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

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Ellis Vener
MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?
4

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.

.

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

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Ellis Vener
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ronscuba Senior Member • Posts: 1,054
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

Nice to hear your success using LED.

Why shoot at 1/400th for portrait ?  I know you had success with that setting.  Would a slower shutter setting allow a lower ISO and get similar results ?

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

ronscuba wrote:

Nice to hear your success using LED.

Why shoot at 1/400th for portrait ? I know you had success with that setting. Would a slower shutter setting allow a lower ISO and get similar results ?

If the person being photographed is static or  in repose, yes. But I like to look for some liveliness in the person's expression and while 1/400th won't freeze a fluttering eyelid it is sufficient for the slight smiles and getting other slight differences in expression that , for me, convey a person's personality. 
I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room on the subject while using it to light the background which was about ten feet behind the person I was photographing.

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Ellis Vener
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Richard Hopkins
Richard Hopkins Contributing Member • Posts: 501
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?
2

Ellis Vener wrote:

ronscuba wrote:

Nice to hear your success using LED.

Why shoot at 1/400th for portrait ? I know you had success with that setting. Would a slower shutter setting allow a lower ISO and get similar results ?

If the person being photographed is static or in repose, yes. But I like to look for some liveliness in the person's expression and while 1/400th won't freeze a fluttering eyelid it is sufficient for the slight smiles and getting other slight differences in expression that , for me, convey a person's personality.
I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room on the subject while using it to light the background which was about ten feet behind the person I was photographing.

So LEDs work fine so long as you have a £6k camera and can crank it up to ISO3200 to match a five-stops deficit vs flash at ISO100?! That's sobering.

But you didn't mention one of the major benefits of continuous lights IMHO, which is getting the subject's pupils to close down and show their colour, instead of the big black holes you often get with flash. Many head-shot photographers use LEDs for this reason. It's possible to get closed pupils with flash but only with a good modelling light used close. I can just about do that with AD400Pro and its 30w LED on max.

I'm confused by your last sentence, if I've understood you correctly. "I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room..." By raising the shutter speed? On the face of it, that would make no difference with continuous LEDs.

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

Richard Hopkins wrote:

Ellis Vener wrote:

ronscuba wrote:

Nice to hear your success using LED.

Why shoot at 1/400th for portrait ? I know you had success with that setting. Would a slower shutter setting allow a lower ISO and get similar results ?

If the person being photographed is static or in repose, yes. But I like to look for some liveliness in the person's expression and while 1/400th won't freeze a fluttering eyelid it is sufficient for the slight smiles and getting other slight differences in expression that , for me, convey a person's personality.
I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room on the subject while using it to light the background which was about ten feet behind the person I was photographing.

So LEDs work fine so long as you have a £6k camera and can crank it up to ISO3200 to match a five-stops deficit vs flash at ISO100?! That's sobering.

Listen if ISO 1600 or 3200 without needing any detail destroying noise reduction interpolation in post, is delivering the image quality ( low noise and dynamic range) that you need to use ISO 100 for, I think that is a pretty significant advance, don't you?

But you didn't mention one of the major benefits of continuous lights IMHO, which is getting the subject's pupils to close down and show their colour, instead of the big black holes you often get with flash.

Many head-shot photographers use LEDs for this reason. It's possible to get closed pupils with flash but only with a good modelling light used close. I can just about do that with AD400Pro and its 30w LED on max.

That is a big plus, but the monolights I use ( Paul C. Buff, Inc Einstein E640s) already use 250 watt quartz-halogen lights so that isn't an issue for me. Dim modeling lights are one of the reasons I sold the pair of Godox AD600 Pros I owned.

I'm confused by your last sentence, if I've understood you correctly. "I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room..." By raising the shutter speed? On the face of it, that would make no difference with continuous LEDs.

Because they were powerful enough I could control the ratio between the brightness of the LED lights I was using and the lighting in the room. Just the same as I'd do in the same situation by using  flash with flash by using a longer than a camera's specified X-sync shutter-speed , aka "dragging the shutter."

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Ellis Vener
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robertfel Senior Member • Posts: 1,992
Aputure 600D

in a 3x4 softbox makes it easy.

Any brighter and the subject squints anyway.

I've done Peter Hurley style headshots with 240w worth of Quasar T8s as well. From 3' away people comment that it's very bright.

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ronscuba Senior Member • Posts: 1,054
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

Ellis Vener wrote:

ronscuba wrote:

Nice to hear your success using LED.

Why shoot at 1/400th for portrait ? I know you had success with that setting. Would a slower shutter setting allow a lower ISO and get similar results ?

If the person being photographed is static or in repose, yes. But I like to look for some liveliness in the person's expression and while 1/400th won't freeze a fluttering eyelid it is sufficient for the slight smiles and getting other slight differences in expression that , for me, convey a person's personality.
I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room on the subject while using it to light the background which was about ten feet behind the person I was photographing.

Do you shoot at 1/400th with strobes too ?

BAK Forum Pro • Posts: 25,670
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?
2

I think portraits from LED can be fine.

BAK

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?
1

ronscuba wrote:

Ellis Vener wrote:

ronscuba wrote:

Nice to hear your success using LED.

Why shoot at 1/400th for portrait ? I know you had success with that setting. Would a slower shutter setting allow a lower ISO and get similar results ?

If the person being photographed is static or in repose, yes. But I like to look for some liveliness in the person's expression and while 1/400th won't freeze a fluttering eyelid it is sufficient for the slight smiles and getting other slight differences in expression that , for me, convey a person's personality.
I also wanted to minimize the effect of the existing lighting in the room on the subject while using it to light the background which was about ten feet behind the person I was photographing.

Do you shoot at 1/400th with strobes too ?

Sure, when I need to. But when using flash indoors the dominant light source is easily the flash unless I am deliberately using a very long shutter-speed and except at full power output the flash duration, even when measured using the t0.1 standard is significantly shorter. With my Paul C. Buff, Inc Einstein E640 moonlights at half power ( 320 w-s) , the flash duration is already down to around 1/1,000th second.

I could have used my Einsteins for this shoot but that would have meant more time setting up the basic lighting set up and then, once the person I was photographing was in front of the camera more time adjusting and testing. Before you say, but you could have used a handheld meter. That's true, but a meter alone would not tell me how , for example, the hair/accent/separation light (Maybe I should start calling it the H.A.S light?) interacted with the person's hair. With constant light I was able to just use my eyeballs anyway and adjust the output to taste.

With every technology comes compromises.

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Ellis Vener
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Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

Earlier in this thread someone pointed out that I needed a 6000 quid camera to work cleanly at ISO 3200.

That is true.

But as with the near universal adoption of first autofocus, and then digital cameras and processing technology , the oncoming change over to stacked BSI CMOS sensor technology is going to changes to the tools we use to make photographs is going to change as well.

There will always be a place in the field of creative photography for electronic flash, but my prediction is that it is increasingly going to be a narrower place.

A working photographer since 1984.
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tugwilson Veteran Member • Posts: 3,702
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

Ellis Vener wrote:

Earlier in this thread someone pointed out that I needed a 6000 quid camera to work cleanly at ISO 3200.

That is true.

But as with the near universal adoption of first autofocus, and then digital cameras and processing technology , the oncoming change over to stacked BSI CMOS sensor technology is going to changes to the tools we use to make photographs is going to change as well.

There will always be a place in the field of creative photography for electronic flash, but my prediction is that it is increasingly going to be a narrower place.

In situations where you can control the ambient and have access to mains power for the more powerful lights then I'm pretty convinces that continuous lights + modern sensor technology will let you produce excellent quality images with continuous lighting. If technologies like Lithium-Sulphur batteries can be made to work commercially (which is looking quite likely) then the mains requirement will go away.

We're light on details of the power of the two mystery lights you used but I'm guessing that with that camera and using those settings you could have shot the pictures with three speedlights

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

In terms of just converting electrical energy  into visible light photons energy I definitely could have. But then I would not have model lights.

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tugwilson Veteran Member • Posts: 3,702
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

Ellis Vener wrote:

In terms of just converting electrical energy into visible light photons energy I definitely could have. But then I would not have model lights.

Yes that quite true.

However when these new conditions (very sensitive, low noise, sensors) are standard on digital cameras I would not be surprised to see vendors introduce relatively low powered studio strobes with very good colour consistency and quite high powered LED modelling lights.

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

tugwilson wrote:

Ellis Vener wrote:

In terms of just converting electrical energy into visible light photons energy I definitely could have. But then I would not have model lights.

Yes that quite true.

However when these new conditions (very sensitive, low noise, sensors) are standard on digital cameras I would not be surprised to see vendors introduce relatively low powered studio strobes with very good colour consistency and quite high powered LED modelling lights.

Like the Elinchrom 1? The Paul C. Buff DigiBee?

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tugwilson Veteran Member • Posts: 3,702
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

Ellis Vener wrote:

tugwilson wrote:

Ellis Vener wrote:

In terms of just converting electrical energy into visible light photons energy I definitely could have. But then I would not have model lights.

Yes that quite true.

However when these new conditions (very sensitive, low noise, sensors) are standard on digital cameras I would not be surprised to see vendors introduce relatively low powered studio strobes with very good colour consistency and quite high powered LED modelling lights.

Like the Elinchrom 1? The Paul C. Buff DigiBee?

I'm guessing the Digibee is ~40W. That's close to the minimum I'd expect (60W would be my starting point). The important thing is not to pretend it's useful for video. So don't worry about fan noise and I don't want to change the colour temperature.

The Elinchrom 1 is 20W which doesn't cut it for me, Also I think it has to be a mains device. The ELC125 with a 60W COB is closer to what I'm after.

Lynxo Contributing Member • Posts: 518
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.

Hi,

What would you consider the minimal distance between subject(single portrait) and the continuous LED light source for very tight spaces?

Can one even acheive dramatic/great lighting at short distances?

I’m strickly amateur. The Sigma FP L has rolling shutter so no choice but use of continuous lighting. I’m just starting out with one 40W Godox ML30bi. In very tiny apartment so not much space to work with. I was going to try basic Loop lighting but unclear on the distance and what to look for. How bright to set the light.

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Part of my point with this thread is to provide a heads up.
1

Lynxo wrote:

Hi,

What would you consider the minimal distance between subject(single portrait) and the continuous LED light source for very tight spaces?

Can one even acheive dramatic/great lighting at short distances?

sure you can, you just need to control where the light is going. You can do that with lenses, barndoors, grids, and flags. If you don’t want light to reflect from a wall, the easiest way to achieve that is to keep light from reaching it.

I’m strickly amateur.

Physics does care if you are an amateur or an ancient, gray bearded,  long time professional.

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Ellis Vener
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jazja Contributing Member • Posts: 567
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

I would love to see these pictures

Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?
1

jazja wrote:

I would love to see these pictures

Here is one. I combined daylight coming through a window to camera right with a Light & Motion StellaPro Reflex S head at about quarter power (1500 lumens). The sunlight was hitting the back wall and I had a 4x4 foot Fomecore reflector to camera left. On the StellaPro Reflex S, I used the optional 12-degree Fresnel Spot
I placed the light near and slightly to the left and above the lens axis.
This is pretty much straight from the camera
Camera: Nikon Z 7II

Lens: Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 S VR
Exposure: 1/400th, f/3.5 ISO 400

Using the Light & Motion StellaPro Reflex S light with sunlight.

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Ellis Vener
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Ellis Vener
OP MOD Ellis Vener Forum Pro • Posts: 16,348
Re: Can high quality LED lights be used for professional quality indoors portrait work?

Here is a virtual contact sheet, a screenshot of a Lightroom gallery,  of 101 sequential portraits lit with the Light&Motion StellaPro Reflex S. I used a Nikon Z 7II camera at 10fps.
Exposure: f/3.2 , 1/1000th second, ISO 800

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Ellis Vener
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