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Choosing a Bulb for DIY Soft Light

Last week I built this soft light and I posted a tutorial about it a couple days ago. I’ve loved playing around with my new light, but I have to admit something has been missing. I felt like a had built a solid light box, but the quality of light I was getting was not exciting.

Observe: a photo of bananas with my original LED light bulb and homemade reflector…

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In the soft light tutorial I followed from The Tip Toe Fairy, a 100w bulb is suggested so that’s what I bought. But I didn’t think at all about the degrees Kelvin of the light bulb, which control the color of light that the bulb provides.

This first light bulb, while bright enough and even Earth-friendly enough, it was 2500k on the light spectrum and that’s just too yellow. It didn’t look much different than having the kitchen lights on, except for having a more direct light source.

I tried a few different reflectors and extra lights, but it was a lot more work than I want to put into the average shot and it still wasn’t making the light any less warm.

The next light I got was totally over-compensating for the warm light mistake. I figured I’d go with a totally opposite light bulb – CFL this time (cause I couldn’t afford any more LEDs!) and 6500k. Let’s just say I didn’t do any research on proper degrees Kelvin for simulating daylight…

The next pictures I took turned out like this:

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Super blue! Like I said, the total opposite of the warm light – this one was too cool. It was hard to get a picture that didn’t have a brightness “haze,” like this one:

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It wasn’t the soft daylight I was going for. Plus the bulb I got took a minute to warm up and buzzed pretty loud.

Finally I got smart and did a little research. Daylight is 5500k, so I needed to tone down my degrees Kelvin a little bit more.

I got one last night bulb, here are the specs:

  • CFL (if I had only bought one bulb instead of three, I would have sprung for LED)
  • 100w equivilant (23w for a CFL)
  • 5000-5500k (I could only find a 5000k bulb but I think it’s fine)

Now my pictures are better. First the bananas, for comparison (although I’m not at all in love with this photo!).

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And a few of my favorite photos I’ve posted on Instagram:

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This one I took with actual daylight, so you can see how similar the quality of light is. Pretty close huh? The above two pictures were taken with just my soft light and reflector but this one was taken with just the curtains pulled back. It was lunch so I actually had some light coming through the kitchen. Breakfast and dinner are just about totally dark this time of year!

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Not bad huh? It’s an improvement to me at least, so I’m happy. Next I’d like to dust off my Nikon D40 and learn to use it well instead of taking pictures with my phone all the time. The phone is just so easy and fast! I have a feeling that might involve a little more than just shopping for a bulb though. I hope to share my knowledge soon!