What Is Tungsten Lighting?


Tungsten lighting, a form of hot or continuous lighting in studio applications, finds its most prevalent use in video applications. Some digital still photographers and portrait photographers prefer tungsten lighting for its consistency, but most prefer strobe lighting. Despite the drawbacks of strobes, their energy efficiency and cooler working conditions make them preferable to tungsten lighting for most applications.


  • General Electric patented the use of tungsten filaments in incandescent light bulbs in 1906, two years after a pair of Hungarians, Sándor Just and Ferenc Hanaman, received a patent in Hungary for the invention. Just and Hanaman worked for a company called Tungsram, founded in 1896 to pursue tungsten lighting.


  • Because tungsten lights work continuously, it makes it easier for the photographer to know what kind of results she will get and compose the shot accordingly.

Best Use

  • Tungsten lights create dramatic possibilities in wedding photography, particularly since an assistant can move the light around until the photographer gets the highlight he wants, according to Neil van Niekerk, a professional photographer.

    Video shooters almost always use tungsten lights, since video demands continuous lighting. When a wedding has both a video shooter and a still photographer, the two can work together effectively with tungsten lighting and make the bride and groom much more comfortable.


  • In comparison to standard daylight, which rates at 5600 Kelvin, tungsten lighting has a Kelvin rating of 3200, a much cooler temperature, which makes objects in tungsten lighting appear yellowish. Photographers select various daylight filters to correct the temperature of tungsten lighting to daylight lighting when shooting with it. With modern digital cameras, photographers select a tungsten white balance to correct for tungsten lighting. When shooting with film, photographers use film balanced for tungsten lighting.


  • Tungsten lights generate a lot of heat in conjunction with the light. This heat requires photographers to use great care with tungsten lights. Reflectors, umbrellas, and softboxes, which all modify the light, must be designed specifically to withstand the severe temperatures created by tungsten lighting. The filaments in tungsten lights also age faster than strobe lights, and the results become more unpredictable.

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