Lights, Camera … Subject?

I bought a photography table tent a few weeks ago and a pair of tabletop LED lights to use with it. The lights were very inexpensive so I didn’t expect very much from them, but they produce quite a bit of light and are small and easy to use. The lights came with blue and yellow plastic filters that fit over the light, but let’s face it, I’m never satisfied with just two colors of art supplies! Are you?

So immediately I went looking online to see what else I could find — never mind the fact that I have no immediate use for these things. The filter gels, which is what they’re called, averaged about $12 for a sheet, but my lights are very small and I don’t have a need for a large square filter. I found a Roscolux sample book and ordered that. If I could cut out one of the samples and fit it over my lights, that would be great, but if not then at least I would have actual samples of the gel colors. Then, if I want to buy larger sheets later on, I’ll know what colors to order.

I’ve done traditional photography and darkroom work, so filters are nothing new to me. I still have a collection of Cokin and Tiffin filters that I use occasionally (hey, not everything has to be Photoshop!) but they won’t fit my new lights without being cut down and I don’t want to ruin them. So, here are some photos of my lighting adventure.

Here is the LED lamp. There is a gap between the white bulb and the black lamp housing, which is a bit difficult to see in this photo. The bulb I want to cover with the filter is just over an inch and a half wide. You can see the blue and yellow plastic filters that came with the lamps in the background, and that black ring top right (also shown below) is what screws over the lamp to hold the filters in place.


And this is a close-up of the ring for the housing. I really only need to cover the opening with any new filter or gel that I use, although the lamp housing will accommodate something up to about 2 inches.

Here’s the yellow plastic filter that came with the lamps. It measures about 2 inches across so it’s wider than the opening in the housing ring. I cut one of the Roscolux samples out of the book (actually not the whole piece, but about three-quarters of it) and placed it over the yellow plastic filter to compare sizes. I marked where the gel was too large and cut off the corners (not shown) so it would fit the lamp housing.


Well, it’s close! The red Roscolux sample gel is narrower than the yellow plastic filter, and here’s what it looks like when the lamp housing is assembled with the gel in place. Although the red gel doesn’t entirely fill the space inside the ring, crucially, all of the LEDs are covered. When I tried the lamp, it worked wonders. The white photography tent lit up like some demonic Halloween world, blood red and spooky and very, very bright. And that was with only one colored lamp!

So, it’s possible for me to use my samples for some actual photography, although I’ll need a second sample book to cover both lamps. If I buy larger photo lights I will need to purchase entire gel sheets, but for now, this is fine for experiments. I have my lights, and my camera. But now, I just need a good subject …

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Using Photo Filters

I used a Cokin mauve graduated filter to add some color to the reflections of these trees at the Patuxent Research Refuge.

Now that we’re firmly in the digital age, it’s a pretty simple thing to get yourself some photo editing software and add color to just one section of your image. But that wasn’t always the case and, back in the “good ‘ol days” of film, you needed a filter of some kind to add the color to the image when you were taking the photo. Savvy darkroom enthusiasts might have been able to use colored filters to bump the colors a bit when they were processing their prints, but this was a bit of a hit-or-miss affair and not something for the faint of heart.

If you’ve ever done darkroom work, you know what the terms “dodge” and “burn” mean in real life. To dodge an image mean putting your hand or a piece of cardboard or anything else that would block the enlarger’s light from hitting the light-sensitive photo paper. “Burning in” was dodging’s complement: any area that received more light than the rest of the image was burned in, meaning that it became darker on the final print.

Black and white darkroom work was about as basic as you could get, because the light coming from the enlarger either struck your paper or it didn’t. The more light that hit the paper, the darker the final image would be. In addition to basic photo papers, there were multi-contrast photo papers that were sensitive to a range of colors. With these papers, you could use gelatin filters in your enlarger to adjust the contrast of the final print. I had a set of these filters when I did black and white darkroom work, and I used to make several prints and try out the different filters to see which image I liked best.

Color printing was more complicated. I tried it only once or twice and then gladly paid the local photo store to process my film and prints! I imagine it’s possible to add color to portions of a photo through careful manipulation of the amount of light hitting the color photo paper and the judicious use of filters. Every print made this way would be an absolute original, and it would be nearly impossible to make small adjustments to portions of the image.

Using colored filters in front of the lens when you take the picture is much easier. And these filters work with film or digital cameras, too. Don’t be afraid to try them just because you can add the colors in later with software. Sometimes it’s not so easy, and working with the filters can be fun, too. I have about 25 Cokin and generic brand A-sized filters that I started buying in the 1980s. I probably invested a couple of hundred dollars in these, so I didn’t want to trash them. But they’re too small for my SLR’s lenses. Just recently I found a filter holder that will work with my Nikon Coolpix that cost about ten dollars. Now these filters have a new lease on life, and I have my toys back!