Glamour Photography TipsSubmitted by Michael on Thu, 2010-08-26 14:27

The Pretty Flash Kit makes all the light you’ll ever need

When starting flash photography, should you buy a complete flash kit or should you rather buy one piece at a time, learn how to use it properly and then move on to the next one? My advise is: go full kit - right now!

Even though I’m telling you things like buy one lens at a time and learn how to use it (I’m currently learning how to use my 3rd lens), I feel like exactly the opposite is true when it comes to lighting gear.  For me, shooting with half a flash kit is a bit like driving with half a car - let’s say driving with the front half of the car while the whole back is missing after the bad Terminator has cut it off with his giant axe: Maybe I can even drive with it for a few more meters, at least in Hollywood flicks, but it won’t take me very far, and for sure it’s not a nice experience.

So the question becomes: What is a complete flash kit that enables a beginner to master all sorts of lighting situations? I wrapped my head around this and finally I’d say: just use the stuff that I am using most of the time. I named this kit the “Pretty Flash Kit”. I detail it in this video:

Here’s a breakdown of the Pretty Flash Kit along with some affiliate links:

While I am teaching a little bit of an extended flash kit in my advanced classes, I am very confident that the small kit listed above is absolutely complete from a beginners perspective. I mean, if you are just starting out you should anyway just accept with easily manageable assignments that require nothing more than headslapping simple lighting setups, right? Examples for that would be a magazine ad for skincare products that needs just the super soft “powder like” light that our Pretty Flash Kit was throwing onto cousin Ajiao in the example photo. Or a catalogue for the evening wear collection of a high class fashion label for which you might want to capture an intense mood by letting some hard lights hit your model from behind, like you see the Pretty Flash Kit doing in the example photo with cousin HeMin. Are those examples the type of situations that you want to master? Then the pretty flash kit is all you need. 

It’s not even expensive. In my opinion for all of those items you can savely try to find the best bargain on ebay and then buy just that. Except for the flashes, quality is not really important with any of those things. This might be a little bit counter intuitive. When it comes to photography gear then a lot of times you’ll hear me say how important the quality is, for instance when it comes to lenses, batteries or radio remote triggers. In those cases the cheap stuff will just not work. But while I’d highly advice you to carefully choose your camera tripod and while I might suggest consider nothing less than expensive Manfrotto tripods for that purpose I don’t see much reason for having your speedlight residing on a luxurious Manfrotto lightstand instead of an affordable Cant-Spell-This-Name lightstand that you grab right from good old ebay. Instead of buying 3 luxurious lightstands better spend your hard-earned bucks on an economy class ticket to Asia, buy 3 super cheapo stands over there and find yourself a luxurious model instead.

I’ll now eat my own dogfood, take my advise myself and head over to expedia to check current the airfares.

I wish you “pretty” good light!

-- Michael




This is exactly what I've been looking for, a great intro video tutorial on how to assemble a portable flash kit! Thanks soooooo much!

May the Great Mare guide you with a blessed guide number!

WOW! Great resources you have here. This was my first time here. This was a great little tutorial! It's funny because I attempt the same setups when at all possible. I love your thoughts about minimizing the need to go out and purchase the most expensive lighting. I have produced some of my prettiest images with the simplest of budgets! Thanks for this great site. I will go check it out some more.

Thanks a lot for your kind comment, Andy! Feel free to post links to your photos that you have done with the simple setup.

Very nice, liked the video very much, I only use speed lights, since going digital I couldn’t see the benefit of big lighting kits. With the new processors… And technology in the cameras, we can “as you showed” create very nice photography with this kind of minimalist lighting.

Well done – Thank you keep up the good work.

thx so much michael!excelent!!!

I love the detail you gave in this video but do have any lesser expensive flashes you would recommend for the super budget new strobist? For me I'd mainly be referring to slave units that are TTL//TTL2 compatible. Being that a master flash is already a big hit to my pocket. Not saying I'd never upgrade to branded flashes as slave units but I'm more looking for the fastest & cheapest way to get making beautiful light quickly.....

this was all I was looking for!!

I'll start making my wish-list :)

thx again

Hi Michael,

Really enjoyed your blog and love the good humour you bring to creating great images. I have two speedlights 580ex and a YN460 with ebay triggers stands and umbrellas.

I also have access to a borrowed bowen studio 250w setup. I would love to light for images like these - can you help and can it be done with speedlights.

both photos mention beauty dishes



Wishing you too good light


your doing a get job with them, I was looking at your second picture and it made im finally decision on picking up the 28-105 a few weeks ago...

Hi Jason,
you are a real glamographer, right? Awesome example photos! Both taken using a beauty dish, camera right, 45 degree angles from the side and from top down to the models beautiful face. For the 2nd image additionally a kicker light from camera left, behind the model, was used.

You absolutely can do that with speedlights. I suggest to use shoot-through umbrellas. I found they provide for nicer light than speedlight beautydish lightformers.

Normally I use the umbrella very close to the model. Just one feet away if possible. But if I want to achieve this little bit harder light like we see it on your examples, then I simply move the umbrella 3 to 5 feet away from my model. I'm using large, 40 inch umbrellas for this type of lighting. 40 inch is much bigger than most beauty dishes, but I am further away from the model than I would be with a beauty dish. So it makes sense to go large. And the light is really singing, promise!

Let me give myself a little caveat. Both example photos are extensively photoshopped. The skin you see in the result has little to do with the skin that initially has been recorded. Both retouches are excellent. So if you shoot that stuff yourself, don't be disappointed if the photos straight out of camera are looking much less clean. If you later on retouch the skin (or should I say replace the skin :-) in photoshop then you will get there.

I wish you good light!
-- Michael

Thanks Michael,

I gave it a go before I saw your reply and here are the results, shoot through umbrellas on both sides of models with about a 1/2 stop to a stop difference.



what do you think?


Hi Jason!
Your results are awesome! For that type of photos I would probably move the the two umbrellas even closer together and only leave a narrow gap in the middle where I am photographing trough.

On another note: Do you really need the watermark right through her nose? I mean, nowadays our problem is usually not that too many people steal our photos. Some do, but it does not hurt us. Our problem is usually, that too few people see our photos. With that in the back of my mind, I think a smaller watermark at a place where it does not disturb too much might be enough. But anyway, excellent work!

do we really need same flash units for off triggering like wad u shown in ur videos.I have a nissin n vivitar flash using flash triggering unit. Pls advice

If you are fine with setting up flashes manually, then you can use more affordable flashes, too. Just take care that they feature a zoomable flash head. Otherwise you can't direct the light to where you want to have it - Power is nothing without control.

Great website. Ok I'm a total novice and some of my questions may sound dumb. I have a cannon SLR film camera and cannon SLR digital camera. I have only one lens 35mm. I like to do full length photography and do it well. I have taken photos with 35mm but I'm not happy with the results. I also live in a APt that gets a lot of natural light. I also have some Arri lights 3 of them on stand. I can control these lights during the shoot. Sorry , I have a lot of questions please answer as many as you have time for.

1 - do I need to buy a lighting kit ? or my Arri kit will suffice?

2 - Should I use the ARRI lights in combination with the natural light? Does this make sense? The temp of the two differs.

3 - I cannot control the flooding of natural light into the room even when I pull the curtains. Should I go to an studio where I have full control of the light?

4 - What is a good entry lens to do full length shoot

5 - given my light sources what is the best set up?

thank u

Thank you so much for this video. Now i know what to buy when i start up a home studio :)

I was afraid i had to buy multiple 580EX II's which was going to cost me a lot. You've saved me over $400 :)

Thanks again

Thank you so much! Words cannot explain how much I appreciate all your videos - especially this one in particular! You are AMAZING :D

Michael , thank you for your videos, help me a lot!!!
Greetings from Spain

I'd really love to be in sunny Spain right now!

Hi Mr. Zelbel i would like to know how to master flash , as now i have canon 580ex ii and 430ex ii ,and i have a little bit a problem when i try to use 580exii as triger for my 430exii , for some reason my 580exii still fire the flash when i try to turn off how is that happend , also how do i understand about using the Zoom on the flash , sometime my flash wont fire as well can u give me tip ? thank you

Hi cousin James,

> for some reason my 580exii still fire
> the flash when i try to turn off

Yes, that's how it should be. It needs to fire. That's the way in which it communicates with the slaves. But it does not contribute to the exposure. So if you turn off the slave and then fire your master, then you would end up with a black photo.

> also how do i understand about

> using the Zoom on the flash
You need to get an idea about where you want your flashlight to go and where you do not want it to go. Once you start really "composing" your photos this will get clear to you immediately.

> sometime my flash wont fire

Probably the room is too bright and the slave cannot see the master flash. In this cases try turning the sensor (the red translucent plastic thingy) into a direction in which it most probably can see the flash of the master flash.

Hi - love the videos / tutorials, please keep them coming!

I'm a Nikon guy and have two speed lights, 1 SB-900 and 1 SB-600. I would like to get two more speed lights to cover all angles as you discussed in your setup.

Question - I can get two SB-600's for the price of 1 SB-900, personal I don't think I need all of the crazy features that come with the SB-900 for remote flashes, I think the SB-600 would be just fine. Your thoughts?

Hi cousin DWJ,
If I'd be looking for a slave flash then I would choose the SB600 in a heartbeat. I would not even think about the SB700 and for sure I'd never fork out the money for an SB900 just to use it as a slave

re the Canon TTL speedlite nessary to get results like yout tutorials?

1x 580 EXII as master = 365 EUR

3x 430 EXII as = 630 EUR

Thats for me very expansiv the whole equipemnt inluding a Canon 60D will costs 2,500 EUR

Hi Cousin Michail, yes, it will set you back a pretty penny. However, it's less expensive than monoblocks or other studio strobes - at least less expensive than the ones that are actually usuable.

However, if you really need to start on a shoestring budget, then maybe start with the Yonguo speedlights and stick to setting up the power manually for the moment. It's a good training anyway.

Thanks for the quick answer...

But what are the TTL doing for me? Only the intensity of light Or something else?

Do i Need a Trigger or Wireless Adapter for original 580, 430 EX II and a Canon EOS 60D?

Yes, TTL will determine the flash intensity. There are other functionalities like finetuning the whitebalance, but those won't have any practical impact for you. The benefit is the automatic adjustment of the flash power.

Regarding the trigger, if you have a Canon 580EX then you can mount it on your camera and use it as the trigger. You set it to "Master" for that purpose. Set your 430EX to "Slave" - it will then do whatever the master tells it to do.

The master communicates to the slave via a series of short flash bursts. That means, if you are shooting in very bright daylight then your slave might not be able to read your master. Then you would need a radio trigger. In all other cases a 580EX is the very best trigger you can have.

Thanks Again!

Waiting for more tutorials!!!

Now i get this Setup:

1RF-602/C Triiger + Receiver
2 x RF-602 RX Receiver
1 x YN 468
2 x YN 460 II

I realy hope it is good for the Start?

Have you tryed the setup, I'm about to buy the same


Your tutorials are a dream come true......Fantastic for a returning photographer such as myself. Self taught so never really go to grips with flash light, well truth is I AM SCARED OF MY SPEEDLITE! there, ive said it. Cant read manuals, as I dont like text so I drift off, not particularly technical (bit of a girl) but got creative flair and passion, problem is as, you well know, I am limited with only natural light and reflectors! Not anymore, you have saved me!
I stumbled across your video whilst searching frantically for a tutorial on the technique where you expose (then - stop) for the background and fill subject with light to create a more studio/dramatic feel....does it have a name?
I have been looking at a few bits on the strobist site but they talk with a funny accent and although they are a great site, there is still tooo much writing before you get to the tutorials, and when you they dont actually show how they are setting the speedlite etc., That Michael is the key to learning for someone like me, I am thrilled that you are generous enough to share your knowledge and may I add, in such a straight forward and amusing fashion! Hurrah!
Like a disciple...... I am now committed to following you whilst you lite the way for me!!

Hi cousin Flossie,

thank you so much for your encouraging comment. I feel honored.

I am not sure which video you refer to when saying "exposing for the background". Do you mean the one in which I "sandwich-light the model in front of the white backdrop"? 

From now on, lets work together and turn your speedlight into your best friend. Do you know what sort of photo you really like to shoot next? Maybe I can make a little video on how I would actually light such a photo. And maybe you will get your speedlight in order to make perfectly the light you want for that photo. It's worth a try I think :-)



Hello cousin i just came across your website yesterday and in just 2 days i have learned so much. thanks for excellent tips and tricks.

I am interested in knowing how this kind of light will be produced.


thanks for your help.


Hello Michael. Thank you for that what you are doing. All the videos just awesome, very informative and simple to understand.
Do you have an idea, how to achive light like this one http://vkontakte.ru/photo15772022_224999672 with the strobes.

Thanks again!

This is exactly what I have now...looking forward to putting it all to work!

Hard to get my thick German accent? Here's the transcript!

Hey fellow photographer how is it going? I’m Michael Zelbel and in this little video I’m going to walk you through what I call the Pretty Flash Kit, yeah? It’s the -  in my opinion -the most affordable option for you to get your hands on a fully blown flash kit for a professional photo production and I call it th “Pretty Flash Kit” because it’s pretty simple, it makes very pretty lighting and it’s working pretty much in any situation. And the reason I’m coming up with that today is because last week Cousin Chris asked in the comment, what kit would I suggest if he wants to start flash photography and here it is.  

The kit consists of…, yeah, speed lights – so one master speed light on camera in order to control other speed lights. And it is also working as a fill flash, so it’s one master on camera.

Then three slave speed lights which are positioned around my models, let’s say one main light source, let’s say from the right then, one fill light source, let’s say on the left and one speed light from the background, lighting up the background or throwing light from the back on to the models, so three slave lights.

Then CTO filters for all the speed lights. 

Light stands, three light stands for the slave speed lights.

And in order to attach them to speed lights to the light stands, I need 3 shoe-mount multi-clamps.

And then I need 3 shoot-through-umbrellas. But if you go buy them, do yourself a favor, don’t buy three, but buy six or buy nine or whatever gives you discount because those babies break, yeah?  If you don’t break your umbrellas, then you are just not shooting enough photos. Get yourself a bunch of them.

And what you need is a little collapsible reflector. That’s so handy for throwing just an extra little bit of light into your model’s faces, so that item is a must! But that’s it that is all you need.

Now the shoot for umbrellas will produce all the soft light you will ever need and the speed lights if you zoom them through a 105mm, they produce all the hard light you will ever need. 

So don’t bother buying studio strobes like mono blocks or buying soft boxes, or beauty dishes or ring lights, inflatable flash defusers or any funky little speed light  attachments that scatter light all over across the room, no! You don’t need it, what you need is good speed lights. Go for the ones from your camera manufacturer. They are usually working with the lighting system of your camera like the CLS or ETTL and you will want that. And this flashes can zoom. So you can zoom it to 24mm if you want to illuminate the big wall. Or you can zoom to 105mm, if you want to throw a beam light into your model’s backs or something, they just work.

For all the rest of the equipment, go cheap, go find the cheapest stuff that you can get, it will be just fine, promise. Then Chris asked how to operate the stuff and then, and that would be a big topic and I hope a lot of videos on SmokingStrobes give answers to that but let me give you three rules of thumb, three easy rules of thumb here;

Number 1: if you want a hard light, then zoom your speed lights to 105mm and put them 6ft away or 2m away from your model and leave them on automatic whatever, automatic is in your system.

Rule number 2: if you want soft light then, use them throuhg a shoot-through-umbrella zoom then to 50mm then go 1 ft away, or 30cm so come really really close to the model then you have soft light. Again leave it on automatic, on auto pilot and everything will be fine.

Rule number 3: if you really don’t know how to make light, then ask me, now post a link in the comments, show me a photo of the lighting that you want to have that you want to produce. I don’t care, if it is a photo from the biggest, most expensive photo production, I will reverse engineer it and usually you can do it with a couple of speedlights. 

So give it a try and post a link, we will have a look at it. All right, that’s it for today, so I wish you a lot of fun with your flash photography and I wish you good light, until next Thursday, bye bye.


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