Photography / Tips and Solutions

The Home Studio, Part 3: Continuous Lighting

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While photographers have many options for their home studio lighting setup, continuous lights are a logical solution for beginners. As its name implies, a continuous light is always on, unlike the fleeting flash of speedlights and studio strobes. For photo and video, most continuous lighting comes in the form of tungsten, fluorescent, and LED sources, as well as HMI, though we aren’t going to focus on the latter here.

LED ring light in useLeo Alejandro

Benefits of Continuous Lighting

I always recommend that beginner studio photographers use continuous lights to view the effects of their lighting. By moving the light around a subject, one can see how the resulting image will look. Continuous lights are beneficial when shooting young children or people who blink frequently, because they provide a more relaxed setting by not producing sudden, huge, startling blasts of flash lighting.

Color Temperature

All lights can be measured by color temperature, based on the Kelvin Scale, which generally runs from 1000 to 10000K, for practical applications. The easiest way to understand it is the lower the number, the warmer the color (candle light) and the higher the number, the cooler the color (the sun at noon).

Click on chart for more information

CRI and TLCI

The Color Rendering Index, or CRI, and Television Lighting Consistency Index, or TLCI, are important numbers to know because they measure a light’s ability to reveal accurate color, hue, and skin tone in an image. Higher numbers mean that the lights will produce more accurate colors in your final images. Choose continuous lights with a CRI or TLCI of 90 or higher, for more accurate color.

Types of Continuous Lights

Tungsten lights, or hot lights (heat is a by-product), are one of the least expensive lighting options for the home studio. Tungsten lights will create a beautiful, warm cast on your subject. My favorite tungsten light kit is the Lowel Rifa LC66EX Softbox Light.

Lowel LC66EX Rifa-Lite eX66 Softbox Light

One of the best features of this light is that it comes with a collapsible softbox, making it easy to store.

I used only one Lowel Rifa LC66EX tungsten softbox light for this portrait.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

Another practical solution is the Westcott uLite with 26" Softbox Kit, because it works with lamps up to 500 watts and includes a softbox that sets up and breaks down quickly. The Elinchrom ScanLite Halogen 300/650W Set is also another option that includes two lights, two lamp wattages, an umbrella reflector for each light, and a handy carry bag.

Fluorescent lights are much cooler to the touch than tungsten. My favorite fluorescent fixture is the Westcott Spiderlite TD6 because you have the option of using tungsten, fluorescent, or screw-in strobe bulbs.

Westcott Spiderlite TD6

Another option I’m keen on is the Flolight 1- FL-220AWT / 2- FL-330AWT 3 Fluorescent Light Kit that offers wireless remote dimming and includes three lights, stands, and carry bags. The Kino Flo Diva-Lite 401 Kit is also a good option that has a CRI rating of 95 and a 5-100% dimming option.

Many LED Lights are cool to the touch, and some are more portable than other continuous lighting options. There are several LED models that run on battery or AC power, such as the Bescor LED-70 Daylight Studio 2-Light Kit. Newer LED lights have adjustable intensity and color-temperature options, making them somewhat pricier.

One of my favorite LED lights is the Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED. With this light, you can adjust the color-temperature using a knob on the back. Since more than one light may be needed for portraits, the Fiilex K302 3-Light P360EX LED Lighting Kit is a great choice, containing three lights, barndoors, and stands, plus a softbox with speedring and a carrying case.

Fiilex P360EX Variable Color LED Light

The Litepanels Astra 6X Bi-Color LED Panel is also a solid choice because it offers variable tungsten and daylight balance and the option of battery power.

A shadowless background using an LED ring light

Model: Kristin Rutty

Another versatile favorite of mine is the Westcott Ice Light 2. With a 96 CRI rating, these lights are portable, battery powered, and can be used handheld or on a stand.

Tripods

A tripod can be helpful when using continuous lights. Since continuous lighting does not produce as much light as flash, it can sometimes require a higher ISO or slower shutter speed, which may introduce the need for a tripod to reduce movement and create a sharper image.

Many photographers who shoot in and out of the studio choose carbon fiber over aluminum tripods because they are lighter, which makes them easier to carry. Manfrotto makes an extensive line of tripod legs and heads. Gitzo tripods are a slight upgrade. I like the Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod with 054 Magnesium Ball Head Kit for its 90-degree center column, which is great for shooting products in the home studio. The Gitzo GK3532-82QD Mountaineer Series 3 Carbon Fiber Tripod with Center Ball Head is a terrific option in the Gitzo line.

Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3 Carbon Fiber Tripod with 054 Magnesium Ball Head Kit

Light Stands & Sandbags

Light stands are essential with any type of studio lighting. It’s important to get quality stands, since the lights you mount on them can be expensive. Some things to consider are minimum and maximum heights, and how much weight they can support.

The 7' Manfrotto 256BUAC Self-Locking Air-Cushioned Light Stand is an excellent option. Its air cushion helps prevent harsh drops during height adjustments. The Avenger Turtle-Base C-Stand Grip Arm Kit is a boom stand offering steel construction and 9-foot maximum height, making it sturdy, reliable, and handy as a general-purpose stand. The Interfit COR759 Compact Backlight Stand makes for a terrific background or floor stand.

Don’t forget to invest in sandbags to ensure the stability of your stand, especially when you have heavy modifiers attached to your lights. Sandbags can help prevent your light from toppling over if it’s kicked or bumped accidently. I generally align my light over the front leg, and place a sandbag on each of the two back legs of the light stand.

Tying It All Together

Continuous lighting can be a terrific home-studio lighting option. If you’re on a budget, start with tungsten. If you want to invest a little more, consider fluorescent or LED lights. Invest in quality light stands, as well as sandbags, to help protect your lighting investment. Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series: Speedlights, Monolights, and Power Packs.

To read more in this series, click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 4Part 5, and Part 6.

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