Create Captivating Portraits With an LED Light Wand

Create Captivating Portraits With an LED Light Wand

Over the past few years, LEDs have become a popular choice for still photographers, and with good reason. Although LED light sources do have limitations, there are many clear benefits to using constant light for portrait photographers. In this article, I will detail five ways I use an LED light wand to create captivating portraits, both in and out of my studio.

I recently reviewed the Lumecube Tube Light Mini, a compact and powerful LED light stick designed for photographers and videographers on the go. (If you are interested, you can see my review of the Tube Light Mini here). Although I was excited to use this light for video work, my main interest was trying it out for portrait photography, both in and out of my studio. Here are five ways I used this small, versatile, light, to create eye-catching portraits in my studio and on location. 

1. As a Rim Light

One thing I love to do in my portraits is add a color rim light. A rim light (or kicker) is a strip of light across the side of a subject’s face or body, and it adds depth to an image. In the past, I would use 8 1/2 x 11 gels and clamp them to a light panel, but this is awkward and limited by the number of gels I had on hand. Using the Lumecube as a rim light, however, is easy, and it gave me the flexibility of dialing in the exact color I wanted. This headshot was lit with a Westcott Flex Panel as key, and the tube light just behind the subject to create the rim light.

The Tube Light is placed behind the subject to create a rim light on his camera right side.

2. As a Fill Light

Next, I used the tube light as a fill light, adding not only fill to the shadow side of the face, but also a color hue. In the image below, I used a Nanlite as key light, and moved the tube light in front of my subject in order to fill the shadow side of his face. Since my subject was wearing earthy tones I chose a backdrop that also featured reds and browns, and dialed in a warm color on the tube light as well. The resulting image, which is unedited, has a color-graded effect right in camera, without having to do any grading in post. I was pleased with how this came out and also with how easy it was to achieve this effect.

The Tube Light is placed in front of the subject, camera right, and set for a reddish hue in order to create a fill light on the shadow side of the face.

3. As a Key Light

Next, I wanted to find out if the Tube Light Mini could be used as a single key light for portraits and provide enough light for at least a half-length portrait. I was impressed with how the light performed in this role, and the ability to adjust the color temperature made dialing in the desired white balance easy. Not only was the light able to provide more than enough brightness for the portrait, but the quality of the light is soft and pleasing, without any harshness to it, like it was lit with a modifier. For this image, my photographer friend handheld the light just out of frame at about a 45-degree angle, with the white wall of my studio serving to bounce fill light back onto the subject.

A Tube Light is used as the key light source and bounced off a white studio wall.

4. For Light Painting

Give me an LED light wand and I will most certainly want to do some light painting with it. In the final test at my studio, I had my subject pose with an old picture frame, and then my associate waved the light stick around him while I shot an exposure of roughly five seconds. The tube light was set to automatically rotate between colors, and by using a flash as the main light, I was able to freeze the subject while adding the painterly background effect.

An LED light wand is the perfect choice for creating light painting effects in camera.

5. For On Location Portraits

When I first received the Tube Light Mini, I immediately wanted to try using it as a key light for on-location portraits. As a musician, I always bring my camera with me to my gigs, and one of my favorite things to do is document other bands in between playing with my own group. The venues we play are usually very dark with poor stage lighting, and as our gigs are generally late, there is little to no natural light available. Since this particular LED light stick is compact, I decided to bring it with me to one of my favorite venues in New York and try it out as a key light for nighttime portraits. I held the light in one hand, and my camera in the other, angling it to get the exact falloff I wanted. If a friend was available, they held the light for me, but it was actually easier for me to just hold it myself and position it exactly where I wanted it. I also used the same method in a dark bar (actually, it was the darkest bar I’ve ever been in!) and the light performed as I hoped it would, helping me to achieve pleasing results.

A Tube Light Mini was used as the key light for this portrait in a dark bar.

The Tube Light was bright enough for half length and even full length portraits outside at night.
I captured portraits of musicians in between their sets by holding the tube light in one hand and my camera in the other.

I captured portraits of musicians in between their sets by holding the tube light in one hand and my camera in the other.

As I mentioned, LED lights do have limitations, but they have come quite a long way. As a portrait photographer, I use LED lighting for the majority of my work. An LED light wand like the Tube Light Mini is easy and convenient to use, since there are no cables, no sync speeds, and a long-lasting battery. Since you can “see” exactly what the light is doing to your subject, positioning the light exactly where you want it is intuitive. I also love to shoot wide open, and by using LED lighting, I don’t need to be tied to my camera’s flash sync speed. If you are interested in seeing background footage of the above setups, check out my video review here or my Viltrox 13mm review video here which has footage of me shooting the above street portraits. I hope you have enjoyed this article and that it has inspired you to try LED lighting in your own work.

Pete Coco's picture

Pete Coco is a portrait photographer and musician based in New York. When not performing as a jazz bassist, Pete can be found in his studio working with a wide range of clients, although is passion is creating unique portraits of other musicians and artists.

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