Studio Lights that are affordable
Sure, there are some cheap systems for $300-500 dollars or you can try to use your portable flash from your camera system, but if you need to purchase a couple of these, they can get expensive quickly, also. Yoru portable camera flashes also do not have modeling lights.
Another option could be hot lights and these are great if you only wish to shoot products but food shots get pretty messy under constant lights; pets and people usually do not like the heat of constant lights.
Let us assume you have $300-400 available and you want a good quality electronic flash studio system. On three separate occasions, I have setup a studio with four lights, stands, umbrellas, and all needed supplies to operate the lights for less than $400 (each time); this was with professional quality equipment, not the flimsy stuff. How?
Well, in the old days (10 years and more ago), the most popular light systems were "pack and heads". Uh?
These were a central power pack and outlets for multiple heads in the one power pack. The monolights are popular now; single light with power pack built-in the light head. A search in your local area or on a site such as ebay will reveal many used"pack and head" systems for under $400. I searched for speedotron and photogenic; two systems I trust.
On two occasions I purchased a four head system made by Photogenic that came with the power pack, four heads, two umbrellas and a softbox; each time for $325 each. I made my tripods from sticks and one gallon cans filled with concrete. This last time, I purchased a set of Speedotron Brown-Line studio lights, again 4 heads, power pack, five stands and three umbrellas for $350.00
It will take a bit of study, but you can get a near top quality light system for under $400. A couple of things to watch for: the power pack must work at the electrical voltage available in your country or you will need a transformer. You also need to purchase a used system that still has the parts (modeling lights, flash tubes, etc) available for purchase-you do not want to be stuck with a flash head and no flash tube when one breaks. This is pretty simple to check; just check the model of the flash on the internet and see if the parts are available. You may not have all the conveniences of a monolight with the adjustable power settings and stuff, but the entire system will cost the same as one light with stand.
All these images were shot with these systems. Questions invited; I am happy to help others reach their dreams.
Photo credits: Moose Henderson.