May 21, 2024
The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Tungsten Light in Photography

The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Tungsten Light in Photography

Like professional photographers, do you always look for ways to enhance your craft and create stunning portraits capturing the moment? Then you will find great joy in exploring the most underrated techniques known as tungsten lighting.

Let’s look at tungsten light, the key benefits of using tungsten lighting for portrait photography, how to correct color and casting issues, tools for tungsten lighting, and tips for capturing the perfect shot. This blog will help you get all the necessary information in one place.

What is Tungsten Light?

What is Tungsten Light

Tungsten light is a type of incandescent lighting that uses a filament made of tungsten to create light. It passes electricity through a filament, which heats up and emits a warm, yellowish-orange light. Tungsten lights have a warm, yellow-orange color temperature, which can create a cozy and intimate atmosphere in portraits. When used correctly, tungsten lighting helps glow the subject’s skin, adding depth and warmth to the photograph. Tungsten bulbs come in various wattages and can be used in multiple lighting fixtures, including lamps and studio lights.

Globe Electric 60W Vintage Edison G30 Vanity Tungsten Incandescent Filament Light Bulb, E26 Standard Base, 245 Lumens
  • LIGHT OUTPUT: 245 lumens - 60 watts - 2200 kelvin (candlelight white) - 3,000...
  • CANDLELIGHT WHITE: 2200 kelvin candlelight white color, providing a traditional...
  • SPHERICAL SHAPE: standard variation of G30 globe bulb allows ample space for...
  • TUNGSTEN FILAMENTS: specially designed & shaped bulbs with Imported Tungsten...

Introduction to Tungsten Light Photography

Introduction to Tungsten Light Photography

Tungsten or incandescent lighting is a form of artificial lighting commonly used in photography. First introduced in the early 20th century, around the 1920s, tungsten lighting was used as an alternative to carbon arc lamps, and its potential was soon recognized by filmmakers of America who popularized it. Its popularity has spread so widely that even today, it is used in movies such as Mission: Impossible – Fallout and sci-fi movies like Ex Machina.

Benefits of Tungsten Lighting for Portrait Photography

Tungsten lighting has several advantages for portrait photography, which include:

1. Color Temperature

One of the key benefits of using tungsten lighting for portrait photography is the warm and natural glow it produces. This type of lighting is ideal for creating a cozy and intimate atmosphere, which can help your subjects feel more relaxed and comfortable. Additionally, tungsten lighting highlights skin tones, making your subject’s complexion appear warm and healthy.

2. Cost-Effective

One of the advantages of using tungsten lighting is that it is relatively affordable and accessible. Tungsten bulbs and lighting fixtures can be found at most hardware stores and online retailers, making it easy to get started with this technique. Additionally, tungsten lighting is often less expensive than other types of studio lighting, such as LED or strobe lighting. Usually short of cash due to overinflated camera gear prices, photographers find comfort in the high low prices of Tungsten bulbs. Affordability is one of the critical reasons tungsten lights have become the favorite item for both new and seasoned portrait photographers.

3. Consistency

Tungsten bulbs are known for maintaining a consistent color temperature, making them a reliable lighting source for photographers during a shoot. This stability in the lighting environment enables photographers to work efficiently and focus on their subjects without any fluctuations in light.

4. Easy to Use

Another advantage of using tungsten lighting is its relatively easy to control. Since tungsten bulbs emit a constant and steady light, you can easily adjust the brightness and position to achieve the desired effect. This allows you to create various lighting styles, from soft and diffused to dramatic and moody.

5. Produce Effects

Lastly, tungsten lighting can be used creatively to produce various effects, such as silhouettes, shadows, and highlights. In addition, photographers can play around with different angles and positions of the light source to produce unique and visually stunning images.

Color Correction and Color Casting in Tungsten Lighting

One challenge photographers face when using tungsten lighting is color correction and color casting. Tungsten bulbsemit a warm, yellowish-orange light, which can cast a similar tone on your subject’s skin, known as color casting. This can make your subject’s complexion appear unnaturally yellow or orange in the photograph.

You can use color correction gels or filters on your lighting fixtures to correct this issue. These gels and filters are designed to neutralize the warm tones of tungsten lighting, producing a more natural and balanced color in your photographs. Alternatively, you can adjust the white balance settings on your camera to compensate for the color cast. It’s essential to remember that different types of tungsten bulbs have varying color temperatures, which can influence the amount of color casting in an image. Therefore, photographers should experiment with other gels and bulbs to achieve their preferred color temperature for their photographs to find their style.

Tools for Tungsten Lighting [Available Online]

To achieve the best results for your photographs, having the right tools is essential. So let’s take a look at the vital tools for tungsten light photography:

1. Tungsten Bulbs

To get started with tungsten lighting portrait photography, the essential tool you’ll need is the tungsten bulb itself. Tungsten bulbs come in various wattages, so choose the appropriate bulb for your lighting fixture. Depending on your needs and budget, lighting fixtures can be purchased or rented.


2. Light Stands

Light stands are used to hold the tungsten bulb direct at your subject. Stands also allow you to position your lighting fixtures at the desired height and angle.

LimoStudio, Bulb AC Socket for Light Umbrella, Photo Bulb with Light Stand Tripod, Single Lamp Head Umbrella Holder, 11 feet Extended Cable Longer Than Standard, AGG2945
  • ⭐ Contents: [x1] LimoStudio AC Socket Light Stand Mount [x1] Lighting Boom...
  • ⭐ Standard E26/E27 Base / 11 ft. Long Power Cable, Easily Adjustable: 180°...
  • ⭐ Easy to Install Light
  • ⭐ Photo Light Stand Height adjustable Min 38" - Max 75"

3. Diffusers/Softboxes

Diffusers help soften and diffuse the light, creating a more natural and flattering effect. In addition, they help reduce harsh shadows resulting in much softer and more appealing photographs. Below are some diffusers you need to consider:

Fotodiox Pro Softbox

This softbox is in different sizes and compatible with most tungsten lights. It includes a speed ring that simplifies attaching and detaching it from your light source. The inner baffle and front diffuser panel work in unison to produce soft, uniform lighting. It is an essential tool for creating high-quality visuals.

Fotodiox Pro 24x24" (60x60cm) Softbox with Photogenic Speedring for Photogenic, Norman ML, and Compatible - Standard Softbox with Silver Reflective Interior with Double Diffusion Panels
  • Pro grade, heat resistant reflective fabric
  • Features inner baffle, and outer diffusive cover for even light throw
  • Sealable venting for use with high power modeling lamp or continuous lighting
  • Rotation speeding ring with thumb screw lock

Westcott 7′ Parabolic Umbrella

The umbrella is designed with a deep parabolic shape that produces a broad and soft light, making it perfect for shooting portraits or group photos. It can be used with tungsten, strobe, or LED lighting for your ideal image. In addition, the umbrella is crafted using top-notch materials, which make it durable and easy to assemble and operate. As a professional, this umbrella will undoubtedly exceed your expectations.

Westcott 4633 7-Feet Silver with Black Cover Parabolic Umbrella
  • 16-rib fiberglass framework
  • included travel and storage case
  • 7mm umbrella shaft tip
  • double wall shaft

Rogue FlashBender 3 Large

The FlashBender 3 diffuser is specifically created to work with hot shoe flashes and can produce soft, focused light. Its attachment to the moment is an effortless process and allows for customization of the lighting effects. In addition, its diverse range of sizes and shapes makes it adaptable to various photography genres, particularly portrait photography. As a professional, you can rely on the FlashBender 3 to enhance perfectly compliment your photographic ingenuity.

Rogue FlashBender 3 Large Soft Box
  • Softens and diffuses light - makes a soft box diffuser, shapeable bounce flash...
  • Improved 'shapeability' holds its position (v3)
  • Grippier attachment strap stays put (v3)
  • Attaches faster with quick release buckle (v3)

4. Color Correction Gels

As mentioned earlier, a side effect of tungsten photography is color casting. These color-correcting gels can be placed over the bulb to eliminate unwanted colors. Below are some of the gels favored by professionals include:

Lee Filters 205

Full CTO(Color Temperature Orange): This gel provides a full-color temperature orange correction and is available in several sizes, although the pre-cut ones are the most widely available.

Rogue FlashBender 3 Large Soft Box
  • Softens and diffuses light - makes a soft box diffuser, shapeable bounce flash...
  • Improved 'shapeability' holds its position (v3)
  • Grippier attachment strap stays put (v3)
  • Attaches faster with quick release buckle (v3)

Rosco 3202

Full CTB(Color Temperature Blue): Rosco gel provides a complete temperature color correction for blue and is designed to work well with tungsten lighting.

Lee Filters 269

This gel helps color casting and removes red or magenta color casting caused due to tungsten lighting.

Rosco CalcColor

This range of color correction gel offers a one-stop solution for color correction for specific color imbalances and is available in all the colors you can ever need.

Rosco igital After Dark Filter Kit, 12 x 12 Sheets
  • Blue filters, including some CT's, for creating cool-lit lighting effects such...
  • Yellow, straw and orange filters for enhancing interior light, fire/candle light...
  • A generous variety of vibrant effect colors for light painting or enhancing...

Alternatives to Tungsten Lighting

While tungsten lighting can be an excellent option for portrait photography, it is not the only choice available.

  • Led Lighting is becoming increasingly popular among photographers due to its versatility, energy efficiency, and color accuracy. Their energy-efficient nature makes them appealing not just to save on the electricity bill but also to be more climate-conscious. In addition, they are available in various colors ranging from daylight to warm white. They also last longer than tungsten lights.
  • Strobe Lighting, which uses a bright flash of light, can also be adequate for creating dramatic and high-contrast portraits. However, one of the most significant advantages of strobe lighting is that it offers a more controlled way to light your subject. With tungsten lights, you are limited to the color temperature of the bulbs, which can be challenging to adjust. With strobe lights, you can easily adjust the color temperature of the light by using different gels or filters, giving you much greater control over your final image.
  • HMI Lights: These lights have become popular due to their unique daylight-balanced light mimicking sunlight. It has quickly become the most used light on daily soaps and movie sets. In addition, they produce less heat than tungsten lighting, thus acting as a superior alternative to tungsten lighting.

Tungsten vs. Natural Lighting

If you’re a photographer or even starting, you must know how important the correct lighting becomes, and it’s crucial to experiment with it to find your style. Natural sunlight is upheld as the best cost-effective competitor of tungsten lighting. Tungsten lighting creates a warm, cozy atmosphere in your shots. It’s often used in indoor settings and can be easily controlled with dimmer switches to achieve the perfect brightness. However, tungsten lighting can also create a yellowish tint, making your shots look unnatural. To counter that, we use natural lighting, which has advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Natural Lighting:

  • It provides a soft, flattering light that enhances features and textures, making the subject’s skin look more natural.
  • It can be manipulated with reflectors and diffusers to soften or intensify the light.
  • Natural lighting is excellent for capturing the beauty of the outdoors.
  • Depending upon what time of the day it is, natural lighting gives an unmatched aesthetic to your picture. The golden poetic light of sunrise inspires aspirants, and the sunset which invokes romance in your photography.

Cons of Natural Lighting

  • It is unpredictable and ever-changing
  • Easily affected by cloud and other factors
  • Hard to come by in certain seasons
  • Difficult to film in outdoor settings due to public interference

Effect of Tungsten Lighting on Your Photography Skills

To briefly summarise, tungsten lighting can be a powerful tool for enhancing your photography, creating warm and natural glows that flatter your subject’s complexion and create a cozy and intimate atmosphere. While there are challenges to using tungsten lightings, such as color casting and correction, you can create stunning portraits with the right tools and techniques that capture the moment and tell a story. So why not try tungsten lighting and see the difference it can make in your photography?

Amelia Williams

Amelia Williams, with over a decade of experience in visual arts, holds a BA in Fine Arts. She has been a professional photographer since 2012. She has worked with various magazines and online platforms, specializing in portrait and event photography. Her workshops and seminars, conducted since 2015, focus on enhancing artistic expression. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and experimenting with landscape photography. Being a travel lover, she often conducts photography retreats in picturesque locations.

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