Post & Photo by Joe Farace – Follow Joe on Twitter

There’s an old photographer’s joke that goes: “If God invented light, then the devil invented florescent light.” With digital capture, fluorescent light can be your friend and I don’t mean those long tubes hanging in lighting fixtures from the ceiling at the local 7-11. I’m talking about a new breed of portrait lighting tools designed especially for digital photography.

So what’s the big deal and why is fluorescent a great source of lighting for digital imaging? The RGB spikes of output from high color fluorescent light closely match the receptive RGB spikes of a CCD imaging chip. A CCD is least sensitive in its blue channel and tungsten light has the least output in the blue, and when combined with the effect of infrared output (mostly heat) it can overcome the chip’s entire spectral response.

What about CMOS? It’s difficult to generalize a head-to-head comparison between CMOS and CCD image sensors, but assuming optimum settings for white balance, exposure, and light levels, image quality from CCD sensors should be similar to image quality from CMOS sensors, at least in terms of color accuracy. Comparing fluorescent continuous light sources to tungsten lighting is a lot easier. Fluorescent easily comes out the winner when compared to tungsten which is 93 percent heat and seven percent red light. What does this mean for digital photographers? It’s simple: The light you used to hate, you can now love.

There are several fluorescent cold lights systems including those made by Chimera and others. A less obvious choice is the Lowel EGO Digital Imaging, Tabletop Fluorescent Light Unit. Setup is a breeze: plug it in, place it on the table or light stand and turn it on. Lowel Ego comes with two 27-Watt screw-in compact daylight fluorescent lamps that have a 5,000 – 10,000 hour rating. Their Color Rendering Index (CRI) provides a natural and realistic color balance than standard (color me green) fluorescent lamps. Lowel includes is a hinge-folded white bounce card for reflected fill. It can be used for portraits but is also useful for making tabletop shots or Webcam video conferencing.

When using the ego light as a main light for portraits, be sure to place the light as close as possible without getting it in the shot. Because of its small size, the Ego is probably best suited to headshots and that’s a good thing. I used to hate setting up lights for headshots; it took too much time fiddling to get the light looking like I wanted. The Ego sets up quickly and when used with a reflector, such as Westcott’s Illuminator, placed close to the subject on the other side of their face, it makes an ideal headshot set up.

For the above portrait I placed a Lowel Ego light just inches from the models face on camera right and barely out of camera range in front of a Westcott “April Showers” collapsible background. She said the light felt “soft” and it looked good too. A 32-inch Sunlight Westcott Illuminator was placed on camera left for fill. I used a Canon EOS 50D with EF-S 60mm Marco lens at ISO 400. Exposure in Program mode was 1/160th of a second at f/4 and captured directly in Monochrome Picture Style with Sepia toning added in camera.

Joe Farace is the author of Digital Monochrome Special Effects that’s available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your friendly neighborhood book or camera store.

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