Layout lighting for effect and photography

Discussion in 'Shamus' Narrow Gauge World' started by shamus, Feb 9, 2001.

  1. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Lighting the layout
    For most model railway enthusiasts, lighting a model railway room means simply switching on the mains switch and either a 1OOwatt or 15Owatt light bulb springs to life. To my mind, the layout at this stage, looks dull and lifeless. Why not think about the railway layout as a theatrical stage, and when lit up properly, will bring it to life. There are two ways of going about lighting a layout room. First, if you just want to light the layout for viewing only with no thoughts about possible photographs at a later date, other than Black & White, then placing 6Owatt spot lights at various intervals around the room and disregarding the main light overhead, works very well. - Secondly, the use of FLUORESCENT DAYLIGHT TUBES can be used to great effect. (More on these later)
    If you place one spot light in each corner of the room where the layout is housed, and a further one in the middle of these walls, once the lights are switched on, you will notice that the focus of attention has shifted to the layout and not
    the surrounding area's. Make sure also that you put each spot light on a separate switch. To create a night time effect you could replace two of the corner bulbs with blue bulbs, not daylight bulbs. Now let us consider lighting the layout for a natural light source and also be able to photograph the layout in colour, without the need for any studio lighting what so ever.
    When I first started to build a railway in its own environment, I started to think about lighting it properly, to show it off if you like. So, I mounted spot lights at various locations. These spot lights whilst pleasing to the eye, under normal viewing conditions were in fact, useless when it came for me to photograph the layout. I had to fit a blue filter to the camera lens(8OB or 8OA -- Daylight Film -- 1OO ISO ) The time exposures were far too long and reciprocity failure was I think, creeping in. So I looked around for some other way to photograph the layout without resorting to my 1OOO watt and 5OO watt flood lights I had used when I was a professional photographer. These 1OOO and 5OO watt lamps I might add when used with either 8OA or 8OB blue filter gave excellent results, for print film, and even better results if using a tungsten slide film, as no filters are required. The trouble of trying to get the flood lights at the right height and in the right place, to eliminate most of the shadows, warranted a change to something simple. My layout room was not designed to place tripods behind as well as in front of the layout, so photofloods couldn't be used. I did consider using booms attached to the tripods, but even then, I would have had a hard job getting them into the right place.
    I found what I was looking for in the form of FLUORESCENT DAYLIGHT TUBES, these tubes are rated at 55OO degrees Kelvin and are perfect match for colour photography, when using daylight type slide or print film. A little explanation on colour temperature verses colour prints, or for that matter colour slides. Light is measured in degrees Kelvin, and at around mid-day outside, is roughly 55OO degrees Kelvin. These tubes come in 4' 5' and 6' lengths, and are only a little bit more expensive than normal household fluorescent tubes, and as they match daylight temperature, no filters i.e. 8OA or 8OB are required.
    Unfortunately, Household fluorescent tubes cannot be used because they give a greenish cast to slide or colour prints. You can buy a filter for use using the tubes, but I wouldn't recommend it. Anyway, - I purchased one to try it out on a daylight slide film. I rigged it up in the railway room, switched off the other lights and with just the one daylight tube, used a full 24 exposure film up, trying out various combinations of exposure times, and also using a mirror to reflect the light.
    When the slide film came back to me, I was amazed at the colours, they were almost the exact colours on the layout. As I had kept a record of the exposure times and the shots I took, I found that the best results with just the one tube was f5.6 Okay, as f22 or better was needed, all I needed were more tubes, so off I went and purchased seven more 5' daylight tubes, and fitted the lot to my ceiling at 18" intervals.
    The next day I bought two films, one print and the other slide. On getting home I first of all loaded the print film up so I could develop and print my own colour, I switched on all eight
    tubes and photographed all aspects of the layout at f22 - f32. When the prints were finally out of the fix, washed and dried, I must say, I was very pleased with the results.
    The slide film was used, sent away, and on return was also very good.
    Oh yes, I still use the spot lights for normal running of trains, as the effects are great, but, off they go when I need some photographs. These Daylight Fluorescent Tubes are also kinder to the eyes for working on the layout, I have just the one 5' tube switched on most of the time I am working on the layout. Apart from anything else, it is a natural light and the colours on the layout look right. Even if you use the spot lights, they are giving off a yellowish light and although your eyes get used to it, you cannot take any photographs with them on without filters, you would have a colour cast.
    There is one point about the fluorescent tubes, and that is to keep them clean, as they collect dust, the colour temperature of 55OO degrees. Kelvin shifts a little, although you might not notice this, the camera will. I tend to clean mine just before a photo session, to make sure all will be well.
  2. Virginian

    Virginian Member

    Good article, shamus.
    Thanks once again.
    I'll buy some of those daylight 'flos' as soon as I can find lay out ready to photo., not for a good long time, I expect, but they sound like the solution to my shop lighting problem; I can't use regular florescent shop sights..the flicker triggers migrain and/or eye strain headache, and the 100 watt/alum.reflect./clamp fixtures I now use are not efficient nor too effective.
    I think you may have solved my lighting problem for photographing my paintings, too....we'll see when I have a chance to get back to that 'career'.
    Stay well,
    VGN [​IMG]
  3. Peirce

    Peirce Member

    I like you analogy to theatrical lighting. Many of the same techniques can be used on a layout. In fact, using stage techniques can give you an added dimension, that of visually simulating the passage of time.

    The careful use of spot and controlled flood lighting also make the whole operation of your layout more dynamic. For example, if you have a train leaving area A at 3 in the afternoon but not arriving in area B until 10 at night, the two areas can be lit accordingly. The difference, by-the-way, is not just changing the color of the lights. Controlling the angle the light hits the scene is important too.

    Also consider this. If all the lighting for a scene is the same color and intensity, no matter what angle it comes from, the scene will look flat. If you use warmer light from one side and cooler light from the other will bring out the three-d
  4. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Always had all 8 - 5' Flourescent Daylight Tubes on, then used flash as a secondary light.
  5. johan

    johan New Member

    hello Shamus-another very good photo using your daylight flourescent tube technique with bounced flash.Typical with most of the workers watching the trains go by.
  6. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Johan,
    yes I always use F.D.T's plus flash, the Flash, adds sparkle .

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