Andrew Trembley (bovil) wrote,
Andrew Trembley

So why didn't I know about this?

Danny Low just posted an update to his How to set up a fan photo area document. In it he mentions using fluorescent lights to light a fan photo area.

Now I've been fiddling around with off-camera lighting, but it's difficult as none of my cameras have much capability to support off-camera flash. About the only option I've got is an optical-slave flash triggered by the on-camera flash, which is pretty limiting. I never gave much thought to off-camera continuous lighting. Well, I never gave any thought to off-camera continuous lighting.

I should have.

Continuous lighting systems can be great (and versatile) tools, particularly for beginners. You can see the results of your lighting in real-time, and more easily predict what your shot is going to look like. You can use continuous lighting instead of on-camera flash with point-and-shoot and semi-pro cameras. You might even be able to use the same equipment to shoot video.

Back when I lived in Milwaukee (and people still shot film regularly), a friend of mine rigged up a bunch of studio lights using conventional incandescent bulbs. When he was ready to shoot, he would step on a foot switch, which would boost the voltage (iirc) coming out of the transformer he built to power the system, and the lights would go up to a near-daylight color temperature. It was pretty slick, and it meant he didn't have to use filters or color-correct in the darkroom. So what if the light bulbs didn't last very long and it ran hot? It was still a really cheap studio-quality lighting system.

Two things have changed since then.

Most digital cameras have, in addition to "auto" white balance (which can be unreliable) and preset color temperatures, the ability to sample a white balance card and set the white balance to that sample. You just have to remember to do this. If you're shooting RAW images, it's even possible to set up a white balance sampling filter to take a white-balance reference shot (who knew it could be that easy?). This makes it much easier to work with all sorts of different lighting technologies.

Compact fluorescent lights (and fluorescent lighting in general) has come a long way in the last few years. It's now pretty easy to find CFL bulbs and conventional fluorescent tube fixtures with high-frequency ballasts that put out near-daylight color temperatures and without the goofy color shifts that older fixtures can produce. They're not as cheap as the basic CFLs you find at the hardware store, but they're not that expensive and can last a long time.

The cool thing is that while it's possible to go out and buy constant light kits, it's also not difficult to build your own. Cool Lights has instructional video and kit parts for building all sorts of lighting instruments. Some of the reviewers have mentioned that their video isn't really a step-by-step how-to (and apparently gets the "black is the hot leg" wiring standard wrong), but it's got some intriguing ideas. I particularly like the conversion of a halogen work light to house a CFL bulb with "barn door" panels to mask the light output. I may buy a copy. The Photography and Studio Lighting community is chock full of lighting instrument plans, some sophisticated, some simple, some just plain silly.

I think I need to make the time to build some of these instruments.

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