RPS LED Lights Assembled in preparation for Tuesday's still life assignment.

A small forest of LED lights brought together for an upcoming assignment. 

The mythology of photography as it appears on the web would have everyone believe that working photographers are wedded to their flash equipment to the exclusion of any other type of lighting gear. And, of course, the common "knowledge" of the web would be wrong yet again. Not all of us are on an endless search for TTL flash triggers that can control monolights or smaller battery powered flashes from a hundred yards away. Not all of us spend every photographic moment worrying about high speed sync or flash duration. Some of us actually want to have as much control over the nature of the light we use as we can get. 

I am prepping my studio for an assignment we'll be undertaking on Tues. Sunday is a great day to clean up, sweep and tidy since the phone isn't ringing and there isn't a growing queue of texts to which I should respond. It's also enough lead time to really think about how I will want to light the products the client brings along and also the best lights with which to work. 

I'll be shooting medical products that will, for the most part, be positioned on mannequins, but will also be photographing some prosthetics and even a wheel chair or two. All will be photographed on a white background but, joyously, the client's
in-house art department will be doing the clipping paths after I deliver the files to them.

I recently had a very successful project that was similar in nature to this one; products against a white background. In that instance I used the RPS LED lights to good effect. No matter how long you've been making images nothing really beats the WYSIWYG nature of continuous lighting for things that don't move around. If you are looking through your camera and can have your assistant move the lights while you watch you can fine tune a shot quickly and expertly. Flash is a much more repetitive/iterative process that is also harder on the eyes.  The only question I had, in terms of lighting selection, was whether to use fluorescent lights, "hot" lights or LEDs.  In fact, I've been defaulting to LEDs more and more often these days. The technology has matured very nicely and there are now a lot of cost effective options for lights that work well for this kind of photography. 

I'll hasten to add that I am NOT choosing LED lights as my sole lighting tools for every genre and assignment. That would be stupid and no working professional would constrain themselves to using only one solution. Get it out of your mind that ownership of one kind of lighting tool precludes also owning and using multiple others! It's not an "either/or" situation. 

Most of the products we'll be making images of will be dark colors on light colored mannequins with a white background tossed in for good measure. 

I've chosen to use the RPS LED lights because I had acquired four (two different models in the same family) and found them to be bright enough and very well color corrected for this kind of work. They might not be exactly perfect for demanding fashion or portrait work but their color profiles are perfect for situations like this in which we can make a very exacting custom white balance. 

Until yesterday I owned two of the CooLED 100 lights and two of the CooLED 50 lights. The difference between the two is one stop. All of them take a Bowens speed ring for those times when you might want to use conventional soft boxes. All have a five position switch on the rear panel that allows you to go from full power to minimum power in half stops. Both models are fan cooled and the fans are very, very quiet. Both models have a cone shaped diffuser positioned over the SMD LED element to disperse what is probably a relatively well collimated beam of light.   

Looking at the demands of the shoot and the need to shoot some shots fairly wide on the nine foot roll of white seamless we'll be using, I decided to dedicated two of the CooLED 50's to light up the background. I'll use polished reflectors, covered with diffusion "socks" to provide an even light source across the background. Once we've established a light level for the background I'll use two of the CooLED 100s in medium soft boxes to one side as a key and a third CooLED ( purchased from Precision Camera yesterday) as a fill light; bouncing off a white panel on the opposite side of the products. 

I will take the precaution of blocking light through the windows of the studio to ensure that the color remains stable and in mono-polychromatic. 

Since the lighting is constant and the products don't move I will be able to select the lowest ISO available on my Nikon D810 and marry that ISO with the exact aperture I want in order to ensure the best photograph I can make. I'll vary the shutter speeds to make the optimum exposure. Easy as pie.

Of course, the D810 will be anchored on a stout tripod and triggered remotely, with a delay for mirror  up. Between the custom white balance, the ability to use an incident light meter to fine tune, and the use of a calibrated video monitor to share test images with the client we should be able to make uncompressed 14 bit raw files that squeeze out about as much quality as we can reasonably expect in the modern age. I'll have a selection of lenses on the tabaret; from the 20-35mm Art lens and the 50mm Art lens and Nikon macro lenses that range from 55mm, 60mm, and 105mm. 

If we get into any trouble we'll have the little Sony RX10ii standing by just waiting for a chance to jump in and save the shoot..... (partially kidding...). 

Why the RPS line of LED lights? Hmmm. The lights are bright and relatively well color balanced. The ability to use them with standard reflectors gives me a range of light shaping options. The standard Bowens mount gives me ready access to a wide range of soft box modifiers. All five lights are uniform in color temperature and hue (tested!). They are easy to handle. They run on AC power so we can run them all day long. And an important reason for their selection is the fact that the larger units are $300 and the smaller units are $200 which means all five lights, with reflectors, cost a grand total of $1300. A bit less than the price of one Profoto mono light flash. 

Now, I do have two Profoto units and two Photogenic units and one Elinchrome mono light as well as the two head in the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS system but there's enough variation in color output between brands to make for a bunch of headaches in post production. And what a mismatch of units and controls....

The LED lights are the simple and elegant solution of this kind of shoot. But none of this should be a mystery to you. I wrote about the attributes of LED lights extensively in my last book, "LED Lighting for Digital Photographers." It's a nice book. 

At any rate, now it's back to the clean up and the basic lighting design. We'll fine tune once the client walks into the door with products. At least it's been a productive Sunday afternoon. 

One of the original Craftsy Photo Classes and 
still one of the best! 

I met Lance a couple of weeks ago in Denver
and found him to be really fun and knowledgeable 
this class reflects what he teaches in hands-on
workshops in Ireland and Iceland, as well as 
cool places around the U.S.

How to make what we shoot into a cohesive
train of visual thought.


Paul said...


A couple of questions:
With advances in LEDs over the last couple of years is a 2nd edition of your book imminent(if not I think you about to sell another copy)? An ebook would be nice :)
For 1 or 2 person portraits, using OM-D and 45mm/1.8, is the RPS 100 or something similar powerful enough (looking at your review on Amazon it sounds like it will be OK)
Is it a good alternative to buying a monolight or something like a Westcott Spiderlight to improve my portrait skills

Kirk Tuck said...

No new book forthcoming. I would say that the RPS 100 would do a great job with portraits. I've used mine for that more than a few times. It's an especially good alternative to a Spiderlite (too fragile).

Paul said...

Craig said...