LED lights have fundamentally changed the art of light and shadow. Long gone are the days of heavy, hot lights connected with thick cables and noisy generators. Today’s LED lights are compact, battery-operated and cool enough to be easily handled by a single person.
The technology behind LED lights has dramatically improved in recent years and is improving by the day. Within a short time, the low-cost of LED fixtures for the home and office effectively obsoleted incandescent and compact fluorescent light sources. This, in turn, has driven down the costs of more precision LED lights for video production. Today, LEDs have ushered in a new golden age of professional creative lighting.
A major benefit of LED lights is their low power consumption. Because the lights are now so energy efficient, most professional LED lights can be battery-powered. This is a dramatic and fundamental shift enables video and film production to take place far away from power grids.
With this lower power consumption comes a “coolness” of LEDs to the human touch. In short, LEDs burn without much heat. Most are so cool that they can be touched without burning the flesh. No gloves are needed to adjust lights while they are lit. With this coolness also comes a decrease in the cost in HAVC systems in studios. Lowering the cost of air conditioning can be a huge cost factor in many warmer climates.
LED light sources, used on location, can be valuable as an aid to natural light. Say an interview subject is sitting next to a bright window. A small LED can be used to add a nice touch, allowing edges to be enhanced and adding kick light without killing the overall soft effect from the outdoor illumination. Most newer LEDs can increase intensity with a dial, allowing adjustments to be balanced in conjunction with the window.
LEDs also offer greater lighting flexibility outdoors. Lighting of an interview subject in open shade with a bright background can be improved by using reflectors. But under-exposing the natural light and using an LED as a key light can create a far richer, punchier image of the subject. An LED key light balanced with natural light can offer a quick fix never before available for on-location interviews.
When purchasing LEDs for video, check to make sure that the lights are silent. Avoid noisy cooling fans. Fans can interfere with the video sound. Also, when possible, purchase bi-color LED lights, which are capable of both tungsten and daylight color temperatures from the same fixture. Dialing in daylight, tungsten and fluorescent light becomes far easier on location and gives videographers the correct color temperature in an instant.
Many newer LED fixtures take this further by allowing special effects with the light. Adjusting the color and effects can give users the aura of a sunrise or sunset, a flickering television set or a raging thunder storm. These effects are now appearing on low-cost lights.
As for accessories, always carry a diffuser along to soften the light. Multi-diode LEDs can create shadows with many little edges. This edge artifact can be avoided by bouncing or diffusing the LED with a softening material, such as a soft box, silk or other diffusion material. It kills those shadows and enhances the overall image.
Beware of older model LED video fixtures and update them every few years. LED development is moving at an incredibly fast pace. Earlier generation LED lights may not have the same precise color balance or brightness as newer ones. In fact, every new generation LED has a much higher illumination level than older models. New models are also lower in cost.
The good news for the lighting artist is LED fixtures have leveled the playing field, allowing anyone with professional lighting skills to acquire miniature, battery-powered equipment at a lower cost than ever before. This was unheard of only a few years ago.
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