Investing in a studio lighting kit can open up a range of creative possibilities and help take your photographic skills to the next level.

There was a time when the studio environment - with flash heads, diffusers, sync cables and power packs - was largely the domain of the professional photographer. Today, however, with a wide range of pre-packaged kits on the market, enthusiasts are finding it easier than ever before to obtain the gear and accessories necessary for creating a complete home studio.

When it comes to studio lighting kits, the general rule is ‘you get what you pay for’. You can pick up a basic package very cheaply that will allow you to dabble in the art of studio-based photography. Or you can shell out thousands of dollars to buy a dazzlingly sophisticated and powerful set-up. There are options available for every level of experience and budget.

Your very first choice will be to decide between two main options: continuous  or strobe (flash) lighting. The former comes in two flavors - tungsten or fluorescent - and the choice is largely a matter of personal taste. Both can give great results.

The chief benefit of continuous light sources is that they provide instant feedback on how your lighting will look in the exposed image, allowing you to adjust the angle and intensity of the lighting quickly and visualize the shot more easily. They can also do double duty as video lights.

Continuous lights allow you to view the light output as it will appear in the photograph. Strobe lights can be used to freeze fact action and can snyc with the camera at high shutter speeds.

These types of lights do, however, have a tendency to get very warm during use (although ‘cool’ fluorescent varieties offer improvement in this aspect), which can make long portrait sessions an uncomfortable experience for your subject. Neither is a continuous light source the best option when photographing moving subjects, as its output (measured in watts) is less efficient than that of an identically rated strobe, resulting in slower shutter speeds that make it difficult to freeze fast motion. As a consequence, continuous lights are more typically used in still life and product photography.

Strobe lighting is a highly popular choice that offers a great degree of control and flexibility. The ability to precisely adjust the intensity of the light as well as the option to sync at faster shutter speeds makes this type of lighting system far more suitable for capturing subjects in motion, although you’ll need to check the specifications of the kits that you shortlist to make sure they meet your requirements. Cheaper kits generally tend to be slower and/or less powerful than their pricier counterparts.

While technology varies greatly between products, you will find that many entry-level kits benefit from some of of the features found in more expensive models of the same brand. As such, it’s perfectly possible to pick up a beginner-friendly kit that’s still packed with features, for a modest price.   

The goal of this buyer's guide is not to list every kit on the market. Rather, it's designed to give you a taste of the features and performance available at varying price points. For this particular round-up we're concentrating on complete kits rather than individual heads, however we couldn't look at studio lighting without mentioning the superbly-named manufacturer, Alien Bees. They produce quirky self-contained flash heads in five bold colors, starting at $224.95 (via Paul C. Buff Inc.) offering excellent value-for-money. They may look like fun on the outside, but each Alien Bees product incorporates some serious specs, making them worthy of consideration whatever your level of skill or budget. The company does offer pre-packaged kits on its US site, but not via its international distributors.

The kits that follow are arranged by price in ascending order and you’ll find direct links to each manufacturer’s page where you can glean more information. ‘Buy Now’ links will take you to the item's product page on Amazon.com, unless indicated otherwise.

As always, if you have any recommendations of your own to share with fellow readers, feel free to add them in the comments section below.

Here's our selection: