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Getting the 'LED's Out

By Isaac Stackell

It’s just a matter of time before LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting takes over completely from high-heat tungsten-halogen and high-maintenance fluorescents. And as you read this, the choices are growing in number.

First applied in a commercial application by General Electric in 1962, an LED is a solid-state device that does away with the glowing filaments and electrically-charged gases used in conventional light bulbs, and instead creates light by passing electricity through a solid chemical compound. From a technical standpoint, LEDs aren’t bulbs at all.

LED lights are everywhere. Today LEDs can be found in electronic devices, kitchen and home appliances, traffic lights, car lights, and as you might have guessed photographic lights. Because of their relatively high output, low energy consumption, and shock-resistance, they have also become the preferred "bulbs" in flashlights.

LEDs are being used more and more in studios and theatres as lighting fixtures and are available in the form of parabolic aluminum reflector lights (PARs), panel lights, ring lights, and miniature and fiber optic fixtures.

Altman Spectra Indoor/Outdoor LED 50 Watt PAR PARs have the same features as their halogen and HMI counterparts, and panel lights disperse their light in a similar way to fluorescents. Mini and fiber optic fixtures offer the most control of light, and are excellent when photographing or filming jewelry. Being pinpoint light sources, adjusting the angle of these smaller light sources enables the photographer to catch and amplify the many facets of precious and semi-precious stones.

LED fixtures can be daylight or tungsten balanced as well as chroma blue or green. Higher-end fixtures can be regulated to emit almost any desired color – eliminating the need for colored gels. Like every method of lighting, they have their pros and cons.

On the plus side LEDs produce more light per watt than incandescent bulbs and can emit light of most any color and/or tint without the use of color filters. A particularly unique quality of LEDs is that they do not change color temperature when they are dimmed, which is a huge plus for studio shooters. LEDs also have extremely long life spans – up to 100,000 hours, which is twice the life of fluorescent tubes and twenty times the life of incandescent bulbs.

On the negative side, LEDs are currently more expensive than tungsten-halogen lamps and do not provide enough output (at this point in time) for lighting groups of people or room sets. As with other technologies, these limitations too shall pass.

Litepanels  LPMICRO Micro LED on Camera Light

Digital Videographers or photographers should consider the on-camera Litepanels LPMICRO, which can be powered by 4 "AA" batteries, or an external battery source. This shoe-mount LED adds a fill light to your subject without the power drain or "deer-in-the-headlights" look of tungsten or strobe.

Litepanels Litepanels DV Camera Kit

Providing a little more power, are the DVCK series of dimmable 25 watt on-camera flood and spotlight kits. They come configured different ways to tap into your camera’s power source. The kits also include shoe mount, and color gel filters.

Pelican 9450 Remote Area LED Lighting System

Location imagers working in tight spots or nasty weather should try the Pelican PC9450 Remote Area LED Lighting System. The 1280 Lumens fixture is stored in its own waterproof wheeled case, with a heavy duty battery, charger, and mounting pole that rises to almost 7 feet (2m). Pelican claims a light-throw of "hundreds of yards" at the fixture’s highest setting. The fixture had a handle and long coiled power cord for getting into, and lighting tight spots. It has a maximum run-time of 17 hours, and recharges fully in as little as 4 hours.

MK Digital Direct ML700 Super Bright Mini LED Lite

Studio photographers who shoot very small objects such as jewelry, or who want to add a highlight to a larger subject (oh, those beautiful eyes!), consider the MK Digital Direct Mini Lite 350 Dimmable 18" 1 or 2 Gooseneck LED fixture. For shooting really small things, try the Mini Lite 700 Fiber-Optic LED System, with a dimmable base and 2-18" goosenecks.

Phoenix DRLLED Large Digital LED Ring Light
Digi-Slave Flex-Ring 6400 Macro LED Ringlight + Twin Light for Digital Cameras

For portrait, macro and technical photographers who like the idea of working with a ringlight, several LED models are available from Bower, Phoenix and DigiSlave. All are battery-operated and come with or require a specific size mounting ring for the threads on the front of your lens, up to 77mm. Some are dimmable, or have available AC power adapters.

Pelican Sabrelite 2010 Dive Light 3 'C' LED Surefire  Kroma-Milspec LED Flashlight

Underwater photographers appreciate the lightweight and energy-saving LED flashlights and dive lights available from Fantasea and Pelican – some of them usable down to 200 feet. They can be used as focusing aids when shooting in dimly lit conditions, as emergency strobes, for piercing underwater murk, not to mention locate a diver and possibly save a life!

 Reflecmedia Chromatte 12x10' Fabric with Medium Blue LiteRing Kit and Bag
Reflecmedia Background Lighting Kits

For the image masters among us who love to work in the Key of Chroma (Green or Blue Chroma Key that is), the Reflecmedia Chromatte and Chromaflex background lighting systems are essential. Both systems are based on LED LiteRings in small, medium or large (depending on your lens size), green or blue, and are powered by 120-230VAC. These send out intense beams of LED light, which are picked up and reflected back by a specially designed fabric that contains millions of glass beads that behave like cat's eyes. To your eye, the fabric looks grey, but to the camera’s lens, the light reflecting back is a brilliant blue or green. This is the actual fabric used in the Harry Potter movies as the Cloak of Invisibility. The Chromatte series are sheets of this material, in different sizes. The Chromaflex series are framed, collapsible backgrounds which are more suitable for location quick set-up and tear-down.

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