Fabrizio Ferri: LED Lights for Digital Capture

October 26, 2011

By Conor Risch

© Fabrizio Ferri

Journalist and novelist Rula Jebreal photographed by Fabrizio Ferri using LED lights he first used for "moving photographs."

Photographer and studio owner Fabrizio Ferri first became interested in experimenting with LED (light-emitting diode) lights as a way to address the needs of photographers working on motion projects. “Moving photographs,” as Ferri calls them, which are essentially stills that come to life and have no narrative, have become increasingly popular for online and tablet usage, especially with fashion clients. However clients rarely have the time or the budget to retouch the motion projects frame-by-frame. “When you are doing video particularly, you need to have control [of the light] so you don’t have anything to fix after,” Ferri says. “That’s a big thing.”

Cinematographers have been using LEDs for some time, Ferri figured, and after some research and experience using small LEDs for his own work, Ferri decided to build a couple of overhead lighting grids for Industria Superstudios, the Manhattan studio complex he owns.

Now, after using the grids for his own work for more than six months, Ferri has not only adopted LED lighting for motion projects, he’s also using LEDs for his stills projects.

According to Ferri, versatility, efficiency, consistency and control are some of the major benefits he has experienced with LED lights. The softer quality of the lights eliminate the need to account during shoots for hot spots and “white holes” that often have to be cleaned up in post-production. With LEDs, photographers can “once again start shooting what you see rather than thinking, ‘How am I going to fix it after,’” Ferri says.

Controlled wirelessly by a touch-screen computer, the LED lights in Ferri’s studios can quickly move between color temperatures from 2700 to 7000 Kelvin degrees, offering a level of control and light-to-light consistency that is difficult to match. When using multiple HMI lights, for instance, whose bulbs have a short lifespan and change temperature with age, “unless the bulbs are new and calibrated, you’ll see that one light is one color and the other light is another color,” Ferri notes. “The color temperature is very hard to control.”

The LEDs can also shift between 16 million different color combinations, eliminating the need for gels, and can produce a green that can be used as a green screen for mixing subjects with backgrounds. On a recent project for Ferrari Stores, Ferri shot backgrounds outdoors in New York using natural light, then used the LED lighting grid to shoot the subjects, creating a green screen effect with some of the LEDs, and matching the outdoor light on the subjects with the others. “It mixes daylight in a wonderful way,” Ferri says.

The LEDs are also easier to handle and more efficient. Rather than burning 85 percent of the electricity they use generating heat like HMI lights, LEDs remain cool to the touch and utilize energy for transmitting light only. They are also lighter and easier to transport.

The costs of purchasing LEDs are comparable to traditional lighting sources, Ferri says, although he also believes the prices will come down as manufacturers get into second, third and fourth generations of their products.

While Ferri says the light emitted by LEDs is “different,” using LEDs does not require any out-of-the-ordinary digital capture adjustments, and Ferri posits that there is a certain logic to using digital light for digital capture. “It’s the quality of the light [that’s different],” Ferri says, “but it’s also the fact that this is digital light, so I think there is compatibility with the digital system that is yet to be discovered and be exploited at its fullest.”