Now that you have your own DIY LED studio lights- or you maybe you are planning to build a set- you need to learn how to use it. I’ll walk you through a dozen different ways that I use these lights, plus I’ll give you some not-so-obvious tips that I have learned along the way and I’ll even show you a few of my finished shots.
This is a 4 light DIY LED studio lights setup that I built (and showed you how to in this video) with the idea of having two main lights that are 11.5 in wide by 48 in tall and two additional lights that are 5.5 in wide and also 48 in tall with the plan being to use them as rim lights or background lights. You can even add strobes to extend the possibilities.
One main Light
So let’s start out by using just one main light on camera left. Here is the result on a white background:
a gray background:
and a black background:
One main light with Walmart Reflector
If we add a Walmart reflector on camera right, this is what we get on white:
here is how it looks on gray:
and on black:
Please note that the reflector is parallel to the subject’s face and slightly higher. You don’t want to be adding light from below the face unless you are trying to make a zombie photo. I also place the reflector slightly in front of the subject’s face. Experiment moving the reflector closer or further from the face to get the amount of fill that you are happy with. Remember: there is no right or wrong.
One Main Light, One reflector, two rim lights
If we add rim lights to the mix we get this look:
This will also work well on a black background.
I created this LED Studio lights setup intending to use it as a clamshell lighting setup turned sideways. Remember that clamshell lighting is when you have two lights one above and one below your lens and you get light that looks like this:
If we turn that clamshell setup sideways and set each light at an equal distance from the lens, we get light that looks like this:
Now if we set up our two main lights on either side of the subject on a white background we get this:
on a gray background it looks like this:
And on a black we get this:
My subject is approximately 5 ft from the background in the above examples.
If you place your subject and lights closer to the backdrop it will of course make the white and gray backgrounds lighter. If you place everything close to the black background, it tends to turn the black to a dark gray.
2:1 Lighting Setup
For those of you that like a more traditional lighting setup, if we turn off the inside strip on the camera right main light, we now have a 2:1 lighting ratio with two lights lit on the left and one light on the right.
Here it is on the gray:
and again on the black:
Now before some of you ask if these lights only work on white, black or gray the answer is of course not! They will work on any color you want. Be patient – I’ll get to different colors.
Two Main Lights and Two Rim Lights
Here is the set-up that I had in mind when I built these LED studio lights. Four lights: two main lights in the front and two rim lights in the back.
Here is the result on gray:
and here it is on black:
Now remember, my subject is about 5 ft from the background. If we turn the two rim lights and face them towards the backdrop we make the backdrops lighter. Here is the gray version:
If I move the two single strips closer to the background, I can make the backgrounds even brighter. Here it is on gray:
I can get a nice gradient on the backdrop if I take the two single lights and simply lay them on the floor to light the gray background.
Hair Light DIY
For those of you who really want to go old school with a hair light, you can use a super clamp made by Manfrotto or Impact and a swivel tilt bracket with a stud to mount the super clamp.
Mount this on a heavy duty light stand and you will also need to use a small counterbalance bag to level it out.
A warning here: this works very well, but be sure to tighten that super clamp with a death grip and use a stand that will support the weight of your counterbalance and the light. You don’t want the light falling on your subject. If you think you are going to do this more than once, it’s a good idea to mark the spot where you got the light to balance with a Sharpie. That way, the next time you set it up, you won’t have to experiment with finding the balance point.
Colored Backgrounds: Two Lights on Camera Left (and rim light!)
Ok, so let’s look as just a few more variations and I’ll use colored backgrounds for these.
If we take both main lights and move them to the same side, we get a much broader light source.
If we keep the subject close to the background we can get away with just the main lights or add a simple rim light like you see below.
Colored Backgrounds: Sideways Clamshell, Strobe and Gels
If we add a strobe to light the background, we can use all four LED studio lights in a sideways clamshell set-up with two rim lights and then light the background with a separate strobe – this gives you the option of adding colored gels to create even more color possibilities.
I could go on for another hour or so, but I think you get the point… the possibilities are endless and you are really only limited by your own ability to “see light.”
Now I promised you some useful tips…
First: notice the height of the lights in relationship to the subject. I always try to keep my subject’s face about 1/3 of the way from the bottom of the fixture. If you set the fixture too low, you will have a lot of the light coming from below the face, which can cause shadows on the top of the cheeks and nose.
Second: Be very careful with the rim lights. You don’t want them to be so close that you lose detail in the hair and skin, and you don’t want to have a nose that glows. Take your time and adjust the lights accordingly. Also pay close attention to the hair when you are using the rims. If the hair is too far forward on the subject’s face, it will cause a dark shadow on the side of the face.
You do NOT need to move the light to fix this. Move the hair! A little hair spray will keep it in place long enough to get your shot.
So there you have it, regardless of whether you are using my DIY LED studio lights or if you already had the T8 fluorescents or if you are using speedlights or monolights – all of these arrangements work depending on what modifiers you have available and what backgrounds you have as well.
I hope you found this information useful. Now go pick up that camera and shoot something! Because – “Your BEST shot is your NEXT shot!” — Joe Edelman