Using Fluorescent Lighting to Create a Retro Portrait

by | Apr 14, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

The  problem with using traditional “hot lights” for portraiture is that they are, well, hot and are not all that comfortable to work under for subject and photographer alike. We’re now in a more comfortable world of using continuous light sources for portraiture that are powered by fluorescent bulbs. I know what you’re thinking, don’t fluorescent lights produce horrible green light?

Daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs are a perfect light source for digital photography. Tungsten lights, by comparison, produce 93% heat and seven percent mostly red light. Fluorescent light is cooler, brighter, and comes out the winner for color balance. A digital camera’s chip is least sensitive in its blue channel and tungsten light has the least output in the blue and when combined with tungsten’s infrared (heat) output it can overcome a chip’s spectral response. The RGB output of daylight-balanced fluorescent lamps for photography, on the other hand, more closely match the receptive RGB spikes of the imaging sensors in most/all DSLRs or mirrorless cameras.

How I made this shot: Today’s featured portrait was lit using Westcott’s Two-Light Daylight D5 Softbox kit as shown in the above setup shot. The kit includes two D5 fluorescent-based light heads, two 24×32-inch softboxes, ten 27 Watt daylight balanced lamps and two 6.5 ft lightstands. The softboxes have a silver reflective lining to maximize output with heat resistant rods that mount on receptacles on the D5’s head. The kit is delivered in a 10x12x29-inch box that, since it has a handle, can double as a carrying case.

Today’s featured image of Pamela Simpson doing a wonderful impression of Jean Harlow was shot with a Panasonic Lumix GH4 with a Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens (at 45mm) with an exposure of 1/30 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 640. Background is a Savage Infinity black vinyl backdrop mounted on my falling apart JTL background stand.

The color image was converted to monochrome using Silver Efex Pro and the Vignette Blur filter from Silver Efex Pro was added to soften the edges and add to the overall retro feel.

Be aware: Because fluorescent lamps contain mercury, they are classified as hazardous waste. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends fluorescent lamps be segregated from general waste for recycling or safe disposal. Home Depot in my area has a recycling area for these kinds of bulbs and I’m sure there are others at similar stores.

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