Recently, A manager asked if I could do some headshot portraits for his office that I cover. It’s been six months since the last time I did a portrait shoot. I went into my closet and grabbed all my portable lighting gear. I found my first two flashes I purchased when I did my first portrait shoot. I bought my first flash on eBay new from China that about $30, My second flash I bought used for $40 on bhphotovideo.com. Eventually, I bought some cheap flash remotes for about $40 on eBay from China and some cheap stands, umbrella bracket with the adjustable shoe, and white umbrellas at the time I got them for $40 to help defuse light with the flash. So total for this basic portable lighting kit came out to $150 that worked perfectly for me for about year and a half. I still use the stands and flash remotes.
I know a lot of photographers that started out by going to the local hardware stores and bought basic work lights, They would buy used flashes from friends and eBay. Most professional photographers will tell you that they bought probably used or cheap off brand lights when they started.
I still shop on eBay, Adorama.com, bhphotovideo.com, and local camera stores for used equipment. Adorama and B&H Photo and Video has a good return policy, Check with your local camera store on return policy with used equipment, and with eBay check the seller’s reputation.
Camera gear is like cars they lose more than 50% cash value as soon as it’s passed the return policy window. So, when starting out buy used or off brand lighting if you don’t have the budget. Remember if it’s a friend, family or client, They won’t care is flash or lights have a name brand or bought are used, all they want to see the final result from the picture you took.