.Vapor Discharge Lighting | Chroma Key Software Vapor Discharge Lighting, How to Deal

postheadericon Vapor Discharge Lighting, How to Deal

Digital capture comes to the rescue in what have traditionally been some of the nastiest lighting situations in photography-greens, blues, and yellows from vapor lamps that often look deceptively white. Vapor discharge lighting is definitely on the increase, particularly in public spaces, department stores and shops, and is gradually taking over from fluorescent and tungsten lighting. Being more powerful than either of these two, vapor lamps are good for lighting large spaces brightly, both outside and inside. What they are not good for, unfortunately, is photography. The problem is that, for the most part, they look white to the eye-which is why they are popular-but in photographs they usually cast a strongly colored light over the scene. Worse still, they are not consistent or predictable.

The three principal types of lamp are sodium, which looks yellow in photographs; mercury, which looks like a cold white and photographs between green and blue-green; and multi-vapor, which also looks cold white but may, if you are lucky, appear reasonably well balanced in a photograph. Sodium lamps are typically used for street-lighting and for floodlighting buildings; multi-vapor lamps are used in sports stadiums where television cameras need good color balance; and mercury lamps are used in lots of different situations. Sodium is easy to spot-it looks yellow and, when just switched on, glows orange for a few minutes. The other two easily fool the eye, although when mercury lamps are switched on, they glow greenish before they reach full strength.

The reason for the problem is that the emissions of vapor discharge lamps peak strongly in very narrow bands of spectrum, and are completely lacking in many wavelengths. Unlike fluorescent tubes, they do not have the benefit of a coating of fluorescers to spread the output over other parts of the spectrum. With film this made for a truly difficult situation, but digital cameras score in two ways: the normal response of the sensor to vapor lamps is less extreme than with color film, and the white-balance menu allows you to reach a neutral color balance-or something close to it at least.

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