Shooting on a Budget

Suggestions for investing in your first speedlight and accessories.
Single Speedlite Setup Cost
Yongnuo YN-560 $71
Yongnuo RF-602 $40
Light Stand $35
Umbrella Swivel Adapter $18
White Umbrella $14
Total $160
3 Speedlite Setup Cost
Yongnuo YN-560 $213
Yongnuo RF-602 $40
(2) Yongnuo RF-602 Receivers $46
(3) Light Stands $105
(3) Umbrella Swivel Adapter $54
White Umbrella $14
PBL Umbrella Softbox $20
Total $492
I have had some requests from other photographers looking to invest in speedlite equipment for the first time. I remember being in the same situation not long ago, and spending hours researching all of the possibilities. If I had to do it all over again I could have probably saved myself both time and money knowing what I do today. That’s why I’m writing this article, which will highlight some of the best photographic equipment you can get on a small budget. In the tables to the right I have put together 2 kits and outlined a budget for each. The first kit consists of a single speedlight as well as a radio trigger and receiver, stand, swivel mount, and shoot through umbrella. This is the most basic setup that can be used in a number of situations and got me by for a number of months before I stepped up to my current 3 light setup. The second table demonstrates such a 3 light kit. It contains 3 speedlights, 1 radio transmitter with 3 receivers, 3 stands (estimated prices), 3 swivel mounts, 1 shoot through umbrella, and 2 umbrella softboxes. The final price for this kit is significantly more, but it is still a fairly small budget. Because of the equipment selected the kit cost is relatively small when compared to other products. If you are operating on a budget, I suggest getting a Yongnuo YN-560 as your speedlite. While this speedlite is only capable of manual settings (non E-TTL) it performs just about as well and has the same build quality as the much more expensive Canon 430EX II. In fact, you can buy about 4 of the Yongnuo units for the same price as one Canon 430EX II flash. I own a Yongnuo YN-560, a LumoPro LP160, and a Canon 430EX II. The LumoPro is bar far my least favorite. The design is bulky and not well though out. The Canon is nice and has the most professional feel, but the Yongnuo gives you a big bang for the buck value. Next you will want some radio units to remotely control your flash units. This allows you to detach the speedlite flash from the top of your camera and move it onto a stand. The transmitter fits to the hot shoe mount on top of your camera, while the receivers fit to the bottom of the hot shoe mounts on your speedlite units. A transmitter/receiver pair cost about $40 through Amazon. You can save a few bucks ordering through a seller based out of Asia on eBay, but the shipping time will be significantly longer. Extra receivers cost about $27 on Amazon. Now for a light stand, which your speedlight will sit on top of. A good general use light stand should be able to stand up at least 8′ high. You should also make sure that the stand is “air-cushioned”, this means that when you unscrew the stand to fold it up the stand won’t quickly fall in on itself and damage your speedlite. Instead the stand will have a slow “cushioned” fall, which is a great feature when you have a fragile light unit 8 feet up in the air. I have yet to find a perfect stand, so I won’t be posting a specific recommendation at this time. You can expect to pay around $30-40 for a mid range stand. Smaller, more portable stands will sometimes sell for less, while large and more stable stands will be significantly more expensive. In order for you to attach a speedlight to a light stand you will need an adapter. Of the couple that I’ve tried out, I am happiest with the LumoPro LP633. The next set of items that you will want are some light modifiers. Usually modifiers are used to soften light by spreading it across a larger surface (like a softbox or umbrella), but there are modifiers for changing the shape and direction of the light. I am a big fan of the PBL Photo Studio Umbrella Softboxes, which can be picked up from Amazon for $20 for a pair. They are easy to set up and work great for a variety of setups (see my review for examples). Another item to add to your arsenal is a shoot-through white umbrella. Umbrellas are a staple item that work well indoors and out. Small umbrellas seem to perform about the same, so purchase one that has a lot of positive reviews on retailer websites and fits in your budget. A medium size (about 40″) umbrella should cost somewhere around $15-20. That is all there is to it when it comes to setting up a basic off camera lighting solution. The most painful part about putting together one of these kits is waiting for the items to arrive at your doorstep. Leave a comment if you have a recommendation for other products not mentioned, or to endorse products already suggested..


6 Comments. Leave new

I have been doing tons of reading about flash & came across your article about shooting on a budget & have found it extremely useful & answered my questions! Just what I was looking for. I had been thinking about the Yongno yn 560 as my first flash and was all but sold on it until I read a review today that said it had a ridiculously long recycling time….I’m guessing that you didn’t find this to be the case. Again thanks for your info

Eric Heikkinen
October 24, 2011 2:10 pm

I think that the recycle time that you read about in a review may have been caused by a faulty unit that the reviewer received. The unit that I have has never had any issues concerning the recycle time. During normal use it has always seemed to be about equal to the Canon 460EX that I use.

recycling time is also greatly effected by your settings. full power flashes can really slow things down with any flash. ½ ¼ power flash really help.

I have the LumoPro LP160 and many Nikon $$$$ flashes. I really only shoot manual, so what issue do you have with between the “YN-560 Flash Speedlite vs lumopro lp160” that was my search. Was going to order the YN-560, at $70 how can I not order one?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Harry

Eric Heikkinen
December 1, 2011 9:09 am

I have a number of complaints about the LumoPro LP160. Besides it feeling bulky (as mentioned in the article), the LumoPro also feels hollow and plasticy. Another annoyance is that it produces a whine noise when charging holding energy for a flash. If you don’t need TTL metering, the Yongnuo is by far the best value.

Do you have pictures of how you mounted your speed light to the umbrella? Did you buy a separate bracket? If you force it in there with it being off center, it seems like you get more hot spots.

Eric Heikkinen
December 7, 2011 9:52 pm

I don’t have any images of my own, but this video may help you understand how things are mounted: You basically have an adapter that goes on top of your stand that your speedlite sits on. The adapter has a spot for inserting an umbrella that is slightly angled so that the speedlite will fire near the center of the umbrella.

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