Shooting Portraits using Fluorescent Lights

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Some photographers think using studio lighting equipment is complicated to operate and too expensive but it can be neither. When making portraits, continuous light sources make the process seamless. Instead of the subject being distracted (and blinking) caused by electronic flash, continuous light sources let them relax.

For years photographers  used photoflood, tungsten, quartz and all kind of continuous light sources under the general category of “hot lights.” These light sources have advantages over flash: They can be inexpensive, let you see the allowing you to use your camera’s in-camera meter and they’re generally smaller and lighter than flash.

The only problem with traditional “hot lights” is that they are, well, hot and not all that comfortable for subject and photographer alike. How about fluorescent? I know what you’re thinking, don’t fluorescent lights produce horrible green light? It turns out daylight-balanced fluorescents are the perfect light source for digital photography.

Tungsten lights produce 93 percent heat and seven percent red light. By comparison fluorescent light is cooler and brighter. Fluorescent lights for photography are daylight-balanced and their RGB output spikes closely match the receptive RGB spikes of imaging chips.

Westcott’s Two-Light D5 Softbox Kit, for example, uses their D5 fluorescent head. The D5 features five ceramic light sockets, each supporting a 50-Watt lamp. The D5 head has five power switches arranged across it’s back, each controlling a single lamp. It has a built-in tilt bracket for positioning and a 13-foot cord with an in-line power switch that I would have preferred located on the D5’s back.

The above image was made with a Panasonic Lumix GH4 and Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 lens. Even with the main light using only three of the daylight fluorescent bulbs, exposure was 1/100 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 640.Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 9.13.43 AM


If you’re interested in shooting portraits and how I use cameras, lenses and lighting, in my in-home studio, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from Used copies of the book are available for less that eight bucks, so it’s a bargain at that price.