Part I : Inexpensive Photographic Lighting

by Mark Thellmann, InLiquid artist

The least expensive lighting instruments would be a couple of hardware store clip lights with 10″ aluminum reflector bowls and two 3200 degree Kelvin photoflood bulbs. These lights could be clipped to makeshift light stands comprised of PVC or metal tubing cemented or plastered in coffee cans. Some very successful professional photographers started out this way.

Note that all tungsten light is incandescent light (what Thomas Edison invented), but not all incandescent light is tungsten light because of the 3200 degree Kelvin rating. A standard 60 watt light bulb is not rated at 3200 degrees Kelvin. You must purchase specially manufactured photoflood bulbs like the EAL or ECT. These bulbs, rated at 500 watts, are inexpensive, but short lived. Some last only 3-4 hours, but their 3200 degree temperature is constant and made for tungsten slide film.

The next level of expenditure would be to invest in some actual light stands and lights with bowl-type reflectors and barn doors attached. These light heads will have fittings which will allow them to mount on the light stands. They also require the aforementioned photoflood bulbs. The Smith Victor Co. manufacturers a basic, but inexpensive and very practical light kit and larger photographic supply stores will carry this product.

Moving up in price again, we would purchase heavier light stands and quartz tungsten light heads with barn doors. Quartz tungsten bulbs, also rated at 3200 degrees Kelvin, are more expensive than photoflood bulbs, but last roughly 100 hours. Unlike tungsten photoflood bulbs, quartz tungsten bulbs do not screw in. Photoflood bulbs cannot be used in these lamp housings. Please note that this type of lighting is called “hot light” for a reason. Wear a pair of gloves so you don’t get burned adjusting barn doors or attaching gels or diffusion materials to them.

Another common light source is cool white fluorescent lighting. It is usually found in schools, offices, cafeterias, grocery stores, etc. Never shoot anything under this light. On daylight film, this light source photographs green and on tungsten film, it photographs an aqua color. If Picasso’s “blue period” work had been photographed under cool white fluorescent lighting, history would have referred to it as his “green period.” There is no film on the market today which will reproduce colors correctly under cool white fluorescent lighting. You must rely on filtration.

If for some reason you have to photograph an art installation under this lighting and cannot utilize your own lights, use daylight film and put a Kodak Wratten 30 or 40 magenta filter over the lens. This filter should absorb the greenish cast. Also remember never to mix your light sources. Fluorescent from the ceiling and daylight from the windows will change things considerably, as will tungsten mixed with daylight.

Matching the right film with the right light and keeping that light source constant in color temperature will result in slides which will reproduce the colors in your artwork accurately.

Mark D. Thellmann has been an art photographer, fine artist, and photography instructor for the past 25 years. He has recently produced a video entitled Take Perfect Photos of Your Art and Craftwork which discusses and demonstrates the necessary camera equipment, lighting, film exposure and methods of photographing paintings, sculpture, woodworking projects, fabric art and jewelry.

A second video entitled Alternative Photographic Processes with Polaroid Films (time-Zero film manipulation, image transfer and emulsion transfer) reveals the techniques Mark uses to create fine art. These fine art images can be found in the Polaroid Museum Collection and on greeting cards and posters throughout Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

All materials copyright Mark Thellmann. No reproduction without permission. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Images copyright © Part I : Inexpensive Photographic Lighting

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