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Photography Reflectors—LED Lighting For Black And White

The Magic of LED Lighting

There are many methods to illuminate a model or a subject in photography and in my recent reflector series articles, the common question is, “What is the best method of lighting my subject?” My response usually starts the same, “What is the intended end result?”

It’s about using the right tools for the right result, not just grabbing what you find in your photography equipment arsenal. You first pre-visualize what you’re trying to accomplish as an end goal, then you select the appropriate gear to execute the result, or photo in this instance. The norm is to know what you want to accomplish in order to know what you’ll need to accomplish it.

Ledino LED and California Sunbounce

Here my assistant Garrett Kline points a Ledino LED flood light into a California Sunbounce Mini with a zebra fabric. The LED light acts like a mini sun.

So during my recent Smoky Mountain photography workshop I decided to break away from the norm and instead, pre-visualize the equipment I’d like to use first, then, challenge myself to create a resulting photo. While the attending photographers and I had many choices from all the equipment they had all brought, plus what I provide, one day I decided to take a method I’ve done before, but this time, the primary light source becomes a California Sunbounce Mini reflector with it’s source of light not being the sun or a studio flash head, but a portable LED light source.

Don’t get me wrong, while I love my Hensel studio flash systems, there are times where I don’t need all that power and just want a touch of light—that became my goal. I had brought a LEDINO LED-FLA2010, 20-watt lithium-ion battery powered light, which produces the equivalent of almost a 200-watt second flash pop, without the pop, and unlike studio flash, it’s a continuous light source.

The beauty of continuous lights is that you can see what you are getting immediately before snapping a single photo. The downside of this LED light, it’s a compact flood light, thus it’s more specular, so I decided to diffuse it’s harshness by pointing it into a California Sunbounce Mini with a zebra fabric (see part one for fabrics).

Black, White, LED, Photo

Here is my end result, a beautiful black and white portrait of my model Heather accomplished with a California Sunbounce and a Ledino LED flood light.

Though there is a benefit from continuous light sources that I love, it causes the model’s pupils to get smaller and less dilated, thus this provides for more color and brilliance in the eyes. There are other things to consider too, such as the quality of the light as in wavelengths. For example, back in the film days, if you used a continuous light tungsten source with color film, it was not nearly as flattering than if you had used the same light source with black and white panchromatic film. In fact, with panchromatic black and white film, tungsten was like a natural beauty light as this had to do with the film’s sensitivity to the light source’s wavelength and not it’s specular qualities.

While my original concept with bouncing LED light into my California Sunbounce was for a color photograph, when I brought my final image into black and white, it gave me that tungsten to panchromatic black and white look—in fact, I think I might have stumbled into the perfect method to illuminate a model for black and white photos, with LED’s, though with an increase in flattery by bouncing the light into my reflectors. I might add, this particular Ledino LED light is white-balanced at 5500 to 6000K (Kelvin) whereas tungsten light sources are usually 3200K.

Color LED Lighting Model Photo

Here is the color version, though still a nice photo, both the model and I prefer the black and white version.

In other words, the Ledino light emits a color temperature of light similar to most flash units so I didn’t have to make any white-balance corrections. It’s like having a miniature sun in your hand and you control its direction (of light) as you wish. Not to mention there were no electrical cables, and since I had an assistant, not even any light stands. Great portability with this LED light source along with the portability of the California Sunbounce reflector, I was in a hog-heaven state of mind.

So if the question was asked, “How do you uniquely light a black and white portrait of a woman?”  I’d know the answer,  “A California Sunbounce Mini reflector fitted with zebra fabric then matched with a Ledino LED flood lamp.” Cool beans and I can’t wait to play with this combination again for future photos, especially if I want some nice black and white photos of a pretty model.

Well until the next article, I close as always by reminding everyone to not forget the men and women who serve in our armed services that help protect our freedoms. God Bless them and their families, Rolando

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  1. Hmm. LED makes even more sense now that I’m shooting more video too. I still prefer the overall spectrum of a hot light source the logistics of powering them on location makes them less attractive. Plus LED lights are coming down in price while the light quality has dramatically improved.

    • Robert, this is true, especially since new digital cameras today have nice, high-ISO capabilities with little or no noise. LED’s are taking us back to the future. Think about how in the early days of photography tungsten lights were used? Do we go back in the past, replace with LED’s for the future?

  2. I have no doubt that LED light will become a major, if not the dominant, light source in the years to come. It has several important advantages: continuous, lightweight and low power consumption. There are still some issues with color temperature, but filters are available and at least one photographer figured out how to use a zebra reflector to get a pleasing result. 🙂
    There are other issues to overcome, like getting form factors and light modifiers that work well for photography, but that will come. I have seen some of the stuff Wescott is doing with their SkyLux and Ice Light line at trade shows. I haven’t used these, but things are moving in the right direction and I am sure other manufacturers have or will have innovative, competitive designs.
    I do not mean to imply these will be the best light source for all photographers and all lighting situations. There are plenty of photographers today who prefer “old school” tungsten hot lights to studio strobes, speedlights or nothing but natural light. None of those options is going to go away as there will always be photographers who prefer each of them as the best solution for their general style of shooting or in a specific situation to realize a specific creative result.
    But, just as digital inevitably largely replaced film, LED will become a dominate lighting solution. In fact, LED can sort of be thought of as “digital lighting.” The light source is solid state and can be computer controlled. Just as you can control the color balance of an image with the turn of a dial in your camera, you can dial in a color temperature of a microprocessor controlled LED. It’s not a perfect analogy, but perhaps not a bad one.
    Technology marches on. Enjoy the ride!

    • Thank you Dave for some great input. Great points!

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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

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