I need help: Indoor photography question

For history projects, I occasionaly need to photograph original photographs, documents and other such “flat art.” The museums/libraries/archives that possess the originals will usually allow me use a small, unobtrusive tripod + camera arrangement; but they frown on my using a flash – which is fine by me.

My question is: what non-flash artificial light source is best to use for my purposes?

Yesterday I did an experiment. While indoors, I shot some flat art using a roll of (Kodak Max) film. I illuminated the subject with 1. not-too-bright sunlight from a window 2. a standard household filament-type incandescent light bulb, and 3. one of those new-fangled, energy-saving screw-in “flourescent-type” bulbs.

The sunlit shots came out great (colors dead-on and nice white whites); but, all the bulb-lit shots were too yellowish.

So is there a type of bulb I can use that will give me true-color shots? I’m basically looking for a bulb that screws into a standard socket – I’ve got one of those clamp-on fixtures with a big shiny metal reflector.

Note: I’m looking to do this on the cheap and without too much hassle, so please don’t steer me to expensive, specialized equipment if it can be avoided. And if there is a “poor man’s substitute” tell me that too. (Like, if there’s a hardware store version is almost as good as the professional photorapher’s brand – but half the price – let me know). Please don’t hesitate to be as specific (brands, wattages, suppliers) as possible.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

You’ve already observed that the color of sunlight, which virtually all consumer color film is made for, is much bluer than tungsten light. I don’t think you can easily find a daylight balanced bulb but here are a few things you can try:
[li]Tungsten balanced film - It may be too slow unless you use a tripod and long exposure but Kodak may still make 160 speed Ektachrome for tungsten light. I do not know what other films may be available.[/li][li]A blue gel over the light - I used this is a makeshift portrait studio for visitors in Biosphere 2 when I worked there. It balanced the light from halogen lights to the daylight coming in the window for video shots.[/li][li]Color balancing filter - There are standard filters for using daylight film with tungsten light but you’ll need longer exposures.[/li][/ul]

Padeye makes some good suggestions, and it looks like you’re on the right track yourself.

The trick with lighting and photography is that various sources of light emit light at slightly different color temperatures; usually our eyes correct for it and we don’t even notice the difference, but film is much more sensitive to these color shifts. In general, to normal/daylight-balanced film:

  • sunlight photos will look perfectly normal
  • very cloudy days and photos taken in deep shadows will look bluish
  • tungsten light photos (standard bulbs) will look orangeish
  • flourescent light photos will look greenish

If you want, you can adjust for this by getting a correction filter for your lens at any camera supply store - tungsten takes a blue filter and flourescent a magenta one (a CC30, IIRC). This shouldn’t run you more than 20 bucks or so, but it WILL reduce the amount of light getting to your film, so you’ll have to compensate by lengthening your exposure. If you do this, play around with several different shutter speeds on each shot to cover yourself. (This is also known as “bracketing” your exposure.)

The other main alternative, for when you’re shooting under incandescent bulbs, is to buy tungsten-balanced film, as Padeye suggested. I’m pretty sure that Kodak still makes 160-speed Ektachrome slide film, and quite possibly 60-speed as well. The downside to this is that it’s expensive (about 50% more than a regular roll of slide film, when I bought it), and they don’t make tungsten-balanced print film, so you’d be stuck with slides.

If you’re shooting regular negative film, it might also be possible to get a photo lab to custom-print them to remove the orange cast; images on negative film have a good tolerance for this sort of adjustment. (When I shoot negative film under all-tungsten light, I don’t even bother correcting for it, because once I scan the negative it’s child’s play to fix it in Photoshop.) Again, though, getting a bunch of custom prints might not be all that cheap.

And you could try to track down a daylight-balanced lightbulb or photoflood to stick in your own light source; I know they’re made, but I’ve never used one so I don’t know how much they cost. Check around with either a lighting store or one of the larger camera stores for this. (I see you’re in NYC, home to some of the best/largest photography shops in the country…I’ve had very good experiences mail-ordering from B&H Photo and Adorama, both of which are local to you.)

If I were you, I’d go the filter or daylight-bulb route, but that’s just MHO.

I used to use the daylight bulbs with daylight type film. The bulbs were expensive and the ones I had were 300 watt as I recall. Porter’s Camera could have them in their catalog if you can’t find them locally. I used to live in NYC and if it’s not available at the camera stores in Manhatten, it’s not available!

In the OP you never mentioned the final output required. If prints are required, as schief2 mentioned, you might be able to have someone scan the negatives and correct the color on the computer. The 6 color inkjets due a fine job. Just be sure not to mix light sources.

You might also be able to use a digital camera to start with. This would save time and money, as well as providing instant feed back to be sure you have captured what you need.

I have seen full spectrum lightbulbs available. They are commonly used for growing marijuana or for seasonal affective disorder, because they match the spectrum that sunlight provides. They look kinda like normal flourescent bulbs (those helix shaped ones, or the tubes). The light they put off is very white. I believe they can be had for around $15 for the ones that can fit in a normal light socket. You can also put them to use in your indoor marijuana farm when you aren’t photographing. Actually, I think the bright white light looks pretty cool for regular lighting.

I found a place that sells them. Looks like the bulbs can be had for as little as $7 a pop.


You might try These Nice Folks. Seem to have a lot of lamps ( that’s what bulbs are called in the lighting industry), at decent prices.

Me, I’d go for a simply 45 degree angle copy stand arrangement with two PhotoFlood bulbs. Using regular film is MUCH easier than using Tungsten color balanced, just because it’s so much easier to get it processed.

Just my .02 cents.


Actually, tungsten-balanced film uses the same standard developing processes as regular film does; it’s the composition of the film stock itself that causes it to be calibrated for tungsten light, not how it’s developed.

But I would agree with you that should stick with daylight film; it’s cheaper, easier to find, and from my experience the color and quality seems to be better. Not to mention that if stuyguy’s ultimate goal is to have prints and not slides, getting prints made from slides is a lot of extra hassle and expense. And as I said before, to my knowledge no one makes tungsten-balanced print film, so slides is what he’d have.