Bowens 9Lite System
Hot Portraits With Cold Lights

The Bowens 9Lite is designed specifically for digital photography and gets its name from the nine fluorescent pigtail tubes that screw into its main housing. Like Bowens Tri-Lite (see sidebar "Photographing Small Products") these are cold hot lights and each lamp head contains nine 30w flicker-free fluorescent tubes mounted in a housing that can be placed close to a subject for maximum efficiency without generating the kind of skin-melting temperatures found in conventional "hot" or quartz lights. A small 22" square light bank is included with each head and creates the kind of soft lighting appropriate for portraiture, such as headshots where you can bring the light source close to the subject.

Photos © 2003, Joe Farace, All Rights Reserved

Bits And Pieces
A 9Lite head, like all Bowens gear, is ruggedly constructed for heavy-duty use. It has few controls--a handle for moving the head up and down, an on-off switch, and a standard, adjustable light stand mount. If you played with Tinker Toys as a kid, you won't have any problem assembling the light bank frame. It consists of sturdy lightweight fiber glass rods and even if you've never seen a Tinker Toy, putting it together is a snap. Stretching the fabric to create the light bank is another story, so be sure to read the directions. You work from the back of the lamp head and stretch the fabric to the front. Something the instructions won't tell you is that the four gold inserts included to warm up the 9Lite's color have to be attached to the light bank fabric before stretching it over the fiber glass frame.


Use A Sturdy Stand
A 9Lite head is heavy and by the time you mount the light bank the whole set can be a little top heavy, so don't stick it on top of some dinky light stand. You need something sturdy, like one of the big Manfrotto's ( that have large diameter support tubes and a wide leg spread. Once happily ensconced, the 9Lite head is like any other hot light--albeit a heavy one--except it's cool, literally and figuratively.

What Color Are These Things?
The curly 9Lite bulbs have a stated color temperature of 6400K, but I suggest that, like me, you run a few tests before using it for any critical assignments. Using my wife Mary as a model I made several headshots with my Canon EOS 10D at different white balance settings. The lighting setup was simple; one 9Lite with light bank was used as a main light and a white wall served as a reflector with absolutely, positively no ambient room light. With the 10D set for Auto White Balance (AWB) the 9Lite head produced amazingly accurate color, sorta like Ektachrome 100.


I know, the pundits say you should never use the AWB setting but I'm just here, like Joe Friday, for "the facts." Since AWB on the 10D works between 3000-7000K I was in the ballpark with the 9Lite's output. With the camera in Sunny Daylight mode the image was slightly warm in a Fuji Velvia sort of way. The Shade setting produced warm but not objectionably warm skin tones, while Cloudy produced what might be too intensely warm for a normal portrait, but might make for a nice special effect. The same is true for Fluorescent--even though they are fluorescent tubes--the light is really kinda blue. With the 10D, you can also set an exact K temperature, so I tried one at 6400K and it was slightly cool. Persnickety photographers will probably use the flip side of a Kodak Gray Card (it's white) and their cameras' custom white balance setting to create spot-on color.


Working With Cold Hot Lights
I mounted a 9Lite on top of a Manfrotto light stand, tightened the upright sections and, more importantly, the legs, which I set at maximum spread. A Bowens spokesperson told me future production will include a cooling fan and consequently the unit will look slightly different from what you see here, but it should only be ever so slightly heavier.


The chrome-plated handle on the back allows positioning the head up and down, but be careful not to pinch your fingers between the light head and light stand bracket like I did. Ouch! One of the 9Lite's heads, the light stand bracket's adjustment handle, was stripped, making it a little more difficult, but not impossible to adjust. Other than that using 9Lite is like using any other hot light--without the heat. Traditional hot light users know that other than heat they typically don't generate that much light output. When used at a distance that I typically use for portraits (about 3 ft), a single 9Lite produced an aperture between f/5.6 and f/8 at 1/60 sec at ISO 400. If you like to work faster or wider, you can do the math.


Even models appreciated the soft wraparound light produced by the 9Lite. Some commented on the softness of the light, while all of them commented on the fact the lights were much more comfortable than working under conventional hot lights. For photographers and their subjects who are just tired of the "heat" in hot lights, the Bowens 9Lite makes for a practical and useful addition to your lighting arsenal.

For more information about the 9Lite, contact R.T.S. Inc. by calling (631) 242-6801 or visiting their website,

Here, Mary Farace, who's known as the "Lighting Queen" around the Farace household, is assembling the 9Lite's light bank skin; sitting next to her is one of the gold-colored inserts to warm up the light's slightly cool color. It wasn't until after putting it all together that we figured out that the inserts had to be attached
"before" assembly.

Photographing Small Products
The Bowens Tri-Lite is the 9Lite's baby brother and--I think you already figured it out--uses three lamps. The kit includes a pair of Bowens Tri-Lites, two light stands with scissors-like unfolding mechanisms, and a Cocoon "tent." Some assembly, as they say, is required. After screwing the three pigtail bulbs into each head, you attach a flat disc that's part of the 9Lite package to diffuse the light. This takes less time to do than reading about it and set up is a breeze. After attaching a handle to each head, stick them on some sturdy light stands and you're ready to assemble the Cocoon, which takes longer than reading this. Before you do anything else, let the curly plastic warm up to room temperature and then align the color dots in each corner of each piece and zip it together. Stick your camera through one of the Cocoon's shoot-through slots and click, you're ready to go.

The simplest possible product photography setup: A Canon EOS D60 digital camera with 50mm f/2.8 macro lens shooting through a hole in a Bowens Cocoon. Each of the Tri-Lites is placed directly in contact with the Cocoon, but it never got too warm during the entire photo session.

Don't worry about the lights being too close and getting the product hot. You can leave the Tri-Lites on for hours and they only get slightly warm (the instructions warn otherwise). Just set the Cocoon on a pair of sawhorses so you can direct light from the bottom and you're ready for any small product a client throws at you. All the kit's components are constructed to a high standard, as befitting a $689.95 manufacturer's advertised price.

Technical Specifications
Power: 110v (230 also available)
Weight: 12 lbs
Length: 17" (including light bank)
Diameter: 19" (including light bank)
Lamp: A 30w compact, non-flicker fluorescent lamp. The nine 30w lamps give an output equivalent to 1025w of conventional tungsten light with an average 10,000-hour life per lamp.
Price: $559.95 (MSRP)