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I'm currently using a pair fluorescent lamps (similar to these) to light some flowers (artificial flowers, to be precise) and I'm not 100% satisfied with the outcome.

Colours don't seem to be right and purples especially often show up as blue. I thought it was my camera (an old EOS-350D) so I replaced that with a Nikon D5500 and although they are improved, they are nowhere near perfect.

I recently took some shots that were lit by sunlight and was impressed by the colours, but I can't replicate this with artificial lights.

I read this answer on colour rendering index and I think it may well explain my predicament. The fluorescent lights I bought claimed a high CRI, but as that answer suggests, I could still have poor colour rendition with them.

My question is therefore: what is the best lighting for shooting pastel coloured flowers - flash or incandescent bulbs? I'm happy to take reasonable recommendations too (but I'm not planning on taking out a bank loan to pay, as I've just paid for the Nikon! Therefore, best is probably a balance between colour rendition and cost).

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Incandescent bulbs are the actual definition of theoretical maximum CRI 100 (black body radiation, etc). Sunlight and flash do contain spectral lines, but are also considered excellent color (don't need any CRI examination). We will need attention to white balance on any of them. White balance is about what color is it, where CRI is about how complete is the color spectrum?

The best CRI 90 fluorescent can be a problem for some colors, and LED is even more a mixed bag. Heat can easily be an issue for incandescent.

We can "see" continuous light (incandescent), to adjust the lighting, and also the camera is able to meter it. This is not true of flash, we need a hand held meter (or TTL metering), and a test shot to check and adjust lighting. Flash is a little more work, but we learn fast.

Flowers probably don't need a fast shutter unless there is wind, but exposure of continuous lighting is greatly reduced by fast shutter speeds, where flash is unaffected (flash is typically faster than any usable shutter speed). And the overwhelming power of flash is a huge advantage, and the lack of much heat is also a major plus.

The flowers will be "close" (not far), so a regular speedlight is plenty to work wonders. A reflector board to fill the far side will be a big plus. Or a second fill flash.

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So, a couple of problems with consumer grade fluorescent bulbs... As was mentioned, the color rendering isn't very good with fluorescents. If you look at a spectrum from a fluorescent tube you'll see peaks in the UV (or at least in that direction), blue, red, and primarily green. These occur because the gas in the tube is mercury vapor (blue lines), and the phosphor that lines the tube is emitting red, green and some blue. Fluorescent lights are generally bad color wise (unless they are made for photography).

Another potential problem is that the tubes flicker 60 times (or 50 if you're European) a second. If your exposure is shorter than 1/60th of a second you may see variations in color or intensity.

The easiest solution is to replace your CFL bulbs with incandescent. The best solution is to purchase a couple of studio strobe kits.

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You're probably running into issues with the white balance. Essentially, all light is not the same color and can easily make things appear different than what you'd like. You can either set the white balance to fluorescent and give that a try, or you can shoot in RAW mode, do a test shot with a gray card, and then set the white balance in your photo editing software off of the gray card.

Another issue is if you're shooting in mixed types of light - for example, if you've got fluorescent lights shining on the flowers, but you've also got some incandescent overhead lights in the room. These lights are both of different colors and can definitely mess with your photos. Always try to make sure you've always got the exact same types of lights or put gel filters on one kind in order to change its color temp to be consistent with whatever other lights are in the scene.

When I do studio shots in my garage, I've become a big fan of AlienBees studio strobes and I make sure to turn off the garage lights so I'm not mixing colors at all. And I always shoot RAW so I can tweak the color temp in post production in whichever way I'd like.

Good luck!

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