I think we can all agree that we started out shooting at one point or another using the onboard pop-up flash. Lets be honest its not great, blown out images that show up everybody's imperfections with its incredibly hard light. Not a great look, and certainly not a great look if you want to be known for taking 'good' pictures. The next obvious stage was to get a flashgun. These powerful little guys slot on top our DSLR's and give us the much needed control we were after. We can soften the lighting a little, we can even bounce it off the walls or ceiling to soften the look even further. These flashguns are an events and wedding photographers best friend for sure. But for those of us that want the next level of control and want to take our portraits a little further and give them a really polished look we need studio lighting. That right there is a big box of minefields. Every time you go to look at investing in the world of studio lighting it seems like a pretty big commitment. Investing heavily in something that you're not sure you'd want to stick at or get the opportunity to use that often is certainly daunting.
There is another option though and thankfully with the global market for electronics being only a click away you can dip your toe into studio lighting for less than the price of most train tickets. Plus it can be done using a lot of the equipment you probably already have, especially if you're the sort of person who wants to get into studio lighting anyway, you're bound to of accumulated a lot of the necessary kit by now already.
Chances are, like we discussed you already have a flashgun and there is an even greater chance you already have a tripod of some description, this doesn't even need to be any good either. If that's the case then we can look at doing a little online shopping and sorting out a great studio lighting setup.
Lets start from the bottom up, you already have a tripod so we need something to attach our flashgun and lighting modifier too. Search 'Flash mount bracket with umbrella holder for tripod' on your favourite internet electronics wholesaler and you'll be greeted by plenty of options. This £6.99 little gizmo sits on top your tripod and holds your flash as well as our lightweight and compact lighting modifier.
The umbrella, in my opinion one of the most underused lighting modifiers around. These lightweight and compact attachments used to be all rage before soft boxes came along but as soon as there awkward and unwieldy rectangular counterparts sprang into are world the umbrella got stuffed to the back of the studio cupboard. Soft boxes are popular for there slightly softer light but I actually quite like the umbrellas crisper less diffused light. Combine that with a silver interior over the white one and you can create fantastically crisp tones across skin. Search 'Silver photographic umbrella' and you're off for as little as £4.19. One thing to note, the larger the size of umbrella the softer the light (within reason, there are other factors at play) so have a look at the different sizes on offer.
Next and oddly the most expensive is a way to connect all this to your camera. The one that I have pictured here is actually just a straight piece of cable that just makes a physical connection to the camera. The one that I would probably recommend spending a little extra on is the TTL version. This talks to the camera and lets it know how much light has been used and when to stop etc. For this one search 'Flashgun TTL cable' this will bring up a lot a different options and for £13.73 you can get yourself all set up. Bear in mind that for TTL coupling you'll probably need the right cable for your camera brand, for example Nikon and Canons ones are different.
So to sum up our extravagant spending spree,
Flash/umbrella bracket for tripod - £6.99
Silver umbrella lighting modifier - £4.19
TTl flashgun connection kit - £!3.73
Grand Total - £24.91
For less than £25 we now have all we need to start taking some cracking studio lighting shots.
So now that we have it all lets get some shots, lets start off simple though first, we can always run later. Start off with a classic lighting setup commonly referred to as 'Butterfly Lighting', this gets its name from the shape of the shadow created under the nose when the light is positioned correctly. The same lighting is also referred to as 'Hollywood' lighting due to its beautifying look.
Positioning the light for this shot is key, the light should be above the subjects head height but not so high as to eliminate catchlights in the eyes. The light should be angled down towards the subject at a 45 degree angle to ensure the light spreads evenly over the face. How far away you place the light is dependent on the look you would like to go for; bring the light closer for a softer more feminine look or move the light further back for stronger shadows that can suit a more masculine image. Play around with this setup because there is a lot than can be achieved with this simple technique.