We bring you the low-down on LEDs — the affordable constant light source that’s an essential addition to any photographer’s kit
Over the past decade, light-emitting-diode (LED) technology has come into its own. As a lighting technology, you will find LEDs in everything from tiny indicator lamps in devices to large-scale interior light fit-outs and external signage. In addition to brightening our everyday lives, LED panels are increasingly finding favour as a light source for photographers. Traditionally, the first step for photographers looking to experiment with introduced light has been flash lighting. Built-in camera flashes can give a rudimentary indication of how a scene can be changed with introduced light, with an entry-level external flash unit being the logical follow-up. But, as technology evolves and becomes more affordable, other options open up in the form of constant lighting. While flash lighting fires very brightly for an extremely short span of time to coincide with the camera’s shutter, constant lighting stays on, well, constantly. This has previously been the purview of film and video, as a scene being recorded obviously has to remain consistently lit for the duration. On film sets, this has been traditionally achieved with powerful tungsten lights that produce a bright, continuous light on set. Tungsten lights are a fine option for your average big-budget film, but they are power-hungry, expensive, and run extremely hot, and are not the kind of equipment a smallbudget production can often use. So, alongside the rise of the independent film industry, a category of cheaper, more convenient constant lighting sources has emerged. And to the fore comes the ubiquitous LED.
An LED panel has a number of advantages over the likes of tungsten lighting rigs. It is a lot smaller, lighter, and more portable than the cumbersome alternatives, which can be very appealing to a production that has to move a lot or has limited space to operate from. Being a far more energy-efficient technology, LEDs run on less power and don’t reach the dangerously hot temperatures a tungsten bulb can. This means less need for batteries and no need to worry about gloves (or accidental burns) when altering the lighting set-up. LED panels are also, in general, a lot cheaper than tungsten lights. These advantages hold equally true for still photographers looking to get creative with lighting.