Using Proper Lighting Is More Important Than An Advanced Camera

Most modern consumer cameras are capable of producing high quality images in most situations if the subject is lit properly. Professionals use cameras that are more versatile, allowing them to handle the tricky situations. For the majority of scenarios, using proper lighting will have more noticeable results than using a more advanced camera.

The best images are made when everything is brightly lit with good use of lighting and shadow. If this isn’t possible, make sure that everything is equally bright. This second option is often referred to as flooding the set with light or ‘flat’ lighting. Lastly, the poorest images are captured when no attention is paid to the lighting.

Colour Balance

White light isn’t always the same white. This is more evident in buildings that have a combination of incandescent tungsten and fluorescent light bulbs.

Colour Temperature is measured in Kelvins (K) and is related to the physical phenomenon of black body radiation. When a body of matter that is opaque and non-reflective is held at a constant uniform temperature it glows, emitting electromagnetic radiation at a specific spectrum and intensity depending on the temperature. Kelvins are the standard international unit of temperature. Bodies at 1,000K glow a reddish hue and hotter objects progress through orange, yellow and eventually blue hues.

Daylight can vary from 5,000-6,500K, depending on the time of day and cloud cover. Lights and cameras are made to have daylight set to an arbitrary figure, usually around 5,600K. Many studio lights use tungsten bulbs which have a colour temperature of about 3,200K.

Compared to daylight, tungsten lights appear redder
Fluorescent lights traditionally have a colour temperature of about 5,000K. With the shift towards compact fluorescent bulbs for domestic use, many manufacturers have made compact fluorescent bulbs that are balanced to around 3,200K, to mimic the tungsten light that is more familiar to people at home.

Compared to tungsten lights, fluorescent lights and daylight appear bluer
There are filters (“gels”) that can be placed over lights that change the colour temperature of a light from tungsten to daylight (CTB) and from daylight to tungsten (CTO).

White Balanced of Cameras

Cameras have to be white balanced to designate which light is ‘white’. Most consumer cameras do this automatically finding the average or basing the selection on the ‘most likely’ white object in the scene. High end consumer cameras and professional models allow the user to manually white balance by either selecting a preset level (daylight, tungsten or fluorescent) or arbitrating a certain colour as ‘white’.

If the image was taken with the camera being white balance to tungsten (~3,200K). Then the 3,500K fluorescent coil would appear the whitest, the 60W incandescent bulb would appear only slightly red and the 5,500K coil would appear bluer.

The best images are made when light with different colour temperatures are used in coordination with each other to create warmer or cooler images. The second option is to make sure that every light used is the same colour temperature.