The kind of lights and lighting that I recommend for our drop shadow system
are photofloods (type B). You can buy these bulbs at many photo stores but
you should shop around: prices vary from 2 dollars to 10 dollars per bulb.
They are a pretty standard item in photo stores that sell to professionals.
Tell the camera store staff you will be using tungsten film.
They are mounted in clamp - on lights, such as you might find at a hardware
store, where there's a spun aluminum bell and a little clamp - on part
to the light socket. The best quality ones have ceramic sockets, so you
should try and find ones with ceramic sockets if at all possible. The
plastic socket kind can overheat, their switches tend to wear out and
they are usually not rated for the high wattage used in photoflood bulbs
- which makes them both dangerous and probably illegal in the event of
We will use three main light sources for our system: two 250 watt bulbs
and one 500 watt bulb. The 500 watt one is above the shooting surface
and the 250 watt ones are above and on the sides. I recommend buying at
least four of the 250 watt bulbs and three of the 500 watt bulbs and having
that many on hand most of the time. It can be very frustrating to burn
out your last bulb in the middle of an important photo shoot and not have
a replacement on hand. We will be using three lights for our system and
that will serve us very well most of the time. When you handle and change
the bulbs use a clean cloth like a handkerchief or cotton gloves like
they sell in camera stores. Grease traces on the bulb can apparently sometimes
contribute to bulb failure (note that if you ever change halogen slide
projector bulbs you should treat them the same way).
Remember to shut off any other sources of light when you are shooting
as incandescent bulbs or fluorescent bulbs nearby can affect the colors
you get in your photographs. Tungsten films do not react well to other
types of lights being on at the same time when you take photographs with
The photoflood bulbs in the clamp - on lights are used most of the time
with light diffusion screening such as MylarŪ between them and the object
being photographed. Mirrors are used to collect light from the photofloods
and so add light to different parts of the object. Diffusers have been
omitted in the following drawing for clarity.
Light dimmer box: ramping the lights up and
The light bulbs and your entire lighting system should, if possible, be
run through a light dimmer box. You can buy a light dimmer at the hardware
store and construct a box, or get an electrician friend to do this for
you. Remember that the dimmer box should be rated for the wattage you
will run through it to avoid any fire danger. The reason for having a
dimmer box is that we want to ramp the lights up and down. In my experience
it is when you turn the lights on that you blow the bulbs. One therefore
tries not to turn them on suddenly. If you ramp the lights up and down,
you'll find they last a lot longer, and it's a lot gentler on them. In
addition you want, if possible, to turn the lights on and off from a single
place to make life easier. The dimmer box should be wired to plugs for
the lights. If you use the on/off switches on the clamp - on lights themselves,
they often break after a period of time, so anything you can do to displace
that switching as well as the on/off shock to the bulbs is beneficial.
A point about photofloods and professionals: professional photographers
will keep a logbook of their photoflood use, and they will note every
minute of running time, and when that bulb hits 2 hours they scrap the
bulbs, even if the bulbs are still functioning. Now after a lot of experience,
I don't feel this is necessary. I feel that if you start off with three
photoflood bulbs and you just use them, after a little while you have
one old, one new, and one medium, there is a blend of light qualities
and it all works out. I have yet to see any disturbance in color temperature
from not keeping a log book and not trashing my bulbs every few hours.
I use the bulbs until they die and then change them. This lowers your
overhead. A professional photographer told me once that when bulbs are
tested more sensitive films than normal are used and so in real life it
doesn't make as much difference as one might think.
While not a log book as such I strongly recommend keeping a note book
and pen next to your shooting area to note your observations and experiences
in. This will help you better understand what you are doing and help keep
you out of trouble when similar problem situations crop up more than once.
A major part of our system, and what makes it an extremely good one, is
the use of mirrors. I like swiveling shaving mirrors which cost two or
three dollars each. You can also use the kind of make - up mirror that
enlarges things on one side and on the other there is a regular reflection.
Make sure that the rim on the mirror is silvery or white as colored rims
can reflect in your work. These kinds of mirrors are very useful for our
purposes. I have some 15 to 20 mirrors in various sizes around my own
set - up. The photofloods and mirrors will be all you need in lighting
equipment to obtain good results. Mirrors used should be stable and easy
to tilt and position. They should also not move after you position them.
The mirrors catch hard light falling from the sides of the clamp - on
lights and give us miniature spotlights on the object. It is the mirrors
that allow us to model light on the object and obtain results equal to
or better than those available with professional photographic lighting
equipment costing thousands of dollars.
This is all antique technology. This is how they made the original 1920s
The Hunchback of Notre Dame; they used mirrors to shine the light, and
it's something that photographers these days have forgotten about to some
extent, but it's extremely useful, particularly for the small scale objects
that we'll be shooting.
I often use the mirrors in ranked layers, one behind and perhaps above
the next so both can be used. I also have mirrors that drop down from
the ceiling; I have mirrors everywhere I can put them. I like microscope
mirrors too, small ones which I then mount so that they can swivel. You
can buy them at a flea market, and these can sit right on the shooting
surface to direct light onto your object.
Several additional options that can sometimes be useful follow.
A source of light that I sometimes use for my photo - booth is slide projectors.
Slide projectors have the correct color temperature light for the type
of film that we'll be using. If you go to a flea market you can buy a
functional older slide projector for 5 or 6 dollars - often they are the
type of slide projectors that have the slides organized in a long rectangular
tray. They're such a pain to use that people are happy to get rid of them
and they're very cheap. When one considers that the bulbs alone used to
run about $25.00 each it is a pretty good deal. So, if you can buy a slide
projector inexpensively, mount it onto some kind of tripod, then that
too becomes a light for our system. One can mask parts of the lens with
dark paper to create 'stripes' of light. Occasionally a slide projector
provides a great 'feed' of hard light to a mirror or may be bounced off
a white surface onto an object as a 'fill' light to illuminate a dark
portion of a piece.
Quartz - halogen work lamps
There are now quartz - halogen 'work lamps' available at hardware stores
for between fifteen and thirty - five dollars which gives you a photo
lamp that several years ago a photographer would pay three or four hundred
dollars for. They have more or less the same color temperature as photofloods.
They tend to be rather bright though and I don't use them for the small
scale system we are talking about, more for larger objects outside of
the photo - booth or for shots of rooms. For larger objects however they
can be a very cost - effective addition to photographic lighting for tungsten
Daylight photofloods (blue bulbs)
An option that some people use for photography instead of the tungsten
photofloods is daylight balanced photofloods, often called 'blue bulbs'.
These are bulbs intended for daylight film types rather than the tungsten
film that I recommend. The main advantage here is cost: the tungsten film
costs more than daylight film. However, blue bulbs (and blue filters)
cut down on the amount of light that reaches the film and this may affect
the capabilities of your system. Again, choose a system, learn it and
live with it.
Instead of using the blue bulbs, it is also possible to use a blue filter
on your camera lens, which allows you to use tungsten lighting with daylight
film. Some people really like the option of being able to use daylight
film. This is a pretty inexpensive way of having the flexibility of both
options with your photo system. I don't have one and it is not something
that I do because I like to stick to a single film type to avoid surprises,
but it may be useful for you to know about at some point. At the photo
shop ask for the filter that allows you to shoot daylight film using tungsten
photoflood (3200K) bulbs. In the Kodak Wratten system this would be an
80A correction filter. This requires an exposure increase of about two
f-stops (Collins, p 64).
The reason some people like the daylight film option (besides the ability
to use Kodachrome) is because they prefer to shoot color print film of
their work which can be processed rapidly almost anywhere and is relatively
inexpensive. In practice I personally don't find color prints that useful
when compared with slides.
If I need to have color prints then slides can be easily duplicated
onto color print film. As well, good prints can be made from slides at
most photo shops and there is always the option of having a laser - scanned
color photocopy made from a slide. If on the other hand you do have color
prints you want slides of you can get fairly good results by taking slides
of the color prints themselves using the principles of a horizontal copy
set - up (described later).
Fiber - optic lights
If you have an extra couple of hundred dollars around I strongly recommend
obtaining one or two fiber optic light sources as well. They can be purchased
from gemology suppliers. They provide several settings of a tungsten -
halogen intense spotlight on a long gooseneck that can be twisted and
positioned fairly close to a small object. The end of the 'light pipe'
or gooseneck is about 1/2" across. They are very pleasant to have around
and enable some really accurate spotlighting and elimination of shadows
on a piece. I don't have one of my own but I use them whenever I have
My Recommended Lighting Pick for Beginners:
Until you have some experience I suggest my recipe for basic success:
3 photoflood bulbs, one large one above, two of less wattage on the sides,
diffusion screens on all of them and use 64 ISO tungsten film (don't bother
using blue bulbs, daylight film etc. for a bit). This is what I use.
Again, whatever you do, set up a strict system, and live with it, and
that way you'll get the best results.