11.27.2012

My absolute favorite photography purchase of the year is a cheap LED panel.


I want to start by saying that the commercial image above is one of my absolute favorites from the entire year of 2012. We shot it on the run during a long day of image making for an enormous radiology practice. I like the very authentic interplay between the two people in the image and I like the way the round structure of the machine intersects the frame diagonally; both from side to side and from front to back. I like the tonalities of the white machine finish both in the shadow areas to the left of the frame and the bright but detailed highlights on the top right of the machine. I like that we were able to achieve a perfect light balance between my lights on the two human subjects, the diagnostic machine and also the computer screen in the far right background.

The white, translucent curtains in the background plane frame the technician in a wonderful way; dark against light. But most of all I like the captured gesture of the technician's hand.

Although we have sunlight outside the window, florescent lights overhead and three LED panels in the room the white of the "patient's" robe and the white of the machine are very neutral and there are no rogue areas of color shift.  

With enough time I could do this well with flash. It would take some trial and error and a lot more time than I spent doing it my way. This image was shot with LED panels and that made my job easier, the image hold together better and our set up faster and much more fluid. It's not an "over the top" or adrenaline drenched shot by any means but I think it has a balance and feel of reality that makes it a good image for the world of medical commerce.

Fast forward from the summer (when the above shot was done) to yesterday. I spent all morning photographing in a pet hospital. We did portraits, animals, treatments, procedures and interior wide shots and we lit everything with the same three panels. I was able to shoot non-stop for almost four hours with the lights on most of the time. The light are battery powered so they don't need power cords or extension cords. No flash and no noise means no skittish dogs and no cringing cats. The lights can be made to blend seamlessly with the light I find in most interior locations.  And when we're done they go back into a small Tenba case that rides on top of my Think Tank rolling case.

I own a lot of lights and I've used many more lights of just about every type over the 20+ years I've been working as a professional photographer.  These particular LED panels are the most amazing lights I've played with so far. And pretty much among the cheapest, considering what they do.

I have an image of them below. They are the Fotodiox 312AS LED panels and they run about $150 in the Fotodiox storefront at Amazon. Why do I think they are so amazing? Well, they put out enough light to do many of the fill in tasks we mostly need. In a darkened room they make great main lights when used with modifiers and either higher ISOs or lower shutter speeds (use your tripods, they are magic).

They have two controls. And they have two sets of LEDs. One control is a stepless dial that takes the light from a minimum power setting to full power in a smooth twist of the control. The other dial allows you to balance between an equal number of tungsten balanced LEDs and daylight balanced LEDs. Twisting the knob on the back takes you from daylight to tungsten and anywhere in between. I've found that a setting near the middle of the rotation gets me right into the ball park to balance with most popular florescent lighting.

The fixtures come with a diffusion panel that attaches to the front of the unit with magnets. Very cool. Three or four of these in a small case gives me enough flexibility, when combined with the recent slew of cameras that perform well at 800 and 1600 ISO, to do just about any interior lighting (for one or two people) that I need. Your mileage may vary. I wouldn't choose these small panels to light a large group. And I wouldn't choose any continuous light to try recording sports or fast action.  But when I pack these are the first lights into the cases and they generally get used on every shoot. Even when I'm shooting mostly flash there always seems to be the need for just a little fill somewhere. The need to bring up the levels in a dark corner. 

I have used all three, crowded together on a couple of stands, and set behind a diffusion panel, to do some fun portrait lighting with both film and digital. The panels don't have the big green spikes of their predecessors so the AWB on most digital cameras makes short work of providing you with neutral files. 

I recommend these panels. Come to think of it they are the only new studio lights I've purchased all year long. That I am not hungry for something different speaks volumes about their value to me. I suggest you try one if you are curious about LED lighting


If you want to trim the learning curve where LEDs are involved you might want to pick up a copy of my LED book. One of the Fotodiox 312AS Panels combined with my LED book might make a thoughtful gift for someone you know who is working as a photographer. It might also make a great, self-indulgent indulgence. Just a thought.











15 comments:

Joey said...

I purchased one and love the flexibility and ease of use! Your suggestions have been right on.

lexybeast said...

A question if you don't mind: how are you getting this quality of light from these panels? Are you typically shooting them through a diffusion panel for this kind of work?

Kirk Tuck said...

I bounce them into walls, into foamcore boards or push them through diffusers. In this case I used the one on the left bounced into a white wall to bring up the levels in the shadows a great deal. The other one is bounced into a small silvered umbrella and used close in. The goal is to supplement the light you find and not to over power it or light all the way up from dark from scratch. It's in the book...

Rodney said...

A speaker on strobe lighting for portraiture at my camera club said the disadvantage of continuous lighting is that the pupils of the model's eyes get smaller, whereas with strobes they remain large, which is more attractive. Do you have a comment on this?

Vu Le, DDS said...

I bought these 312AS LED panels on your recommendation. My greatest regret is that I didn't bur four or five of them, also. Sure, you can bring around gels, but you'll never be able to fine tune the color balance so quickly. The ONLY nit I would have to pick is that I don't like the ballhead that comes with them; easily remedied with a 1/4" male stud adapter and an umbrella holder.

Keith I. said...

I also snagged one thanks to your write ups. I am really fighting the urge to get more now! I am very happy with the unit.

Keith I. said...

Vu, your comment got me thinking about gels. I have access to a bunch of stage gels that could be cut to fit the LED panel easily...

I may have to experiment with that.

Kirk Tuck said...

Get your money back from that speaker!!! wide pupils are disturbing and for decades movie directors, fashion photographers and portrait photographers have gone out of their way to introduce eye lights, and ramp up existing light JUST to make sure the pupils stopped down. Think about it rationally, the iris is the part of the eye with all the color and pattern. You want to see the color and patterns. The "stopped down" pupil makes the portrait subject seem more awake and alive. The wide open pupil looks soporific and as though the model is drugged. That's why they give people who get eye exams those big dorky glasses to wear. This is a prime example of a speaker who doesn't know WTF he's talking about spreading the worst kind of misinformation under the guise of "expert."

You know the definition of a "professional photographer" don't you? Anyone with a big camera bag who is more than 50 miles from their home....

Kirk Tuck said...

I am also fighting the urge to get more....

Peter said...

I am yet another who bought a couple of these units after reading your writeup. They are certainly very versatile. I recently discovered a new use when my desk top lamp fell apart. Just attached one of my LEDs to a shelf with a Justin Clamp, and was amazed at the quality of light on my desk. And I can use the charger as a direct supply to the unit to avoid the hassle of charging batts when in use like this. I may not want to get another desk lamp.

Kirk Tuck said...

I use one of mine on a small boom over my couch as a reading light. It's the best reading light I've ever used.

Dave said...

I got the Fotodiox unit as recommended and a pair of the $35 160 LED lamps with no temp controls. The 160 LED units put out the exact same amount of light as the 320 panel, as measured with a light meter. The difference is in the temp.
Like Peter, I found an additional use for the panels as emergency light sources during a power outage.

Rodney said...

Thanks for correcting the misinformation I received, Kirk. Sorry to have upset you! Fortunately for me the talk was free, and I'm confident that other things the speaker said were true and useful (as he demonstrated them on the spot).

Vu Le, DDS said...

The 160 panel I got was more greenish vs more expensive panels. So if you white balance to the 312AS, you still may get greenish rim light. Buyer beware.

Missie Loves Photography said...

Hi! I just ordered your book, cant wait to read it all. My dad really got me thinking about using LED lighting instead of florescent that i am using now. I love continuous lighting for shooting pictures of kids so much easier. I shoot in home always. So I am thinking about getting this lights away and start playing with them but I also stumbled on these (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005DZXYTG/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_3?ie=UTF8&smid=A3JD14OD11FZKR) and want your opinion on them. I am thinking now I shouldn't get them but I like the already done softbox.