I went through a stage when all I used was hot lights. I think I'm going back....

I trouped up to Dallas to take this shot.  It was many years ago.  It was the first time I worked with Anne B. as my assistant.  Maybe that's why I remember this particular shoot.  Anne and I are still close friends over a decade later.  But what really brought this image to mind is that I've been getting back to real lighting control and I remember going thru a period when I shot almost everything with "hot lights".  I may be going back to that style because it offers such tight control for the kind of work I light to do.

This image was done to accompany a story in Prevention Magazine.  The story was about how and why to stop smoking.  The woman in the portrait above had kicked the habit and the magazine was doing a story about her experiences.

In those days I travelled with a box of interesting "hot (tungsten halogen) lights".   The box had a few Lowell Totalights,  some Lowell Pro Lights ( small focusable lights with "peanut" bulbs that put out 250 watts for light), and a couple of small, 125 watt, fresnel spotlights.  I'd use a small Pro-light shining thru a layer of Rosco diffusion gel about two feet above the subjects head in order to get the little butterfly shadow under the nose, and the flattering shadow under the chin.  I'd use another light, bounced into something flat and white, right behind the camera position, about 2 and 1/2 stops down from the main light.  Maybe a carefully snooted back light and then, finally, a "sprayed" light on the background.

The benefits of working with the hot lights were threefold.  First, it was so easy to focus the camera accurately as the image coming through the finder was much brighter than that given by the diffused and reduced light coming thru a big softbox from a modeling light in an electronic flash set up.  Second, everything about continuous light is WYSIWYG.  You can see the effects easily as you build your lighting.  Very nice change from the vagaries of flash.  Finally,  you have total control about which f-stop to use.  I used something like f4 with a 150mm lens on a medium format camera.  You can see what that gives you in terms of depth of field.  

Another thing that's nice about using smaller lights, closer in is that the inverse square law works for you beautifully.  Look how quickly the light falls off from the subject's face to her arms and mid torso.  This serves to naturally keep the attention on her face.....the lightest thing of interest in the frame.

I thought about this today on my job.  I was shooting portraits for one of the hot public relations agencies in town and I was using Westcott nets and Westcott flags to control light spill and to keep the light levels on people's hands a few stops darker than the light on their faces.  More control means a more three dimensional photograph.  And that means more return clients for me.  While I was using flash I was thinking about the creative control of hot lights and how the use of flags was really only getting me half way there.

Looks like the remainder of the month will be a search for the Holy Grail as expressed through tungsten lighting and flags.  Stay tuned.



Eduardo said...

Beautiful photo Kirk! I have always wanted to play with hot lights specially with spots and fresnels for the very same reasons :)Your post reminded me of Peter Gowland´s beautiful work :)http://www.petergowland.com/Studio1.html

BTW did you end up testing the Monstar?

My best wishes for you buddy!


Don said...

I started on hot lights as well. Kept shooting them right through the 90's. Damage and attrition lessened my cadre of Mole Richardson, and I never replaced them.

I will say that I think of my strobes as hot lights and light with them the same way I did with the MR's and the Tota's.

Small power, grids, big cards and flags... yep, and in tight as well... the ISL provides amazing control over light and contrast and I use it to make the shots I want.

Shooting next week with three Mole Richardson 2K's and fresnels.

Markus Mayer said...

Hi Kirk!

I can only go aside with you on this one. When I started my tiny little (amateur) studio, I did not thought about buing a flash - as I was used to shoot without flashes. I bought a used Hedler light for in total (stand and big umbrella included) 150 Euros. And that's all I use to light my portraits till today.

I have to add something to your post: People photographed with hot lights FEEL much better in front of your camera. They are not sitting/standing in a dimly lit room with eye hurting flashes. They are in a bright room with light being (perhaps) on sunlight level - that alone gives good feelings.

Best regards,

Steve Burns said...

Kirk: I have to agree that hot lights give a certain amount of control that you get from the WYSIWYG nature of it. How do you deal with the "hot" aspect of them though?

My early lights prior to my strobe days were SV quartz. They were fine while living up in the mountains of CO, but when I moved back to NJ, I vividly remember a subject muttering something along the lines of "I'm melting."

A hot humid August day here is not unlike one in Austin. ;-}

Patrick Snook said...


I too used hot Lowel tota lights exclusively (including for on-location portraiture), until about three years ago, when I challenged myself to learn to use off-camera flash as an alternative to (not necessarily to replace) hot lights. The Lowels stayed in the bag most of those three years! It's nice to be reminded of them by your post.

We might have to adjust and talk about "continuous" light. Or "movie" light--for fun! Just yesterday, coincidentally, a post on the Luminous Landscape site talked about LED continuous lighting (which is much cooler in operating temperature, and much more energy efficient, by design). I recommend the read. Very interesting new-ish technology.

Beautiful portrait, by the way. Always great to see your work, old and new, on land, in water. . . .



Ed said...

This piece takes me back to going freelance in the '70s. Reminds me of a long-standing love affair with a couple of Italian Redheads and a Blonde I kept in tow for a few years... (P.S. I mean those quartz lights made by Ianiro!)

Anonymous said...

Once again....a masterful portrait. I'd love to peek at your archives.

Dave Jenkins said...

With all respect, I prefer your current lighting style, which of course could be accomplished with hot lights as easily as strobes.

(Please excuse if this turns out to be a double post. I had an internet glitch just as I was posting.)