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How to Build the Best On-Location Photography Lighting Kit

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Digging around the Internet, there are tons of resources available for constructing the perfect studio lighting setup for photographers, but very little is written about the best travel photography lighting kits. As a result, this article is an entirely DIY approach, comprised of lots of sleuthing and trial and error, to create the ideal lighting kit, that’s compact and easy to travel with. Let’s start with the essentials: the lighting gear!

photography lighting equipment

Best Travel Photography Lights

Compared to studio lights, you really can’t go wrong with speedlights when you’re looking for portability. As a Canon shooter, this means having a Canon 580EXII as my main light, and two Canon 430 EXII Speedlites as my secondary lights. A possible lightweight and travel-friendly alternate light source is the Westcott Ice Light, which offers continuous LED lighting, although in general it doesn’t quite have the oomph and output that speedlights do.

All flashes are powered by Panasonic Eneloop AA batteries, which have been a huge money-saver, thanks to the fact that they are rechargeable, and have all been extremely reliable to date. To sync all three speedlights, I have PocketWizards that I always carry as backups, but primarily rely on Yongnuo RF-603CII-C1 remote flash triggers for two reasons:

  1. They’re small and low-profile
  2. They’re incredibly cheap and affordable

Amazingly, the Yongnuos are also very reliable, and haven’t once failed in two years of constant usage.

Compact Light Stands

photography lighting equipment

Next on the list are light stands in the form of Manfrotto 5001B Nano stands. Weighing in at just 2.2 pounds (1kg) each, these light stands fold down to a mere 19 inches (48cm), while still having a maximum height of 74.4 inches (1.9m). They aren’t the most stable or sturdy light stands out there, but they travel extremely well, and work just fine for simple speedlight setups. Two light stands gets their own umbrella adapter and accompanying umbrella, while one lucky stand is adorned with a Westcott Rapid Box lighting modifier.

Lighting Gear Extras

As with most photo shoots, you never quite know what extra accessories you might need when on location, so my lighting kit varies from shoot to shoot. Some common extras include a a Benro Travel Flat Tripod, Canon shutter release cable, mini gold/silver reflector, speedlight color gels, gaffer’s tape, spare batteries, and camera body and lens rear caps, in case of drops and spills (sad to say these have come in handy more than once).

Bonus tip: I recommend using a lightweight zippered women’s cosmetic bag to hold, and organize, your smaller items such as remote triggers, batteries, front and rear caps, etc. This is the easiest way to keep those items contained in one spot for easy access, with less chance of losing them while at a shoot.

photography lighting equipment

Lighting Gear Bags

After a huge laundry list of items, you’re probably now wondering how to carry all of this stuff. Finding the perfect lighting gear bag was by far the most challenging part of assembling this DIY kit. But after lots of hunting, I found the best solution to be a Lowel Litebag, which come in a range of sizes.

With a thick and sturdy vinyl exterior and soft interior, this zippered bag has padded partitions that can be removed, or modified to suit a variety of needs. It has an adjustable, nicely padded shoulder strap and handles, making it easy to carry, even when heavy with equipment inside. It isn’t sufficiently padded to take a solid beating, but it will definitely protect your gear to a reasonable extent, without the added bulk and weight. Unfortunately, this bag isn’t the easiest to find, but it is incredibly solid, and holds all of the gear I mentioned above, with room for more!

photography lighting equipment

In Conclusion

As a traveling, or on-location photographer, it’s important to have a go-to travel photography lighting kit that is compact and flexible, while still keeping your gear safe from harm. If you’re searching for a flexible lighting kit, try out the above recommendations, and let me know what you think the comments below! Also, if you have another travel lighting kit setup, I’d love to hear about your own suggestions and modifications.


Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Suzi Pratt is an internationally published freelance event, concert, and architectural photographer based in Seattle. Her photos appear regularly in Eater and Getty Images. When she isn't shooting photos, Suzi can be found designing websites and marketing strategies for creative clients and working on her blog.

  • Rocco

    Nice article. Ive been also working on a set similar to this one. I would add two things to your kit. 1 a manfrotto super clamp. Useful when you need to attach a light on a place a stand cant. I generally use it for accent lights. And second, a rogue grid with color gels. Also for the accent light. I would add other things, a light meter, extra studs, etc. Still the most difficult thing is to find a good bag for all of this. I acually dont carry a tripod, so I use 2. One for stands and umbrellas, another for the rest.

  • Great suggestions, Rocco!

    Definitely the hardest part is finding a good bag. I tried out (and returned) several on Amazon before stumbling across this Lowell bag. Takes some trial and error, but there are some options out there, depending on your needs!

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  • FotoFink

    Why would you use ETTL flashes with a trigger that doesn’t support that function? If you shoot with the flash in manual, there are lots of manual flashes that are more cost effective. If you want the flexibility of ETTL, then perhaps an upgrade to the Yongnuo 622 triggers makes sense. Or am I missing something?

  • I use Canon 580 EXII and 430 EXII flashes. Both models shoot in ETTL and Manual Modes; I’m in Manual Mode 99.9% of the time.

  • FotoFink

    That makes perfect sense- I prefer to shoot in manual also. For someone looking to build a lighting kit though, they may want to consider a less expensive manual flash since the triggers will force them in to manual mode anyway. Just my 2 cents. 🙂

  • The triggers don’t force you into any particular mode. If you want to shoot ETTL with the triggers, you can do that. Or you can opt for Manual mode.

  • FotoFink

    Hi Suzi- My understanding, and that’s confirmed by the amazon page you linked to, is that the 603 triggers are not ETTL compatible. In order to use ETTL, you would need the 622 triggers, shown here- http://www.amazon.com/Yongnuo-Wireless-Receiver-Transmitter-Transceiver/dp/B0090BSSZO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459223112&sr=8-1&keywords=yongnuo+622

    I love their stuff, including their flashes!

  • Paul Castles

    I use two Nikon SB 700s, 1 Nissan i600, plus a one large Wescott, one medium, one strip and one small umbrella boxes along with 3 Wescott light stands and I carry them in a a baseball equipment bag. Works perfect, fairly lightweight and keeps all the light boxes, umbrellas and other accessories together. I carry the flashes w/ my cameras in a LowePro AW450 backpack.

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  • Nice setup! Seems to be a good opportunity for a company to create bags for lighting equipment as the best work around so far is to recycle multipurpose bags 😉

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