I got to play with some smart lights over at Statkus Architecture this morning, and i’m impressed, really impressed. I’ll explain why they matter for architectural photography below, but I wanted to say this is a first impressions post. Next week we’re going to photograph a project with these lights and i’ll be able to provide more insight into them then. 

What’s a smart light?

It’s a light bulb that connects to your smart phone and allows you to control it in all sorts of ways. The type I played with is the Philips Hue system. It has it’s own form of wifi base station and it allows you to dim a light, or a set of lights, and most importantly it allows you to control the color tones of the light. Now at first when I saw this I thought, “do i really want to turn my house into a neon blue nightclub?” But then the penny dropped… does this mean I can color match the lights of an entire building? And even better, can I color match the lights with the current sunlight conditions?

light 01

Why does this matter?

Normally a building is filled with all sorts of lights, with all sorts of colour tones. Some are orange, some are green, some are blue. This is fine if all the light sources are one colour, because even if they have say a blue tone, you can set a white point with a white balance tool and correct for it. But once you have two colour sources you have to choose one of them for your white point, which leaves the other one creating a colour cast in the image. Imagine beautiful daylight filling in through a window combined with a green colour cast from the interior lights. Not a good look.

So what do you do? Well you can turn off the interior lights for starters, but then the interior may be too dark. You might choose to create a HDR image then, or bring in artificial strobe lights, or colour gel each light, or use photoshop, or even replace all the lights in the building with special “flash bulbs.”  There’s lots of different options, but i’ve never really liked any of them, which is why these new smart lights may be just what architectural photographers have been waiting for.

A few ideas on how to use Smart lights?

Here’s what i’m going to try next week. We take a light meter reading of the current daylight conditions (remembering that the daylight colour changes throughout the day) and then set all the smart lights to the same kelvin reading. This should colour balance the entire scene. We can also set the camera’s white balance setting to provide an accurate back of camera preview. There may still be some colour casts occurring from reflected light off coloured materials (imagine a bright orange kitchen), but in the project we’re trying this on it’s almost all white, so this shouldn’t be an issue. All in all, we should have an ideal setting and with more control than ever before. If we want to change the brightness level of a specific area we can do that from behind the camera via a phone. If we’re doing a twilight shot and want an orange lantern effect we can adjust the orange tones to our liking. This is all very, very cool and I hope it lives up to my excitement! I’ll send out an update after this test project.