I have been a professional photographer for over 20 years. I have used only three types of lighting: ambient, strobe and tungsten. These 3 lighting sources have served me well in architectural, industrial, corporate and product photography. Sometimes, I mix them together. I use portable battery powered small strobes on location in an industrial setting. I have used heavy duty Speedotron studio strobes to light products as well as small Arri continuous tungsten lights to illuminate objects. Since the emergence of digital capture in the late 1990’s, lighting has remained constant: Strobe lighting or continuous tungsten lighting. Then came daylight balanced florescent light bulbs primarily used for product photography when digital capture was in it’s infancy. I remember attending an evening seminar in NYC, where I was an assistant to a still life photographer. The year was 1994. In the demonstration room was a lighting rig of 4 florescent bulbs set into a reflector aimed at a tabletop product setup. There were 2 of these reflectors, one on either side, with a total of eight 85 watt daylight balanced florescent bulbs that were aimed at the product.
Remember, in 1994, digital camera’s sensors were not that sensitive! We needed a lot of light to illuminate the scene and in this case, 8 bulbs set into a reflector placed very close to the set was the solution. These florescent lamps ran cool, so there was no danger of melting the product to be photographed! That was a positive. The camera that was being used at that seminar, (and was for sale too!) was this :
The original CCD (Charged Coupled Device) chips made color images by taking 3 separate exposures, shot through a color filter wheel. Black & white was one exposure. This process made color capture practical only for still life and non-motion product photography.
I remember being amazed that simple, daylight balanced florescent bulbs could light a product setup. I also realized that this was only the beginning of this digital revolution in professional studio photography.
That seminar was 25 years ago. A lot has changed. There is an added lighting option that was not available back then: Light Emitting Diodes or LED’s . LED lighting is now widely used by professional photographers. Cameras have also advanced. No longer is it necessary to take 3 separate exposures to get a color image!
This brings me to my latest product photography project. I was commissioned to photograph 250 casters for Casters & Material Handling, here in Appleton.
This was the first project where I entertained the idea of shooting with compact florescent lighting. I have always liked utilizing continuous light (instead of strobe) for product photography. I could plainly see what I would get. The job would be on location in a small vacant conference room shooting with a daylight balanced light box underneath, (to facilitate shadowless lighting on the background) I thought of lighting, that would be cool and daylight balanced. Now was my chance to try the florescent light set up that I just purchased on Craigslist (from yet another retiring studio photographer). The lamps would be cool to the touch and balance to the light box I was using. I would need to order high wattage bulbs. I ordered four 85 watt spiral bulbs on line from a photographic supply outlet to ensure a 5500 Kelvin daylight balance. The price was 14.00 each. Not bad compared to the 40 or 50 dollar price range back in 1992!
85 Watt florescent is comparable to a 350 watt incandescent bulb. It’s a BIG bulb.
I needed to shoot at f/16.5 or f/22. At ISO 640, that would leave me with a shutter speed of a 60th of a second. These images would be for the web.
The lights were giving me a well balanced, cool rendering on the product. I was pleased with the results. One other ingredient I added was on the camera. I have the option with my Nikon D810 to shoot in High Dynamic Range right in camera. I wanted to do this to bring detail to any shadows as well as tone down any highlights. I wanted even, detailed lighting.
I will use this type of light set up again for product photography. It may not be practical for people, although with ISO’s creeping up to the upper 2000 with little noise, it is a consideration depending on needs. It would be fun to experiment with portraits and these CFL’s (compact florescent lamp)
In post production, I used Adobe Bridge to burn out the white in the background to produce pure white. I cropped in a bit and posted the finals. Here’s what one of 250 look like with my “new” lighting setup.