Digital photography may require a different kind of lighting.

The FLAAR. photography crew had a successful six months photographing pre-Columbian Maya art in Guatemala and Honduras. We had the opportunity to test the Dicomed Field Pro system this entire grueling period.

When I first entered the digital era, no one really explained that digital systems react differently to lights than film. Fortunately Michael Collette is a specialist in both digital reality and lighting, so I gradually began to get digital experience. He has written an excellent paper on this subject, available on the Scandles Web site of Plume Ltd.

Since I began learning about the special needs of lighting for digital photography, I have begun to notice all kinds of conflicting reports on various kinds of lighting. I believe it was the Hasselblad web site that even claimed tungsten lighting was bad for digital. That was a rather unexpected conclusion, since I just spent 6 months taking over 1000 digital photographs almost entirely with tungsten lighting, and the pictures look just fine.

Tungsten lighting may melt your subject, if you shoot ice cream, and tungsten lighting does heat up the studio, which is stated to be undesired by the CCD inside your scanning camera. But tungsten lighting is wonderful for film-based photography, so I have no intention of throwing away my Lowel lamps quite yet. Besides, some hot light companies are redesigning their lights to work better with digital equipment. For example, one model of Dedolights may have contributed to serious electrical interferrence resulting in banding that ruined scores of our photographs. Now Dedo Weigert says his other model avoids this problem (but this does not help if you already bought eight units of the wrong kind of Dedolights!). So be sure you test your equipment before you face a deadline--or have to photograph 5000 kilometers away from home. The best kind of insurance for your lighting (for high-end digital photography) is to be sure your electrical circuits can provide constant voltage power. Sola hevi-duty electrical equipment can solve this type of problem.

In many ways I prefer tungsten lighting, especially when I still use 35mm film, medium format, or 4x5 film. If you need lamps for your studio lights, try out BulbMan.

In the meantime, the use of fluorescent lighting is making considerable inroads in digital photography as studios realize it is a cost-effective way to do lighting for the new era in photography. The new Videssence fluorescent lighting is not the old fashioned kind which was instant death to color balance when you used film. The new SRGB tubes are specially made for professional photography. Furthermore, they are friendly to CCD electrical preferences.

A nice kind of lighting for professional digital photography with scanning backs (such as Better Light, PhaseOne, Dicomed, etc) are SunSpots by North Light Products. These are sold exclusively by Calumet Photographic (and by Calumet Digital Solutions)., attn David Christensen,

Strobe or flash cannot be used on the high-end large format digital systems such as Dicomed Studio Pro or Better Light. These cameras record such precise detail, however, that being unable to use strobe is still worthwhile.

Whether HMI lighting can evolve to replace strobe and tungsten remains to be seen. Technical reports vary widely in their opinions whether HMI lighting is ideal for digital. Part of the problem is that a test lab may see digital artifacts with a magnifying glass that will not show up on a normal picture unless you enlarge it to cover the side of the Empire State Building. LTM Pepper produces HMI lighting which has evidently proven to be ideal with high-end digital photography. We hope to test some Peppers soon.

Between the evolution of "tungsten" filters, improvements in the software, and new designs for lamps, everything is still in flux. This particular note is just to alert digital photographers to do careful testing of lighting before they accept an assignment with their fancy new digital system. I wholeheartedly recommend going digital; the new Better Light system is clearly superior to most aspects of 4x5 film photography, but look before you leap.

Since the FLAAR. Photo Archive staff does not sell any brand or class of lighting, we can remain neutral in the war of standards and brand names that is breaking out as companies realize there is a gold rush to produce equipment compatible with the new digital camera systems.

So far, as a system, the Videssence SRGB class of fluorescent lighting seems to have the most future for digital photography. But if all tungsten lighting companies will wake up as quickly as did Dedo Weigert, maybe they can redesign the filaments and electrical components of their hot lights to insure a lack of interference with the CCD and its electrical system. Same for HMI; it will fail to survive the digital transition if it fails to see the need for evolution.

Just as DOS overwhelmed CP/M, and as Windows NT is eatting UNIX alive, so also fluorescent lighting will overtake the traditional lighting systems just as soon as the lamp manufacturers can up the candle power of fluorescent. At the other end, however, the CCD manufacturers and the software designers are making the new generation of high-end digital camera work well on less light power. The '97 second generation Better Light already achieves considerable advances over the '96 first generation Better Light. '99 has already brought even further improvements.


posted early 1998, last updated Dec 3, 1999.
Design updated July 10, 2008.