Operated by John-Riley Harper. Dedicated to archiving photography from Utah's underground scenes, as well as other personal projects.

Using Artificial Lighting in SMALL Spaces
For the last three months or so I have been experimenting with continuous lighting setups. Previously I did everything with off-camera flash and ambient, so it's really been enlightening to work with a very different style. What I mean by continuous lighting is non-strobe light sources such as desk laps, tungsten, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs. What I think is so fun about this type of work is that you can find interesting lighting anywhere. Just look around your house and you'll find plenty. Or run to the hardware store. I'm using two fluorescent desklamps that I found at secondhand stores (go savers!), a halogen, a fluorescent, and a few tungsten work lamps from the hardware store. With this tutorial, I want to show that you can get really cool lighting setups from just what you have around the house, and make them work in cramped quarters!

After a shoot last weekend, I laid everything I used out on the floor with this article in mind. Here are the lights I used:

There you see four lights, a few with pieces of cardboard ripped and duct taped to make some quick, crude, McGuiver barndoors. In the center you can see that there are actually three fluorescent bulbs that are held together, so there's actually five fluorescents.


When you find a light, turn it on and really try to see the color it is giving off. I actually replaced the existing fluerescents with two $7 'grow-bulbs' from Lowes. These give off a very white full spectrum light. The triple fluorescent has a slight yellowish cast. We think that most fluorescents are green, but there has been an industry change which has really started transitioning towards yellow, people like yellow lights better. The one other light in the picture, the 500 watt halogen, puts out extremely bright yellow-orange light.

The reason why these lights are so nice in small spaces is because they give out constant light. When you are working very close with strobes, it is hard to test and visualize how the lighting will work. With continuous lighting, you know exactly where the shadows are falling. The advantages of this are indispensible when leaning backwards, on your tiptoes, neck craneing, one hand balancing and the other trying to hold the weight of the camera, and telling the subject where to be. Try it and you'll love it.


Now that you understand what color of light you are putting out, you can use that to your own creative advantage. The white balance function on your camera can be set to register pretty much any color as white, with colors to the sides registering as more green, blue, or red. What I did was set my white balance in between white and yellow, which makes the white light appear slightly bluish and the yellow light not as saturated. Where the two lights meet they should give a more true white. Pushing towards the blue will also reduce some of the color intensity of the halogen, which is a color that can become dominant easily. This means that your compositions will already have some color contrast abstract ideas going on just in the way the lights blend together in different areas of the frame.


The rest of my equipment I used were tripods, tape and bungees to hold the lights to the tripods, and cords - to get elecericity to the lights. I actually rigged a $90 dollar background stand to hold a light as a kind of boom arm. I basically used one of the bars that would normally connect with a middle piece and connect with the other tripod body as a device to hang the lights from. I also have one real boom arm, so one stand for each fluorescent (the halogen would sit on the floor). I attached them to the stands with ball bungees (which, if you don't have any, you NEED to look into).


The space to shoot was incredibly small. We are talking about a studio apartment that was filled to the brim with trash. (No offense to the inhabitants, I love ya!) The first hour and a half was spent just clearing a space to shoot in. You see the final result above. We had a space about 6 feet wide and 6 feet deep with a white wall behind. Wow. I hope that you feel cramped! How, oh how, to get a photo in there?

I truly believe that creativity thrives off of being boxed in. You need to work within limits, paramaters that you understand, to see how you can break out. Small areas really force you to think. My friend Daniel was there taking some pictures of the shoot.

Oh, one more thing... please don't think this is biased towards just taking pictures of girls. These techniques can be used for ALL subjects. I just happen to have been doing a shoot with.. you know.. scantily clad females. Try to ignore that and just see the LIGHTING!

Other than noticing that Daniel's camera's white balance was set to something that really brought out the green, you can see that the flourescents are all on tripods, and the 500 watt halogen is on the floor throwing a nice warm light towards the bottom of the frame. (You can also simply turn it off if it seems excessive.) If you are interested, here are some of the final images from this location (images link to deviantart fulls):

So, now that you have the lighting, you can work on bringing your ideas into it. Bring it all together! You can also move it into another location, although that does require some work in the movement of the lights. We also did another shoot where we moved into the bathroom. What is beautiful though, is once you get the lights set up wherever, you can really move them wherever you want.

In that shoot, we eventually filled the toilet with spagetti and did some reverse bulimia themes. Here are some of the results:

I hope this gives you ideas! I am always curious about other people's creative processes. Please, try to map em out and post 'em up.

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