building a shop, "best" fluorescent lighting?


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Jan 18, 2012
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Meridian, MS
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I'm about to begin building a small motorcycle shop (I'm a Ducati mechanic) and my work area is going to be fairly nice/clean. I like taking pictures of my projects through various stages of work but, because it's a functioning shop, I can't do anything crazy with lighting.

I've had some trouble getting good shots under cheap fluorescent lights in the shop I'm currently working in. I was wondering if better, higher CRI bulbs with digital ballasts and covers to diffuse a bit would make it a little more photo-friendly? I'm using a Canon T2i and I've gotten some slightly better results by playing around with settings but the lighting still seems to wreak havoc on the colors, especially with vibrant Ducati frames that should look GORGEOUS.

Any input is appreciated
I'm thinking at the very least you'll need covers that diffuse the light well. Fluorescent light is notoriously harsh, so if you combine that with harsh shadows you've got a recipe for ugly. Beyond that, I guess just make sure your white balance is perfect. Shoot in RAW so the colors are as pure as they can be & you've got as much to work with in post as possible. You should be able to come up with good shots.
Fluorescent also changes color depending on when in the cycle you catch it... It oscillates at 60Hz and the white balance changes during the oscillation. If you shoot on a tripod at like 1/15sec or 1/30sec, you catch an even 4 or 2 full cycles, so at the very least you get a predictable average. If you're not at some even multiple of 1/60 and also slower than 1/60, your white balance will likely be changing from shot to shot.
thanks for all the info and tips, I'll keep playing with the white balance. Still going to go with the better lights, might not be my problem but it can't hurt
I would go with full spectrum myself. It is my impression that your camera is most sensitive to green light, and regular fluorescent bulbs produce a lot of green light some blue light and not very much red light.

So in order to compensate, the camera pushes red and blue values to balance out the green. Using daylight balanced full spectrum, you may see some modest improvement in quality. At least in theory. The RAW processor will still push data, and you will still want a reference, but perhaps this adjustment will not be done as severely.

Daylight corrected, full spectrum will also be much nicer to work under.
yeah I kinda figured I'd like the full spectrum light more regardless of what it does for photos. I HATE working under cheap fluorescent lights especially where I'm working now. They're spread far apart, the bulbs have clearly different colors, they're up in between rafters so there are shadows everywhere, it annoys me just being in that shop lol
An important factor will be that all your lighting is the same (color temp). In other words, you don't want to mix florescent with halogen or tungsten etc.
^^ or if you must to get a shot, use gels and balance all the lights to a common reference, or close enough to a common reference to imply incandescence without going all weird - another reason to use daylight corrected FL
I think the hard part is finding bulbs with a semi-natural color. Found some bulbs that good specs at Lowes, natural daylight, full spectrum, 90% color rendering index. BLUE. Really really BLUE. The color might be 90% accurate but only if that last 10% is a blue sheet! With the right white balance setup and some PP I'm sure I could get the photos to look alright but I wouldn't want to work under that light very much, it would drive me CRAZY. So the search for lighting continues...
You will get used to the blue cast, they will also look much much bluer in the store.

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