Gear for a New Strobist

One student recently asked me about what gear to get if he’s just getting into flash photography after watching me work on-location. I wanted to share the thread for others who may be similarly interested.

What do I need to get started in flash photography? I want adequate gear at a student photographer price.

Though flash photography is a challenging field, you don’t need a lot of fancy gear to start! The combination of gear I recommend provides excellent performance at a very reasonable price that should fit any budget:

External Flash: I own six YongNuo YN-460ii external flash units because they are just that good. They have the same power output as the much more expensive Canon 560EXii. However, they are fully manually operated, so there won’t be fancy features like ETTL (Auto) flash modes or a battery power indicator. But the power levels are super easy to adjust, unlike the more complicated flashes. And if I break them at a shoot, I don’t have to cry.

Wireless Transmitter: The CowboyStudio NPT-04 Wireless Flash Trigger work well for me — I’ve never bothered trying Pocket Wizards, which don’t have much benefits if you’re using cheap manual flashes anyway. If you are using multiple manual flashes and want to save some money, considering getting the 2-Pack Flash Triggers.

Flash Stand Bracket / Umbrella Holder: Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter: It’s super solid.

Umbrella: You really don’t need anything fancy. Get cheap ones like the CowboyStudio 43-inch Umbrella and replace them if they break. =]

Light Stands: CheetahStand C8 light stands are AWESOME. Super useful for when you need to move your light around a lot, like on-location portraits. Slightly less important if they’re going to stay put for a while. One annoying thing is that due to the very design of the mechanism, the CheetahStand hates being on uneven ground and the legs have a hard time deploying in grassy areas. So I’ve had to figure out ways to use my foot to engage the mechanism in grass, and sometimes I have to get creative with securing the stand if the ground is not even. But if you have an assistant, then none of these issues are a big deal. =]

Gels: Rosco Strobist Collection gels give you probably all the colors you’ll ever need for color correction / matching, and creating different moods. Use CTO / orange gels to simulate sunset, or purple & yellow on two different strobes to create a dance club look. If you don’t want to get a fancy gel holder, you can easily attach them to the flash using gaffer’s tape.

Okay, that’s all I can think of to get you on your way!

Don't forget to check out the Recommendations page for the latest products that I'm showing to friends and blog readers based on their requests. I love talking about this stuff, and every time you click on a referral link from this website to a featured retailer like and B&H Photo and Video, I get a small commission that helps keep this site running, at no additional cost to you. Thanks for your support, and please contact me if you need any recommendations!

Mega Update, September Edition

Welcome to another Mega Update!  A little something for everyone…

Steph and I went seakayaking at the beginning of the month in Monterey, in search of sea otters, baby seals, and other marine critters.  And boy did we find them!  I don’t know if it was the time of day or the tasty otter snacks we brought with us (okay, we didn’t really bring any), but the water was just TEEMING with life!

Otters lazily floated on their backs as they shucked shellfish, and playful seals swam right up to the kayak!  The kayak rental guy warned us not to allow the seals to climb aboard, and I was pretty skeptical at first about the possibility of such a ridiculous thing.  But I must admit I had a somewhat nasty scare the first time I heard the distinctive snort of a seal getting REALLY close to us, and I definitely started beating the side of the kayak in unexpected panic!  Overall, it was a fun and eventful trip that made Steph say, “Why have I never done this in my life until now?!”  I think it helped that this time we didn’t capsize nor did she get all woozy and seasick.  Highly recommended.  =]

This pic is totally old now, but I did want to mention what a cool little device the Magic Bullet (TM) personal blender has been for me and Steph.  Thanks, Kim!  Jeremy came over to E’ville a while ago so that we could have Smoothies and Pirate Movies Night.  The nice thing about the personal blender concept is that you don’t have to feel as bad about wasting ingredients if your concoction of Absolut Vanilla, Bailey’s, Kahlua, and Trader Joe’s OJ concentrate doesn’t work out so well, since the portions are just a lot smaller.  Apparently, you can also just give it to me and I’ll drink it anyway.

The other day, I was having lunch with Minho in Manzanita Dining, and I don’t really know why, but I felt compelled to add some bacon bits to my spinach and pasta salad.   Sadly, the cap was a little too loose on the bacon bits container, and before I knew it, my lunch resembled the bottom of a tropical fish tank.  (You can see how I know absolutely nothing about fish tanks.)  My heart broke for those little artificial bacon bits, and I would’ve ate them all if I could’ve, but in the end it really was just too much and my teeth hurt terribly from all of the crunching.  Seriously, it was just tiring, and I’m sad to report that I did not finish all of the bacon bits.  Sorry, guys.

We went to visit Brian at his office and somehow he managed to convince both me and Steph to play NBA Live 07 on the Playstation 3.  To understand the sheer irony of this, you have to understand that I hardly ever play sports games, and don’t actually think I have EVER played a basketball video game.  This totally also applies to Steph, who pretty much doesn’t play video games at all with maybe the exception of Karaoke Revolution.  (It was nearly like pulling teeth to get her to play Katamari Damacy the first time.)  I was pretty enamored by the awesome 1080p graphics, and I think once we all figured out (some of) the buttons, everyone got into it.  I had a good time dominating in the drills mini-games, but then Steph and Brian teamed up and creamed me during an actual game.  In summary, Brian has a cool workplace.

My 8-year-old $100 bike from Target finally died about two weeks ago.  After faithfully serving me on Stanford campus for the past 8 years, it finally bit the dust.  Or more precisely, I think someone ran their golf cart into my back wheel while the bike was parked.  Lame.  Anyway, I got myself a new bike after sorta-secretly hoping for the past, oh, 3 years that someone would steal or mess up my already junky, beat-up, rusted-over $100 bike from Target so I would have an excuse to get a new bike.  This time, I got myself a $140 Target bike, the 26″ Schwinn Ranger.  Maybe I’ll get this one to last me 40% longer.  Okay, fine, but what’s any of this got to do with the photo?  I dunno.  There are just a whopping number of bikes on campus.  It’s totally a jungle in there.  And it reminded me that I too have a new bike.  =]

Ah, another wedding!  Steph and I went to Belinda and Mark’s wedding last weekend.  They had not one, not two, but FIVE (or was it six?) flower girls in the processional.  The last one in line was this little baby girl, who just took her sweet time wandering down the aisle with big, curious eyes.

This was right after the baby girl suddenly ran toward one of the pews, pointed at the Asian man with the camera, and shouted with delight, “DADDY!”  Everyone thought it was the cutest and funniest thing ever.  Eventually, the real daddy had to wave her little blankie up at the front to get her attention so she could finish the walk.  Good job!

Amazingly random connection of the day: If you can figure out how Steph and I, Lisa and Justin, and Belinda and Mark connect, I’ll give you a prize!  (No fair spoiling the challenge, Justin, Lisa, and Steph!)

And finally, here’s the Home of Christ crowd.  Some of the kids I remember from 8-10 years ago have really grown up!

Anyway, that’s all for now.  Thanks for reading!  Please feel free to leave a comment so I know that I haven’t lost you on account of that miserable last post… (Heck, feel free to give me your best theory on why that decidedly did NOT work, hehe.)