Happy LED Demonstration.

I got an invitation to speak to a the Advanced Photography group of the Cap Mac group here in Austin.  The event was last Thurs.  It was fun. Most people are still laboring under the misguided idea that LEDs are not yet ready for prime time photography but for portrait lighting I think nothing could be further from the truth.  The WYSIWYG nature of continuous lighting coupled with the cool running of LEDs makes them a powerful argument for artistic applications.

On a side note I had two executives in my studio the next day.  I was doing portraits of each one.  I set up some classic portrait lighting with several LED panels, a diffusion panel, an assortment of reflectors and flags and we had a good time.  One of the execs commented that it was a lot easier NOT TO BLINK with the continuous lights because he wasn't anticipating the flash.  He didn't like being photographed with flash.  He found it distracting.  Out of 76 frames of him we lost two to blinks.

Back to the Thurs. event.  Organizer, Alex Saurez brought a couple good bottles of red wine to the venue about an hour before the whole thing got cranking.  We had a glass before we went on.  Very civilized.  This group meets once a month and I didn't want to be one in a long line of speakers who shows his greatest hits on an uncalibrated projector, drops the names of some big magazines he's worked for and peppers the presentation with a laundry list of big corporations who've paid him to shoot at least once.  I wanted to talk about something more interesting and out of the mainstream.  So I brought along some big LED panels, some Westcott Fast Flags (diffusers and blockers) and a few little, hand holdable LED panels and we got down to business.

I asked my friend, Andy, if he would come up and pose for the demos but he wisely declined.  Only then did we realize that we had, in the audience, a beautiful, professional model named, Luana.  She volunteered and we spent the next 45 minutes showing different techniques.  Lighting with continuous light is more like lighting for a movie set than traditional photo lighting.  We don't use as many softboxes and umbrellas and we use a lot more diffusion screens, light cutting nets and reflectors.  With a diffusion screen you can put the light closer and make a hot spot on a diffuser which gives a slightly "harder" (more contrasty) look to the light or you can move the light further from the screen, filling the diffusion screen evenly.  Which works to make the light softer.

We played with distances from the model to the diffuser and from the diffuser to the light source to show, very plainly, the differences and the artistic range a good LED light could provide.  With a model like Luana all the light looks great.

Sadly, I'd decided to talk about lighting with LEDs in order to try and sell more copies of my new book about lighting with LEDs but I got caught up in the fun of photography and forgot to do the "hard sell" on the book.  In fact, I think I forgot to mention the book altogether.

But the audience seemed to have fun and we all learned a few things.  It was a fun evening and I look forward to being invited back.

My thanks to Andy at ATMTX for documenting my "performance",  and to Alex for his kind invitation and good taste in red wines.  A fun way for a photographer to spend an evening.


  1. OK, I'm sold. I ordered the book.

    Now perhaps you might offer some advice about a minimal system for calibrating a club's projector to avoid the disaster you anticipated. What do you suggest we do? In our case the screen is one supplied by the facility and out of our control. ( We could purchase our own.) Would you expect to see a significant improvement in our images? Maybe you could make this a blog item. One final problem, Luana isn't a club member here.

  2. I've already purchased and read the book; and have been convinced these tools have a place in my kit. I've been using a small 160 LED unit since reading Neil's blogs on the subject. The experience of using the smaller units, and your book have me convinced to spend the next ~$1k or so in my gear budget on the larger LED units, before I earmark any money for camera body upgrades to this year's Canon offerings. The most convincing aspect for me is the difference in the shooting atmosphere that you speak to here in this post.

  3. Kirk, thank you for a wonderful, fun and informative presentation. Glad I could document the event, though I was, of course, documenting Luana too.

  4. Is there an eBook version of this book in one of the digital formats? iBookstore? Kindle?

  5. It's not there yet but it's coming soon. Amazon kindle book first.

  6. Kirk, I've read your book, and was very impressed with the demo Thursday evening. Thanks for fielding my question, too. The CAP/MAC group didn't even mention my BlackBerry (but then I didn't get it out of its holster for a reason). :-)

    I'm just about to jump in! You mentioned that your LED panels were about 3 generations behind already. Where can one go to find out what the moderately priced, more modern version are? Thanks!

  7. Hi Kirk, just a note: I finally got your book on LEDs. Nice work and deserves reading. As an practitioner and student of the japanese martial way you mention in the book the for over 17 years, the spelling of "Aikido" is incorrect, the first "i" is missing. The first sillable "Ai" refers to the first ideogram in the japanese original writing of the noun, which means "harmony" , so that Ai Ki Do is "the way of harmonizing energy (ki)". Maybe in then next edtion... :)))

  8. Thanks Marino. I will get it write in the next go around. Wonderful artform.

  9. Hey Kirk, you've inspired me to try out LED lighting. I have been struggling to take portraits using flash. They are great and powerful, but I find it a little hard to visualize the results. I was just reading a review you posted on Amazon more than a year ago about the FancierStudio 160-LED panel. Do you have a better panel that you can recommend?

  10. I enjoyed your talk and your sense of humor. I've never grasped what makes an Instagram image "good." Got caught up in another discussion at the far end of the table afterwards and never got to get close enough to shake your hand and say "thank you," but I did find your presentation informative, enjoyable and inspiring...and you DID mention the book. Thanks and please keep up the blog - I enjoy it, Hope to see you again some time. Chris


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