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The best photography lighting kits in 2021: for studio, location and video

Best photography lighting kits
(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

Picking the best photography lighting kits is fun and exciting, with plenty to choose from. It does, however, come with its share of pitfalls, as there's plenty of cheap lighting out there alongside the good stuff from reputable manufacturers. It's worth shopping around to make sure you're getting a good deal on a quality product; that's why we've put together this handy guide to the best photographic lighting kits available right now.

The best lighting kit for you depends on what you're planning to shoot. Are you expecting to stay in the studio, or perhaps do you anticipate loading the kit up and taking it out on location? There are lighting kits great for both purposes. You also want to consider whether you'll mostly be using flash for stills, and how bothered you are about having a continuous light for video.

Then there's also the question of budget. There are lighting kits and panels right across the spectrum when it comes to pricing, so it's worth having a think to see what's the best you can afford. We've made sure that this guide includes all different types of lighting kits, from plug-in studio lights to battery-powered lighting kits designed to be taken on location, as well as continuous LED lighting panels. 

If you want something smaller, simpler and more portable, it's worth checking out our list of the best flashguns. Flashguns are handy and fast in a pinch, but they do have their limits in terms of how much control you can exert over the light. 

Before we kick off our rundown of the best photography lighting kits, let's take a closer look at what we mean by each of these categories. 

What kind of lighting kit should I go for?

For a home studio setup, or if you’re shooting indoors on location, there’s no beating the power and versatility of a conventional mains-powered studio flash kit. Top options include the Elinchrom D-Lite and Interfit Honey Badger twin-head kits, which are fairly compact and easy to carry around, yet quick to set up and simple to use. But they’re no use if you’re on location with no access to a mains electrical outlet.

A growing range of battery-powered ‘location flash’ kits are now available, based on the same kind of IGBT (Insulated Gate Bi-polar Transistor) technology as regular flashguns, but with similar power to a studio flash head. Supplement the kit with a dedicated hotshoe-mounting trigger, and you’ll also get the bonus of automatic TTL (Through The Lens) flash metering and HSS (High Speed Sync) flash for shooting with fast shutter speeds.

The not-so-secret third option is to go for a constant light. The latest LED panels are relatively cool-running and give fairly strong output, although they’re much less powerful than a flash head or regular flashgun. Maximum output is measured in Lux, usually at a distance of one metre, and the quality of light is measured in CRI (Colour Rendering Index). Plus points include a ‘what you see is what you get’ approach to lighting a subject and, when shooting video, constant LED lighting is perfectly viable whereas a flash head will be entirely useless.

Flash for studio and location work

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(Image credit: Elinchrom)
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(Image credit: Elinchrom)
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(Image credit: Elinchrom)

These brand new flash units boast top-notch features at a decent price

Specifications
Head power: 131Ws / 522Ws
Power range: 5 stops / 7 stops
Power adjustment: 1/10th f/stops (custom)
Power supply: Mains only
Cooling fan: Smart pro-active cooling system
Modelling lamp: 20W
Modelling lamp settings: 40-step dimmable
Sync socket: 3.5mm jack
Wireless RF trigger: Elinchrom Skyport Pro trigger
Dedicated TTL/HSS triggering: C N S P F MFT
Head dimensions: 23x 16.7x26.3cm
Weight per head: 2,000g/2,500g
Reasons to buy
+Loads of advanced modes+Well-designed interface
Reasons to avoid
-Mains power only-Not the cheapest

In 2020, Elinchrom updated its portfolio of studio flash units in a big way with the introduction of the ELC 125 TTL and ELC 500 TTL heads and kits. Available together in a single kit, these two heads make use of IGBT (Insulated-Gate Bipolar Transistor) technology, which allows for more sophisticated shooting modes to be available to the user.

The two heads offer an impressively broad power range, each able to output as little as 7Ws, with maximum ratings of 131Ws (for the 125 TTL) and 522Ws (for the 500 TTL). The built-in transceiver works in tandem with the Elinchrom Skyport Pro trigger, which comes in seven different variations to cover a variety of camera makes, from Canon and Nikon to Micro Four Thirds. This adds High Speed Sync to the equations, allowing the user to capture images with flash even at super-fast shutter speeds like 1/4,000sec or 1/8,000sec. 

The units are also solidly made, with an all-metal chassis that feel secure and durable. The cooling fans are driven by a ‘smart pro-active cooling’ system, which effectively 'learns' your shooting practices in order to deliver the most efficient cooling process. As you'd expect, these units are also compatible with Elinchrom's extensive range of light modifiers and other accessories, so if you're already invested in the system, the upgrade just makes sense.

Read more: Elinchrom ELC 125 TTL / ELC 500 TTL review

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(Image credit: Elinchrom)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

2. Elinchrom D-Lite RX 4/4 To Go

The best studio flash kit around, this lighting solution comes with real clout

Specifications
Head power: 400Ws
Power range: 5 stops
Power adjustment: 1/10th f/stops (custom)
Power supply: Mains only
Cooling fan: Auto-sensing
Modelling lamp: 100W
Modelling lamp settings: Prop, full, low, off
Sync socket: 3.5mm jack
Wireless RF trigger: Included
Dedicated TTL/HSS triggering: HSS with C N S P MFT trigger upgrade
Head dimensions: 14x26x19cm
Weight per head: 1,500g
Reasons to buy
+Immaculate build quality throughout+Superb performance, easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than some competitors-Requires trigger upgrade for HSS flash

Elinchrom’s D-Lite flash heads and kits have earned a reputation for excellent build quality, ease of use and superb performance. The Elinchrom D-Lite RX 4/4 To Go is a range-topping kit that includes a pair of 400Ws flash heads, sturdy stands, a 66cm square softbox, a 56cm octagonal softbox, and a translucent deflector that enables a beauty dish effect.

The included EL-Skyport Transmitter Plus radio-frequency trigger enables users to adjust flash head settings remotely and has a range of up to 200m. Alternatively you can upgrade to the Elinchrom HS Transmitter, which also offers high speed sync flash. Alternative save modes include triggering from a flashgun, and ignoring any pre-flash pulses. 

Elegant and intuitive, the push-button control panel offers easy adjustment of power output through a 5-stop range, in 1/10th stop increments. Selecting proportional, full, low and no modelling lamp output is similarly simple, using a conventional 100W bulb. An auto-sensing cooling fan is built into the head. Output is remarkably consistent on a shot-to-shot basis, and power adjustments are highly accurate.

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(Image credit: Interfit)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

3. Interfit Honey Badger 320Ws 2-Light Kit

The best budget flash kit comes with some serious attitude

Specifications
Head power: 320Ws
Power range: 7 stops
Power adjustment: 1/10th f/stops
Power supply: Mains only
Cooling fan: Always on
Modelling lamp: 60W (equivalent) LED
Modelling lamp settings: Prop, full, manual, off
Sync socket: 3.5mm jack
Wireless RF trigger: Included
Dedicated TTL/HSS triggering: N/A
Head dimensions: 13x13x15cm
Weight per head: 1,400g
Reasons to buy
+Fairly powerful yet compact+Competitive price
Reasons to avoid
-Audible fans run constantly-Pop-up softboxes mediocre quality

If you're on a tighter budget, the best photography lighting kit for you is the Interfit Honey Badger 320Ws 2-Light. Taking its name from reputedly the world’s most fearless animal, Interfit’s Honey Badger head makes a bold entrance in bright yellow and black, with a strong maximum power rating of 320Ws – which isn’t far off the Elinchrom D-Lite kit at number 1 in our guide. It’s a bit more noisy in operation because the relatively small heads have cooling fans that run full-time, rather than just kicking in when the going gets hot.

The photography lighting kit we've chosen is the dual head option with softboxes and a wireless remote. This enables you to adjust flash head settings and trigger them from the hotshoe mounting transmitter. The maximum range is around 90m, which should prove ample for most shooting scenarios.

Maximum flash intensity is a little down on the Elinchrom D-Lite 4, which isn’t surprising given that the Honey Badger has a 320Ws rather than 400Ws rating. At the bottom end of the range, flash output is more subtle than in the Elinchrom, equating to an aperture of f/7.1 rather than f/16 in our standard one-metre test at ISO 100 (with standard reflector and no brolly or softbox). Recycle speeds are pretty much identical for both competing heads.

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Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro / Godox AD300 Pro

(Image credit: Adorama)
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Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro / Godox AD300 Pro

(Image credit: Adorama)
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Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro / Godox AD300 Pro

(Image credit: Adorama)
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Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro / Godox AD300 Pro

(Image credit: Adorama)

4. Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro / Godox AD300 Pro

A very worthy B10 rival at just a third of the price!

Specifications
Head power: 300Ws
Power range: 9 stops
Power adjustment: 1/3 or 1/10 increments
Power supply: Battery only
Cooling fan: Yes
Modelling lamp: LED, bi-color
Modelling lamp settings: 3000½K ~ 6000½K
Sync socket: 3.5mm jack
Wireless RF trigger: Adorama R2 / Godox X 2.4GHz
Dedicated TTL/HSS triggering: 1/8000 sec
Head dimensions: 19x10x9cm
Weight per head: 1,250g (including battery)
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly compact+Great battery life+Bi-color modeling lamp is good for video
Reasons to avoid
-Isn't mains-powered 

Sold as the Flashpoint Xplor 300 Pro in the USA and the Godox AD300 Pro in the rest of the world, this brilliant flash head hit the scene gunning straight for the Profoto B10 (elsewhere on this list). However, while the B10 certainly edges it in terms of control and consistency, the fact is that the 300 Pro is just one third the price

Its kit version is currently on backorder, but the 300 Pro is so capable and affordable that you can pick up a couple of heads and modifiers of your choice and have a brilliant bespoke kit of your own. 

A very compact and easily portable unit, the 300 Pro packs 300Ws power with the option of 1/8000 sec high speed sync to overpower the sun and take control of the scene when on location. Its brilliant bi-color modeling light can be used for video, too, with its 3000½K ~ 6000½K temperature range. 

The meaty battery gives you around 320 full-power flashes and charges in just 2½ hours. Optional adapters can mount Profoto, Elinchrom and Broncolor accessories, and the 2.4GHz trigger system is compatible with 7 camera brands. 

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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

5. Interfit Honey Badger Unleashed 250Ws

The best budget location flash kit

Specifications
Head power: 250Ws
Power range: 9 stops
Power adjustment: 1/10th f/stops
Power supply: Battery only
Cooling fan: No fan
Modelling lamp: LED, 1250 lumen
Modelling lamp settings: Prop, full, off
Sync socket: 3.5mm jack
Wireless RF trigger: Interfit HSS TTL, £80/$100
Dedicated TTL/HSS triggering: C N S
Head dimensions: 15x18x15cm
Weight per head: 2,300g
Reasons to buy
+Amazing value+Silent running 
Reasons to avoid
-Modest 250Ws power rating per head-Can’t be mains-powered 

Slightly larger and nearly a kilogram heavier than the mains-powered Honey Badger head (number 2), the newer ‘Unleashed’ edition runs on a rechargeable battery. Indeed, unlike the Elinchrom and Profoto battery-powered kits, you can’t run it from the mains, so you might need to add a spare battery or two to your kit at around £59/$60 each.

Our chosen kit option includes two heads, batteries and mains chargers, two 60cm pop-up softboxes and a sturdy backpack. The optional Interfit HSS TTL remote trigger is similarly great value at £80/$100. This, as its name suggests, enables TTL and high speed sync flash modes. Unlike with the mains kit, there’s no cooling fan here, which means the Unleashed edition is virtually silent in operation – a particular bonus when using its bright 2500 lumens LED modelling lamp as a constant light source for movie capture.

Although the 250Ws head gives less output than the 500Ws heads in our guide, this is the only battery-powered kit that features two flash heads rather than one, making it excellent value at the price.

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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Profoto)

6. Profoto B10 Plus

The new ‘Plus’ is bigger and more powerful, making it the best luxury location flash kit

Specifications
Head power: 500Ws
Power range: 10 stops
Power adjustment: 1/10th f/stops
Power supply: Mains/battery
Cooling fan: Auto-sensing
Modelling lamp: LED, 2500 lumen
Modelling lamp settings: Prop, full, manual, off
Sync socket: None
Wireless RF trigger: Profoto Air Remote TTL, £349/$429
Dedicated TTL/HSS triggering: C N S F MFT
Head dimensions: 11x24x10cm
Weight per head: 1,900g
Reasons to buy
+Luxurious quality, super performance+High-power modelling lamp
Reasons to avoid
-Accessories are expensive-Half the battery life of competitor kits

Larger and 400g heavier than the standard Profoto B10, the new B10 Plus edition is twice as powerful, at 500Ws. Like the Honey Badger Unleashed (number 4), the battery clips into the head instead of being housed in a separate power-pack but, this time, you can power the head from the mains as well as from the battery.

The kit includes a head (twin head kit also available), stand adaptor, battery, battery charger and a padded carrying bag. The kits and accessories are pretty pricey – the heads don’t feature a sync socket and the Profoto Air Remote TTL trigger will set you back an additional £349/$429, while Profoto’s standard OCF Magnum Reflector costs a further £189/$209. 

On the plus side, all components are of very high quality. Rear-panel controls are simple and intuitive. TTL, high speed sync and freeze flash modes are available, and there's an iPhone companion app that links up via built-in Bluetooth.

The powerful LED modelling light is useful for stills and video capture and comes complete with adjustable colour temperature. Recycling speeds are pretty quick but battery life is relatively limited, at 200 full-power flashes.

Best photography lighting kits: Broncolor Siros 400 S Expert Twin Head Kit

(Image credit: Broncolor)

7. Broncolor Siros 400 S Expert Twin Head Kit WiFi/RFS 2

A high-end studio kit for serious users, this is a kit for precise colour replication

Specifications
Head power: 400Ws
Power range: 9 stops
Power adjustment: 1/10th f/stops
Power supply: Mains
Cooling fan: Yes
Modelling lamp: Halogen, 300Ws
Modelling lamp settings: Not specified
Sync socket: Standard
Wireless RF trigger: Broncolor RFS 2.1
Kit weight: 3,200g
Reasons to buy
+Amazingly fast flash cycle+Superb colour stability
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive than others

At the lighter end of the premium lighting kit space, this kit from Broncolor is built around two of its Siros 400 S lighting heads. These 400Ws monolights deliver plenty of functionality to crow about, not least of which is their nine-stop power range and 1/19,000sec flash duration, allowing you to get thoroughly precise with your lighting.

The Siros S can make use of a specialised "Speed Mode", which specifically speeds up the charge time and flash duration for a super-fast series of exposures, meaning you can capture the most fleeting of moments in huge amounts of detail. At the very fastest setting, this can go up to fifty individual flashes per second, at the cost of a reduction in maximum power.

This comprehensive kit also includes a softbox with speedring, an umbrella, two basic M-stands and bags to carry it all in, so you'll have everything you need to set up a makeshift studio. Fast and effective, the Broncolor Siros 400 S Expert Twin Head Kit  is an ideal lighting solution for pros on the go.

Continuous LED lighting

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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

8. Rotolight AEOS

More of a lamp than a complete kit

Specifications
Max output: 5,750 lux, 3ft
Power adjustment: Stepless
Power supply: Mains (optional battery)
Bi-colour: Yes
Colour Rendering Index: 96+
Flicker-free: Yes
Cooling fan: No fan
Wireless RF trigger: Phottix Odin II TTL, £125/$125
Head dimensions: 30x2x30cm
Weight per head: 1,400g
Reasons to buy
+Excellent light quality+Good maximum power+Special effects for video lighting
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive to buy-Barely any accessories included

Next is our pick for the best LED panel: Rotolight's AEOS. Although it's nearly three times as expensive as the Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color LED light (number 8 below), the AEOS is more powerful and has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. 

Good for stills, the AEOS really excels for video capture, with customisable fade up/down and a range of special effects including flickering fire, lightning, TV, strobe and blue flashing emergency vehicle lights. The bi-colour LEDs have a 100,000 hour lifespan and, as with the Manfrotto, enable completely flicker-free output, this time with a colour range of 3150-6300 Kelvin. Maximum output has a much higher rating of 5750 lux, albeit at a shorter distance of 3ft (0.9m). Twice the output is available in flash mode with zero recycle time, complete with high speed sync if you buy an additional Phottix Odin II RF trigger.

On the down-side, the basic kit only includes the circular LED panel itself, a mains power supply, a heavy-duty ball head and a filter pack. The optional carrying case costs £150/$165, and a V-mount li-ion battery costs £275/$300 (without charger) for up to four hours mains-free use.

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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

9. Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color

This compact LED panel is a useful companion for your camera

Specifications
Max output: 1,500 lux, 1m
Power adjustment: Stepless
Power supply: Mains (optional battery)
Bi-colour: Yes
Colour Rendering Index: 93+
Flicker-free: Yes
Cooling fan: No fan
Wireless RF trigger: N/A
Head dimensions: 26x4x15cm
Weight per head: 470g
Reasons to buy
+Small and lightweight +Bi-colour LEDs give a useful colour range
Reasons to avoid
-Colour Rendering Index below average-Lighting effect not the softest

The lightweight Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color constant light is designed to slot into your camera’s hotshoe, via the supplied mini ball head. The ball head and the lamp itself can also be mounted on a regular tripod head for off-camera use, courtesy of standard 1/4-inch threaded sockets.

The kit is based on a rectangular lighting panel that measures 26 x 4 x 15cm and contains 48 high-intensity LEDs. The version on test is the more expensive Bi-Color edition, which contains a useful mix of daylight and tungsten colour temperature LEDs, plus an additional control knob for adjusting the colour balance. An illuminated rear-panel display shows the overall power setting and the percentage split between the bi-colour LEDs. On the down-side the lighting effect is less soft than from a larger LED panel.

The panel has a beam angle of 50 degrees and is rated at 1500 Lux at one metre. In our tests, this equated to an overall power range that enabled apertures of f/1.2 to f/3.5 at 1/60th of a second, using a sensitivity setting of ISO 100. The required aperture at maximum power shrinks to f/3.2 when using only the daylight or tungsten rated LEDs.

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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Nanguang)

10. NanGuang Luxpad 43H

Amazingly affordable for a bi-colour LED panel

Specifications
Max output: 930 Lux, 1m
Power adjustment: Stepless
Power supply: Mains (optional battery)
Bi-colour: Yes (3200-5600K)
Colour Rendering Index: 95+
Flicker-free: Yes
Cooling fan: No fan
Wireless RF trigger: N/A
Head dimensions: 35x3x24cm
Weight per head: 910g
Reasons to buy
+Relatively cheap but good quality+Bi-colour output+Quiet, fanless operation
Reasons to avoid
-Could be more powerful-No status display on rear panel

The best budget LED panel is the NanGuang Luxpad 43H. Although larger and heavier than the Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color (number8), this NanGuang is still quite compact and weighs in at less than a kilogram, making it eminently portable. It’s also between a third and half the price of the Manfrotto, making it light on the wallet, too. It actually beats the Manfrotto Colour Rendering Index, so you don't need to worry about sacrificing high-quality illumination.

Like the other LED kits in our round-up, this one is mains-powered. A multi-voltage AC adaptor is supplied with the kit, and you can also run the panel from a pair of optional Sony SP-F type li-ion rechargeable batteries. Alternatively, an optional adaptor is also available for six AA batteries.

Thanks to bi-colour LEDs, stepless temperature balance adjustment is available through a range of 3200-5600K, from tungsten to daylight values. The output power also has stepless control, both adjustments relying on dedicated rotary knobs. However, there’s no status display on the back panel.

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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

11. Interfit 100W LED Monolight

Monolight meets LED in this Interfit head

Specifications
Max output: 14,100 Lux, 1m
Power adjustment: Stepless
Power supply: Mains only
Bi-colour: No (5600K)
Colour Rendering Index: 95+
Flicker-free: Yes
Cooling fan: Constant
Wireless RF trigger: N/A
Head dimensions: 16x27x24cm
Weight per head: 2,120g
Reasons to buy
+Enables the fitment of light shapers+Simple to use
Reasons to avoid
-Fixed ‘daylight’ colour temperature-Constantly running cooling fan is audible

An advantage of studio flash heads is that you can use modifiers like brollies, softboxes and honeycomb grids. Sold as the LM8 100W Monolight in the UK, and as the Studio Essentials 100W LED Monolight in the US, this Interfit constant LED monolight has a similar design to a mains-powered studio flash head and comes complete with a standard Bowens S-type mount. You can therefore attach the same range of accessories.

The lamp plus a pop-up softbox, as featured in Interfit’s Honey Badger kits, costs £180/$200. A twin-lamp kit that adds lighting stands as well as softboxes is also available, at £400/$400. With a 500W equivalent light output and good 95+ CRI rating, the lamp has a daylight colour balance. There’s no tungsten-daylight colour temperature range, as featured in the other LED kits in our guide. The intensity of the output is dimmable with stepless control, via a rotary knob on the back of the head.

In our standard one-metre test, the power range equated to an aperture of f/2.2 to f/4 (1/60th of a second, ISO 100). We’re surprised that maximum output wasn’t a little higher, given the powerful 14,100 Lux rating at one metre.

Read more:

• These are the best flashguns for your camera right now
• Shooting video? We choose the best LED light panels
Portrait lighting tips: Key lighting and fill lighting photo techniques

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist, that has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners!