Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

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Ellis Vener
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Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?
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The TL:DR version: Yes, if your camera produces very clean results at higher ISOs.

Based on an executive portrait session I did yesterday, the answer is a qualified yes. I used three lights (Sorry I cannot discuss make or model of two of the three lights I used as i am one of the pre-release beta testers) : the key light was on a boom and diffused with a Chimera Lighting 22” Octa2 Beauty Dish, and more or less in the standard beauty dish position -over the lens and in front of and slightly higher than the subjects head head; the fill light, a Godox UL150 at full power, was just to camera right and diffused by a Medium Chimera Lighting SuperPRO light bank (aka softbox) and the hair accent light had a spot lens and was diagonally opposite the fill light. The background was a section of a tapestry.

So far so good: it’s a pretty standard lighting set up for an executive portrait, no matter what type of lights are used.

Setup and strike: Being a “one man band” for this job, Set up time was slightly shorter and tear down was about the same as it would have been if I had been wrangling with any type or make of lights.

Here are the things about the shoot that was really different.

1) Because I could see what the light was doing while I was looking through the camera I found it faster to make judgements and then changes in lighing set up, position and intensity. As a result, the session moved faster. With electronic flash, even if controlled from the camera position, I would need to shoot test frames after each adjustment to make sure I liked the adjust. Here I could just see it in real time. This also allowed me to stay focused on the executive I was photographing and to let her get back to her life faster.

2) I was shooting at 1/400th, and f/6.3 and ISO 3200instead of ISO 100 or lower as I would when using electronic flash.

1/400th was sufficient for a portrait.

f/6.3 because that produced the depth of field I wanted for this portrait with the focal length and lens I was using, 141mm on a Sony FE 100-400mm f4.5-5.6bGM OSS.

WAIT! ISO 3200? Was I deliberately going for a high noise /grainy effect? Not at all I was using one of the latest generation of cameras, a Sony Alpha 1, which uses Stacked CMOS sensor. I have been doing some extensive testing with this camera over the past few weeks as I prepare my review of Alpha 1. At ISO 3200, the digital grain and dynamic range is about what I expect from ISO 100 or 200 with the previous generation of high end full-frame cameras. I feel like, with an image that is not grossly underexposed, I can confidently work at up to ISO 10,000.

My take away is that it is the low noise characteristics of the stacked sensor technology is the key ability to work at what just a year ago were extreme ISO settings is what makes using even moderate power LED lighting instruments feasible. I fully expect the forthcoming Nikon Z9 to at least match the image quality of the Alpha 1. If the Canon EOS R5,uses a stacked sensor, it will be in that category too.

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If I get the okay from my client I will post a sample from this shoot.

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Ellis Vener
A working photographer since 1984.
To see my work, please visit http://www.ellisvener.com
Or on Instagram @EllisVenerStudio

 Ellis Vener's gear list:Ellis Vener's gear list
Sony RX100 VII Nikon D850 Nikon Z7 Nikon Z6 Nikon Z7 II +1 more
Canon EOS R5 Casio Exilim EX-Z9
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