Portraits with a Lightbulb? Why Not!

According to Ray Bromley, “How many digital photographers does it take to change a light bulb? They can’t, there isn’t enough light unless they use flash.”

lightbulb1How much output is a single LED light bulb going to produce? I screwed a 9W (6o Watt equivalent) Philips LED light bulb into Gary Fong’s Lightbulb Adapter kit, measured off ten feet and took an incident reading with a Gossen Luna-Star F2 meter set at ISO 400. The resultant exposure was 1/15 sec with an aperture between f/1.4 and f/2. So it’s obvious you’re going to have to use faster lenses, kick up the ISO and move the light closer to the subject.

Tip: Even doing all three of those things I found myself shooting near wide open with two f/1.8 lenses ultimately increasing the ISO at 800. When shooting with cameras with better high ISO performance, you should be able to exceed that but first do a few tests to find the maximum amount of noise you’re willing to tolerate before photographing anything important.

lightbulb2Setting up the Lightbulb Adapter Kit is as simple as screwing in a light bulb. And you can use it that way. LED light bulb are supposed to produce “true-to-life skin tones” but images made with a Canon EOS 60D set in AWB (auto white balance) mode produced noticeably warm tones. Your camera and another setting might be different so as always make time for testing. I also looked at the light source through a spectrascope and saw that while the color spectrum of the bulb was indeed smooth, with no gaps, it was more compressed than other LED light sources I’ve tested.

For the portrait of Pamela Simpson above, I added a second Gary Fong Lightbulb Adapter Kit with colored LED light bulb (set to magenta ) behind the subject. It produced a dramatic look that if I didn’t know was created with two light bulbs, wouldn’t believe it from looking at the image. Canon EOS 60D with EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens with an exposure of 1/50 sec at f/1.8 and ISO 800

posing.cover.newJoe is the author of Posing for Portrait and Glamour Photography that’s available at your favorite book or camera store as well as Amazon.com. A limited number of signed copies for $25 (including shipping) including a signed 5×7 print of one of the images from the book is available. To order click on CONTACT above.

Author: Joe Farace

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