Most photographers would agree that the best lighting you can get is already given to us by Mother Nature. Natural light is amazing. It can be harsh with deep shadows on a cloudless day. It can be soft and almost shadowless when the sun is not visible behind a cover of white clouds. It can be a mix of both, or lots of other scenarios depending on your location, weather, and time of day. Simply put, it is beautiful!
But the beauty comes with a price. We can’t control it. We can’t even predict conditions with 100% accuracy. So many photoshoots got ruined because of a sudden change of weather conditions. So many great shots were underexposed or overexposed because of the moving clouds.
Professional commercial photography is not only about being a good photographer with a great eye but also about being prepared for any eventuality and taking responsibility for the result. That is why photographers use artificial lighting for their photoshoots. They might aim at recreating a natural-light look or they might be creating something unusual. In both cases the most important factor is control.
For the last 15 years I have been working in a photography industry and have tried almost all available lighting solutions available to photographers. From on-camera speedlights to studio flashes, from halogen Redheads to fluorescent tubes by Kino Flo, from metal halide Arri units to LED lights. I loved them all and they all serve their purpose well. But with time, and because of my inclination to shoot more artistic and personal projects, I’ve started to build lights myself. Most of commercially available lighting solutions have had some disadvantages. Some were simply too heavy to handle, some too bulky and difficult to operate, some too fragile, and some too power-hungry. And most of them - too expensive. I wanted to create ideal lights which would be powerful enough for a staged and controlled photography; light and flexible, highly customisable, economical to run and cheap in production.
Solution was obvious - LED lights. They are combining all the required attributes and, most importantly, the industry is still evolving, and every month LED producers create ever better products which I’m happy to use for my lights and photography.
At this point, for most of my photoshoots, I’m using the following setup:
3 DIY flexible LED panels 30cm by 30cm (10m of LED strips on each) + 2 DIY flexible LED panels 30cm by 120cm (20m of LED strips on each). https://store.yujiintl.com/collections/high-cri-led-strips-ribbon/products/bc-series-ribbon-120led-2835
1 DIY 100W COB with focusing lens (https://store.yujiintl.com/collections/high-cri-led-emitters/products/bc-series-cob-400hs)
1 DIY 50W COB with focusing lens (https://store.yujiintl.com/collections/high-cri-led-emitters/products/bc-series-cob-400l)
various small DIY LED lights for very precise and local lighting.
Before building my lights, I’ve done some research into LED technology and was lucky to discover Yuji LED. I ordered 100W COB and 50W COB from them and was blown away by the quality of light and similarity to the light from the sun it offered. To the point that I was even using it in our office during winter months (here in Latvia we have terribly dark and long winters with only about 6 hours of daylight and more often than not weeks on end without a single sunny day). It really helps to stay positive and optimistic as your brain is fooled into thinking that this is in fact daylight and that it is a bright and sunny day outside. So what makes this LED from Yuji so special? There are two main factors which are very important for photographers and videographers - the outstandingly high CRI number and pure white light with no chromaticity shift.
CRI of the sunlight is 100. Most LED from your local building warehouse or lighting shop will have CRI of 60 to 80. Lighting made for photography will have CRI 80+. All LED products by Yuji have got CRI from 95 to 98.
Colour accuracy of Yuji Led is also superb. I run my own postproduction studio and do a lot of high-end retouching and colour grading for other photographers, advertising agencies and production houses. And I can often see the difference in saturation and colour of RAW files from different photographers. We all use various lighting setups and it all influences the final result. The better your lights are, the less postproduction work is required. My 100W and 50W COB from Yuji gives me such beautiful colour that often I don’t even do grading at all.
Here is some samples where only DIY LED lights were used.
For both images I have combined both: available light and the light from LED panels. For the ‘evening’ shot, one small (30cm by 30cm) flexible panel was attached to the TV screen and acted as the main light, and another one was bouncing off the ceiling to lift up the shadows. For the ‘morning’ shot, 100W COB was standing on the windowsill coming through the curtain, a small (30cm by 30cm) flexible panel was bouncing off the ceiling and a large (30cm by 120cm) flexible panel was positioned outside the room to give that highlight on the floor.
Here are other examples of using solely LED lights for lighting quite large scenes. These are the images from my award winning series “Disconnecting Connection” which won International Photography Award in New-York and Tokyo International Fotoawards. The series was also widely shared on social media with more than 2.5 millions shares on Facebook alone.
For the ‘kids’ shot, I used 4 flexible LED panels: one from the front, one from the left, one from the top attached to a boom arm and one from the right, behind the corner. Also 100W COB was used to bounce off the ceiling. The ‘parents and child’ shot was lit by two large flexible LED panels from the right and 50W COB was positioned in a hallway to lit the brick wall. Another small flexible LED panel was positioned to the right to lift up the shadows. For ‘the couple in bed’ shot, I used one flexible LED panel next to the camera and for the ‘museum’ shot I used all 5 flexible LED panels. But the most important lighting feature for this project was the DIY smartphone which you can see being held by our models. It was also made out of LED strips together with a blue filter so that we could replicate light as if emanating from the smartphone screen. We couldn’t use proper smartphones as the light emitted from them wasn’t bright enough.
As you can see, it is absolutely possible and quite easy to shoot large scenes with a lot of people by using DIY LED lights only.
What else can be photographed by using LED light? Well, anything you want. Nearly anything. It is likely you won’t be able to shoot high speed photography where flash will be more appropriate. But anything else can be beautifully lit by LED.
You can use LED strips to create effortlessly a lighting panel of any size or shape. LED strips can be cut into very small strips of only 3 lights and can be used to light very small objects and can be positioned with a small battery into places where the light of a bigger size will not fit. Likewise, LED strips can be combined to create huge panels with hundreds of meters of lights and used to lit very massive interiors.
Separate LED emitters are even more versatile. One can create any panel or surface and solder a required quantity of LED emitters. For one surface you can mix LED emitters with different color temperature, various beam angles and luminosity. This opens a great opportunity for experimentation.
Finally, COBs allow us to mimic the sun with a very powerful lighting output and yet with a very small size of emitting surface. That type of light can be used when hard shadows are needed or simply when a lot of light is required. My 100W COB is powerful enough to use it as a bounce light with great results. 500W COB would allow photographers to shoot outside completely replacing need for flash heads.
Welcome to the revolution! This is a great time to be a photographer, videographer or blogger. In the same way digital cameras and smartphones revolutionised the industry of image capture, LED is even more powerful to revolutionise the world of lighting. LED is a perfect light emitter but yet so simple that it is allowing users to build their own dream-light and use it as they wish.
Al Lapkovsky @ www.begemotfoto.com