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Is LED lighting ready for high-volume photography?

Is it time for the professional school and kids sports photographer to consider replacing their strobes with LED lighting?

I was surprised to see the number of interested photographers at the recent SPAC 2019 conference seminar on “LED Lighting” for the school and kids sports photo industry.  Most of the photographers in attendance were interested in an alternative to the age-old problems with using studio strobes for portraiture and were hoping that LED technology will spare them from their flash frustration. About a third of the 100+ people in the group were interested in adding a video product to their sales menus and needed to learn about affordable LEDs that are suited for that type of imaging. If you fit into one of those groups, I have some fresh info for you.

Studio strobes do have their drawbacks of course with the biggest choke point for high volume shooters being the difficulty in managing exposure and color consistency. Many people are hoping LEDs will provide continuous lighting to replace strobes that will offer the convenience of shooting under lighting that you can “see” and also to allow camera technology to auto-adjust for exposure and color. Although it’s true that a set of LED tools can replace strobes and in fact can easily permit the use of auto exposure and auto WB with surprisingly good results, at this time it is not a practical solution for some situations.

The reasons why it’s not a good idea to replace your Alien Bees with low cost LED units for volume school and sports photography is that the color quality of the $250 to $400 LED is not yet at the level we need and the techniques needed to reduce the room light volume to use LEDs is challenging and time consuming. There are significant concerns with many LED’s inability to produce a complete range of color to fill your camera’s sensor with the high-quality light it needs for skin tones. Then there’s an issue with mixing different brands and models of LEDs together in one setup because each LED source has its own set of color struggles. It’s clear to me and most in the room that changing your school photo lighting from strobe to LED is counterproductive – even if you are considering the more expensive LED units that offer a flash function. But if you are like me and looking toward the future of volume photography and see the rise of the eProduct and the birth of the talking portrait, then LEDs are a necessity for producing video portraiture and the thought of adding an LED or two to experiment is a good idea. A really good idea in fact.

There are many good LED solutions for all levels of portraiture and the careful photographer ready to gently glide into hybrid photo+video+audio capture. I try to be as unbiased as possible in these blog posts, so when you are ready to add LED for portraiture, please feel free to contact me for gear suggestions? I coach a small group of hybrid photographers across the country that are adding talking portraiture to their studios and we have a constantly evolving list of LED gear that is working well and a short list of ones to avoid. I can suggest you skip the LEDs that flash, as that seems to be more of a marketing solution to boost sales of the LED rather than a real photo workflow solution for making better pictures.

So is LED lighting ready for high-volume school photography? Nope. Not yet. But it’s coming and the smart photographers are getting ready and some are gearing up now.

My studio is well equipped with LEDs for portraiture to produce the talking business card eProduct we sell in central California and we are very happy with the system as well as the results, but it’s not for everyone.  If you would like to see how my portraiture studio is set up with LEDs, please fell free to watch and share this video.  I plan on adding more LED tools as my business grows into the world of selling eProducts as my primary cash-flow generator.

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