I used to control all these lights with a pile of enlarger timers, so each light had individual control. This was a really creative set of tools; I made some wonderful shots. Sometimes the shutter was open for more than 15 minutes while I wandered around in the dark. I did this so I could control different parts of the shot in different ways.
© John H. Siskin
All Rights Reserved
Although you canít work in the same way with a digital camera, you can do some great still life shots. The key is to remove any other light source so it wonít pollute your color. Another thing you want to consider is that these lights produce a great deal of heat, so they are easier to use in winter than summer. You also want to be careful handling these lights; they really get hot. In addition to light stands and other support equipment, donít forget the tripod. You exposures will often be longer than 1/30th of a second, too long to hand hold.
These lights arenít as useful as professional strobes, but they are considerably cheaper. They have one big advantage, since you can see the light youíre photographing; it is easier to learn to light with them. You might want to look at lights from Lowel and Smith-Victor.
I want to talk about types of existing artificial lights that we sometimes need to work with. I thought I would discuss fluorescents since they are the one really bad light we come into frequent contact with. There are at least three reasons why fluorescents are particularly difficult to deal with.
1) They do not have a continuous spectrum, if you look at the spectrum of a standard light bulb or of the sun the spectrum is a very smooth color gradation from red to blue, as I mentioned above. If you look at the spectrum of a fluorescent light there are bright bands that overlay a gradation that is much less smooth that either the light bulb or the sun. This means that even when you filter fluorescents there are some colors that will be too bright and others that will be too dark. It is extremely difficult to use these lights for technical purposes.
2) Fluorescents change their color over a 1/60 of a second cycle. This is because AC electricity is a wave that is moving the electrons in a wire; this changes the color of a fluorescent tube over the 1/60th of a second required for a single cycle (this is the U.S., the cycle is different in other countries). The best way to deal with this is to use a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. This evens out the cycle, multiples of 1/60th of a second will also work, say 1/15th of a second. Goodness I hate writting with fractions.
3) Fluorescent tube change color over time. Two tubes placed in to the same fixture at the same time may change color in different ways. I think that cool white are more stable in color than other tubes, but the problem is not entirely predictable.
Spectrometer displays of various light sources.
© John H. Siskin
All Rights Reserved
About Author / Instructor / Photographer, John H. Siskin
John Siskin is a commercial and fine art photographer who makes architectural, portrait and macro images. He has worked for General Motors and Disney Studios. He teaches the BetterPhoto course An Introduction to Photographic Lighting and is the author of the book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers.
In addition, he teaches studio lighting black and white photography at Los Angeles Mission College. His studio is in Reseda California and more of his work can be seen at www.siskinphoto.com
His work has been part of many exhibits. His photographs have been shown at the Brand Library, 2nd City Art Gallery, Haroldís Gallery, Farmani Gallery, and The Atelier. He has been a participant in the Valley Studio Tour several times.
John has published quite a number of technical articles about photography. His articles have appeared in Photo Techniques, View Camera, Studio Photography and others. He has written about photographic lighting, building lenses, framing, photographic lab work, building cameras, as well as some more speculative photographic subjects. Since he is so well versed in photographic subjects, he is often hired as a consultant by businesses.