Setting up a photography studio or a photography business is easy as long as you have all the equipment and devices you need. Aside from a good camera and a tripod, you will also need different lenses, backdrops, a computer and editing software, and, of course, lighting. But what sort of lighting are we talking about, and how do you pick the correct wattage for your first set of photography studio lights?
You will need around 200 to 300 watts of lighting for a small studio. But for larger studios that can do bigger commercial shoots and accommodate more subjects, you will need strobes with 400 to 500 watts. The nature of your shoot also has a say on the number of watts you require.
This article will talk about photography lighting and how wattage affects your shoot. You will also learn about the factors you need to consider when choosing your bulbs and their wattage. We will also talk about the wattage required for various types of shoots.
What You Need To Know About Studio Lighting
Lighting is an essential element of photography. Using natural lighting would give you good photos, but it’s never always sufficient and reliable. For instance, you can’t take advantage of sunlight when it is a cloudy or gloomy day, when you are shooting early morning or late in the afternoon, or when you are doing photoshoots indoors where the windows aren’t facing the sun.
The good thing is there are studio lights to compensate for the lack of natural lighting. Getting the right kind of lights and having the correct setup would give you natural lighting effects that allow you to take the best and the most crystal clear photos possible.
Studio lights are also controllable. You can position them wherever they are needed regardless of the time of day and for some, you can even adjust their brightness levels.
What You Need To Know About Studio Lights Wattage
The output of your studio lights is measured in watts per second (w/s). The higher the wattage number, the more powerful your light bulb. And the more powerful your bulb, the more energy-hungry it is. Also, a lighting kit with a higher wattage is generally more expensive.
If you are setting up a home photography studio or a small commercial studio, you can manage with lights of around 200 w/s to 300 w/s. A larger studio will typically require up to 400 w/s or 500 w/s. Anything higher than that is usually not necessary for a home studio because using a flash that is too powerful would only flood whatever limited space you have. You would end up having an excessive amount of uncontrollable light.
How About Just Opting for Maximum Wattage?
You may be wondering whether it’s best if you just go for the maximum wattage. That should cover both small and large spaces, right?
Opting for maximum wattage is not a great idea. Photographers don’t even do their photoshoots under the midday sun when the brightness is at its most intense. Having lighting that is more powerful than you need it to be will only heighten the tonal contrast for your images.
A high-contrast image will have a wide range of tones that are full of whites and blacks, with bright highlights and dark shadows. This could result in the details of your subject being burnt out in the photo.
In other words, using the recommended wattage for your studio lights is still better than trying to play it safe and going for the highest possible number of watts. That, coupled with adjusting your aperture correctly, is the key to an effective setup. You would also need to make sure that you can reduce your light’s power in certain scenarios or when your shoot doesn’t call for too much brightness.
Don’t forget that wattage is just one component of your studio lighting setup. There are reflectors, filters, and diffusers, which help alter or intensify the light you are using. So, watts are only one component of your studio lighting.
Experienced photographers also advise against relying too much on the accuracy of your flash’s energy rating. There are other factors that would affect how this energy gets converted to lighting power.
Check out whether you can use a storage unit as a photography studio.
Factors To Consider When Selecting the Wattage of Your Bulb
When choosing a bulb for your studio lights, there are factors you need to consider to make sure that you got the correct wattage. These factors include:
Number and Size of Your Usual Subjects
If you have a home studio with good natural lighting and you just do portrait photography as a hobby or mostly a one- or two-person shoot, then 300-watt lighting would be good enough. This wattage is also great for newborn photography in a warm compact studio, for taking pictures of kids, and for small product shoots.
However, for group shots with three to six people, you will need higher wattage. You’d do great with 400-watt lighting. This also works for shooting larger products.
Professional photography studios, outdoor shoots, group photo sessions with up to 20 people, and shoots for products as large as a vehicle, will usually require 600 watts. Meanwhile, a full-size photography studio with a professional lighting setup will need 800 watts. This wattage is also what you need for on-location sets and for photo sessions with more than 20 people or very large subjects.
The Kind of Light Bulb You Prefer
You can choose from different kinds of bulbs. There are tungsten incandescent bulbs, which give you ultimate brightness. There are also monolights, strobe lights, as well as continuous LED panels. Each type of lightbulb comes with its own subtle challenge in terms of capturing the accurate color of your subject.
Aside from the type of bulb, there are also different brightness or light output levels, which are measured in lumens. Tungsten lights, for example, produce 12 to 18 lumens per watt. LED lights, on the other hand, generate 30 to 90 lumens per watt.
Talking about lumens may make the matter of wattage insignificant, especially as it also refers to light output. However, knowing about your required wattage will still matter, especially if you wouldn’t want to overload your power source.
Bulb’s Color Rendering Index
You will also need to check the color accent that the bulb will lend to a subject. For example, there are lights that would give off a greenish or bluish tinge to a person’s skin tone in the picture. So be sure you get a bulb with a high CRI rating and make sure that it captures the colors of your subject accurately.
However, remember that even if you do so, the colors can still get distorted in your photos after adding your camera’s lens and sensor to the mix.
The CRI doesn’t really have a significant bearing on your choice of the bulb’s wattage. But you should still watch out for it. You might get the correct wattage and still end up unhappy about your photos if you fail to check the CRI.
Bulb’s White Balance and Color Temperature
Look into the bulb’s white balance and color temperature. You can do this by setting the WB of your camera to fit to the lighting, and once this WB setting is attuned to the light, you will get a neutral tone for your image and its colors will be more accurate.
Unfortunately, this WB and color temperature would be a hassle to check if you are buying your bulb from the store because other lights are on. It would be a challenge to take a test photo and make sure it’s not cold or too hot. You also cannot check when buying a bulb online. So the best option is to read online reviews and see what other photographers are recommending.
Like the CRI, the WB and color temperature do not directly impact the number of watts you need for your lights. But it will work hand in hand with other lighting factors in giving you clear images with the most accurate colors.
With that said, you might also find this video on photography lights helpful:
Knowing how many watts your studio lights should be would depend on your setup. The size of your home studio, the amount of natural lighting that it gets, your usual photoshoot subjects, and the kind of effect you want in your photos have a say in this.
Aside from wattage, other factors like lumens, color accent, and the kind of bulb you are using will also affect your choice of bulbs. All of these things will work hand in hand in giving you the best lighting effect for your images.
- Digital Photography School: An Introduction to Buying Studio Flash Lights
- Home Studio Expert: How Many Watts Do You Need for Studio Lighting?
- Small Biz Trends: Equipment You Need to Start a Photography Business
- Skylum: Understanding Contrast in Photography
- YouTube: Photo tips for beginner photographers | LUX, Lumens, Watts