Looking for what lights to use in your next film, and want to be as informed as possible?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this article, we’ll focus on fluorescent light and its properties on film. However, to understand this, we’ll first introduce what fluorescent light is.

If you already know what fluorescent lighting is, consider learning about all the other types of film lights and light sources you can use in your filmmaking.

What is fluorescent light?

Fluorescent lighting is a highly versatile type of lighting known for its energy efficiency, compared to incandescent and halogen lighting, and its lower price point compared to LEDs. It is the kind of lighting you will most likely encounter at the office, the school, and the supermarket.

You can find several different kinds of fluorescent light. Still, the most common is the linear fluorescent tubes, often used in overhead fixtures, like troffers in all sorts of commercial buildings.

How fluorescent light work

Fluorescent lighting depends on a chemical reaction inside a glass tube to create light. The chemical reaction involves mercury vapors and gases interacting, which produces invisible UV light. This invisible UV light interacts with the phosphor powder coating on the inside of the glass that emits white fluorescent light.

Fluorescent lighting needs a ballast that regulates the voltage and current before it feeds the electricity into the pins of the fluorescent tube. Electrons get excited and begin to travel back and forth. This causes the gases and the mercury to get excited by the electrical current, then they interact with each other and produce the invisible UV light. This UV light hits the phosphor that creates the white light – hence, where the term fluorescent comes from. It means “glowing white light”.

And that is how it works. In the next part of the article, we’ll get to the pros and cons of fluorescent light and its role in filmmaking.  

fluorescent light ceiling

Uses of fluorescent light in filmmaking

Fluorescent light does indeed have some uses in filmmaking. Firstly they are more efficient than incandescent lighting, and they can produce an output of 100 lumens per watt, which means that they can achieve a CRI of 99 of 100.

CRI or Color Rendering Index describes the ability of a light source to reveal the color of an object compared to natural lighting.

The color temperature can vary from 2700K to 6500K, which means you can get both warmer and cooler lighting from fluorescent light.

Fluorescent lighting is achieved by laying tubes on top of each other till you reach the desired brightness.

You want them as close to the subject as possible as they are not great for open spaces, and they work best for interior spaces and are lighter and more compact compared to other lighting types.

fluorescent lights outside

Here is a list of the pros and cons of fluorescent lighting

Fluorescent light disadvantages:

  • Flicker
  • High CRI
  • Long term use can have poor color rendition and low CRI

Fluorescent light advantages:

  • High efficiency
  • Low power requirement
  • Low cost
  • Long lamp life
  • Lightweight
  • Capable of soft, even lighting
  • Capable of cooler lighting

The best characteristics of fluorescent light are its cheapness, lightness, and availability. You will almost always get a lot of uses out of fluorescent without having to worry about longevity or high power requirement.

While flickering can be a problem, it is mostly when shooting a documentary or in a location where you can’t bring your lights. You can work around this by matching FPS or shutter speed to the frequency of the light.

There you have it—all the information you need about fluorescent lighting.

What’s next? Get to know film lighting equipment

Now that you know about fluorescent light, how about becoming familiar with the various film lighting equipment?

Or, if you are more interested in how to use lights, check out our guides explaining how you use the different film lighting.

Fluorescent Light FAQ

What is fluorescent light?

Fluorescent lighting is a highly versatile type of lighting that is known for its energy efficiency and its low price point.

Are fluorescent lights suitable for filmmaking?

Fluorescent lights are a cheap way to get started when making films.

Which is better: fluorescent or LED?

That entirely depends on your situation; while LEDs are better, they also come at a much higher price than fluorescent.

What are the disadvantages of fluorescent light?

Flicker, high CRI, and long term use can have poor color rendition and low CRI.