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Thread: Tungsten Lighting in Photos

  1. #1
    Senior Member tlabranche's Avatar
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    Tungsten Lighting in Photos

    The enemy of most night on an airport ramp!

    Nothing is worse than shooting on a ramp with tungsten lighting. It throws off your white balance. You can use the white balance preset for tungsten in camera RAW, but it still leaves that nasty orange glow. You can cool the image off, but then you have a blue color cast. You can also turn down the orange and red channels, but that is global, and painting back areas can be very cumbersome.

    Below is a shot I took last night in Houston with the before tungsten light, right out the camera, unedited. The right image is after the complete workflow I also included a YouTube video link at the bottom with the complete workflow. It has no sound, as I used QuickTime just to record my screen. Note at 1:35 is where I use a nifty tool.

    After adding a saturation layer, I click on the little hand icon with the two arrows. That will give you a color sampler tool. Click on the image where the colors are tungsten. While holding your clicker down, drag your mouse to the left to reduce the saturation only in that color channel. It's super simple, but often overlooked. I then take a black brush and paint back the red strobes, because they were affected. Enjoy!

    -Tim LaBranche

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABB6KDPHpyA

    Timothy LaBranche

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  2. #2
    Senior Member megatop412's Avatar
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    Tim, that is very helpful advice, thank you for sharing it. I would have been stumped after bringing down the color temp and seeing the blue cast. What a difference between right and left!

  3. #3
    Administrator Landing Lights's Avatar
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    Lightbulb

    I do lighting for a living, so I'm gonna take off my AvGeek hat and put on my Lighting Dork hat here for a moment.

    It's not tungsten lighting that is your problem, but rather a type of lamp called "high pressure sodium vapor". These types of lamps are cheap and extremely energy efficient, producing 6 to 20 times more light per watt than an incandescent lamp. This makes them a favorite for lighting roads, large public spaces, and of course airports. That energy efficiency comes at the expense of extremely low CRI (Color Rendering Index). Basically, CRI is a way of measuring how well a particular light source displays colors. Incandescent (aka tungsten) sources are typically at or near a CRI of 100, the highest you can have. They reveal all colors very evenly, and any warmth to them and be easily adjusted with color correction or white balance adjustments. They are also very inefficient, making them a poor choice for lighting large, outdoor spaces.

    High pressure sodium lamps have a CRI in the mid 20s. They mostly give off wavelengths in the yellow range, which results in yellows showing up very well, whites taking on a pronounced yellow tint, and blues and reds appearing very dark, almost black. Low pressure sodiums (which which are extremely efficient at roughly 12 times the amount of light per watt relative to incandescent) are even worse, with a CRI in the negative 40s. They only give off 2 very closely spaced wavelengths of light, giving everything a very monochromatic look. Fortunately, these have mostly fallen out of favor due to their awful quality of light.

    Fortunately (at least for us lighting guys who care about this stuff), there are better alternatives out there these days. Most of those white streetlights you see these days use "metal halide" lamps that are almost as efficient as high pressure sodium lamps, but which have a CRI in the mid 80s. Those are good enough to be used on stages and film sets where CRI really matters in order for the color of light to be changed or corrected. However, there is something even better out there today.

    The last few years have seen the rapid emergence and evolution of LEDs as an area lighting source. Advances in that technology have resulted in light sources that have a CRI of nearly 100 along with an efficiency that rivals or even exceeds that of the ugly low pressure sodium lamps. Meanwhile the cost of acquisition, which has been their biggest barrier to their widespread adoption, has been plummeting. In fact, around New York City they have rapidly been replacing the high pressure sodium streetlights with LEDs over the past year or so. Over the next few years, it should become increasingly difficult for organizations to resist upgrading their fixtures to LEDs.

    Back to avgeek mode: Tim, I'm really glad you shared your secrets for mitigating the effects of crappy light quality. While you can't easily display colors that the camera can't capture, you can significantly reduce the nasty color casting that it leaves behind.
    Last edited by Landing Lights; 12-07-2014 at 07:59 PM.
    Ben Granucci, Wappingers Falls, NY
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  4. #4
    Senior Member tlabranche's Avatar
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    I'm glad you found it useful! Here are two other shots from that night that I just processed using the exact same workflow. The Air Canada CRJ was by far the worst of all my shots, in terms of the awful color cast.

    That is definitely one detailed explanation!



    Timothy LaBranche

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  5. #5
    Senior Member megatop412's Avatar
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    I am bookmarking this thread

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    Senior Member gonzalu's Avatar
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    Also worth noting, for those who care about such geeky stuff... There is no substitute for proper filtering of the lights or the capture device (be it sensor or film)

    The expense of color balancing in camera or in post is a degradation of one or more of your color channels. Even at 16 bits there is a lot of data missing when shooting in those conditions and one of your channels will likely be well blown out while another gets almost no data. Compensating for this in post or in camera, digitally, adds a lot of noise. Not to mention the degradation of the image quality in general. Yes, it is easy and doable but remember that Digital did not resolve the old problem of shooting daylight slide film at night. You either filtered it or ruined the frame. Most digital cameras have their natural White Balance set for Daylight which means at this setting under good mid day conditions on a full sunny day, all channels are getting roughly the same amount of data written to memory.

    Great techniques Timothy as always :)
    Manny Gonzalez
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