What Is Incandescent Lighting As Related to Photography?


When taking photographs, the source and type of light must be considered to ensure that colors are accurately recorded. Incandescent light is produce in a bulb containing a filament, usually tungsten, and will produced a warmer, redder color than sunlight.

Color and Color Temperature

  • Incandescent lights are also called hot lights or tungsten lights and a standard household bulb is a good example. Fluorescent lighting, commonly found in commercial or industrial settings, produces a cooler, bluer color than incandescent lights, so the two should not be confused. Photographers use a color temperature scale to help them determine how different lighting will effect the overall color cast of their photos.

Color temperature scale

  • Photographers use the Kelvin temperature scale (K) to distinguish light color. Direct sunlight is about 5,200K to 5,550K. Commercial tungsten lights are about 3,500K and domestic tungsten bulbs (incandescent) are about 2,800K. Cooler lights produce a more red color cast, much like a candle produces a warm ambiance.

Film balance and white balance

  • Most film is balanced for sunlight and so some correction, called daylight conversion, will be needed if incandescent lighting is used instead of sunlight. Digital cameras have a white balance capability which is designed to correct for different light such as direct sun, incandescent and flourescent. The white balance on a digital camera can also be adjusted by temperature using the Kelvin temperature scale.

Color correction

  • There are several methods to correct for light color. Film is produced for different types of light, so selecting the proper film is important and a tungsten-balanced film will correct incandescent lighting. Filters that directly attach to the camera lens and are designed for color correction will also correct for different types of light. A blue 80A filter will correct for the warm incandescent light and produce a naturally colored photo. Using a graphics program to process digital photos will provide some sophisticated methods to improve color casts too.

Artistic lighting

  • In some cases, a reddish color cast is desired by the photographer. The reason may be to produce a warmer photograph. In this case, unfiltered and uncorrected incandescent lighting is used.

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  • Exposure and Lighting; Michael Meadhra and Charlotte K. Lowrie; 2007
  • Advanced Photography; Michael Langford and Efthimia Bilissi; 2008
  • Complete Book of Photography; Jenni Bidner; 2004
  • Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Alosh Bennett Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Angelo Juan Ramos Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of sudarshan vijayaraghavan
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