The best light bulbs for photography at home – I think I’ve found them! After years of suffering through tungsten-poisoned orange photos, I finally have light bulbs that look natural on camera.
The photo above is completely straight off of camera. I took it on Auto White Balance and didn’t change a thing except for the size before posting it to this blog. Just over my mirror are two light bulbs which are providing most of the light on my face.
This next photo, on the other hand, shows the effect of the dreadful tungsten lights that have ruined many a good photo at my house.
Just like the other photo, the yucky orange one is also unedited. The shooting settings were exactly the same. The only difference is the lightbulbs mounted above the mirror.
Before I talk about the best light bulbs for photography at home in detail, I want to quiet that little voice that is whispering at some of your right now. I can hear you thinking, “Oh, white balance. That’s easy to fix in Lightroom. Why bother with new lightbulbs?”
I’ll show you why you should bother. See if you can figure out what’s wrong with this next image:
That is the yucky orange photo with white balance edited in Lightroom. My skin looks a lot better, right? But what’s up with that glowing blue background?
Here’s the deal. When we take photos inside, we usually have multiple light sources. Odds are, there is a window letting in light in the same room where you are taking the photo. And, unless you have lots of window light, you probably have overhead lighting or lamps also. We call this mixed lighting and we talk about it a lot in my Guided365 project.
In order to take the cleanest photo, you want each source of light to be as close as possible in color to the other sources of light.
Look at the orange photo again. And pay attention to the window and background. The colors in the background look ok, right? In fact, they are exactly the same as they are in the very first photo – the one with good white balance. That’s because that light is daylight colored AND my camera decided that daylight was the predominant color for the orange photo.
I look orange in the unedited photo because tungsten light is more orange than daylight. To fix it, I added blue to the photo via the White Balance slider in Lightroom. That made me look better, but added unnecessary blue to the background in addition to my skin.
In order to fix this issue properly in Lightroom, I would have needed to paint on blue with the local adjustment brush only over the parts of the photo lit by the tungsten bulbs. That would be time consuming and crazy making if I were editing more than one photo.
I hear those little voices whispering again. Why didn’t you just set your camera to Tungsten White Balance? Great question! If I had told my camera to shoot on Tungsten White Balance, the photo would have looked very similar to the edited photo with the electric blue background.
The two colors of light hitting my camera sensor were so very different from each other that it wasn’t possible to get it right on camera. The light would be properly colored in one area but not the other – no matter what my settings were.
It is worth repeating here: in order to avoid major photo editing, it’s best to make sure all the colors of the light in your photo have similar colors.
Which brings me to my new light bulbs. In my opinion, the best light bulbs for photography at home are daylight balanced LEDs. This is the bulb we are currently using, updated to the 2018 version:
My first photo above worked because the color of the light coming in through the window was very close to the color of light emitted by these bulbs. The fact that they are daylight balanced is key. Most of us have some form of natural light in our indoor photos. So it makes sense to have lightbulbs that match that light as closely as possible.
Yes, I know. LEDs are more expensive. These Cree bulbs work out to $5 or $6 each. The packaging says that the bulb will last 27 years. I’ll believe that when I see it. But honestly, if they last for 3 or 4 years, I will be happy.
What about the non-LED bulbs? I’ve tried them all. CFLs and fluorescents don’t make me as blissful about my photos as these guys do.
Tips for Buying the Best Light Bulbs for Photography at Home:
- Daylight Balanced LEDs are the way to go. Look for a temperature rating of 5,000 kelvins.
- Buy one brand of bulb and stick to it. Daylight can look different from company to company.
- Replace bulbs one room at a time. You’ll have an even bigger lighting mess if you have one tungsten light, another daylight light and natural light in the same photo!
- Natural light is always best – if you can turn off your lights, do.
- Daylight balanced light bulbs are never going to match the daylight perfectly. Daylight changes based on cloud cover, what’s outside your windows, the time of day and the time of year. But, the daylight balanced bulbs will get you as close as possible without using off-camera flash.
Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that you should buy these bulbs for professional shoots. These are the bulbs I want at home so that I can get a quick photo of the kids reading to each other on the sofa, or maybe the table full or food for a part.
So, those are my strategies for finding the best light bulbs for photography at home. What do you do? Do you have a favorite light bulb? Or other strategies for avoiding funky white balance? Share them in the comments below – I’d love to hear!