Now that HD video is as ubiquitous on DSLRs as manual exposure modes, photographers are faced with finding new lighting solutions. Continuous lighting is already a staple for some still shooters who use “hot lights,” which can certainly be used to shoot video. However, LED (Light Emitting Diode) units—initially developed for videography—are increasingly being used as light sources for DSLR video as well as stills.
Generally smaller and lighter weight than other continuous light sources, LEDs, especially light panels, are highly portable. Some are small enough to be mounted atop a DSLR or, at the very least, slim enough to fit into tight spaces. Since most LED lights can be powered by batteries (among other sources), you can leave the clumsy cables and bulky power packs back at the studio. Given the compact size, light weight and independent power source, your assistant—or even model—can handhold a light panel, streamlining your lighting kit even further by eliminating (or lessening) the need for stands and tripods.
Without getting into the physics of LEDs, the fact that most of these devices can run on AA batteries is just one indication of their power efficiency. Life span is measure in many thousands of hours, so they are a good investment. Additionally, the heat generated by LEDs is so minimal that, as mentioned earlier, units can be easily, and safely, handheld. When you’re done with the shoot, just pack ‘em up—there’s no need to wait for the lights to cool down (and no need to blast the air conditioning during the shoot).
LED lights come in a variety of sizes, shapes and prices but perhaps the most well-known brand, among photographers and videographers, is Litepanels. The company’s MiniPlus is available in 5600 K Flood or spot as well as 3200 K Flood. A dimmer allows photographers to adjust the output with minimal (or no) color shift. At $700, the MiniPlus isn’t cheap but has an LED life of around 50,000 hours.
Since photographers are working with “hybrid” cameras, hybrid LED lights—such as the new Manfrotto Midi-36LED Panel ($129.99)—which not only produces continuous light but can be switched to flash output as well. Litepanels’ MicroPro Hybrid kit ($475), also offers a flash feature in addition to its continuous mode.
Both Litepanels and Manfrotto also offer LED ringlites (Litepanels Ringlite Mini starting at $1900.00 for cinema; Manfrotto Aura Ring Light $299.99 with hybrid capabilities).
Other brands that you might want to check out include Bescor, Lowel and Rosco. While there are some DIY LED lighting instructions on the Web, be aware that the LED lights you might get at a home improvement store for a few dollars aren’t going to give you the quality (and consistency) of light produced by the professional LED products mentioned here.
While LEDs won’t replace your hot lights and strobes for every job, these light sources provide a lot of versatility and benefits that other light sources do not. If you’re shooting video as well as stills, the investment in LEDs will be well worth the price.