This post was updated on October 18, 2017 with my latest recommendations.

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.

NOTE: Once you have all your gear, you'll have a LOT to learn.  Don't be intimidated!  Learning to control the lighting in your photos is THE BEST way to improve your photography after you've already learned the basics of photography.  I have two resources to help you learn.  First is my blog post series on the basics of flash photography.  If you're more of a visual learner, you should really take a look at my “Jim Harmer's Lighting in a Flash” video tutorial.  It's really reasonably priced, and it's the very highest quality video tutorial I've produced.  I think you'd love it, and I use EXACTLY this same gear in the tutorial.

Pro Flash Photography Kit – About $575 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.

Glow ParaPop 38″ Softbox – This softbox is AWESOME!  I've been messing with the cheap $50 softboxes on Amazon for years and I finally decided to bite the bullet and get a good one after Nick recommended it to me.  It's awesome.  Buy it.  Check the current price of the Glow Parapop on Amazon.

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

Two 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)
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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
$180
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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)
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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)
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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)
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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
$110
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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
$80
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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
$376
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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)
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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.


Sandbag
$30 ($7.50 x4)
BUY HERE

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ – 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

Comments

  1. 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?

  2. 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??

  3. 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?!

  4. 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…

  5. 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??

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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

  10. 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.

    Thanks.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

  13. 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..

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

  15. 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

  16. 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

Leave a Comment