Hot Lights On a Budget

Good reference can make a huge difference in your painting, but photography can be an expensive and jealous hobby.  It is always there when I get a little extra money, nagging away and telling me I need a new lens/body/bag/strap/flash/gadget...  I try my best to resist but photography has a Borg like ability to assimilate my will.

Because my wallet is generally smaller than my wants, I am always looking for a cheap way to do something well and I came across some intriguing options on Amazon and thought I would give them a try.  I have always wanted a set of hot lights for my photography.  I have a nice set of strobes (flashes) that I use but hot (or continuous) lights are nice because they are always on so you can move them around and see in real time exactly what your light is going to be like.  They used to be really expensive for good color corrected lights but that has changed.  Not only that but with CFL or LED bulbs they aren't all that 'hot' anymore (halogen and tungsten bulbs are powered by liquid hot magma I think).

Plus, the tungsten and halogen kits are much warmer.  I wanted a kit that was closer to daylight.  See this chart to see where the temperature of the light falls.  If you aren't familiar with what this means, it will be useful if you do much photography and are going to buy a set of lights:

Back to the hot lights.  I bought this set: LimoStudio - Photography Photo Portrait Studio

Update 11/2914 - If the LimoStudio kit is not available, this is a similar kit:

CowboyStudio Triple Lighting Kit


It comes with two tall light stands and one small one, three light heads, three 6500k CFL bulbs and a case.  All for $38.  Wow.  They aren't very rugged, but for indoor use, they feel like they will last.

The umbrellas are delicate, but with reasonable care, they should hold out.  They are designed to reflect the majority of light back, but you can also turn them around and shoot light through them like a softbox.

I do have some gripes and fixes though.

Gripes - The bulbs that they came with stink.  They are quite bright (200W equivalent which means they put out as much light as a typical 200W incandescent bulb), but at 6500k, I had a really hard time getting good skin tones, even with a grey card (for getting accurate white balance) and messing around in Photoshop.  The highlights were too cool and the shadows a yucky orange/green.  I also found that even with as much light as they put out, I could use more.  More light means more options with your camera, i.e. lower ISO for less grain, more options with your f-stop to get a sharp image and faster shutter speed.  All useful.

Fixes - I went to Home Depot in search of some 5000-5500k bulbs.  I found a 4-pack of 5000k spiral CFL bulbs for $8, but they weren't as bright as the ones that came in my kit, only 100W equivalent.  I remembered seeing a 4-socket head on Amazon, so I bought 2 4-packs of bulbs and a 200W flood, all 5000k, went home and ordered two 4-socket light adapters.

Here is a link to bulbs I purchased at Home Depot: EcoSmart Daylight 4 pack

I bought two of these for $10 each: Flashpoint 4 Socket Adapter

After impatiently waiting for them to arrive, I was ready to go, now with 1000W of total light!

With two main fixtures, I can use one as the primary light, and another as a fill, or double them up for an 800w equivalent single light source and good simulation of daylight.  Here is a shot of my setup from a photoshoot just earlier today.  You can tell that I have a supportive wife by the big hooks in the ceiling that I can attach my grey photo backdrop to, transforming the family room into a temporary photo studio.  The backdrop is nice for isolating the subject, but not mandatory.  You can use a sheet or a solid color wall with similar effect.  The background fill light also helps with that too, eliminating shadows.

I dialed my camera's white balance to 5000k to match the lights and shot away.  Here is a shot of the model from the shoot today:

I was very happy with the range of skin tones and information in both the highlights and shadows.  I shot the image with Nikon D7000 and a 50mm lens, ISO 400, f 3.5, 1/60th of a sec, handheld.

Not only are the lights useful for photography, but they work well when painting from a live model too.   To summarize, for about $80 I have three tripods, a couple umbrellas and about 1000 watts of effective light and at a versatile temperature.  I have used them a few times now and am very happy with the results.

Thanks for giving this a read and I hope you found it useful.

Howard Lyon