Photographing with Tungsten Light to add Mood and Color

I’ve been playing around with constant, tungsten light lately–video has always intrigued me and I love how cinematographers use light meters to control the contrast in the frame. It’s a lot easier to adjust lights when they are always on. When you put a one-stop diffusion on a light, you visually see the light diffuse and drop a stop in exposure. It’s visual; comparing light modifications with strobes on the other hand isn’t as obvious. Even with modeling lights, they don’t represent the light level. Often your key-lights’ modeling light is the darkest source in the room. (That being said, don’t take this as me knocking strobes. Strobes are much easier to use and I’ll continue to use them for my stills work.)

This weekend, I did a test shoot with makeup artist, Bethany Hood and model, Alex Hepfinger. Normally, I would have lit one portion of the scene very specifically with directional, soft light from my alien bees. But I often change lighting based on the pose because the light is so specific. Instead, I wanted to light a scene with tungsten lights. I use a lot of ambient in my strobe work, and ambience heavily influences how I light. So with this shoot I was creating all of the light. Special thanks to Clay Cook for letting me use your studio. 

Bare room I started with

This was the room I started in, unfortunately I forgot my light meter so I can’t tell any readings or ratios. It was actually fun to not use a meter though–I eyeballed the scene the best I could, but then used my monitor to make the final adjustments.


Room with furniture and china balls

We brought in a canvas backdrop as the “wall”, another canvas on the ground and a couch and table to mock a room. I liked the leather on the couch because it would give off some specular highlights, but photograph dark overall. If it was a suede or other black cloth sofa, the light would “eat it” and appear very dark.

I set up a crossbar and hung two china balls up and later moved it further back, towards the couch.


I used a fairly simple kit, a single 650w Fresnel, and two 150w bulbs in a couple china balls. The paper lanterns have a ton of spill, so I rarely like to use them “naked”. I often skirt the outside of the ball with black garbage backs. This acts as a skirt or flag to direct light in certain ways. It’s essentially a poor man’s space light.

Space lights with black “skirts” to direct the light.

I used the fresnel on a dimer and had it slightly dimmed. I also had some diffusion on the barn doors just to even out the spread. I also had a little bit of fog going. I used a flag to prevent spill on the backdrop, and the double net to bring the specular highlight on the leather couch down one stop. Here’s the whole setup:

Behind the scenes pullback shot of the lighting setup

 The fresnel was a stop overexposed and the China balls just brought up the ambient level of the space. 

Here are the shots!