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Friday, June 1, 2007

Continuous Lights For Digital Shooters

For control and certain effects, many professionals find "hot light" to be the ideal lighting gear

Using hot lights, however, you can control motion in the photograph. Dial the power of the lights up or down to work your shutter speed, and the aperture and the possibilities become clear. A fan on the model's hair, a curtain billowing in the breeze from the window—all of these images take on a new dimension with a little motion blur.

We're not advocating an all-or nothing approach here. There's no war between strobes and hot lights. Many high-end pros use both in most shoots. Mixing sources like this takes the best of both worlds. You can get the motion freezing of the strobes and the warmth of the hot lights along with just a hint of motion if you desire.

The effect is popular among portrait photographers to different degrees. About 10 years ago, it became common to shoot with a strobe and ambient lights. You'd use your aperture to account for the strobe on the person's face and the shutter speed to account for the ambient source. With a little fine-tuning, you'd have an image that was sharp from the strobe and slightly blurred as you looked at the parts of the frame beyond the areas that were lit by the strobe. It's a great look that requires some practice. In the studio, you can use the same general technique, but you can control the effect to a much greater degree.

There are plenty of options if you're in the market for hot lights. At the high-end of hot lights is the staple of the film industry, HMI.

HMI delivers about five times the output per watt of standard quartz lights and they generate less heat per watt. There are more options for light modifiers with HMI, thanks in part to the lower heat output and their prevalence in the professional film and video industries. The color temperature of HMI lights is about 5600K, making them a pretty good match to sunlight. This can be convenient if you're shooting outdoors and you want to take advantage of the ambient light.

Because of their origins in film and video, HMI is a flicker-free source. Flicker is caused by the lamp's response to the alternating current of the power driving it. While it's critical to have a flicker-free source for motion-picture shooting, it's less important for still work. That said, if you're shooting long digital exposures, you'll definitely have an advantage using a flicker-free source.

One of the biggest hurdles for emerging professional photographers is the cost associated with the gear.

Cameras, lenses, computers, lights— all of this adds up. When you're in school, most of your gear issues are mitigated by the school having a bevy of equipment for student usage, but as soon as you get out, you're going to be hitting up your parents and maxing out your credit cards just to get your business off the ground.

Investing in a hot-light system can be a smart way to go, due to the costs and diversity of the systems. Hot lights aren't “starter setups” by any stretch of the imagination. You'll never outgrow them, and you just might find that they give you some new creative possibilities as your career takes off.



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