I’ll start by suggesting that if you can scrounge up the money, you should avoid the aluminum dish reflector type work lights that lots of photography beginners seem to use. They will work though, if needs be. I’ve got three lists here, the first is setting up a workable system for under $1500 USD, the second is setting up a truly cheap system for under $750 USD, and the third list is … scary … for a miniscule 250 bucks.
I strongly recommend you look at continuous lighting solutions.
Strobes offer you unparalleled flexibility and a color, quality and power of light that simply goes unmatched (for the price… HMIs are beautiful too, but cost more even than strobe systems).
If you can find $1500 USD to work with then the answer is pretty simple: go Lowel. A Lowel Tota/Omni Core kit comes with three decent lamps with a lot of varied usage. They will work, no matter how much people fade them.
Tota/Omni Core 44 Kit (Soft Case): $1345.00 (list)
Used/New Mafer Clamp $20-40
The mafer clamp is a do anything clamp, that attaches to your stand and accepts a stand pin connection (a “spud”) for lights, arms, whatever.
You’ll see these EVERYWHERE, from photo studios to film sets. They’re fairly cheap and extremely versatile. They can be puchased from just about any online photo store (B&H, Calumet, etc).
Tyvek (yeah, the stuff in your walls) $10
Tyvek has an aluminum coated side that has UNBELIEVABLE reflectivity. It will catch and reflect a TON of light. You can find it at any building supply store.
Avenger Articulated Arm (with clamp) $75
Attaches to your stands and can hold most any light modifier… cardboard, gels, whatever.
Assorted Black and White “Backerboard” Scraps (Free!)
Go to your local frame store and ask from their backboard and matte board scraps. The white and black types are usually color neutral and hold up to a lot of abuse, while easily cut to your own needs. Sometimes stores will have entire sheets they’re willing to part with for free.
Go Tube Kit (Soft Case) $685.00
Windshield Heat Reflector $10
You can find these things at auto parts stores and department stores, for very little money. They have one shiny side, aluminum, and one white side. They are essentially the same thing as a photoflex/flexfill. Just take them and repeatedly crush them into a little ball to distress the material (provides a more even and defect free quality of light).
4’x8′ Foam Core $55
You might have to search a bit for this, but it’s simply unmatched in giving large areas of fill, and can always be cut down for your needs. I use them constantly, on location and in the studio.
So, you’re really poor (like all of us) and you can’t spare more than 250 bucks for your lighting needs. Well. Okay. I’ve got a kit for you. You can’t complain about the way it looks, but it might just get the job done. I have to admit, this kit is the coolest because it’s just so ridiculously cheap.
CTB Photofloods (250w) x3 – (each) $3.00
White Photofloods (250w) x3 – (each) $3.00
Clamp Lamps x3 – (each) $9.00
China Balls/Lanterns x2 – (each) $10.00
Tyvek – $10.00
4’x8′ Foam Core – $55.00
Gaffers Tape – (each) $25.00
Used C-Stand (With Arm) – $80.00
QuikClamps – (each) $5.00
Assorted Backerboard/Matte Board – $Free
Windshield Heat Reflector – $10.00
Duffle Bag – $Free
That’s 250 bucks for a working kit. It ain’t pretty, but it will do the job. You can usually find a duffle bag for free or nearly free at Goodwill, or from some company outing, or some sort of corporate merchandizing. I know you can find one for free.
China balls/lanterns can be found at most cheap stores, like “BigLots” or “Ocean State Job Lot” (if that exists still, I don’t even know). I’m sure there’s international equivalents of all these places. China lanterns are just paper wrapped around a metal frame, either as a sphere or a rectangle. Both are extremely versatile. And combustible. So keep an eye on them.