Continuous lighting is always on, and the obvious advantage to working with continuous light sources is that unlike strobes and monolights, which take a great deal of practice to learn before you inherently understand what changes will look like in a shot, what you’re seeing in the real world with continuous lights will closely resemble the image that you’re capturing.
With continuous lighting, what you see is what you get, and that makes it simple to adjust light positions and output as needed. Historically, there were many downsides to working with continuous lighting, however—one of the reasons why strobes and flashes found such popularity. Continuous lights can be very hot, for example, which is a significant problem on closed sets. But the technology has improved to the point where these disadvantages have largely been eliminated. Now that video is included in most new still cameras, continuous lighting is once more finding itself ignited as a market, with several new available models and technologies, like LED lighting, that are revolutionizing the industry.
TUNGSTEN AND FLUORESCENT
The classic tungsten bulb is synonymous with continuous lighting. The historic bulb type is old technology, so it’s very affordable. Tungsten also produces a much stronger output over other kinds of bulbs, like fluorescent and LEDs, but also more heat, as well.
The color temperature of the light produced by tungsten is much warmer than the standard daylight output of flashes and most other bulbs, with most models falling in the red-orange range of 3200K-3500K. This means that you must white-balance correctly when using tungsten or your subjects will appear very yellow.
Tungsten bulbs that have been designed for photography and video have shorter life spans than most other kinds of bulbs, and their color temperature also makes them difficult to mix with daylight without a corrective gel. Fluorescent bulbs, meanwhile, are seeing a lot of use on sets, thanks to a soft daylight output that’s accompanied by a lesser amount of generated heat (though these bulbs can still get quite warm). The quality of the light is flattering for portraiture, but this type of lighting also can be limiting when looking for harder contrast in an image.
Modern LED lights are constant, dimmable and often color-adjustable for achieving both daylight and tungsten output from within the same fixture. Heat generation is extremely minimal to the point that it’s almost nonexistent, and LED bulbs also have much longer lifespans of thousands of hours.
LEDs are versatile, and they have been designed as solutions for a number of standard lighting situations, including everything from compact hot-shoe-mountable lights, to extremely flat LED panels for hiding in a scene, to large 500K- and 1000K-output-equivalent fixtures for lighting up an entire set. Light-modification tools won’t affix to many current LED fixtures without some sort of rigging, though, and the throw from most LED lights is often limited, so it’s best to position them as close to the subject as possible in most cases.
CONTINUOUS LIGHT SOLUTIONS
Designed for extremely fast setup in a minute or less, the Rifa eX systems from Lowel offer the best of both worlds, with removable, low-wattage, tungsten-halogen Rifa eX lampheads that can be swapped out for high-CRI (Color Rendering Index), daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs. There are several eXchange models in the line: the Rifa eX 44 with a maximum 300-watt output, the Rifa eX 55 with 500-watt output, the Rifa eX 66 with 750-watts and the Rifa eX 88 for up to 1000-watts of throw. Estimated Street Price: From $329 (Lowel Rifa-Lite eX 44 Softbox Light).
The Constellation3 daylight fixture from Photoflex will house three CoolStar CFL fluorescent bulbs for up to 450 watts of daylight-balanced output or three 1000-watt Starlite tungsten-balanced bulbs for a maximum output of 3000-watts. (It can also use 2-pin G9.5 lamps for halogen light output when used with a Bi-Pin Adapter.) Each of the three lamphead sockets has an individual power switch for employing each bulb individually or in tandem. The Constellation3 will fit all Photoflex medium, large and extra-large softbox models. Estimated Street Price: From $309.
|Need big power and have a big budget? HMI (hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide) is a high-end option specifically designed for use in video and filmmaking thanks to massive amounts of light throw, efficient power usage and nicely rendered daylight temperature output. Because of the sophisticated power needs (HMI lights require separate power ballasts) and very high quality of light output, HMI lights are much more expensive than comparable fixtures like tungsten or fluorescent.
Bron Kobold offers three compact and durable HMI lampheads outputting 200-, 400- and 800-daylight-watts, respectively: the DW200, DW400 and DW800. Each fixture is available with an optional PAR reflector (similar to a car headlight) for enhanced output and an adapter for softboxes with five-inch rings. There are other accessories for changing the shape of the light, and a separate Bron Kobold AC Ballast purchase is required to run the light with proper voltage. Estimated Street Price: From $1,189 (DW200).
K5600 Lighting’s daylight-balanced Joker-Bug HMI line provides a maximum output of up to a comparable 6K quartz light with the top-of-the-line Joker-Bug 1600. For more general use, the series starts simply enough with the Joker-Bug 200W HMI PAR lamphead with an output that’s comparable to a 750/1000-watt quartz fixture at a power draw of only 3 amps. The compact fixtures in the Joker-Bug line are sized for meeting efficient lighting needs in small scenes and interviews, and there are several fitted accessories available for shaping and controlling the light. Estimated Street Price: From $1,225 (Joker-Bug 200W HMI PAR).
The Interfit Super Cool-lite series fits several fluorescent bulbs into a single lamphead, starting with the Super Cool-lite 4, which offers four bulbs for up to 400-watts of tungsten-equivalent light output in near-daylight at 5200K color temperature. The flagship of the lin
e, the Super Cool-lite 9, packs in nine separate fluorescent lampheads for the equivalent output of a 1000-watt tungsten light when used with the included high-contrast reflector. Each bulb can be turned on or off through individual power switches on the back, and the lights are available with complementary softbox kits, like the Super Cool-lite 9 with the 31-inch Octobox. Estimated Street Price: From $119 (Super Cool-lite 4).
F.J. Westcott’s Ice Light is a great example of the versatility offered by LED technology. The 1.3-pound fixture will run from AC/DC outlets for practically endless continuous light, even while charging the lithium-ion battery, which will last up to an hour for wire-free operation. Front diffusion produces a very soft, low-light output in daylight temperature (5200K-5400K), with a 150-watt tungsten-output equivalence. The unit can be mounted with a 1?4-20 thread to stands and tripods, handheld just off-frame or hidden within the scene. List Price: $599.
Flashpoint’s economically-priced 500C LED panel will run from the included AC adapter, and it also includes compatibility with optional V-mount-style professional camcorder batteries for use in the field. The light features two arrays of 250 LED bulbs in 3200K (tungsten) and 5900K (daylight), with a two-way switch that allows you to turn on all the bulbs or only half. of them. It also includes four barn doors and weighs 7.5 pounds. Estimated Street Price: $199.
Litepanels’ large selection of LED products for the photo and video markets includes everything from their 1×1 Series of studio lights to filmmaking Fresnel fixtures like the Inca and Sola, which offer up to 2K output. On-camera lights include the daylight-temperature Luma alongside the nearly identical Croma. The Croma adds the ability to dial in a range of color temperatures between tungsten and daylight. The Micro and MicroPro (with twice the output of the Micro) provide DSLR users a compact on-camera solution and an included 3-piece gel set for warming and diffusing the light. The more powerful Litepanels MiniPlus is available in Flood Daylight, Spot Daylight or Flood Tungsten configurations, giving users a broader source of light that makes it ideal for camcorder use. Estimated Street Price: From $190 (Litepanels Micro).
| F.J. Westcott Company www.fjwestcott.com
Hasselblad Bron Inc.www.bronimaging.com
Interfit Photographic Ltd. www.interfitphotographic.com
Rotolight (R.T.S. Inc.)www.rtsphoto.com
Manfrotto’s series of battery-powered LED lights are small enough to mount to your camera or to hide in a shot. The low-output, daylight-temperature but very affordable ML120 Pocket is a great solution for adding accent, fill or rim lights to a scene, and its small size makes it simple to cover up, even in the shot. The ML240 Mini is also quite compact, and it adds a variable dimmer for dialing in output. The ML360 Midi steps up the offerings with even more output and a DUO ballhead hot-shoe-mount design that allows the lights to be affixed together for turning two or more fixtures into one larger light source. The ML360H Midi Hybrid adds a sync-cable flash function for an extra burst of light at four times the strength of the continuous output while the much brighter ML840H Maxima also sports the flash function and provides the most powerful output in the line. Estimated Street Price: From $39 (ML 120 Pocket-12).
While drawing only 38-watts itself, Rotolight’s Anova LED produces a hefty 1000-watts of tungsten-equivalent output, which can be dialed in from 0-100%, as needed. The bulbs provide a flicker-free color temperature range between 3150K-6300K, as well as several other adjustments that are accessible through a dial on the back or through iPhones or iPads when used with the separately available Magic Eye iOS application. Several Anovas also can be linked together and programmed remotely, and settings can be saved for repeat use. Estimated Street Price: $2,598.
|There are a number of solutions available for modifying and shaping the light output of continuous fixtures, making them much more versatile for both photography and video. These light-modification tools are generally classified by the type of materials and, hence, the effects that they produce.
Diffusion tools, for example, include softboxes, domes and really anything semi-opaque that you can place in front of the light source like silks, diffusion panels and flash domes. Diffusion spreads light more evenly for far softer and much more flattering light that’s especially useful when used for portraiture.
Reflective tools like reflectors, beauty dishes, bounce boards and umbrellas are used to bounce or direct light from a singular light source. This allows you to change the path of the light, as well as the overall spread and color temperature of the light. Many reflectors and bounces are available in gold, silver or white and combinations of these materials for adding warmth, a bright specular pop or natural white light to a scene, respectively.
In contrast, light-shaping tools like flags, snoots and barn doors work in the reverse by absorbing light through darker materials or simply by blocking it.