I get this question twenty times a week. First off, let me say that if you are new to photography, think about what your end goals are first. Do you primarily shoot children’s photos on a set where you want everything lit at once by a giant light source? Are you shooting high end portraiture, or boudoir where management of light is critical? It’s all about your end goal.
Secondly, I am not a gear snob. I am not being endorsed by anyone. I like things about everything from ProFoto to Wescott, to Alien Bees. They all have their spot in a budget range. Don’t fall into the trap of having to have thelatest rage because some photographer says he can see 25 degrees of color temperature difference between strobes. It is all BS.
My lighting of choice right now is the Newer Vision5 and Vision4.
The Vision 5 is a battery powered strobe, with full remote capabilities that retails for about $370. I tested one for a month and then bought three more. They are built in China and re-branded by Neewer. To some, that is an issue, but to me, I could care less because they work flawlessly for the budget minded. They also utilize the Bowens mount which gives you an easily accessible, endless supply of modifiers. Another bonus is they are HSS capable!
I also use the Vision 4, which is the little brother of the 5. It is not HSS capable and is not remotely adjustable with the Vision5 remote. (I hear that there is a fix coming for this)
They are just over $200. I use them mainly for backdrop or hair lights. Again, batter powered and very portable so they really come in handy.
I started out my photography days with the likes of Speedotron. You can get a set of Brownline strobes on eBay for under $500. The same goes for a decent older Norman system. Neither are bad for a beginning studio photographer.
Then, we have the venerable Alien Bees. There isn’t a light out there that can beat these for bargain and versatility.
They can be found on eBay for under $200 up to $400 depending on the one you are getting. (be that the 400, 600, or 800) They are remote triggered, but do require a power source for each light so it does make portability a bit of a pain. If you are shooting in studio all the time, you will fall in love with these. They are not remotely adjustable, so you do have to go back and forth to each light, but in a high volume production studio where you never change lighting, these are the best you can ask for on a budget.
Last on my list is Godox. I won’t dig into them much here for one simple reason. They are the “rage of the day” because some guy on Youtube says they are. The prices come in above Neewer for a less functional unit, so I will leave that research up to you!