Strobe vs. Tungsten Lighting

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Lighting is a needed evil if you intend on doing any type of photography. This is especially true if you are planning on shooting any portraits. This is because simply snapping your cameras shutter button will not guarantee that you will get a properly exposed image. In fact, more often than not you will get less than good results. For that reason professionals use extra lighting to make sure that what thy capture is as close to perfect as it can be.

It is true that today’s digital cameras do a phenomenal job of compensating for many of the varied lighting situations out there and giving a decently acceptable snapshot. But when you start mixing the types of lighting colors and color temperatures the digital camera can go bananas.

Take the average office location that you might encounter. The majority of them have cooler temperature florescent lighting in the ceiling. On its own the camera can compensate for that fairly easily. But if a worker is sitting at his or her desk and they happen to haves a traditional light bulb in the socket you will throw things off. Because a regular light bulb is tungsten color temperature and it is hard for the camera to balance those two in a natural way.

You will look at the scene and it will look normal to you because you are able to internally fix the differences. That is one of the things that your brain does. Your digital camera on the other hand will have a tough time dealing with it and the result will either be overly blue or overly orange or yellow depending on how close the lens and image sensor is to which light source.

Now certainly there are many options that you can use in the studio to help even out the many flaws in the lighting situation. There is a plethora of lights that will help you make an easy days work out of the art of lighting your session to the point that it is a truly well exposed portrait.

About Strobe Lights

A lot of photographers prefer to use a strobe, or rather a set of strobes as their light source of choice. They feel that it gives them a lot of light and much better control over what they get. Many even prefer to use strobe lights instead of the natural lighting of the day. That is because you are able to control the power of the actual strobe as well as the character of the light. There are only a very few controls to mess with and so it is easy to use once it is set up. In fact in many strobes heads the only control that you have is the power output knob which governs the actual output of light from the unit.

tungsten lighting

Of course if you are planning on relying purely on strobe units you will need to invest in bounce surfaces to make sure that the light that reaches the model is soft and diffused enough to be useable and not harsh and stark as a plain strobe or flash unit has the tendency to be.

One of the nice parts of strobe photography is that they are usually so bright that you can hand hold your camera and do away with the tripod. This is the reason you usually see glamour or fashion photographer’s hand holding their cameras. Also the strobe unit is also the same approximate color temperature as daylight so you get consistency. This means that they make a great add on to any of your daylight available light shots. It will add to and not subtract from the result from a lighting standpoint.

Tungsten Lights

Tungsten lighting is the other widely accepted light source for the photographer. It gives you the nice warm and even color temperatures that have many, many classic photos. You can fairly well count on the shots that you take with your tungsten light source to be well lit, warm and consistent. That is important because you don’t usually want the coloring to vary from one shot to the next or even to change from one session to the next. Consistency is the key to maintaining a great exposure and getting great shots time after time.

Of course daylight is an old stand by if you can do your shooting during the daylight hours where you live. It has the distinct advantage of being free to use and it is there each and every day without the need to pay the bill. That is always a plus. It also gives you that consistency factor that we talked about earlier.

You are able to actually see what the result will be before you shoot. With strobes you either have to guess and hope that your light meter gave you the right information or you need to test fire the strobes to be sure that the set up is correct.

The issue is that you need to wait for the sun to get in to the position that you want it to be in if you are looking for a specific lighting for a pose. The strobes or tungsten you can just move and be ready to go in minutes. If you have pre scouted your location for the shoot and did your homework though, you should know what time of the day you need to be there to catch just the right light and if you do the result can be awesome indeed.

A lot of guys will use the strobe as a fill light to get a nice evenly illuminated shadow area. Most of the people that I know prefer to grab a reflector and use the sun bouncing off a reflector to get the right balance of shadows and highlights. Both methods work well and both methods will give you great results as long as you plan ahead and know what you are doing with them.

A lot of folks like tungsten lighting. Tungsten is a light similar to what you sue in your home. Well in fact, Identical in form and function but the professional lights are more stable. The light bulbs you buy for use in your home can vary in color temperature from batch to batch. This is not an issue for a house but for color photography it is a huge issue.

This type of lighting was made for still life and for the moving picture industry. They were designed to run hotter and brighter than an ordinary bulb so that it would put more lumens in front of the lens in a small and somewhat compact manner.  The problem with making a light that runs at the higher output that is needed for color photographs is that it will run so hat that it will literally burn its self out in a matter of a few hours time. This means that usually after only a few hours of use they will begin to show a noticeable change in the color temperature and then will die soon there after.

Some companies out there make a lower cost bulb that gives fairly high output at a pretty reasonable price. The problem is that by making this thing so cheaply they have a color shift that makes them almost too unstable for professional use. They do a good job of getting you started and helping you to learn the ropes but because the color can shift so dramatically you will not find any pro that is going to use them. These bulbs though typically have regular screw bases so that you can use them almost anywhere. They are also a great option for someone that is interested in doing black and white shooting because color balance is not nearly as much of an issue there.

Then, we come to the newer style and more useable quartz bulbs. The quartz is much more stable and more consistent in the color temperature so you can all but forget about the problems of color balance and the miracle is that they stay stable for a long time. As much as sixty hours of use. That means that if your average portrait session lasts an average of 3 hours of shooting, your bulbs will last you somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty sessions. A pretty good return on your investment dollar I would say.

Stobe or Tungsten Lighting?

The answer of what is the best for you is something that only you, as the ultimate user of the light, will be able to answer. There are certainly valid points and reasoning that will go with the decision to use any of the lighting methods mentioned here in this article.

Some of you might be struggling with the obvious issues of too much ambition and not enough cash. That is something a lot of aspiring photographers have trouble with. Still others might be ok on the cash end but not so much up on the methodology of the how and whys of photography using lighting to make things look good.

strobe lighting

The truth is that when you sit and look at all of the options a good many of us out there might safely fall into the area of using all of the available methods of lighting to make things work. That is because there are situations where each of the lighting methods is going to have an edge over the others.

The true way to become a professional in this business is to find the method that works the best for you and make that your standard method of lighting. However don’t back away from the other methods of lighting. You have to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at you if you wasn’t to be able to capture the beautiful and sometimes the award winning portrait photographs. You can’t always expect the moment to wait fro you to set the perfect lighting scenario, you need to take whatever scenario presents its self and adapt your equipment to get the best out of whatever is given to you.

As my grandfather (and many other have said) if the world gives you lemons, make some lemonade. Well putting that in photographic terms, if the world gives you poor lighting, take it and make a great photo. It’s a challenge but it can be done no matter what light source you have to shoot under. It’s a matter of knowing the light type and your gear. Use a fast enough lens with the right aperture and shutter speed and setting ISO to correct value and there are very few situations that will present themselves where you can not get a great portrait.

The trick is not necessarily what you have to work with; it is more how well you know your equipments and how well you are capable of using it that matters. I have actually seen someone with a single camera and a very fast lens and a very basic camera take shots that would make a photographer with a room full of lighting cower away in shame. I have seen the man with a ton of gear take a crappy shot because he knew nothing about it.

photography lighting kit

I myself have been faced with challenges. I was at a shoot one time for a news story and something locked the shutter on my camera. I could not get it to go. Rather than freak out I took my pocket camera, a Canon SD1400IS, a little point and shoot with manual over rides, and I used it. The other photographers laughed at me and pointed but I KNOW the camera and the bottom line is that the photo I took made the front page of a local news paper and none of the shots they shot did.

Know each and every part of your gear from cameras to lights and there is a very strong possibility that you will never have a bad shot. Some may be a little better than others but you’ll never be left holding the bag.

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