A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Lightbulb Moment - The Murky World of Illumination

The dining room lights at Chateau Foy - we like the light fittings a lot, but I need
some rather jazzier bulbs I can fit  on wargames days
Just over a week ago I had the very considerable pleasure of attending one of Stryker's classic wargames - his photos of the event are on his blog (4 posts starting with this one), and very good they are too.

The Bold Baron had a very crafty ploy up his sleeve - at the start of a turn he would bring in a couple of freestanding photographer's lamps, and we would all snap away, before the lamps were moved out of the way for play to continue. A wizard wheeze - the results are evident from his pictures.

This has got me thinking (again) about how to improve the lighting at my own wargames. I get occasional mutterings about my gloomy photos - quite rightly so; I'd like to do rather better - much better, in fact.

It was not always thus. Nearly 40 years ago, in another life and another house, I was given an old set of tripod floodlights by a friend who was a part-time professional photographer. They were OK - they came from his junk shed, but they worked well enough, though the cabling was a bit of nuisance, and visitors had to be careful not to scorch themselves. The bad news was that they were Soviet Russian (don't ask), and when the bulbs eventually died there was no way of getting hold of anything that would fit. One major obstacle to my adopting this extra-lights approach now, with more modern kit, is that I have a bigger table, and just don't have space - Stryker's room is far larger than mine.

Whatever I do is going to have to be a stew of compromises - I'll try to summarise what I need - if anyone would care to make some suggestions I'll be very grateful (practical and affordable would be good). I'd welcome some recommendations for particular bulbs (models or types?) that would do the job for me. I'm in the UK, so I need a British/European solution - no more retired Soviet stuff for me.

I fight my wargames in the household dining room - it's not ideal, but it works well enough - it is a decent size, and there are two overhead lights above the table.

Some of the uncertainty in this area stems from my outdated grasp of lighting metrics. I come from a world of traditional, incandescent coil-filament bulbs in which the folk lore is that 40 watts will do for a bedside lamp, a 60 watt lamp will do for the landing, normally we would be looking for at least a single 100 watt for a living room, and so on. This is now confused by the need to save the planet, and by the introduction of LED and other new technologies that Messrs Edison and Philips never thought of, not to mention the dodgy claims of equivalence made by manufacturers.

Our dining room has a nice dimmer circuit, so you can set the mood to anything you want (consistent with still being able to see what you are eating, of course). Most of the fancier bulb types do not work with a dimmer, but my literal "lightbulb moment" recently was the realisation that I could simply replace the normal bulbs with more suitable alternatives for the duration of a game - and if I keep the dimmer turned up full then it doesn't matter whether the bulb is designated as dimmable or not. The removal of the need to find a type of bulb which will handle both jobs is a big simplification. All I need now is a better idea of what I need for the wargames.

We currently use a pair of Philips halogen bulbs which are described as "75w, equivalent to a 105w bulb" (75w being the actual consumption of electric power, 105w being the claimed illumination equivalence in old money, just to confuse everyone). These will dim satisfactorily, and they give a good level of light for normal use, but they are not really bright enough for wargames, and too yellow for photography, especially if someone places a large mid-green table a couple of feet below the lights.

I thought maybe I could just screw in some proper photographers' lamps. Problem is they are very large - deliberately so, to avoid the hard shadows associated with a point light source - and they really don't work with our domestic downlighter fittings.

I did some background reading, to brush up my understanding of the numbers underlying the science. My Philips bulbs each produce a bit less than 2000 lumens of light, and the "warm white" colour which makes my photos so yellow is typical of domestic, household bulbs which are said to have a colour characteristic of about 2500K (that's degrees Kelvin, chaps). Never mind how the temperature relates to the colour - the point is that proper photographers' "daylight" bulbs are rated at 5500K, which is a much harder, bluish-white light, as we know.
I tried screwing in a couple of these. Not great - they are enormous, so protrude from the
shade, which gives a very uncomfortable glare. Also - and paradoxically, given my concerns
about glare - I'm not convinced that the overall level of illumination is much improved
So I'm building a picture of a pair of wargaming bulbs to keep in the drawer, specially. The overall requirements are:

* must be suitable for a large domestic light fitting - must not overheat the thing
* should be suitable for 220-240v AC, needs an E27 (European large screw) fitting, and should be about the same size as a standard bulb, so it doesn't protrude below the light shade (thus avoiding a distracting glare)
* it would be nice if it is dimmable, but it doesn't matter - dimming is not needed on wargames days  [...on the other hand, if it did dim, then it would be possible to set the lighting levels differently for normal play and photo moments...]
* I don't care too much about the technology - I'd like to save the planet, naturally, but whether it uses LEDs or whatever is not important, but...
* the bulbs must produce about 2500-3000 lumens [to put this back into terms I understand, this would be a bit more than I would have expected from a big old 150 watt incandescent bulb, which would certainly have fried my light fittings]
* ideally the colour should be whiter than my current "warm white" bulbs - the full 5500K daylight standard would be OK for photos, but is a bit harsh otherwise - does anyone produce an intermediate type of bulb, rated at say 4500K?

Mother ship. I ended up with an accidental UFO pic...


  1. I suggest a trip to a ecent builders suppliers and buy a couple of their builders portable lights. They are adjustable, on tripods and throw out some very decent light. Yes they still get a bit hot but are very good for wargames tables. I bought a couple to use when I used to stage games at various shows. You can get them from E Bay or Amazon as well. Most are relatively cheap.

  2. I was about to suggest the same thing, but Robbie beat me to it.

    Best Regards,


  3. Hi Tony, actually the light in your room isn't too bad it's just at the end away from the window that you need something extra. I've seen photography lamps on Amazon that are LED with rechargeable batteries so no dangling cables - might be worth investigating?