LED lighting – the king of continuous lighting.

9 watt LED gives same light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb

9 watt LED gives same light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb

Light Emitting Diodes are one of the most efficient technologies ever to turn electricity into light. Almost all of the power is converted to light, which means there’s very little that’s wasted as heat. They’re a better alternative to the curlicue CFL bulbs that came on the scene a few years ago, and are available in a wide range of shapes, including the ones that screw into standard candelabra screw base sockets.

What we’re going to talk about is light used to illuminate the subjects, not decorative lighting to make your booth look pretty. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Many boothers use LED rope lights or color-changing bulbs for decorative purposes.

Your working lights should have all the following attributes:

  • plenty of brightness
  • the right color
  • diffused
  • compact
  • reliable
  • coming from the right direction
Promaster V380LED studio light

ProMaster V380 has 380 bulbs so it gives plenty of light.

Brightness: if your lights aren’t powerful enough, the shutter has to stay open longer. That means that as your guests jump around and wave their hands in the air, the images will be blurred.

You can get really powerful yet compact lights like this small LED studio light. Some advantages of this unit: it’s got an AC power adapter but can also run on AA batteries, allowing you to use it while the power at the venue goes down. Don’t laugh, it happens!

Some lights have over 1,000 individual diodes and make lots of light but are pretty bulky. The light above has a big brother called the V-1144 which has (surprise) 1144 diodes and is about 14″ in diameter.

Chris and Thelma at a club in Cancun, taken by an email-capturing photo kiosk.

Chris and Thelma at a club in Cancun, taken by an email-capturing photo kiosk.

Right color:  Photos taken under incandescent lighting usually look too red. Photos taken under fluorescent lighting usually look too green. The sample at the right was taken under the existing light at a club and obviously is way too red.

If all your lighting is the same color you can adjust the white balance setting on your camera.

LED lights made especially for the photo trade are usually designed to produce light the approximate color of daylight – 5,500 degrees Kelvin.

Diffusion: the larger your effective light source the smoother the light. If your booth has a deep cabinet and you have a translucent front, by mounting your lights farther back the light spreads out and that entire panel becomes a soft, diffused source.

Flat, powerful and with the option of running on batteries, this one has 160 LEDs

Flat, powerful and with the option of running on batteries, this one has 160 LEDs

Compact: All photo booth designers want to get the biggest results in the smallest, most portable package.

LED lights designed to mount on cameras tend to pack a lot of LEDs in a small, flat housing. Heck, I’ve even got a little one for my iPhone. But units like this one, designed to fit either an accessory show on a DSLR or a light stand or fasten with a 1/4-20 thread pack a lot of power in a small housing.

Reliable: Your lights need to work all the time. While you could rely on cheap imports good units are not all that expensive.

Coming from the right direction: If your lights are lower than the camera’s lens, you’ll have uplighting. The shadows will fall the wrong way, and everyone will look like they’re in a Halloween monster film.

If your lights are too much higher than the camera, when your guests wear those pink cowboy hats their eyes will be in shadow.

Too much to the side, you’ll get shadows that are unappealing.

Ideal placement is just above the camera and maybe beside it as well.

This LED ringlight is so small and light it can actually hang on the filter rim of a camera.

This LED ringlight is so small and light it can actually hang on the filter rim of a camera.

About ring lights: There are lots of circular lights that go around the lens. They give almost shadowless lighting and even in a group, none of your guests will be totally in the shade.

There’s always a very slight shadow all the way around – soft and you are almost subliminally aware of it. Your photos will have less contrast with a ring light.

Because it’s so close to the lens your guests will have a circular highlight/reflection in their eyes and glasses.

The small ringlights intended to mount on a camera’s lens (most also have a 1/4-20 thread so they can be mounted other ways) can be run on AA or AAA batteries for a short period of time, an hour or so.

Advantages of LED or other continuous lights:

  • They’re cheap
  • You don’t have to connect them to the camera at all, just to a source of power
  • Your camera doesn’t have to be synchronized to the lights

Disadvantages of LED or other continuous lights:

  • Your subjects won’t know the moment the photo is taken (I used a screen that says “Click!” to give them a hint)
  • They’re not really as bright as you think they are. Stray sunlight, or that PAR 38 flood bulb right above you at the venue, will cast more light than your system can overcome.
  • They won’t freeze action. Because they’re not bright, you can’t use a high shutter speed as you can with sunlight.

Next week: electronic flash for the photo booth

In the interests of full disclosure: I’m a member store of the Photographic Research Organization, the company that make ProMaster products. So I’m a little biased in favor of those products.

Blog contributor Chris Lydle