With a limited budget it’s easy to feel limited by your gear (or lack of gear I should say) but with time, and experimentation, you can discover ways to use the gear you have now, to make compelling images. In this tutorial you will be given a few pointers on how you can use just one LED light to make beautiful and dynamic images.
For this tutorial you will need:
- An LED light. The light used here is a Neewer CN-126 LED Video Light which was bought on Amazon for under $35.
- A DLSR – Canon, Sony, or any other brand is suitable. I used a Canon 5D Mark II.
- A tripod or stable surface.
Let’s start with the easiest setup: Placing your LED light directly on top of your camera, or on a light stand directly in front of your subject, may seem fairly basic. On its own, it can create a standard, flatly, lit image, which may not seem very exciting to your viewer. However, placing an item that has an interesting pattern or shape directly between your light and your subject can give a unique and creative result.
You can, for example, place a lace tablecloth between your LED light and your model/subject. Playing around with the fabric’s distance from the light, causes the pattern’s shadow to change size, and sometimes even shape. Adjust the distance and placement of your fabric (or other item) until you find a combination that works for you.
For the image above, I used my 50mm lens with an ISO of 2000, and my exposure set manually with shutter speed at 1/50th and aperture at f/1.4. My LED light was adjusted to medium brightness.
You can also use movement to add interest to your image as shown below. A slow shutter speed along with quick movements can make your images a real conversation piece. Try experimenting with moving your body, or an object like a colourful scarf or umbrella in your image.
Taking your LED off-camera, and placing it at an angle to your subject is another easy way to create a beautiful image with this simple setup. Keep your LED light setting between low and medium, and angle it at roughly 45 degrees from your subject, can give a nice soft light cascade across your image.
If you try placing your LED light directly to the right, or left, of your subject, you will get a pretty cool effect as well. This placement creates an interesting shape in the natural shadow your subject makes. In the image below, the LED is propped up at eye level, on a bookshelf to my left. The angle of the light, coupled with a delicate pose, created an image that was both compelling, and visually interesting. Camera settings for this image were ISO 1600, f/3.2 and 1/160th of a second with a 50mm lens.
Playing around with overlays and textures in Photoshop can further enhance your photo.
Backlight and overhead light
For small objects you can do a simple backlight setup, using your LED light. If you place a sheet of white letter sized printing paper directly over your LED light, and place your subject directly on top of it, the result is pretty interesting. When using this method try to choose a subject that you think would have an interesting silhouette. You can also try items that are slightly translucent and may possibly glow when back lit. Try capturing your final image by shooting from an overhead angle, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other camera positions as well.
Interesting images can also be created by putting your LED light directly above your subject. In the first image below, the light was angled slightly above the rose. This created a nice, softly angled, light effect that gave the rose a different dimension.
Coupling the overhead LED placement with interesting poses gives really striking results. Posing your subject with their face turned upward, in the direction of the light, for example, creates some really nice shadows along the contours of the face. Some creative editing in Photoshop resulted in these final images.
With this simple tool and a little imagination, you can create dynamic, visually appealing images for your portfolio. The key here is to experiment, play and have fun.
Let me know other creative ways you have used an LED light to add interest to your photography in the comments below.