Lighting. The chapter in which Pooh discovers lighting Woozles and gets happier.

I've been on a search for good, inexpensive, continuous lighting since the day DSLR camera makers started implementing real HD video into their cameras. The combination of video-ready cameras and electronic viewfinders flicked one of those small but important switches in my mind and it sent an alarm to the parts of my brain that do rational processing. And the alarm went something like this: "Danger/Opportunity. Big Changes Directly Ahead." As I've mentioned too often I think the commercial world of photography is in the midst of a dramatic sea change. If all the different kinds of commercial photography are structured like a pyramid or an iceberg you'd see that the "foundational," entry level, basic work that was, for many, a large part of their ongoing businesses has been eradicated by technology. Simple documentation is now the provence of cellphone cameras. A lot of social and event photography is now being handled by friends and employees and no matter how massively we try to raise the bar in these sections of photography work they are never, ever, ever coming back into the our inventory.

But at the same time we're able to do much more. To offer much more to existing and potential clients. I'm seeing the markets for video growing by leaps and bounds. We just have to suck it up, learn the methods, buy the gear we need and go forward. Why won't the same piranha crowdsourcing eat that market as well? It might but the video market requires more than just point and shoot at pretty stuff. There's no one button editing. People still need to plan, write scripts, build crews, figure out what they need to shoot to cut together logically, how to do sound and a lot more. I guess the thing that makes video temporarily immune to the soccer mom, engineer dad phenomenon is that it actually takes a lot of hard work and the right gear to do a good job. And it takes a whole other level of expertise to do a great job. I'm not there yet and I'm pretty skilled. Give me a couple years worth of weekly projects and I think I've got a good shot of mastering it.

But this is just a round about way of saying that I can justify my current, continuing search for continuous lighting by the expectation of future profits.

I've exhaustively researched the LED lights and I'm good with using them for lots of applications. The newest, upper market introductions have brought lights to market with good  color and strong output but I'm waiting for the prices to drop and the LEDs to migrate to a newer generation of cheaper units. I have seventeen different LED devices in the studio but they span four years of development and have different colors casts. If I had all one version they would be easy to work with. But for right now I want to buy a solution that's uniform and powerful enough to do the kinds of shoots I'm already being asked to do.

The most common is television commercial work I do for Zach Theatre that requires greenscreen. Greenscreen needs a uniform wash of light across the green background in order to easily drop in new background elements. The light on the green screen has to be as powerful as the key and fill lights for everything to work well and to give me (and the editor) the flexibility we both need.

I also wanted lights that were a bit more powerful that my current set of bigger LEDs so I could work more comfortable at 60 fps and medium apertures.

I recently discovered and bought several Fotodiox Pro Fluorescent lights from Amazon. The magic is in the Osram Dulux tubes. They are very well balanced for daylight and have a very, very mild green bump (not anywhere near a "spike") that isn't in the realm of worry. And the ones I bought to test were bright. So I bought more. By the middle of last week I had three. A six bulb version that really knocks out a lot of lumns, a four bulb unit that's half a stop lower in output, and a two bulb unit that's great on backgrounds and as a hair or backlight.

I used the three lights on four different video projects and a bunch of portraits over the last two weeks. And then I had my first failure. The four bulb unit became intermittent and then stopped working all together. I did some trouble shooting and found that the source of failure was a faulty main power switch. I was going to source a replacement and fix it myself and then I remembered that I bought them from  Amazon and I decided to try their return process.

In less than five minutes I'd navigated the return steps. I asked for a replacement and about 15 minutes later I got an e-mail letting me know that a replacement was being shipped immediately (before even receiving my broken unit). I  printed out the RA and a return, UPS shipping label and took my light to the UPS shop a mile away. The scooped up the light, boxed it well (charged me $12...but that's what I get for NEVER keeping the original packaging) and had it ready to go. Their last step was to enter the return into their shipping system. When I returned to the office there was an e-mail acknowledging the receipt by the shipper and letting me know that I would not be charged for any replacement.

I shipped the light on Friday and my replacement came this morning. In the meantime I'd ordered a second, used light of the same type which had arrived the night before. Frankly, I'm shocked at how good and efficient Amazon is. They made the process seamless for me.

So now I have a full complement of flo lights for video projects and stills. The WB is quick and easy, the light is ample and soft. And now I have enough fixtures to do two strong lights on the background and still have a main and fill light for the front. I'm planning to do a portrait shoot this week with all four lights pushed through my favorite 6x6 foot silk. If there's enough power I may even try a second layer of diffusion. 

The continuous lights are so nice to work with. In concert with a great EVF they are an absolutely elegant system. And when I use them in place of electronic flash no one blinks...


total investment for four lights? Less than $1k.


Dave said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave said...

I used one of these for the first time today and it made a great one two punch with my normal mono lights (old habits die hard). I know you are trying to talk less about gear but these little tips are soooo valuable. Take for example the Portrait Professional plugin. I would never in a million years have found that. Any ways, I love these little lights, but I don't know that I'm secure enough with them to sell off my monos just yet :)

I was looking at some Westcott TD5's but two of them with softboxes were going for over $700 used. The bulbs for them are outrageous. Not so for these little flo's, I think refills are just a couple bucks. By the time full senior season hits I might make the move to them entirely.

Joe V said...

Just be aware that many mirrorless cameras in video mode will exhibit horizontal EMI-like bars induced by the high voltage and magnetic field noise of fluorescent fixtures, especially in close proximity.

Kirk Tuck said...

Joe, most of us use them far off camera. Fans and washing machine motors have the same effects. That's why I try never to mount them on my camera....