How to Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs for Portrait Lighting

Photography is a fine art and lighting plays a critical role in taking clear and good quality pictures. Not only you need a good camera to take good pictures but an ample source of light is also needed at the same time. Instead of using specified lighting for taking photographs, many professionals also use simple incandescent light bulbs for making portraits. Conventional fluorescent bulbs produce a lot heat and have a very short life time. However, compact fluorescent (also known as CFL) bulbs can last for thousands of hours before going out.


  • 1

    First of all, you need to change all the incandescent bulbs currently installed in your studios. Don’t throw them away, as they can be used for some other purpose and you better set them aside safely.

  • 2

    Many compact fluorescent bulbs are labelled with coloured temperatures, which signify the relative sort of light and their use accordingly. Normally, these bulbs have four different colours:

    2700 degrees Kelvin: these bulbs are coloured warm white or soft white
    3000 degrees Kelvin: normally labelled white, bright white or medium white colour
    4000 degrees Kelvin: have cool white labelling on them
    5000 degrees Kelvin: these bulbs are often called as daylight bulbs

    Every compact fluorescent bulb has different lighting properties and you have to check out their colour labels before selecting them to install.

  • 3

    You will further need lighting modifiers to manage the amount of light falling upon the objects in focus. Common lighting modifiers are umbrellas, snoots, barn doors and soft boxes. You should also be aware of that modifiers needed for fluorescent bulbs are the same required for the incandescent ones.

  • 4

    Since you shall need more than one fluorescent bulb, you have to ensure that all the bulbs are of the same colour temperature.

  • 5

    Make sure your camera’s “white balance” matches the colour temperature of the fluorescent bulbs. If the bulbs are labelled with the colour temperature, you simply have to manually set the white balance of your camera to the same value before taking the pictures. However, if the bulbs are not labelled, take a piece of white paper and place it in the same direction as the focusing object. Manually set the camera’s white balance accordingly.

  • 6

    Start taking photographs as per your routine. Since the compact fluorescent bulbs generate lesser amount of heat, you will notice that the photographs taken with this lighting arrangement will be more comfortable than those taken with the light of hotter bulbs.

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