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This is a question that most beginners ask before they dive into studio photography. Determining how many lights you should get is particularly important in the early days, especially if you’re on a budget and you need to make wise shopping decisions.
Now the simple answer is probably not going to interest you, but I’m going to fire it anyway. You need as many lights as you can work with.
With that said, let’s get a little deeper into things. I am 100% confident that a skilled photographer can get high end assignments done with just one light. This isn’t a general rule and I don’t recommend anyone showing up to a photo-shoot with just one light. It doesn’t inspire confidence and it’s definitely not a safe option. But the idea behind this is that you can take awesome shots with just one flash. The work of Joe McNally and Zack Arias is the best proof I can point you to.
A second light is always going to help because it can be turned into a rim or hair light and it can change the overall look of the photo completely.
When determining the number of necessary lights you have to take a few other factors into account. Do you want the background to be lit or not? Are you looking to avoid shadows all completely or do you want a more dramatic look with strong shadows? It also depends on the model. Harsh light and strong shadows work for some types of faces, while others will benefit much more from flattering soft light.
If you’re just starting out, I recommend getting a two light kit. There are plenty to choose from and most have included umbrellas, which by the way are the modifiers I recommend for learning photographers.
In the meantime, here’s a video from Adorama TV that explains what different numbers of lights can do.