Build your own lighting and other stuff!

The LEDs Lighting Project

A while ago I was chatting with a colleague and he showed me a web site of a guy who had built his own led lighting array. Given the advantages of continuous lighting, especially as more DSLR’s have pro video capability, it was worth taking a look and that is what did. It did take me a while though…

Now to build an led light panel you need…. LEDs! I checked out and found a 5 meter (16.4 feet) reel of ‘warm’ white LEDs for a ridiculous price. Here is the link warm white LEDs

So that was the LEDs taken care of, I know they are not daylight balanced and I found that daylight LEDs did appear to be a lot more expensive. Given that I always shoot raw I knew I could white balance in post.

Next was what to put them in. I have an electronics store nearby so I went browsing their shelves and found a small metal project box, something like this project box. I think mine was a little cheaper though, wink!!


I found a deal on Amazon where you’d get the LEDs and a power adapter for a very reasonable price and then I had to get a soldering iron, wire, and solder.

Yep, you have to do some delicate soldering to get this thing to work. In my past, my WAAAAAY back past I used to ‘do’ electronics but its probably been at least 25 years since I soldered anything. However, it’s like riding a bike, right?

Well, I’d got all the bits assembled but with one thing and another, and summer, I really didn’t get around to this project for a few months. The parts were kicking around on my desk and it was getting embarrassing. Something had to give! Last weekend I had finally had enough and got to work.

The nice thing about these LEDs is that they are self adhesive so sticking them in the box was a breeze. I also got some black spray paint and painted the outside of the box black and the inside silver to reflect as much light as possible. I also had to drill a hole in the side of the box to accommodate that power lead. Now it was a case of sticking down strips of LEDs. You can easily cut the reel into a minimum of 3 LEDs. I found that I could use strips of 6 comfortably in the box and that 8 strips would fit giving 48 LEDs total, plenty of light!

The strips have tiny solder pads for the positive and negative terminals and I got the thinnest wire I could find but it is REALLY fiddly in there! A girls tiny hands would have been immensely useful instead of my great big mitts! However….


This was the initial progress! Looking okay so far, right? Another 45 mins or so… Oh, gotta tell you that drinking a lot of strong coffee while doing this project was NOT the right thing to do. Surprising how your hands bounce around when you’re trying to be cool and collected! Anyway, 45 mins later…


I know this picture is a bit jumpy, blame the coffee. I think my iPhone was struggling to figure out how to expose that shot. Also I think it was sulking about the iPhone 5 release!

So there you have it! These things cost at least $90 and up so I figure I built this for about $35 and have enough LEDs left for at least another one.

I’ve tested the panel and so far it works great. I’ve run it for several hours and it barely gets warm. I deliberately chose a metal case to act as a heat sink, just in case, but maybe a plastic case would have been fine. However metal should last longer!

Other Ideas
I intended this to be used as an ‘accent’ light that I could throw into a scene somewhere to light a foreground or background interest. To use it as a light you’d need to add either a hotshoe or lighting stand adapter to the box. Buying a defunct strobe and cutting the hotshoe adapter off to screw or glue to the bottom of the project box would work, same with a light stand adapter. I think I might need a drill stand to attempt that.

Also I am thinking of a completely self contained version, using two project boxes screwed together with the second containing a battery pack, that would be cool!

Also adding some kind of frosted diffuser to the front would be nice if I were to use this as a primary lighting source for portraiture. The fact that there are 48 light sources spread over a 4 inch by 6 inch area means that it does not behave like a contrasty point light source which is good!

I would apply a layer of varnish or protection to the outside as we’ll as I suspect the paint is going to scuff up a bit!

The Other Stuff

I’m very happy to announce that I’m going to be attending superstar wedding photographer Jasmine Star’s November workshop in Irvine, CA.

I am VERY much looking forward to it, of course there will be extensive reporting in my Nov 11th blog post. Jasmine, I have many questions! ๐Ÿ™‚


All being well in three weeks my wife and I will have the keys to our new house. It really is new, it’s been under construction since May of this year and we’ve monitored every inch of the construction! When we move in ill post a little montage of the whole process. It’s been fascinating to watch!

It will also open up a few more interesting possibilities photo-wise for me! I have some more construction projects I want to tackle for my own personal work (hint, distressed copper sheeting and acrylics anyone?).

Now, off to Triple Scoop Music to pick out my prize music all thanks to Tamara Lackey and my terrifying dance performance at Photoshop World. Tamara, I do hope the nightmares have stopped by now? ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks Roy!

Finally, finally, in the next two months (don’t hold me to that, it could be three) I intend to offer a custom framing service. It’s something I have always wanted to do and it’ll mean I can produce as many funky sized prints as I want!!


Shooting Heads

I love shooting portraits or ‘head shots’. i REALLY love, love, love shooting portraits! I guess this is one reason why I love the work of Richard Avedon, especially his work from the 50’s. I think I’ve always loved to shoot ‘heads’ but it took me about 10-15 years to realize it. I think you get the message, right? Lol!

To me there is something very pure about shooting portraits in a studio environment. There is you, the camera and your subject. There is so little ‘in the way’ allowing you to access the the heart ‘n’ soul of whoever it is you’re shooting.

I’m not going to spend much time on technique in this weeks blog. You can find do much info out there that my additions would likely be repetitive and boring! Then again….

Whenever I’m shooting portraits I always start with the eyes and when I say that I mean that as I ‘construct’ a shot I’ll start with the eyes. I think this is influenced by my fashion background, but who knows….. Or cares! Lol.

When shooting ladies and if at all possible, I’ll try to book a makeup artist. It is rarely possible to do this however so I will work with my clients on what ‘look’ they a seeking. One great trick if you’ve not got access to a makeup artist (MUA) is to use the services of the wonderful staff at MAC stores and counters. If my clients expressed the desire for ‘something different’ I’ve sent them off to the MAC store/counter many times and the results have always been stellar! All you have to do is buy product and hand over a tip!

Lighting, well can I put this clearly as it is a very complex subject? Oh yeah, KEEP IT SIMPLE! The best light you can get is window light so if you’re in a persons home and its not Alaska in winter, use the window, maybe a reflector. In a studio, windows might be harder to find so I mostly use one light with a “beauty dish” in your classic ‘Rembrandt’ style and maybe a reflector for the unlit side, depending on how much light or shadow I want there. That should be all, remember that all this ‘stuff’ can be very frightening and intimidating to those not used to photography.

Want some physics? Remember something called “The Inverse Square Law”, does that sound complex? Well it’s simply this. Twice the distance, a quarter the light. Great for moderating the shadow side of your portrait, just move the reflector in and out. Also great for turning a white background into a perfect 18% grey card. That’s for another day perhaps!

So it’s time to blow ones own trumpet lol.


I won’t bore you with the whys and when’s but this shot was taken at a time when I had VERY limited lighting kit. Basically a single off-camera strobe, an old SB-80 (bought at Harrods in London actually) and a bunch of reflectors. Add to that the fact that this shot was taken out doors in Arizona in Fall, which as any Arizonans will tell, is like other people’s high summer! I hope you like the image, I do. Now I’ll tell how it was done.

First, look for any natural shade. There were trees in this courtyard so that was easy. I just had to position her under the trees and i also found that in certain spots I could get nature to provide a little hair lighting? All good so far. However there were massive shadows under her eyes and this is where my multi-reflector set up came into its own. Fortunately there was no wind however you can deal with that in two ways, firstly get an assistant to hold your reflectors or use sandbags on your light stands.

The setup I got used the strobe on a light stand (I had an adapter) positioned to point into a big 48″ gold/silver reflector. The strobe was on manual of course and set to about 1/2 power. This gave me a wonderful big, soft, gold-tinted light, not a nasty pointy strobe light! Finally I positioned a Lastolite Triflector just out of shot under her chin, wrapping it around the unlit side of her face more than the ‘lit’ side for some fill. Voila!

So today’s one and only top tip is, never feel constrained by a perceived lack of equipment, get your thinking process going and you can achieve great things!! ๐Ÿ™‚

I have a few book selections for those who want to explore. Firstly Scott Kelby’s “Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques” and also from Scott, “Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It” (hey Scott, any chance of some kickbacks here for all the times I’m plugging your books lol). Next up is Kevin Ames book “The Art of Photographing Women”. Remember who 90+% of your clients are and who need to be kept happy? ๐Ÿ™‚ Finally, “The Luminous Portrait” by Elizabeth Messina which has some great tips and ideas and a very contemporary take on all things portrait including a little on wedding portraiture.

Next week, I’ve finally completed my led lighting project, explanations and pictures!

Gear: What I Use & Why It’s Not Important! aka The Vision Thing!

Like all photographers every so often I get comments like “wow, that’s a great image, what camera did you use?”. Now like anyone I love the flattery but the question really bugs me!

So I’m going to quickly run through the kit I have and then tell you why I have what I have. I’ve been ‘taking pictures’ for many years, MANY years so this is the distillation of all that trying, testing and experience.

I have used Nikon cameras for about 20 years, film and digital. I currently own a D2x, F100, D100, and D4 in no particular order! I have a Sigma 15mm, Sigma 20mm, Nikkor 28-70mm f2.8, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 and Nikkor 85mm f1.8.

Lets start with the most unimportant part, but you’re thinking that it’s the most important part; the camera! If you have purchased a camera any time in the last 5-10 years you have a good camera! Period! Nikon, Canon and now thankfully Pentax AND Sony all produce great DSLR cameras! So that is taken care of, right?

So now the really important stuff. ‘kay, payin’ attention? The lenses or if you want to be a cool photographer guy, the glass!

Tip #1. My advice to any new photographer or anyone wanting to get serious or just wanting to take better pictures is “spend your money on your glass”. To give yourself the best chance of taking great images you need to have great flexibility and that means you need good, fast glass. f2.8 or faster means you can take shots in lower light than your f5.6 kit lens but crucially it means you can play in my favorite yard, selective focus.

It is magical when you have the ability to shoot a portrait with one eye in focus and one out of focus. You’ll start using worlds like bokeh with passion! Extra tip, bokehย is the fuzzy meaning word describing how an out of focus background looks e.g. that 85mm has great bokeh; sounds great at dinner parties btw)

I promised a “why” as to the kit I have so here goes. When I was buying lenses years ago and when I had the cropped sensor D100 and D2X I knew that eventually I would have a full frame camera, so I bought the best lenses I could afford.

Actually I bought the best lenses I couldn’t afford! It took a few years more than I thought but that leads us to the D4, which is a totally awesome camera by the way. You’ll find numerous reviews of it on the web so I’ll not bother adding my 2 cents. Now that investment in full frame good fast glass pays me back! My lenses now work the way they were supposed to. In particular my all time favorite, the 85mm f1.8. If you take portraits you HAVE to have either the f1.8 or f1.4 version of this lens. You just have to!

Tip #2, if you don’t have a fast 85mm BUY IT NOW! Get on eBay, auction a child, your wife, car, whatever but get this lens! See it’s all about perspective.

Tip #3 immediately follows, how many of you think that ’cause you have a cropped sensor camera, your 50mm lens is “just like a 75mm”? You’re wrong! What you’re seeing is just a crop of what you’d see with a 50mm lens.ย The perspective doesn’t change and when you’re shooting portraits perspective is everything! What you see when you shoot a headshot with a cropped sensor camera and a 50mm lens is a distorted view, in particular noses will look WAY too big! Shoot with a longer lens, even with a cropped sensor camera, and you’ll fix that perspective problem.

Tip #4, the really important one. It isn’t what you have, it’s the vision in your head! When you start to become a photographer, rather than someone taking pictures, you’ll realize a couple of things. Firstly, you’ll spend about 5% of your time actually taking pictures, next, you’ll spend the other 95% of your time THINKING about images.

When you start thinking about your images you’ll be starting to lose a focus on the technicals of your image making and begin to tell stories; you’ll be bonding more with your subjects and immediately your images will look so much better!

Back at the beginning of this post I talked about the question that bugged me. By now I think you can see why it bugs me! The camera DOESN’T matter, its your vision that matters more, then your lenses… the camera is WAY down the list of what matters!

So why do I have the latest Nikon, having spent this entire article telling you why the camera doesn’t matter. Well in certain situations the camera does matter BUT they are very specific. I love to shoot motor sports, I need a camera that can perform quickly, the D4 does, shooting up to 11 frames per second. When I’m panning on a Formula 1 car doing 150mph, I need that response.

High iso from the D4. Well I also shoot runway and those IDIOTS (LOL!) who design lighting for many runway shows (most notably NOT the really big events which are mostly, perfectly lit for photography) do not design it for the benefit of photographers. I will need to be shooting great looking images at iso settings of maybe 12,000! The D4 does that for me.

Finally, full frame! I want MY 85mm to BE an 85mm! You get that with full frame and fortunately now there are several cameras from Canon and Nikon which are reasonably priced and have full frame sensors!

So I know this column has bounced around a little but it was meant to get you thinking of the image, not the techy stuff! Get your vision firing and you won’t be so bothered about “camera envy” LOL!

Photoshop World Vegas 2012

So I’m back, from outer space! Okay no, not outer space but visiting Vegas often feels like an off-world experience and visiting Vegas for my first Photoshop World especially so.

As this was my first event I decided on the ‘immersive’ approach and signed up for just about everything I could. I had very high expectations for the event and a few days before leaving I started to get nervous. What if it didn’t live up to those expectations? Would I be depressed? Would Scott Kelby bite off my arms? Okay I wasn’t so worried about losing limbs but I left Temecula at about 4:30am on the 4th with some concerns, mostly that I’d not make it through to the evening!

I did not need to worry! Not only did the event live up to those high expectations, it massively exceeded them. This event is awesome, and epic!

The first thing I did really right was to get a Speed Pass! I loved wafting into the workshops and heading straight for the front of class. More on this later. The next thing I did right was to be alert to changing my mind on the sessions I wanted to attend. You’ll want to visit everything and do everything but it is just not possible, not even close. You’ll get to about a quarter of what you want to see and that is it.

Organizationally I cannot find any fault, only praise! The event seemed to go flawlessly to me although I am sure there was much of the ‘duck’ action going on behind the scenes, you know on the surface all serene sailing by but beneath the waves frantic paddling!

I have to confess that I did not attend many of the techy technique type seminars. I did attend Scott’s Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It talk, one on Lightroom 4 by Matt Kloskowski, and a Photoshop CS6 tips and tricks session with Dave Cross and that was it!

All my other sessions were photographer themed sessions or on marketing type stuff. The first one which comes to mind is the open panel on Google+. So there was some talk about G+ but a lot of talk about other social media platforms such as Twitter and, of course, Facebook (Twitbook or Facer anyone?). Matt K hosted and as it was very free-form. He initially asked for questions from wanted the floor but given that RC, Matt K, Tamera Laskey, Jeremy Cowart, Colby Brown & Mike Wiacek (from Google) were on the panel WE COULD NOT GET A WORD IN!!! ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a great session, hugely informative and definitely should be repeated! So what we overran by at least 15 mins!

I’d like to try to pick a highlights reel, but really the entire event was a highlight, from the wonderfully talented folks teaching to all the great new friends I’ve met. It was a blast!

Not only am I already planning my visit next year but I am thinking I should bring my studio manager, aka my wife, aka ‘person who says no a lot’!