Page 1

Photographic lighting strategy using high ISO and low end LED lighting

HIGH LOW High ISO, low end LED CONTENTS: Aim & strategy 3 Basic set up 4 Reflective (in studio) 5-6 Shooting in small spaces 7 Shooting on location (mixed lighting) 8-9 Studio example Direct (in studio) 10 Reflective lighting examples 11 Mix lighting example 12-13 Reflective lighting examples 14-15 Direct lighting examples 16-17 Reflective lighting examples 18-19 Pushing the boundaries 20 Student work 21-22 Pro’s & Con’s 23 Pushing the boundaries 24

Ian Rotherham Photographer, Lecturer BCGD (hons); MNZIPP; ADPPI; ACAT

I started working as a photographer in a studio in Wellington in 1988. In mid 1990 I started my own commercial studio specializing in corporate photography and public relations, as well as advertising and weddings. In late 1995 a serious back injury halted my photographic career abruptly. In 1997 I was able to start working again, at first as a professional photographic wholesaler and later in retail for a while. In 1999 with my back under control and able to work a pro again I shifted to Waikato University. This meant a whole new group of photographic challenges, scientific, performance, lots of PR and magazine work, until late 2001 when a job opened at UCOL (Universal Collage of Learning). So in 2002 I started at UCOL with a very large range of photographic experiences, some might say eclectic. I’ve always balanced my commercial photography and my artistic exhibition work ,so the creativity and technical both feed into one another, and this is what I hope I pass on to my students.

All images are copywritten to named photographers © 2

Cover image

Canon 5D II, f4.5 1/25sec ISO 6400, lens 24-105 @58mm Direct

AIM: STRATEGY NOT PRODUCT High Low is a strategy around using the ever increasing ISO levels in cameras with low tech, freely available LED torches/lighting, to create professional results. The overall aim of this research was to develop a simple cheap lighting rig that could be used in many different creative situations. I’m a great believer of no rules when it comes to photography, as after years of lecturing I am constantly been shown amazing work that breaks the “rules”. I believe in cause and effect; do this you’ll get that, which is fine if ‘that’ is what you want/need. My work that I created in this project was as varied as possible to explore the limits of the lighting, but I still wanted the work to be in my style. I have been teaching this technique to my students and so have also included some work by them. TECH INFO I have used Light Emitting Diode (LED) torches, which has a colour temperature of around 6400K, similar to the color temperature at dusk. LEDs are being used more and more, from car indicators and theater lighting to household lights, as well video and photographic lighting. Photographically there is a large range of LED light produced by manufactures such as Manfroto and Sunpack who are traditional photographic manufactures, but now there are also countless other manufactures from all over the world offering an ever changing range of LED lights for a variety of purposes. Consumer LED panels typically give a very narrow light, they can be banked with others to give broader light, and there are countless ways of arraying the lights, so anything is possible at a price. An example of a good LED light is Westcott’s Icelight. Designed with photographer Jerry Ghionis, it is a great product and addresses a lot of previous issues around using LED, such as hard light with a narrow spread. The Icelight diffuses the LEDs and has them in a curved array to give a soft light with a about 45 degree spread. It also has a built-in rechargeable lithium battery which is a good idea but being built-in means the light’s use is restricted to the length of the battery’s charge (a booster can be purchased for extra charge). The Icelight retails for around $600NZ for one light, and realistically two if not three are needed which can price this sort of gear out of a lot of people’s budgets. Therefore being able to buy torches anywhere at almost anytime is much more adaptable. My response to this isn’t to make a product but to look at what can be used instead, in my case $20 torches. Since the release of new generation high-end SLR cameras such as the Canon 5DII , Nikon D800, and Sony’s Alpha’s, the big jump of ISO sensitivity without noise has enabled photographers to shoot under a much greater range of lighting conditions than previously possible. The ability to use image stabilizer and noise reduction software means shooting at 5.000 10.000 and 25600 ISO is possible and it is destined to increase further. The intent of this document is to give technical information about what is going on now and possibly in the nearer future, and that with new generation cameras featuring high ISO capabilities you can produce professional results with LOW end LED lights.


BASIC SET-UP The LED’s I used for this project were purchased form a local car parts supply store. The basic technical specifications are: • 72 LED’s each torch. • Metered at 1M, 800 ISO, 60th sec, F2.8 (around 160 lux or about 1/500th the strength of noon sun) • 6400K (Kelvin) which is a cool white Lights were attached with velcro and additional rubber bands for safety. Small G clamps hold the frame together and make it adjustable.

Most affordable LED lighting is very directional with the tendency to fall off sideways quickly and therefore difficult to diffuse and spread without cutting output significantly. Like any other directional light, metering is very important so you don’t lose detail in dark shadows or wash out any highlights. Technically I use either spot or centre weighted metering, I shoot in RAW at a half stop over exposed enabling any noise in shadow to be cut down then adjust in the highlights in the image with a RAW processor. High ISO if not exposed correctly can create noise in the dark areas, noise reduction can be used but it must be used sparingly as too much can create hard edges between tones in the image. If shooting in JPEG be aware of the tonal range in the image and either meter carefully and/or adjust the lights to create the look you want. 4

REFLECTIVE (IN STUDIO) Reflective lighting creates a very soft light by bouncing the light off reflectors beside the subject. The depth of the usable pool of light is very small, too close and it becomes quite hard, too far back and it can become too dark to shoot and you lose the side lighting look as it becomes more of a front light (this may be what you want but be aware). The lighting is very adjustable so it can be a side light or just from the top, or any combination that works for the subject. The catch-lights in the eyes are strips in a square of whatever pattern the lights are in, not unlike ring-flashes. In studio you can make it low key light (dark) or high key (light) if you have the rig close to the background (image page 18) or light the background with more lights (image page 14). This lighting is very flattering on skin especially if the image is slightly overexposed at capture.

Example image on this page has just side reflectors giving shadows under the chin and sholders, on page11 this image also has reflectors top and bottom giving a wrapped-around light.

CANON 5D III f 2.8, 1/25sec. ISO 5000. Lens 70-200 @160mm. Reflective


DIRECT (IN STUDIO) Direct lighting creates a look similar to a ring flash. However with the LED setup I was able to vary the size of the array which is great as it changes the fall-off of the light. Like ring flashes ,the light falls off the subject quickly giving strong highlights, and harder shadows (image page 16 on location with mixed light). If the edge shadows are too dark a small amount of reflector helps as in the example on this page. Unlike ring flash you can change the lighting easly by turning off some lights to leave lighting on the side or bottom, or even just a strip of lights (image page 15).

CANON 5D III f2.8 , 1/100sec. ISO 5000 Lens 70-200 @75mm. Direct


SHOOTING IN SMALL SPACES Being small and battery powered is great for real world situations where time and space are issues. Often in small spaces a photographer will paint with single light such as a torch, however using the LED’s enables the photographer to set up a look similar to a studio with banks of light, but in a very small space. This is much easier to see/work with than painting with a moving light.

CANON 5D II f 5.6, 1/50sec. ISO 2000 Lens 24-105 @96mm. Direct

CANON 5D II f 5.6, 1/50sec. ISO 2000 Lens 24-105 @96mm. Direct


SHOOTING ON LOCATION (MIXED LIGHTING) With any constant light source it can be challenging to colour balance the light with another light, such as ambient light coming in a window. LEDs don’t have colour temperature adjustment, so you have to consider what colour temperature you’re dealing with, and what that does to the aesthetic of the image. My lights are 6400K so mix well with dusk lighting or overcast daylight (image below and next page). Working with the location in regards to picking the colour and brightness of the background is important, and then you can vary the brightness of your lights by just moving them closer to make them brighter.

CANON 5D III f2.0 , 1/320sec. ISO2000 Lens 135mm. Direct


I tried a range of mixed lighting, both direct and reflective. When your colour temperature is warmer than the LED, making sure you are colour corrected to the LED is important otherwise it can be had to colour correct the skin tones even using advanced software such Adobe’s RAW processor. The images on pages 12 and 16 have warmer colour temperature which gives a great warm effect, this is popular with wedding photographers but can be used for just about anything. Additionally, correction gels can be simply added to your lights as I did with velcro.

CANON 5D III f 2.0, 1/125sec ISO 2000 Lens 135mm Reflective

CANON 5D III f 2.8, 1/40sec ISO 2000 Lens 70-200 @70mm Reflective


CANON 5D II f 2.8, 1/30sec. ISO 3200 Lens 70-200 @98mm Reflective


National hair dressing competition

CANON 5D II f 4.0, 1/60sec. ISO 1600 Lens 24-105 @100mm Reflective


MIXED LIGHTING This image was shot with the background light at about 3200K which is considered standard tugsten light with four LED’s also on areas of the background, as shown in image on right.

CANON 5D III f 5.6, 1/20sec. ISO 25600 Lens 24-105 @105mm Reflective


MIXED LIGHTING The LED’s were used just to add fill light and highlights to chrome wheels and grill.

CANON 5D III f 4.0, 1/60sec. ISO 25600 Lens 24-105 @47mm Direct


CANON 5D III f 2.8, 1/60sec. ISO 3200 Lens 70-200 @135mm Reflective with hair light


CANON 5D III f2.8, 1/40sec. ISO 5000 Lens 70-200 @129mm Reflective


2012 NZIPP Iris awards High Professional, “portrait” category.


CANON 5D III f 5.6, 1/20sec. ISO 25600 Lens 24-105 @105mm Reflective

CANON 5D III f 5.6, 1/20sec. ISO 25600 Lens 24-105 @105mm Reflective


2012 NZIPP Iris awards High Professional ,“portrait” category.


CANON 5D II f 2.8, 1/50sec. ISO 2000 Lens 70-200 @170mm Reflective

2012 NZIPP Iris awards Bronze award, “portrait” category.

CANON 5D II f 2.8, 1/40sec. ISO 2000 Lens 70--200 @10mm Reflective


2013 NZIPP Iris awards Silver award, “creative portrait” category.


CANON 5D III f 2.2 1/60sec ISO 16000. Lens 50mm Direct from frame

PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRENDA WORMGOOR (STUDENT WORK) Reason for use of LED lights was that the Photography had to take place in the training kitchen with no natural light. Space for photography was very limited because 1) of the amount of students working at the cooking benches and 2) it is a learning facility and the food was being served to patrons in the training restaurant by hospitality students. As a result I had a very small area where I could photograph and had to make sure that no equipment got in the way of the cookery and hospitality students. As in any kitchen, food has to be served to patrons very quickly to ensure freshness and warmth. This meant that I had to have an unobtrusive lighting set-up that was easy and very quick to change as the dish required. All these factors made portable, light and small LED lights ideal. Lighting was crucial since the kitchen has no natural light that could be used to illuminate as well as create shape and mood. The feel of early morning or late afternoon natural (window) light (directional at 45° from behind the food) is ideal for appetizing food imagery and that is how I strived to position the LED lights.

SONY ALPHA 99 f3.2, 1/25sec. ISO 100 Lens 28-75mm @75mm Direct

Purpose of the project: To produce a visual memoir of the 2013 year’s activities for the UCOL Cookery School in the form of a photographic book.

SONY ALPHA 99 f5.6, 1/20sec. ISO 400 Lens 28-75mm @60mm Direct 21

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ERIN HODSON (STUDENT WORK) These images were taken as part of a Visual Imaging project, being the core paper of the Bachelor of Applied Visual Imaging. My project proposal was to photograph a collection of TÄ onga MÄ ori to display my ability to work in the field of applied visual anthropology. The aim was to photograph the objects in a way that communicated the objects connection to traditional cultural values and beliefs systems. The lighting style was part of the communication, strong highlights falling off into shadow to make the object dissolve into the background, communicating its connection to the world around it. I used LED lighting for these objects because of the fast fall off of light, and the ability to place multiple light sources in specific areas. The images were later composited in to backgrounds in Photoshop to enhance the communication.

CANON 5D II f2.8 , 15sec. ISO 100 Lens 70-200 @ 200mm Direct





Torches are cheap and easily replaced or upgraded and are available in all sorts of places

Sometimes hard to test before purchasing

More purpose built cheap LED lights are arriving in the market

Run on AA batteries so can be taken anywhere and AA are easy to source.

Having to keep an eye on power AC power adaptors and car adaplevels and have to up date bat- tors teries Focusing is very difficult because of low light

New generation high end camAren’t cheap now eras, especially of the past 2 years at ISO’s of over 2000 are much less noisy

Split screen for manual focusing, new development in focusing not needing contrast as much. New ranges at lower end of the market are getting better. Canon 700D’s etc

Pupils open up more for portraits

Torches don’t put out much light so have to use high ISO

Can be bounced easily or diffused if at a high enough level

Stronger LED lighting is to bright to look at for subjects and starts to fall in to the same situation as using powerful video lights.

Use a flash, LED is not the new be all and end all, it is a as well as technique that offers something different

Can be used for video as well

Need a reasonable power output and size of light

LED is getting cheaper by the month, with adjustable colour temperature.

Easily made waterproof and can be placed in all sorts of small or awkward spaces without special equipment or stands

Basic torches tend not to come with any kind of attachments.

New LED lights are coming out with threads for light stands etc


Canon 5D III, f4.0 1/60sec ISO 3200, lens 24-105 @24mm Direct inside TV

2013 NZIPP Iris awards Silver award “creative” category.

High low, LED Photographic lighting  

Strategies on how to use Low end LED lights for a range of photographic subjects, by Ian Rotherham Photographic lecture.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you