Introduction To Worklights Photography

Introduction To Worklights PhotographyOn the last installment of S@H lighting we covered the usage of LEDs as a light source. While LEDs give you great control over your light, there was something missing. Power. The next step up with lighting can be using work-lights.

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All Kinds Of Work Lights

When I say work lights I mean any kind of light that plugs in to the wall outlet. There are all around us. If we change our point of view when we walk into a store there are hard to miss. Halogen work-lights @ Home depot reading lights @ IKEA, clamplights at Lows. They are really anywhere.

There are many advantages to work-lights: First they run on your outlet power. No need for batteries and chargers. They last practically forever (Incandescent aside, but no one uses incandescent lights anymore).

Secondly, they are cheap – at most hardware stores worklight will run for a few dollars. My fav, the clamp light (which you see in the photo above) is only 25$ for three clamps. Halogens are also cheap (though less practical in my eyes and run for about 40$ for 1000 watts + light stand.

And lastly, you see what you get. This is a big change if you come from working with strobes. The light is constantly pouring from the bulbs, so you can inspect shadows, light ratios, the addition of reflectors and more. No need for modeling light.

Things To Care About When Working With Work-lights

Worklights: CFL and HalogenThey don’t mix and match well - Each light has its own color temperature, Halogens are really warm, CFLs come in various color temperatures and incandescent lights are warm (but not as halogens). The mixture of all those temperatures makes it a pain to do any color photography. In the image on the left, you can see what I am talking about. The halogen runs so much warmer then the CFL – it looks like orange backdrop.

Of course, once you know this you can play it to your advantage.

In the image below I used a warmer CFL to give some color to the background. I was using one 25 WATTS CFL so the light was not so strong, but I will discuss this later.

They are not wireless – well, they are work light that run on power. That power comes from the wall. That means that you need a wall close enough to where you want to place your light. Either this or a badass battery. Though for big lights you’ll need a really big battery.

OK, nothing with cord, right? Right. As long as you have enough of them and you gaffer them to the ground so nobody trips on them. 

Some will Produce heat and eat electricity like a toaster on a road trip  – I’m talking mostly halogens here. While they really produce a lot of light, they also give a huge amount of heat and eat up their rank in electricity (yep, this is why they are called 500WATTs lights). 

Put enough of them together, and you’ll fry your fuses. They also make very bad home for light modifiers. 

On the other hand, they work great for nude photography. A few minutes of light will definitely make the room warm enough to feel comfortable naked in.

CFLs on the other hand give the best of the two worlds – they are strong and (relatively) cold, not to mention power efficient.

The Power of Work-lights

One CFLThe easiest way to get a notion on the strength of a work light is to read its WATTs rating. Watts simply tell you how much electricity the light takes. And assuming that within the same family of light there are no big variations in efficiency, more WATTs means more light (and more heat).

This assumption holds as long as you stay within the same type of lights. Here is the cool thing. When it comes to CFL there is a bonus. CFL lights are about five times more efficient that regular lights, so a 10 WATTs CFL is like a 50 WATTs of regular light (and not as hot).

Since CFLs are not that hot you can use quite a lot of them together. You can put them close to create a single powerful light source, or scatter them around to flood a room or a background (up to making it completely seamless white).

Sadly, though, one or two worklights are not enough. When shooting people, I found that 1 CFL (even a strong one) will make me shoot at very low shutter speeds (the image on the left is shot at 1/6 with f/9).

While this will work great for still life. It is hardly ideal for portraiture. No matter how hard we tried, we were always left with a slight blur (click the image to see it larger, the blur is soft, but it is there).

The orange of the right is a warmer CFL.

Placement in Space

This is one of the more fun aspects of using worklights. There are so many options.

My favorite here is the clamp light (you can see it on the image above). It features a clamp that is attaches to a bulb with a funnel (Yay! Modifiers!).

You can clamp it to just about anywhere (As demonstrated beyond belief in this video). The funnel part rotates on a ball head and can move to light any direction. (Note how it is clamped to the chair above).

Halogen Light StandAnother nice option is the halogen light stand. It is raw and comes in stunning yellow.

The nice thing about it is that it will go up to about 1.5 meters. With the addition of the light itself you can go quite high. On the other hand they are telescopic, so they do not take much space in the bag.

The image of the left shows such a stand with a 250 WATTS halogen light.

The bar on the top can usually support up to three lights (note that three lights * 500 WATTs is a very strong light and may even pop you fuse).

IKEA LampLastly, as promised is the IKEA reading light. Again, not to shocked if found in your very own bedroom. I love it because of two reasons: 1. it has a flexible arm thingy that I can use to point the light in any direction, and 2. It has a clamp. (yes. I love clamps).

This combination (along with the build in funnel) makes it a winner. (Again, note how the different color temperatures of the lamps don’t mix – the dark spot on the bottom is where the only light is coming from the IKEA lamp – click the image for more details).

Using Light Modifiers

Face With Funnel ModifierLastly, one of the nice things about worklights is their flexibility.

Since we are dealing with lighting for photography, it is “sometimes important” to use light modifiers. The clamps rock here with build in funnel. See those two images (small, large) to compare between two of the available funnels.

As long as your light is cold, you can use almost any modifier that you desire (snoots, softboxes, anything goes). If your light is hot you need to take extra caution. It is just our luck that they found a way to fit CFLs into halogen casing.


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battle of the bulbs shootout