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Budget Portrait Lighting with LEDs

You don’t own an external flash. You can’t afford one anytime soon. Are you held back in your photographic technique and unable to take dynamic studio style portraits?

Not hardly.

While external lighting is vital for professional portrait and wedding photographers, there is a way to fudge external lighting. When you need just a little bit of fill or dynamic range to make your portraits stand out, there’s a simple solution at your finger tips:



The LED [Light Emitting Device] can be purchased at literally any store which sells sporting goods. Found most commonly among camping gear, these LEDs range around $10-$25. Depending on cost, you can control how much light your LED transmits by 1-6 light streams or more.

Using an LED, you must think in terms of two concepts:

1. Output: How many strobes are you using on your LED? One light stream, or all six? Obviously, 1 light stream will be more gentle in it’s illumination and 6 could be quite harsh.

2. Distance: How close is your light to your subject? The closer your light is to your subject, the brighter your subject will be illuminated. Take a few steps back, the light power will decrease.

Two LEDs will give you quite a bit of artistic ability. Whether you want to use the LED as mere fill light, or you want to create a type of studio shot like the one above, the LEDs can equip you with a number of fun options. They are light, they are durable, and the batteries generally last a while. The single down side of using LED lights is the fact that you may need an assistant to help if you use more than one.


For this shot, I really wanted to mimic a studio shot with some sweet lighting. I didn’t have my external flashes on hand but I did have two LEDs in my camera bag. In about 2 minutes, the above shot was created. Here’s how:

  • The piano studio was very dim, lit by a single window on the right side. I pulled the curtain open ever so slightly [mostly to get a little more light on my subjects face].
  • The main LED was directed with full light streams just off to the side of the camera, about six feet in front of my subject.
  • The second LED acted as a slight fill on the far left with only half the light streams on, and spaced at a four foot angle above my subject.
  • Camera was directly in front of my subject, balanced on the edge of the piano.

In post processing, I deepened the blacks and added a little additional fill for contrast.

LED portraits are casual, non threatening, and a blast. Wether you own a pair of external speed-lights or other kind of flashes, creating portraits with LEDs is a great way to go artistic and have some fun in the process.

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Christina N Dickson
Christina N Dickson

is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

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