Fluorescent Lighting? For Portraits?

Whaddaya nuts? At least, that’s what we were all thinking when Jeff Ross challenged us to use fluorescent lighting for a portrait as our final assignment.

So I did a little Googling and saw that it could be done, and in fact, fluorescent lights can create a soft light that wraps nicely. I learned that I’d have to account for a couple of things.  One would think getting the white balance right would be the biggest challenge but that was easily taken care of using the fluorescent light setting on my camera, shooting one image with a gray card and tweaking the white balance adjustment in Bridge. The bigger challenge is the flicker of the fluorescent light and the site I found said that could be taken care of by making sure my shutter speed was at 1/125s.  That would mean a higher ISO and wider aperture, but okay. Doable.

I picked up a simple 48″ double fluorescent shop lamp (with plug) and two T8 bulbs. Cost: around $22.  I chained the fixture to a lighting stand, and at first had it positioned vertically, to see what it would do.  I rolled out my white backdrop, positioned a large white poster board for a little fill to the subject’s right (camera left) and started shooting.  Most were shot between 640 and 800 ISO (a few at 400), f/4 and f/5.6.  All at 1/125s.  In Photoshop I tweaked the curves a bit, and used the unsharp mask filter  ever so slightly, if needed. That was it.

Kind of dramatic, but not what I had in mind…

I wasn’t crazy about the way the light was falling so I used the boom arm of the light stand to position the fluorescent shop lamp at about a 45-degree angle to camera right and just in front of  me (and just out of frame).    The critters wanted to get in on the act, and Sweetie even volunteered to sit too (Jack Daniels and all).

So there you go.