Understanding Portraiture with LED Lighting

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

LED lighting gear originated in the world of television and lighting manufacturers adapted the technology for still photography. When you think about it, it makes sense because the origins of the sensor technology used in today’s DSLRs and mirrorless cameras all began with video cameras.

Which brings me to one of the first questions people often ask me about using LED lighting for portraits: “Isn’t the color bad?” Nope. While the color response curves of video and still photography sensors are different than our eyes and are processed differently, there are ways to tell if a light source is “color correct.” If you have time, read I’ve written before about Color Rendering Index and color temperature. The short take: CRI is a quantitative measure of a light source’s ability to faithfully reveal an object’s colors when compared to an ideal light source.

There is also Television Lighting Consistency Index: The European Broadcasting Union’s Technical Committee approved a recommendation designed to help broadcasters assess new lighting equipment or re-assess the quality of their existing lighting. TLCI uses a method similar to CRI and compare a standard set of colors under a test light with that from a black body light source or daylight. The colors are mathematically modeled so a test can be run with software containing an average of a many (video) camera’s responses.

Unlike CRI that does not indicate the apparent color of the light source, TLCI uses multiple color temperature sources producing an index rating that ranges from 0 – 100, with a perfect light source having a TLCI of 100. Out here in the real world, any light source having a TLCI of 85 or higher will be usable for still photography with little or no color correction. As time goes by I think more and more manufacturers will integrate this measurement into their specifications.

Take Rotolight’s NEO for example: I originally reviewed these lights for Shutterbug; you can read it on-line. Right now, the original NEO is on sale at an attractive price, click here. The newer NEO2 ($399.98) has a TLCI of 91, which amounts to color errors so small that no matter whatever Photoshop, Lightroom or software color correction tool you prefer, the image files would not need correcting.

Pam Simpson, above, was photographed using the original NEO and an Rotolight RL-48 with magenta gel in place, used as backlight. Camera used was a Panasonic Lumix GH4 with Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens with an exposure of 1/80 sec and f/1.8 at ISO 800.

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If you’re interested in shooting portraits and learning how I use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio or on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere that’s available from Amazon.com with new copies selling for $26.95. As I write this, used copies are selling from $5.66 as I write this, which is a heckuva deal for all of the useful information found in the book.