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Do You Change Light Bulbs To Control White Balance?

Published: 02/10/2015

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IncadecentLEDDwayne sent me this lighting tip that cost less than $10. The two photos to the right are examples of what changing light bulbs can do. Dwayne says:

A bulb in my office ceiling fan burned out so I ran down to the store and bought 2 new LED's so I would never have to replace them. Problem was they were 5000K instead of soft white. Color was horrible. Stuck them in my photo bag a couple of months ago and it has been a blessing. When bedrooms have a couple of side lamps I replace the bulbs with the 5K's. They can be on for 15 minutes and are only warm to the touch. My assistant goes ahead of me and changes out the bulbs. This makes the post-processing go much easier. If a room has just a pole lamp I use it there. The two photos were shot with a Nikon 7100 and a 12-24 Tokina with fill flash. Did not color correct, only changed the bulbs. They were 10 watt LED bulbs. Thought you might be interested in a tip that cost less than $10.

Yes, bulb replacement used to be the standard way to control white balance back in the days of film and it certainly does the job but, have to say I'm not keen on carry light bulbs and change many light bulbs on a real estate shoot. Easier to just turn off the lights.

I took Dwayne's incandescent JPG into Lightroom and played with it and I have to admit that I can't get the JPG to look as good as good as the LED JPG although JPGs are always much harder to adjust than RAW files. In small bedrooms like this I never have trouble controlling white balance with just flash and Lightroom adjusting.

What do you think, are any of you into changing light bulbs?

Larry Lohrman

17 comments on “Do You Change Light Bulbs To Control White Balance?”

  1. I had almost same situation. The owners had a flourescent bulb on left side and an iincandescent on the right. Didn't notice it till I got back to my office and uploaded the pics. One side of wall was greenish and other was yellowish. Could not fix it in lightroom. It drove me crazy untilni went back to reshoot and discovered they had 2 different bulbs. Swapped them out for same bulb-problem fixed. Now I carry extra bulb


  2. For routine real estate photography, I do it occasionally, but there is really not enough time to do much of it. If there is a drastic mismatch, I usually just leave the lights off or use enough fill flash to tone down the imbalance, so that I can fix it more easily in post.

    For high-end real estate photography I will switch out lamps whenever necessary and they are accessible, or use advanced Photoshop blending techniques, to deal with lamps mismatched for color or brightness.

  3. I don't change out light bulbs on the job. I'm slow enough as it is. Using a mix of techniques in LR and PS, I can smooth out color temp issues well enough for standard RE work. For more demanding and higher paying work, I'd pay more attention to the installed lighting. My biggest concern is with homes with missing bulbs in a kitchen with an array of can lights and ugly expedients like owners using CFL's in bathroom makeup light bars.

    The Lowe's stores in S. Cal. have LED bulbs in 40W and 60W equivalents for about $2ea in 6 packs. The color temp is close to daylight. I've re-lamped my entire home except for decorative bulbs in the bathroom that I haven't found a good price LED replacement for yet. I can turn on every light in the house and only draw about 200 watts. I am also purchasing LED flood lights from sellers on eBay. The rule of thumb is a 10x factor from incandescent to LED. Ie: a 50W LED flood replaces a 500W worklight. The ones I have ($22ea) work great and only get warm. Sticking gels on the front is no big deal. I just got in a box of 10ea 10W LED floods, cute little things, that should be perfect for continuous lighting when I'm doing product photos. Again, they're close to daylight so I can mix in some flash without getting strange color casts. I'll have to do some experimenting to see just how close they match.

  4. If I was going to be changing lightbulbs in houses (which is definitely time sucking job and hard to do when trying to time images properly) I'd be getting to the house an hour early and charging accordingly for this, combine this service with a house clean / interior design styling tips type service and it could be a great upsell for the right vendors/agents perhaps. Something you would have to test to see if they're interested in, I have not trialed this myself.


  5. Depends on the shoot. For a big shoot with a good budget, I will change out bulbs, but to keep the ambiance with the rest of the lighting, I generally use tungsten bulbs. I have a bin of them from regular light bulbs to floods. Hard to find now. Or if I spot a florescent bulb, I replace that. But my preference is to turn all the lights off and use daylight. But that presupposes that there is enough daylight. I just shot a 2 story condo that had virtually no daylight coming in so had to shoot the whole thing with interior lighting. And the lighting was professionally installed, all tungsten balanced and looked beautiful as long as I shifted my camera color setting to tungsten. It was still warm but then the interior design was all in organic warm colors too so it worked well. The main problem with tungsten when there is some daylight coming in is the daylight registers as blue unless it is sun coming in.

    The worst is the scenario from above with mixed florescent and tungsten. Some rooms need lighting on since the lighting is part of the character of the house, like this condo. Others lighting is just an add on to give light at night. So my decision is usually based on the house itself as to whether shoot with the house's lighting or turn them all off and use daylight. White and neutral walls and furnishings make this color issue more important since even slight color changes are magnified.

    I usually ask my clients to see if the owners would swap out any florescent light bulbs before we shoot along with decluttering and cleaning out. Seldom works. But the question is, "does it take more time to swap out some bulbs or try to fix regional color problems afterwards in Photoshop?"

  6. I added a line on the photo prep list that explains the value of consistent lighting, the value of led lights that the agents have access to use if they want....

    I have always felt that the preparation of the property was up to the agent and staggers they hired. When it came to photography, that is were I was responsible....

  7. Heck, I'm lucky if I can find all the switches! I did have a house last week (8000 sqft) that had so many missing and burnt out lights, I spent an hour replacing bulbs, especially in the ceiling fans and vanity lights. I was thankful the pantry had a great supply of bulbs, color balance seems to be drop the orange, yellow and blue in post, could almost have a preset for it.

  8. Sorry but for RE photography: "Fix it in Post!" I can't add to the shooting time as most agents have to hang around or the owner does not want you there too long. There are so many tools just in LR alone (Radial Filter) that can quickly solve most of the problems.

  9. I find it's quite easy to "turn on" the lights with an adjustment layer in PS filled with black and then locally erased. If I want added color, I duplicate the background layer and use color dodge. I can even "light" candles that have no flame using this technique.

    Why doesn't this site enable posting photos??? It is quite useless to describe photo techniques without being able to post examples.

  10. @John Gaylord, I usually photograph a scene with the lights on and off just so I can paint in a light. If I know that I'm going to have severe color temp issues, I'll take an exposure just for the lighting so I have lots of detail and can "paint" the light back in without including the rest of the scene it's contaminating. I also do this when I have lights bulbs out/missing in can lights. Dragging a ladder around a home is asking for trouble and 2 story foyers can be impossible. I've had owners tell me that they never replaced the lights because they are too hard to get to. I know it can be done with a pole, but that can be another $50 for a tool that gets used once every couple of years.

    Maybe I need to start a candle flame library now. I "framed" some public domain BW images I downloaded from the Library of Congress Flickr site so I can put artwork on walls and cover up big family portraits that didn't get taken down. BW images work great for filling in flat screen TV's. For color stuff, I use landscape images that I have made.

  11. This is something I've thought about myself periodically, as well. Enough so that it's the first item in my Pre-Shoot Checklist that I provide agents and property owners. It boils down to a few basic items for me:

    - 87% of my shoots are for the minimum I offer. The expense (and hazard) of carrying bulbs, plus time to mess with, significantly erodes profitability.

    - I am there to create attractive images for marketing purposes. If a homeowner doesn't care to replace 1/3 of their bulbs (even in an 8K s.f. wonder), odds are that's the way it'll be at time of sale. So accurately portraying the home, while making it look good, is also a consideration.

    - With very rare exception, I've learned to not touch fixtures, lights or window treatments. I may, swap bulbs from one vanity to another if convenient. Or I'll adjust the angle of blinds. But after having bulbs fall apart in my hands, or blinds miraculously flop on the floor, I'm simply not interested in having a shoot suddenly turn into an instantaneous loss anymore.

    Irony, I've also noticed, is that the condition of bulbs in a house loosely reflect the overall material condition of the structure. If they've not kept up on bulbs, they've not been keeping up on maintaince overall, and that too is evident in the outcome. At which point everything heretofore is almost a non-issue. I've yet to go into a top-drawer property, exquisitely put together, and find even a single bulb out.

  12. I purchase light bulbs (all sorts) at garage and estate sales. I keep a bag of assorted bulbs in my car. There is a staging company that never puts light bulbs in the lamps, so I usually have plenty of matching light bulbs to populate them. Most times I take them with me when I leave, sometimes not, depending upon time. I usually get a box of bulbs for $5 or less, so it's not much of a loss.

  13. I am astounded by the number of photographers that have the time and inclination to go around changing lightbulbs in the properties that they shoot. While not only spending time, but money for the lighting of a property that should have been ready to shoot before they even got there.
    With that in mind, I wonder if the whole game of “How much you charge” should be reconsidered with respect to those that insist on shooting “As is” and those that spend the time, effort and expense changing light bulbs…., let alone moving furniture, cleaning bathrooms…..etc. When does it get to the point where you are feed up doing prep work before you can even start what you are paid for?

  14. @Jerry Miller, for a standard budget RE shoot, changing lightbulbs is, for me, too much of a chore and time waster. Where it's more useful is for higher paying jobs on more expensive properties. I know that some posters will say that one has to go whatever distance to get the best image possible, but the business reality is that one can only spend a certain amount of time on a job or risk working for a paltry hourly rate.

    @Reed, that's a good idea to collect different bulbs. I just changed my house to nearly all LED and I have a cabinet in the laundry room with lots of CFLs and incandesents. The bulbs to look for especially are the specialty ones such as candelabra and globes for makeup mirror fixtures. It's hard to paint in a lamp on a chandelier convincingly. I'm going to put my collection in a plastic tub with a little bit of padding to have available for jobs that deserve that much attention to detail.

    Much of the time I can clone a light bulb or empty can light in PS, but I've had bathrooms with no lamps in the fixture and at least one would be a big help.

  15. I often carry a small slaved flash that I can put in a socket to replace the bulbs in bedside lamps. I've often run into mixed bulbs with one incandescent and one CF in the same room. The flashes work great as a quick fix.

    @John Gaylord I would love to see a tutorial on the technique you're using for turning on lights using an adjustment layer. Do you have any links you could share?

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