Pro Photographer Uses a $20 Lighting Setup With Impressive Results

What happens when a hugely successful photographer grabs a $20 halogen light from Home Depot and uses it in a model photoshoot? You be the judge.

It currently seems that we're all unwittingly locked in some kind of photography gear arms race as companies the world over compete to bring out newer, bigger, and better versions of everything. And with news this week that Nikon will officially enter the full frame mirrorless market sometime soon, it appears we'll all need deeper and deeper pockets to keep up.

So, it was refreshing to see the immensely popular Jessica Kobeissi put out a video showing how she recently used a $20 lighting setup from Home Depot to shoot a model. She talks you through the kind of halogen light she used and how she set it up for her shoot. She also provides three different results from backlit, sidelit, and frontlit angles. Obviously with the limitations of one light source, you could get picky about some of the results, but as she explains, she was going for a certain look and the cheap light helped her get what she wanted. 

The major takeaway for me was that we can always use cheaper gear than we think and there is always an alternative to the vast sums we think we need to spend to get everything right. Indeed, just the other day, I found a bunch of cellophane sheets lying around at my daughter's pre-school. I took them home and they worked perfectly as an alternative to far more expensive gels.

So what hacks out there do you have that not only save you money, but also provide some pretty good results? I'd love to hear about them in the comments, because with an ever-growing family, I simply don't have the cash reserves to keep up with the latest gear trends.

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43 Comments

Studio 403's picture

Good post, I have used these type of lights for shoots. Color grading in post gave me the look I desired. Like to have a big budget for expensive lighting. However, when I look at the results of using expensive lighting. About the same results. Expceitons to this concept is robust. So, no bad mouthing expensive lighting. But as this post suggests. Best keep secret in the “lighting world” . My ego gets punched when I this sort of lights. “Gotta have the best”, on an on. Sometimes its like this. 1/2 my brain is selling Bull Shi. the other half-life my brain is buying my Bull Shi.

Peter Gargiulo's picture

...and when you come right down to it, It's All Bull Shi!

They do work great. Biggest downside is probably the heat generated...but sometimes sweat looks good! ;)

Rob Davis's picture

Yes. I've tried these before and they're not very comfortable for the models. They'll start sweating pretty quickly if you need anything other than the harsh shadows in this set.

Studio 403's picture

that's good they get a free tan, lol

Leigh Smith's picture

Did you know you can use lights to light your photos?!
Also: "gave off a golden warm tone to the photo". Sound's like someone doesn't understand white balance.

Not knocking cheep gear. They all have their place. But there is nothing special about this light. Let me know when you find something cheap that also has other useful photography functions, ie: daylight balanced, variable output, not too hot for jells, etc. Otherwise why not review all the lights at home depot.

Vincent Alongi's picture

As this product isn't intended for photography, your mileage will vary. It's cheap compared to photo lighting, but on par for it's true space. But if it works for you, that's what matters!

Leigh Smith's picture

You're missing the point. Jessica is reviewing the light like its somehow more suited for budget photography. But its just a light. Any light will do. Tell me how this one is more special than anything else i could just grab off the shelf.

Vincent Alongi's picture

Bear with me... it's early here and I'm still mid-coffee. If I'm not understanding your comment, my remarks now are not to meant to be aggressive.

Yes, I realize she's reviewing that specific light. I believe overall, the crux of this piece is about what you initially said - you can use lights to light your photos. And I'm agreeing with that... if you're using a flashlight to achieve illumination for you, that's all you need. I believe FStoppers is getting to that.

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

I smiled a bit when read your comment. Straight on point, completely agree with what you're saying :)

Rob Davis's picture

Get yourself a remote controlled power outlet so you can keep these off until you're ready to shoot to keep the heat to a minimum.

Adam W's picture

Why would you post this and not the original content she is recycling? No offense to Jessica, she kindly links to her source, but the original content is much better and more intelligently discussed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnFmBzVTtRs

Adam W's picture

Good point, well made.

Studio 403's picture

Is the word recycle a synonym for plagiarism? If so, should we send her to Russia or CNN for the truth? This is my bad satire for the day.

Iain Stanley's picture

Not sure how using the same piece of equipment for an entirely different shoot in an entirely different genre of photography classifies as plagiarism, but we all see things differently I guess.

stir photos's picture

"We've got a lot of sharks out there, tryin' to take a bite of somethin', what's hot... A lot of chameleons out there..." - Cypress Hill

Michael Holst's picture

The "original" content doesn't show how it can be used for portraits

Iain Stanley's picture

Point well taken but I have no connection with food photography, thus I don’t follow any food photography channels on Youtube. When I was notified that Kobeissi had released a video related to portrait work that showed her using a $20 light I thought it would be helpful for people in that line of photography.

I guess it shows that $20 lights have multiple capabilities!

Leigh Smith's picture

Who knew, light can be used on more than one type of subject! By the way, what happened to being able to rate Fstoppers articles? This one get a thumbs down.

Clearly he is showing it's advantages for food photography and not portrait/fashion photography. Also, she must not have watched (or understood what he meant) about white balancing seeing his looked like nice daylight and her's looks like ambient hell.

I had to watch this twice. If you are hanging yourself out as a professional, one important characteristic is...be professional. Frankly I think there is too much silliness to the outset of this video. I also think the images are not very good technically and since she suggested a diffusion material (she suggested a sheet which is fine) then she should have used one in this video as it's readily apparent that she did not. All is all this video won't do any service to those trying to shoot professional looking images using shop lights. Is it possible? Of course and I think I'll post a video showing how this really needed to be done. This one here shows poor planning

I would extend slightly. Is it possible? Of course. Is it needed? Rarely...

Hey guys. I've seen some newer work lights that uses LEDs on Amazon at 50w, roughly 400-500w equivalent, 4500-5000 lumens. They are around 50 bucks so it's still cheaper than professional lighting. Would those be a better alternative than the halogen work light in this video? Any thoughts?

user-156929's picture

You can get where you're going by walking, riding a bike, riding the bus or taking your car. Only you know what's appropriate for the task at hand.

I would like to know of anyone's experience with LED worklights. I know the CR ratings, if there are any, are likely inconsistent but the coolness vs the heat generated by halogen makes them attractive to consider. And i could not expect a warm look but then there are filters. Unfortunately in Canada the LED worklights run around 90.00, a bit much for a an experiment.

Pawel Paoro Witkowski's picture

Well I was using once a LED light that is usually used for a medium film productions. They were quite ok and I was happy with results, but It was like 2 or 3 years ago, and those were looking like a custom one so maybe CRI was higher than the cheap ones. For renting as I remember I paid around 40-50$ which is something around of a renting Canon 1d in my country. However nothing more to tell from my side. I'm also bit of excited of what they can be in future, but currently I do work on flash more and it's fine for me for photography. LED will probably not generate as much power as flash for at least few years from now on :)

Colin Shawhan's picture

I actually did this today at work! Since we are a rural dental practice and my photographer, my Facebook guy, IT, marketing, often the plumber is ME, I decided to grab a very similar light to use in shooting my employees. For example, my profile pic! Primary lighting is a cloudy day with an accent provided by a Lowe's halogen. Talk about cheap! The stupid thing kept wanting to droop over, but with a solid turn of the hand-screw it stood up at least long enough to take the shot you see in my profile pic. Not bad, for a Lowe's halogen.

Crystal Johnson's picture

Eh, she's more of a YouTuber than a professional photographer. She built her business around her YT PS tutorials. Half the time she doesn't know wtf she's talking about when it comes to the technical side of things. Also, affiliate links off of the products used in the video that another photographer made. Meh... But this is yet another case of a photographer re-hashing material already made. Original content is so dead now.

Iain Stanley's picture

I suppose this is a debate in itself. What constitutes a ‘professional photographer’? To me, it’s someone who makes a living through the photography field, including, but not limited to, photographic shoots. And I daresay Kobeissi does that. Whether she makes more through her paid shoots or through her YT popularity is anyone’s guess, but I’m pretty sure she’s paying the bills (and then some) through photography related stuff.

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