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What Light is Right for You?

It used to be, once upon a time, that tungsten lights (or hot lights) were the only real choice for photographers in the studio. Then, with the advent of flash photography, tungsten became a second cousin.  With the emergence of halogen gas bulbs, also known as quartz, the technology changed, as it always must. Then along came fluorescent lighting and all these different possibilities left many a photographer shaking his head. So let’s take a look at each of these three different choices and determine which one is right for you.

Quartz Lighting

If cost is a consideration, quartz lights are the first choice. Compared to the other options available, they are the most reasonable in price. They’re sometimes referred to as “hot lights” because of their characteristic heating capabilities. They’ll also provide better color consistency and brightness primarily because you’ll see exactly what the light looks like on set. The bulbs don’t last long, but unlike tungsten, there won’t be a drop-off in color temperature during their lifetime. If you’re only doing still-life shots of non-perishable items, or interior architectural photography, quartz lights can be a great choice. If you’re using film you’ll need to balance color temperature, as well with digital, except that with digital cameras it will be a simple menu transition and not an actual change of filtration. A quartz kit will be a great way to start and they can be found for relatively reasonable prices, including all the softboxes and stands you’ll need to get started.

See more: A Guide to Studio Lighting Technique

Savage Quartz Light Kit


Flash is the easiest and most popular choice of photographers everywhere for a number of good reasons, except for one: cost. The range in pricing for studio and location kits can go from low to very, very high. The more you pay, the more you’ll get in capacity, reliability and performance. It would be impossible to have a discussion about the wide range of flash products available in the market today, but flash is an investment, not a choice. But be assured, unless you have a great deal of money to spend, there can be better ways to spend your lighting budget.

Fluorescent Lighting

This could be the most interesting of choices when it comes to studio lighting. In terms of still photography, it is still a relatively “new” concept. When it comes to flash, you’ve got to wait for a recharge, and with more economical flash kits you may have to wait a while. Therein lies the problem. When you’re working with a model or any moving human beings, the ability to shoot continuously without waiting for your flash to recycle brings with it an enormous creative advantage: you keep shooting and don’t miss any of the subtle nuances that present themselves. Think of it. No restrictions at all. You set up your fluorescent lights and forget about them. And you shoot without thinking about flash recycling times. You work directly and closely with your subject, creating a greater connection with them and that’s when the best pictures are made. Instead of thinking about your equipment, you’re thinking about your subject. Florescent lights will provide you with soft even illumination, and you won’t be concerned about heat: fluorescents are cool to the touch.

Continuous Fluorescent Lighting Kit

Fluorescent and Video

Another great advantage to using florescent is video. Most of today’s better digital cameras have video capabilities and florescent will allow you to shoot both still and video. This one advantage cannot be overstated as a benefit to your studio profitability model. Think of it: if you’re shooting kids and families, the ability to sell a “The Making of . . . “ video along with framed stills of a portrait session will easily double your potential income. The same will hold true for wedding photography. A video of a wedding portrait session brings you up a notch in the eyes of your clients. And what’s most important is that you will have more to offer your clients.

James Schuck

James Schuck is a writer and photographer working in Southern California. He is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and has photographed everything from Architecture to Auto Parts to Cookies to Portraits and Weddings.

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