Who needs expensive lights

You know….. sometimes we are so caught up in our work that we forget to think about how things can be different. We as humans are “beasts of habit” meaning that we will figure something out, and if that something works really well for us we will always get back to that. And we photographers… well sorry to say it…. we are also that way.


That’s why sometimes it’s so incredibly important to make sure that you do a what I call “hard reset” and don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you guys (and girls) to bang your head against the wall until you pass out and wake up, so please don’t do that. What I do mean is that you should sometimes literally just pull the plug out of your strobes, put everything aside that has anything to do with “studio technique” and get back to the basics. Learn how to “see the light” but most of all “to understand the light”. And there is hardly any better tool to do this than the good old fashioned (and oops indeed it’s old fashioned, we stocked up on some because over here they are not sold anymore in the higher watts) lightbulb.


During the glamour workshop I will often grab my lighbulb fixture, it was the most bare bone fixture I could buy, and hang it from a boom stand, tell the students “this is the new setup” and watch how their jaws drop and their expressions go like “the what, the who, are you nuts”….. well yes and no (but you already know that). No really…. a lightbulb when used the right way is one of the most awesome light sources there is. So in this blog post some explanation and images from that simple lightbulb session….

the most important thing you have to remember when shooting with light is the so called “inverse square law” and I don’t want to bore you with the technical part, just remember that light falls off quicker when you place the light source closer to your model, in other words… if you don’t like your background and you want a really nice high contrast image, place the light source close to the model… now if you DO like the background and you want a slightly “softer/flatter” look, place the light source further away. For me….. well I like it close.


When doing shots like this, you are literally shooting “bare bones” this is really back to the basics of photography, telling your story with just the model, one light source and your camera… meaning… coaching the model becomes very important, make sure that you get that expression you want, make sure that you get the feeling of “wow” from your model but most of all because you are often shooting wide open, choose your angle correctly so you can really work that look.

And of course it’s no shame to include the light source itself.

Oh…. and more thing 🙂
You can of course try to shoot this with AV mode, but quickly you will find out that this is not perfect. So also here it’s a good choice to use the old and trusted light meter.

13 replies
  1. David Michel
    David Michel says:

    I recently picked up a clear bulb and socket at the local builders supply and was also thinking the Hollywood noir look. Guess we are all a little crazy, that’s what makes photography so intriguing.

  2. Edwin
    Edwin says:

    Great article. Very much like the idea shooting with a simple bulb and I think I will try this. Would be interesting how many watts the bulb needs at least and what aperture is needed (1.2; 1.4; 1.8; 2.8)?
    Surly it is not easy for the photographer to keep steady with higher aperture.

  3. Anurag Sharma - ShutterLeaf
    Anurag Sharma - ShutterLeaf says:

    Well done. Love this little shoot. You did something that’s actually changed the way I think.

    Everything that is a light source can be made usable.

    Again well done for turning the whole thing on it’s head.

    I’m half expecting people to ask questions like:

    What model of light bulb was this?

    Will pocket wizards work with it?

    I have a Nikon D4, is this light bulb compatible?

    Can I use this with a Gary Fong dome thing?


    • Frank Doorhof
      Frank Doorhof says:

      1. the round one that radiates light.
      2. Yes without a doubt, but not yet on the 5DMKIII because there still is no firmware 😀
      3. Not with Nikon, Canon only It also doesn’t show up on android, only iPhone Sorry.
      4. Gary Fong dome thing…. don’t know you can use a toilet light sphere to soften the light.

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