Helping Photographers Understand the HOWS & WHYS behind Great Photography

DIY Photography LED Studio Lights for Portraits & Headshots – DIY Kino Flo Lights – DIY Lighting

 
 

Studio lighting can be darn expensive. So I’m going to walk you through the steps that I took to build my DIY Kino Flo lights with LED light bulbs for less than 300 dollars!

About four years ago I posted a video about building a four light studio light setup with T12 fluorescent light bulbs. Three years ago I posted a video about building a similar set-up with T8 bulbs that eliminated the fluorescent flicker problem. Now it’s time to move on to LEDs. The cool part is that the LED lights are lighter in weight, easier to build, cost less, last longer, don’t flicker, stay cooler and use less electricity! How awesome is that?

Watch the VIDEO…

LEDs: Where and What to buy

The fixtures that I used are 4ft LED Shop lights in an aluminum casing made by Lights of America in Walnut, California.

LEDs used in DIY Kino Flo lights

I purchased 6 of these at a BJ’s Wholesale Club for $36.00 each. You can find them online at several retailers ranging in price from $36.00 to $49.00. I was even able to find them on eBay. Please understand while you’re looking for these that things go in and out of stock, so you may have to do some searching to find more.

These fixtures contain two LED strips with a total of 240 Bright white LEDs that measure about 4500 lumens. They are color temperature rated at 5,000 degrees kelvin. These lights are completely quiet which also makes them awesome for shooting video. In fact, I use them in my videos all the time, including the one at the top of this page. The aluminum casings are quite strong and the LED bulbs are covered with a hard plastic. That means that you could even throw them in the trunk of your car and take them on location… so long as you have access to electricity.

Currently there are two types of LED bulbs: dimmable and not dimmable. As you can imagine, the dimmable ones are more expensive. While the price of LED technology is quickly becoming more affordable, dimmable light fixtures with LED bulbs are still pretty expensive. I honestly see no point in making these lights dimmable. They are very light and very easy to move.

Building DIY Kino Flo lights

For the main lights in this four light setup I wanted to be able to link two of the DIY Kino Flo lights together to make a broader light source.

LED lights on Joe's work bench

 

LED lights flipped over on Joe's work bench

Each of my DIY Kino Flo lights measures just under 6 inches across. To do that I decided to keep it simple and use two small 3″ hinges.

One is placed at about 6” from the top of the fixture and one placed at about 16” from the bottom.

hinges on back of LEDs placed six inches from top and sixteen inches from bottom

I simply drilled through the wings of the light fixtures and mounted the hinges on the back side using short 6” x ½” sheet screws.

drilling into aluminum casing on LED light

Then, to be able to hang my DIY Kino Flos I used two Number 0 conduit hangers mounted at the same height as the hinges.

Conduit hangers and packaging

 

attaching conduit hangers to LED lights

For one of the pairs I mounted hangers on the right fixture and for the other pair I mounted them on the left. I closed the top conduit hanger with a 1-inch bolt and adjusted it just tight enough to slip over the top of a light stand.

Bolt in conduit hanger on back of LED light adjusted

I left the bottom conduit hanger open so that it could just snap onto the larger section of the light stand to stabilize the unit.

conduit hanger clipping onto stand

Hanging DIY Kino Flo lights on a closet track

Now to be able to hang my DIY Kino Flo lights on the closet track that I have been using for my fluorescent rigs, I needed to add closet glides. I wasn’t able to find the same glides that I used on the fluorescent rigs so I needed a solution that would let me use two of the standard closet door glides.

To keep it simple, I used a 12” 20 gauge strap tie and bolted it to the fixture using two 1” sheet metal screws and two nuts to insure that it would not loosen.

gauge strap tie bolted onto wooden dowel with two nuts and a screw

Then I used two ¾ inch wood screws to mount a 12” section of 1” x 1” wooden dowel.

Then it was a simple matter of adding the closet glides to the wooden dowel with the provided screws, and there you have it – a simple, easy-to-build, easy-to-use LED lighting fixture that can mount on stands or hang on a closet track.

adding first part of closet glide to wooden dowel

 

adding second part of closet glide to wooden dowel

Wiring & Electricity

Now let’s talk about the electrical aspect… Each of these LED shop lights has a pull chain for an on and off switch and a 5-foot-long cord. If you are not comfortable with electrical stuff, you should leave the cords as is and simply plug them both in. Or you could hire an electrician, which would of course cost you almost as much as the lights did. I told you my plan was to keep it simple so I used a shallow pvc electrical box and spliced the wires together inside the box.

And now I have an 11-and-a-half-inch wide strip light made from two LED shop light fixtures.

For the two rim or background lights, all you have to do is mount the #0 standoff conduits and they are ready to go. I mounted the hangars at the same distances as the main lights. 6″ from the top and 16″from the bottom. I also added a carabiner with a cable tie to hold the cord.

Clip hanging at bottom of light to hold cord

Studio Setups

Six lights, a little bit of hardware, and about an hour assembly time and I have a 4 light studio setup that looks like this:

DIY Kino Flo four lights in the studio

or it can be used like this:

Setup with DIy Kinoflos hanging from closet track

You will notice that I am able to use fairly lightweight stands with these lights. The double units weigh less than 9lbs and the single ones are just over 4 lbs.

Results

Here is the very first shot that I created with my DIY Kino Flo LED lights:

First shot with DIY Kino Flo lights, model in front of black background

If you want to check out a video that breaks down a bunch of different lighting arrangements that you can do with these lights, click here!

So until next time, gang, go pick up that camera and shoot something because your BEST shot is your NEXT shot. So keep learning, keep thinking, and keep shooting. Adios!

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