeous and creative lighting by using more than one flash. Buy it on Amazon.

YN-560 TX trigger – Same trigger as in the beginner kit.  This thing works like a charm! Buy it on Amazon.

Three White umbrellas – I like having two or three umbrellas because if I’m doing a three-point lighting setup, I most often use umbrellas on the back lights. Buy it on Amazon.

Three Flash Brackets – Since we’re bumping up the budget on this kit, I’d prefer to see you get a more beefy flash bracket with more control and which is stronger.  This is the bracket I use on all of my shoots. Buy it on Amazon.

Three Light Stands – The light stand is simply a tripod for your flash.  You can buy really nice Impact light stands for more money that are much more solid, but honestly I prefer the little cheap Cowboy Studio light stands because they are lightweight and easy to move around.  Buy it on Amazon.

5-in-1 Reflector – Some photographers use reflectors more than others, but all photographers use them.  They are handy for bouncing light, blocking the light of the sun during a mid-day shoot, flagging off lights, etc.  This one is great because it’s gigantic and is an oval shape which works better for full-body portraits.  But it on Amazon.

Rogue Flashbender – I like the flashbender for on-camera flash photography.  I would never recommend it for softening an off-camera flash, but when I’m photographing a wedding reception or just need some simple light for an on-camera flash, then I use the flashbender.  Buy it on Amazon.

Rogue Flash Gels – Gels are thin pieces of transluscent plastic that go on top of the flash head and allow you to color the light.  I use them on about half of the flash photography shoots I do.  Buy a kit on Amazon.



Studio Photography Kit – $3,999

Okay, fine. I’m not a money launderer, but since photography is my full-time career… I like to have the best possible tools to work with. I still use YN-560 flashes and simple speedlight setups for ALL of my shoots, some photographers prefer to work with studio strobes if you’re in a studio.  I no longer use studio strobes, but this is the kit that I’ve used and recommend.

There are other brands of lights that offer affiliate programs to bloggers so I’d get a portion of the sale if you buy them, but the brand I recommend here doesn’t have a program like that. I recommend the Paul C. Buff gear anyway because it is better quality and a better price than comparable brands like the Elinchrom 500 BXRI.

Einstein e640
$1,996 ($499 x4)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
The main competitor is the Elinchrom BXRI 500, which is another good option. However, the Einsteins are less expensive, more durable, have a faster flash duration, and allow you to use MUCH less expensive softboxes. The Einstein lights come from Paul C. Buff, the maker of famous Alien Bees flash gear.

Cyber Commander

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
this is what is put on top of your hot shoe to trigger the flashes. It allows you to control the power of each individual flash from it, so you don’t have to walk over to each light every time you want to adjust the power. Pocket Wizard also has a product that can be used with Einsteins.

Impact Light Stand
$120 ($30 x4)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
Plug it into the Einstein and you have your flash receiver that works with the Cyber Commander. Simple.

Vagabond Battery Pack
$720 ($240 x3)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
TThese battery packs allow you to take your Einstein studio strobes on location. Since these lights need to be plugged in, you’ll need these to shoot in locations where you don’t have access to power. It’s basically a mini car battery that you can carry around with you and plug your lights into.

Foldable Softboxes
$240 ($120 x2)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
These softboxes come in a nice size for location flash photography. Very portable and still provides a very soft light. I use this size softbox more than any other.

60″ Octabox

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
The octabox has become one of the most popular lighting modifiers around today. It is a HUGE light source for creating seamless soft lighting, and it leaves a cool-shaped catch-light in the model’s eyes.

22″ Beauty Dish

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
The beauty dish creates an edgy-yet-soft light quality that is very popular in photography right now. The sock slips over the beauty dish to soften the light a bit more.

Avenger Boom Stand

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
I said this list was for money launderers, right? This stand is insanely expensive, but it’s important that your boom stand is rock solid since it will carry a lot of weight at a strange angle, and you don’t want it tipping over and falling on the model! This one is a bit of a splurge.

Impact Light Stand
$147 ($49 x3)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
These stands are much more stable than the ones in the beginner kit. I use these with some HUGE 5 foot tall (1.5 meter) lighting modifiers and it can withstand any flash. This is very comparable to the Westcott brand, but cheaper.

$30 ($7.50 x4)

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – Improve’s Review:
Put the sandbag on the leg of your lightstand so that it won’t blow over in the wind. It’s a pain to carry heavy sandbags, but I guarantee if you skip out on the sandbag, you’ll be buying a new flash and umbrella. These are great for heavy and unbalanced modifiers too.

My (Free!) Flash Tutorial


    1. Kristi

      Hi! I saw you said that you had ordered the Muslin backdrop. Is it still on the recommended gear page? I don’t see it, but perhaps you can tell me about the one you got. Like it? Hate it? I want one that is light, stuffable, and portable. :)

  1. Jason

    Hi Jim,

    Love your podcast and decided to pull the trigger and buy a flash set up to play with. For the “hobbit” flash kit, the light stands are currently unavailable from amazon. Could you point me in the direction of another place I could buy this from?

    Thanks for all you do!

  2. Sarah

    I want to buy the RF-603 but I can’t find out if it will work with the new Canon 70D, do you know the answer please?
    Thanks for all the invaluable advise you give, very much appreciated.


  3. John

    The RF-603 works great as a remote shutter release for the Nikon D90 camera but I can not get it to work with my Nikon SB-400 flash.

  4. Chuck Origer

    Jim, Many thanks for everything you share with the community. Love your site and podcast. You’re approach is always practical and conservative.

    Maybe I have missed it, but have you talked about monitor calibration and have you recommended a particular system? I like your Sears’ approach of good, better, best! What would you recommend?

    Chuck Origer

  5. Andy

    Great write up, One quick concern…

    What about the M4/3 Panasonic / Olympus users out there. Where is the compatible wireless hot shoe triggers for us?

  6. David

    I noticed that all of your home kits use speedlights instead of monolights. What are your thoughts on the advantage/disadvantages of using something like the Cowboystudio 400W studio monolight instead of the recommended Yongnuo flash units?

    Thanks for doing such a great job helping out folks like me in the amateur photography community…love your podcast!

  7. David

    Perhaps a better comparison cost-wise would be their 180W unit ($69.99 on Amazon). It’s a little cheaper even than the Yongnuo.

    I know the monolight needs to be plugged in, but we are talking about a home studio, so no big deal, right?

    Thanks again!

  8. shahriar

    I am confused. Whether I will Purchage Nikon SB 910 or Yongnuo YN 565 EX for wedding purpose, to work with Nikon D610 body. Please help.

  9. Peter Doyle

    I have a question rather than a comment. I hope that is ok. My question is will the Yomgnuo Flash Gun and the Yongnuo Rf 630 work in conjunction with my Nikon SB 900 Flash Gun?
    Thanks Peter

  10. Tammy Steele

    I have a YN560-ll Speed lite and was wondering if the RF-603 will be compatible with a Canon 6D
    Thank You :)

  11. Dana

    Hi Jim, you might need to update the info on rf-603. I just bought them without researching more myself (all the names are confusing and I couldn’t find other ones that are the same), and found out later a better version was released end of last year – rf-603 II, with a locking wheel for the same price. It’s not a big improvement but still irking to know that I could have gotten the newer version with the same price.

  12. Aaron

    Hi I’m just amateur photographer/videographer looking to improve and expand I’m wondering if this stuff will work with my Nikon d3100 that’s from australia

  13. Heather Moser

    This, as well as the rest of your site, is simply a godsend. I have learned so much in the past few days reading through your tutorials and recommendations. I just purchased a good chunk of the hobbyist package you recommended after days of research. I’m happy to say the prices dropped and I purchased for about 150$ less than you mentioned above. Go me! haha Thanks again for all the great research you provided. Helped me a lot!!

  14. Ananth Prabakaran

    I believe you meant rf603 as rf630, as far i knew rf603 is a manual trigger(not 100% sure) means it can trigger the flash but SB900 can work both manual and iTTL(nikon version of TTL), so in future if you need to use off camera TTL flash rf603 will not help. if a person has a mix of TTL and manual flash i would recommed a trigger that supports TTL and manual. you can checkout yongnuo rf622N.

  15. Adam Ohrt

    I have a quick question. I have 2 560 III’s and purchased a meyin 2.4ghz transmitter/receiver. It works great with the yongnuo’s but here’s my question. I recently purchased a fairly inexpensive mono-light to test out some lighting techniques. I need to get a receiver to fire this light wirelessly but also want to keep the ability to fire the two speed lights. Can I purchase any 2.4ghz receiver with 16 channels and have it work or does it have to match up with the meyin?

  16. Lisa

    Really enjoying your website and all the helpful info! On your suggestion I recently purchased the Yongnuo 560 III flash and RF – 306N remotes to use with my Nikon D60. Bad news is I can’t get the flash to fire.

    Any idea if this should actually work with the D60??

  17. Kelly Ann

    I love the Yongnuo YN-560 III flash that I bought, but I had an impossible time getting my camera to focus, because the red lamp doesn’t work! Any tips to help me make this flash work in dim lighting? I also bought the wireless transmitters! Don’t know if that will help? I’m the second shooter at another wedding in a few weekends. Thinking I’ll just rent a Canon speedlight, but obviously I’d rather use this! … :( help?!

  18. Ben Johnson

    You know, I happen to be a tech-savy dude, and know a lot about computers and electronics. I also happen to have a keen eye for visual aesthetics and and..color.

    I really have to ask myself: Does a 300 dollar kit give you the same results as a 3K kit? After testing and careful analysis:

    YES. In other words, don’t fall for marketing gimmicks and hyped up brand names. If it works, it works. If it costs a lot, it will still work; just not any better than what you had before — in THIS case…

    Photographers….those guys…

  19. Gillian

    Hi, i am looking into getting a wireless flash setup. and there starts my confusion!! i use Sony DSLR and have a Sony flash, and i know i can also use Minolta flashes.

    however, the query i have is this. if i get wireless radio triggers to use with my Sony DSLR and flash, do i have to use Sony fitting flashes? or will say, a cheap nikon/canon speedlite work with the setup??

    this is what is confusing me. i read that the receiver/triggers make the flashes on them work, so surely it does not matter the make of flash, just that the camera and receiver/triggers work together??

  20. Fury

    Just wanted to let you know that for the Yongnuo triggers to work on the sony, the trigger you plan to use on the camera needs a modification. I am lucky in that one of my partners loves to take electronics apart and tinker with them, but it still would have been a nice bit of info to have.

  21. Dan

    I purchased the yong-nuo rf603 triggers and the adapters for my sony camera. Unfortunately my Minolta 5600hs flash won’t fit. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  22. Mary

    Hi, I already own a Nikon D7100 and a Nikon SB700 Speedlite. Can you tell me what other gear I would need to acquire from here to complete a “hobbyist” kit? Thanks so much!

  23. David Joye

    Jim, read an article discussing a new YongNuo transmitter that would allow remote manual power control with YN-560 III flashes. How huge would this be when you have a flash on a 10′ stand? I love these flashes and remote power control might make them perfect, IMHO. Curious what your thoughts are

  24. Heath

    I have the Yongnuo YN-560 III, which I really like. However it cannot get this flash to fire while my Canon T4i’s LCD viewfinder (live view) is on. Does anyone know a fix for this? This does not happen with my old Canon flash.


  25. tim woolf

    I purchased the Yongnuo 560 III and remotes on your recommendation for my Canon 6D, which work fine, but I’m trying to use Rear Curtain Sync, but my 6D won’t connect with the YN 560 saying it’s not compatible. Is this because the YN560 isn’t an ETTL flash? And does this mean I can’t use Rear Curtain Sync?

  26. Steve

    Hi Ian, I have been using this bit of kit on my Canon 60D, I use it constantly, with no probs; although it was not specifically recommended for my 60D so, with a bit of luck, I think it should work fine on your camera, you could contact the maker for advise to.

  27. CAMERON White

    Can you pls advise if you have knowledge of mailing costs for the Hobbyist Lighting kit…. or do you know of a distributor for these flashes and items in Australia.. your assistance would be greatly appreciated..

  28. CAMERON White

    could you please advise of mailing costs re your Hobbyist kit.. or do you know if these items have a distributor in Australia… ta..

  29. Ron

    Thank you for a great podcasts on your advice I’m ordering the Yongnuo RF-603 N3 2.4GHz Wireless Flash Trigger/Wireless Shutter Release Transceiver Kit for Nikon again thank you Ron

  30. Emily

    Hi, can you sync 2 off camera flashes if you have 2 sets of Yongnuo RF-603 (4 controls) but only use 3 on the same channel? Thanks, Em

  31. Wayne Lang

    Hi guys,
    I was looking for a cheap flash set up and found your video “Understand Flash Photography in 10 Minutes or Less” on YouTube. I was wondering if this same gear would work on my Olympus EM-5, as I noticed most of the products you’ve listed here say recommended for Canon, Nikon or Sony. I’m relatively new at flash photography and on a pretty tight budget, so I really can’t afford to buy gear that isn’t going to work. I also live in a very small town, so finding a place where I can try this stuff out is next to impossible. Hope you can help. Thanks in advance of a reply. Cheers. Wayne.

    1. Zane

      They will work I’m using two of the EM5’s with Phoyttix Transmitters and receivers.
      I am a big believer in Yungnuo Products s never had an issue and I’ve dropped them a handful of times.

  32. Marc Konchinsky

    It’s time to revisit these recommended Flash Kits and add in the Yongnuo YN-560-TX transmitter. What an incredible new piece of equipment!

  33. Traci Parcell

    Marc, would I still purchase the recommended transceivers as well? I checked out the transmitter you suggested and its seems like is something I would want/need (I don’t want to have to manually change each flash setting during the reception). Thanks!

  34. Tom Gonzalez

    Hi Jim,

    What is your opinion of the portable battery powered strobes by Flashpoint (Adorama)? The 320 w/sec light seems powerful enough. I’m just concerned that smaller platform might not have light modifier option like larger softboxes/octoboxes.

    Specifically, I’m looking at the Flashpoint Streaklight Creative Collection.

    Thanks, Tom

  35. Tomas Ericsson

    Hi, just wanted to say that I bought the Yongnuo YN-560 III which works great, I will buy one more, as well as remote triggers. I wrote about how I tried your flash photography on my blog, and linked to this great recommendations-page on my blog

    I want to say thanks for the great tip! /Tomas

  36. Lisandra Perez

    hello, i want to buy the trigger/transceiver with the stand/umbrella for my nikon SB700 but I’m not sure if the beginner kit works for that flash or if you recommend other one, i work for nikon 610 but just now I’m using flash and is very harsh when the flash is on the camera. thanks for your feedback.

  37. Philip

    For the recommended flashes, what do you think of the YONGNUO TTL Speedlite YN-565EX? It seems to work with the Nikon iTTL or the Canon eTTL. TIA.

  38. Brett

    Anybody know wha lt those rechargeable batteries are that Jim recommends for speed lights ? I can’t remember.

    1. Ian

      I don’t know what he recommends, but I have used Sanyo Eneloop batteries for a few years and have never been let down. They hold their charge better than any battery I’ve ever used. You can shoot wicked fast with them too.

  39. Kalvin

    Hi, in your off camera flash tutorial you use a yn560II with RF-603 radio transceivers. I bought this configuration and can’t get the flash to fire. I’ve double checked your recommended gear which states transceivers are compatible with YN560III.. so will it work with YN560II as well? Its hard to find a tutorial for YN560II and transceiver.
    Thanks, great podcast and site!

  40. di

    At the risk of sounding really stupid…I need help. I have a Nikon D5100 camera and a YN560-III flash. I had no idea that my camera is non TTL and does not have a sync terminal. I am totally lost on what I need to use my flash with this camera. I found a lot of listings for Nikon AS-15 adapter, however everything I read says it is not for high voltage flash. Can you guide me in the right direction so I can use my flash? I need to know what adapters, cables etc. I need?
    thanks for any help you can give me. i am totally new to flash photography.

  41. Anthony

    Hi, Just discovered these podcasts and website and very impressed. I have stopped listening to the one hour plus long advertisements that some of the others have tended to turn into and find I.P. extremely informative, so hopefully I can get some help with this question.

    With pocketwizards you can shoot in high speed sync mode or hypersync mode (with compatible flash). My understanding is with hypersync you don’t lose flash power like you do with HSS so I’m trying to work out how much power you typically lose to determine if its more economical to buy compatible brand name flash(es) to shoot hypersync or buy a higher number of cheaper flashes to make up for the power loss of HSS? Or am I wrong in how this works? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  42. Lenny

    Hi.. I’m interested in getting one of the yungnuo ITTL’s for my Nikon
    I’ve seen it on their website but honestly a bit confusing
    There’s one specific that supports high speed sync don’t know the model off hand…would like to know if this model has a built in receiver like the 560lll and can it be set to manual?

    Thanks in advance..Lenny

  43. Roger

    I’m interested in getting the RF-603 and the YN-560 III, but I can’t figure out if these will work with my Nikon D750. Jim, I know you have shot with the D750. Can you confirm that these work with that camera?

  44. Matthew Roberts

    Interesting that there is no mention of a light meter. for manual flash that is kind of important.

    1. Author
      Jim Harmer

      No, not really. I have used manual flash without light meters for years and still don’t like using meters. In fact, of all the professional photographers I’ve worked with, only ONE of them regularly uses a light meter.

  45. David

    Any issues with the 60″ Octabox and the Einstein’s fingers not being able to grip the Octabox? Read a couple reviews on Amazon. Some say this was an issue, others don’t mention it. I would love to hear from the guys at Improve Photography (first hand experience). Thanks!!

  46. kristi

    Hi. I have a sony a58 camera and I was wondering what sony adaptor should I purchase to use with the Yongnuo YN-560 I I I Flash and Yongnuo RF 603 triggers? I purchased the flash and triggers and the Sony ADPAMA shoe adapter and it won’t slide into my cameras hotshoe. Would the Sony ADPMAA shoe adapter work? I can get the Yongnuo flash to work on my camera but not off camera with these triggers. I really want to use this with the triggers so I can buy an umbrella/softbox etc. Thanks in Advance for any advice. :-)

  47. Dave

    Please add the YN-560-tx to the list!!! It allows you to not only trigger those YN-560’s (with no other equipment needed) but also allows you to remotely control the power and zoom of multiple 560’s independently. I love my 560’s but adjusting the power of one when its up on a 10′ stand is….inconvenient. I’ve been waiting for over a year but finally Yongnuo came out with the 560-tx to fully compliment the full potential of the YN-560 III. It feels pretty cheaply made but it is nice and light so you barely notice the weight of it on your hotshoe.

  48. uid88

    Tric wireless flash trigger for iPhone could be one of them. … if they could make it through.

  49. Katie Garcia

    With the hobbyist kit can you have a speedlight on camera and still trigger the off camera ones?

  50. Christopher Love


    I have a NEX-6 I choose to shoot with and have yet to get into flash photography. I would like to get the beginner kit, but the info on the links seems misleading and I’m unsure of true compatibility making me hesitant to order. Can you please confirm what exactly to order? Your advice is much appreciated, and I love the lightroom presets I purchased I turned some of my wedding photos into masterpieces with them!



  51. Salvatore

    Anyone know where I can find Bracket Adapter compatible for softbox Neewer 24 x 24 for connect the speedlite and Yongnuo Rf-605N receiver

  52. gulfam

    Some of the items in the kit no longer exist e.g. Flash Bracket , and the flash trigger points to 2 different models which one is the recommended one
    YONGNUO YN560-TX Flash Transmitter or the Photoys Yongnuo YN560-TX For Canon Wireless Flash Controller just confused about this

  53. joe

    I think this page changed over the last week? I was trying to figure out if the yonguno rf-603nII-n1 trigger kit will work with my sony a7ii and if it will work with any kind of speed light.
    I own a nikon sb600 and would obviously like to use that if possible.
    I don’t see the links to the sony adapter (do we still need that?) any more, either.
    Now I’m totally confused! Help!

  54. Emily Chavez

    I have a Canon 430ex speedlight that I would like to use with the younnuo flashes and the trigger you recommended. I think I will need to get another trigger to attach to the canon flash correct? If so which one do you recommend and will it work with the trigger you recommended above?

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