True colours

Pho­tog­ra­pher James Pater­son puts cut­ting-edge Ro­to­light LEDs to good use and says they of­fer more con­trol over colour than ever be­fore

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

new ro­to­light leD light­ing is put to the test

One of the most use­ful fea­tures of LED light­ing is the abil­ity to con­trol colour tem­per­a­ture. Bi-colour LEDs, like the Ro­to­light AEOS heads used here, al­low you to change the colour tem­per­a­ture with a flick of a dial. So when you’re shoot­ing on lo­ca­tion you can bal­ance your LEDs with the am­bi­ent light in a mat­ter of sec­onds or, if you like, ex­per­i­ment with un­usual colour shifts and mixed temperatures.

The Ro­to­lights of­fer a range from 3,150-6,300K, which goes from warm tung­sten hues to cool day­light tones. What’s more, they score very highly on the Colour Ren­der­ing In­dex (CRI) scale: a uni­ver­sal rat­ing that mea­sures the ac­cu­racy of a light source in com­par­i­son with a ref­er­ence light. A score of 85% or higher is con­sid­ered very ac­cu­rate – the Ro­to­lights score 96%.

Im­por­tance of colour tem­per­a­ture

All light sources have a par­tic­u­lar hue, which we can quan­tify in Kelvin. The scale of vis­i­ble light goes from warm tones at the low end of the Kelvin scale to cool tones at the higher end. Our eyes sub­con­sciously cor­rect for changes in light colour, but our cam­eras record what­ever colour is emit­ted. This is why we set a white bal­ance – so that a white or neu­tral ob­ject looks white rather than be­ing tinted by the colour of the light hit­ting it. If in doubt about which white bal­ance to choose, it’s a good idea to shoot raw as it al­lows you to change the white bal­ance af­ter the fact.

Bal­anc­ing and mix­ing

Colour tem­per­a­ture con­trols are most of­ten used to bal­ance the ar­ti­fi­cial light with the am­bi­ent light in the scene. So when shoot­ing in day­light we can set both the lights and our white bal­ance around 6000K so that ev­ery­thing is in har­mony, thereby al­low­ing us to aug­ment the am­bi­ent light with our LEDs. Sim­i­larly, if shoot­ing in­doors un­der tung­sten light­ing, we can match up the LEDs by set­ting the tem­per­a­ture to a warmer 3500K. How­ever, colour tem­per­a­ture con­trol isn’t just about neu­tral­is­ing colour casts; it can also be used to cre­ate a mood or aes­thetic. We have the free­dom to warm things up, cool them down or in­ten­tion­ally mix the colour temperatures.

For ex­am­ple, if we shoot our sub­ject in­side, lit with a warm tem­per­a­ture like 3500K and in­clude a win­dow in the back­ground, and with our white bal­ance set for the warm light, then the out­door scene will be cast in ethe­real blues.

LEDs have the edge

In the flash vs LED de­bate those in the flash cor­ner will point to the fact that LEDs aren’t as pow­er­ful. This is true, and it’s worth not­ing that the max­i­mum out­put of most bi-colour LEDs drops off slightly at ei­ther end of the Kelvin range. But as the low-light per­for­mance of mod­ern cam­eras con­tin­ues to im­prove, the max­i­mum out­put be­comes less of an is­sue in many sce­nar­ios, so other light­ing fea­tures come to the fore. And when it comes to colour tem­per­a­ture, LEDs are a clear win­ner.

Con­trol­ling the colour tem­per­a­ture of flash (which is usu­ally around 5,000-6,000K) in­volves fit­ting coloured gels

– ei­ther in front of the flash or over the am­bi­ent light sources. By con­trast, with LEDs like the Ro­to­light, bal­anc­ing the am­bi­ent is as sim­ple as turn­ing the dial, and it’s much eas­ier to judge the re­sults as you can eye­ball the light as you tweak the tem­per­a­ture, or switch on live view to see how it works with your cho­sen white-bal­ance set­ting. The Ro­to­light AEOS also fea­tures an in­no­va­tive HSS flash mode that in­creases the max­i­mum out­put by 250%, while still al­low­ing you to al­ter colour tem­per­a­ture – a first for flash pho­tog­ra­phy.

Coloured light

As well as bi-colour con­trol Ro­to­light kits also of­fer a range of cir­cu­lar coloured gels that let you ex­pand your reper­toire of coloured light be­yond the Kelvin scale. LEDs never get hot, so th­ese gels can be fit­ted in front of the bulb. Used in com­bi­na­tion with the Kelvin set­tings th­ese gels give you an ex­pan­sive pal­ette of colours, whether you want to kiss the edge of your sub­ject with a sub­tle shade of blue or go for a more vi­brant mix, like this por­trait here.

In­stant feed­back

I wouldn’t nor­mally light a face with a com­bi­na­tion of pink and blue gels, but the beauty of th­ese lights is that the in­stant feed­back gives you the con­fi­dence to try out dif­fer­ent light­ing tech­niques. This freestyle light­ing would be much trick­ier and more la­bo­ri­ous to achieve with flash. More im­por­tantly, there’s less rea­son to stick to the tried-and-tested light­ing set-ups. With LEDs we have greater im­pe­tus to sim­ply make it up as we go along, which isn’t just cre­atively stim­u­lat­ing, it’s also more fun.

The gels of­fer pho­tog­ra­phers a chance to ex­per­i­ment with new light­ing set-ups

Bal­anc­ing the am­bi­ent light source is as easy as turn­ing the dial

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