A bright idea

I’ve heard of it for years, and even wrote about it once. “It” is daylight fluorescent light, and I just converted my whole shop over to it.

My main purpose was to make taking photographs in my shop easier, and I researched a variety of these lights – sometimes called “color-corrected” fluorescents – and learned that they have four advantages.

The first is that most have a Kelvin (K) temperature rating of around 5,000K to 5,500K. Without getting too technical, light sources have K ratings from the low 1,000s to above 10,000. Low-K lights, like ordinary light bulbs, toss out light with lots of yellow, which is why typical light bulb light feels “warmer.” Extremely high-K light is very blue. Both high- and low-K lights can throw off our eyes’ perception of color. Finish a table under those lighting conditions, and you might be surprised to see what that table really looks like in natural light. Now, lights in that 5,000-5,500K sweet spot are smack in the middle of the color range, and are often called “full-spectrum” light. It’s the most like natural light. In short, the color of your projects will look true, just as it would under white light.

The second advantage is that this full-spectrum light is perfect for photography. I don’t understand technical photo stuff much, but there’s this thing called white balance with photos. You want your white to be balanced for good photos. These lights apparently balance my white just fine, my shots look better, and I’m happy. Light at 5,000-5,500K is like daylight. Just set the camera for daylight. Easy.

The lights also have a high Color-Rendering Index. CRI is rated on a 0-100 scale, and these lights fall in the 90s. Non-technically speaking, the higher the CRI, the truer and clearer the color of whatever you see (or photograph).

Finally, these lights don’t get hot like regular light bulbs. Just try to unscrew a burning 300-watt bulb sometime. With one of my 300-watt equivalent compact fluorescent lights, you can do it without a trip to the emergency room.

My shop has eight hanging twin-tube traditional “shop lights” and two ceiling fixtures. I used to have ordinary cheap tubes in the shop lights, and a pair of 300w incandescent bulbs. I replaced the tubes rated 5,000-5,500K, and the two incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents of the same K rating. Wow, what a difference!

The shop looks great. My projects look fabulous. My photos come out perfect. Who knows, maybe it even makes me look more handsome.

Till next time,



  • Alan Young says:

    Having just visited A.J.’s shop within the past few days I can attest to the accuracy of all the claims put forth in this column. Umm all but maybe that last line…. :^) Alan Young

  • One note of interest.

    While lamps representing the closest color temperature to daylight usually make for fine photographs, consideration should be made towards making the project look good under the lighting conditions it will call home in. In otherwords, if a project is going to be installed in an evironment that is predominately higher Kelvin lighting (typical fluourescents) that is the light it should be evaluated in.

    Just my 2 cents,



  • Not only will the shop look better but there have been many studies of full spectrum lighting that show they make you feeeeeeeeel better.

  • Charley Robinson says:

    Where do you get these bulbs? I have fluorescent fixtures that take 4′ standard bulbs.


  • Lea says:

    I am a definite advocate of “full-spectrum” compact fluorescent lights for woodworking. I have one directly over my lathe.

    The table-top setup I use to photograph my turnings consists of a portable light-tent, a good digital camera, and three 13-watt fold-up full-spectrum “craft” lights, which I bought on sale. The results are quite adequate for posting on my website, and the colors of the wood are accurately represented with no fiddling of camera settings, and no need to “tweak” the photos on the computer beyond cropping.

  • A.J. Hamler says:


    You can get the 4′ (and 8′) daylight tubes at most Big Box stores. Sylvania makes them, and they’re called “Full-spectrum Sunstick,” rated 5,000K.

    The daylight compact fluorescents maybe tougher to find. The ones I got are actually 85watts, but are equivalent to 300-watt incandescent bulbs. At that size, they aren’t cheap — about $22 each. (Of course, they’re rated for something like 10,000 hours, so the cost is relative.) I got them through a photo supply place on the Internet that had a four-pack of the bulbs for $74.95. They were called “High output photo fluorescent bulbs” and are rated at 5,100K.


  • David Marks says:

    I converted my whole shop building to energy efficient full spectrum fluorescents a few years ago. My local utility company (CL&P) had a program that provided all the retrofits to convert conventional fluorescent fixtures to utilize these new bulbs. The retrofits included new ends, ballasts and reflective shields. I had to pay about a third of the cost plus buy all the bulbs. The bulbs are significantly more expensive but the lighting result and energy savings make the payback time relatively short. Not only do photos taken in this light look great, but at the end of the, working under this light, you are much less tired.

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