Flashes, the age old staple of the modern photographer. They’ve been around as long as photographers have needed some kind of portable light source. But all of that might change very soon. The newest L.E.D. lights are not only inexpensive, they draw much less power than their fluorescent and incandescent counterparts. Plus, when compared to flash (which you can only see for a fraction of a second), they provide the kind of real-time feedback photographers love. Is it the end of flash photography as we know it?
Continuous v.s. non-continuous.
It seems there are two schools of lighting for photography these days. One of them advocates the use of multiple off-camera flash units while the other prefers a portable studio sort of style. There are a number of costs and benefits to each approach, and depending on your shooting situation, you might have to choose one over the other.
The issue with continuous lighting will always be the power drain. If you’re far off in some exotic shooting location with little access to power, it just doesn’t make sense to provide continuous lighting for your subjects. You’d have to bring multiple generators with you, and if the shoot is somewhat elaborate, your budget will have to be equally elaborate. That’s why a lot of photographers have gone with the next best option.
Portable strobes are just like the pop-up flash on your camera, but you can place them in a bunch of key locations off of your camera to light up certain areas of the scene. When you sync them up together, you get the benefit of portable lighting with none of the power drain. The only issue with this setup is the added complexity and expense that comes with using so many flash units. Each flash will cost you at least $500, and the technology to sync them up costs a pretty penny too. Plus, with so many failure points, there’s a pretty good chance something will go wrong in the course of getting all of the flashes to fire at once.
L.E.D. lighting. The low cost solution?
Enter the L.E.D. light. It’s been undergoing some steady improvements over the past few years. Industry experts have been tweaking L.E.D.s and manufacturing more efficient setups that don’t drain nearly as much electricity. What does this mean for you as a photographer? Now, instead of carrying a generator, you can carry a few batteries in your backpack. And because the light is continuous, you can get feedback just by looking at your subject.
L.E.D.s are bright enough to illuminate your subject at fast shutter speeds too, and they eliminate a lot of the complexity that goes along with using a flash. If you’ve got L.E.D. lights, you don’t have to worry about the speed of your shutter interfering with the speed of your flash. The lighting and the camera are two separate things (as I believe they always should have been).
Now photographers are carrying an entire studio lighting setup that folds up in a backpack. When they leave the location, they don’t have to be extra careful with their lighting equipment. L.E.D. setups are fairly durable because they are made up of multiple lights arranged in an array. If one of the bulbs breaks, who cares? You’ve got the rest of the array. Try to do that with a compact fluorescent bulb.
The same goes with flash bulbs. Because they are designed to produce a high intensity burst of light, they tend to go out eventually too. Not so with L.E.D.s. The lighting setup you purchase today will last you for years and years. You’re buying photography gear that will actually last you a long long time.
Color correct light
When you fire a flash (particularly one that sits directly on the camera), it gives an incredibly harsh light that can completely blow out the colors in the picture we’re taking. Most professional compensate for this by getting a bigger flash unit, mounting it on their camera, and then bouncing that flash off of the walls. While this does work, there’s always the issue of tainting the light.
What do I mean? If you bounce white light off of a white wall, you get white light back. No problem. But what happens if you bounce white light off of a red wall? That’s right, you get red light, and your subject’s face has some extra warmness that you might not have wanted (then again, you might have wanted it too).
With L.E.D. lighting, there is no bouncing light off of walls or reflectors. You just bring in whichever lights you need, fill in the shadows, and you’re done. L.E.D.s come in a neutral white, and some of them even allow you adjust for coolness or warmness in your shots. If you want to create a chilly ambience in a winter shoot, you can adjust your L.E.D.s to blue and shoot away. It’s a lot easier than trying to do the same thing with a portable flash unit.
What I like most about L.E.D.s
First let me tell you what I hate about flashes. In order to start using some of the really nice high end flashes, you also have to purchase a nice high end digital SLR camera. Not everybody has that sort of budget. More importantly, not all of us are ready to invest that much money into gear so quickly. We’d prefer an in-between step, and I think portable L.E.D. light panels provide that.
For around $300, you can buy a high-powered battery operated L.E.D. light panel that functions as an off-camera flash replacement. At that price, it’s a hell of a lot less expensive than purchasing a $500 flash unit along with an expensive camera body to handle the operation of said flash unit. Do you want to pay $1700, or do you want to pay $300? I think the answer is quite clear. Particularly when prices of L.E.D. light panels are decreasing all the time.
Welcome to the 21st century where flashes are a dying breed. Flash manufacturers don’t want to admit it yet, but it won’t be long before L.E.D.s take another unprecedented plunge in price. At that point, all of this ridiculous syncing (and the crazy expense that goes along with it) will be gone for good. I welcome a much more simple lighting solution that allows you to take your photography studio anywhere you want to go. L.E.D.s are gonna revolutionize the industry!
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