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Should Your Next Light Be an LED or a Strobe?

For anyone beginning to delve into the art of using off camera lighting, it can be a bit daunting to decide where to start in acquiring new lighting equipment. Here is a great guide to the pros and cons of LED and strobe lighting so that you’ll be able to make the right choice for your next acquisition. 

Enthusiastic host Joe Edelman presents a thorough comparison of LED and strobe lighting. He suggests that LED lights might be a good choice for those beginning to learn to light since they are always on and give you a realtime preview of how your subject will look as the lighting is changed. Compared to strobe lighting, the main drawback of LED lighting is output. Because the light produced by strobes only lasts for a fraction of a second, it is more powerful and can be used to overpower daylight or to freeze motion. 

Edelman presents practical situations for which LED or strobe lights would be best suited. He shows how both can be used in a studio to achieve a similar result, though suggests that LED lights will encourage you to keep your studio a bit brighter so that your subject’s pupils aren’t too dilated.

This is an excellent review of the fundamentals of LED and strobe lighting, without getting into specifics of particular brands of equipment used. Watching this tutorial will allow to you make an informed decision on the kind of lighting that will work best for your next project. 

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Dennis Qualls's picture

Interesting article and thought. LED lighting could really make a lasting impact on the market if it’s development continues. Hopefully it will.

James Tischmann's picture

So let me just get this straight... if we buy LED lighting we can crank up the ISO, limit our working distance, and modifier choices. Hmmm. That honestly doesn't sound like a win.

There is a reason we don't use continuous light for still photography. It's power output. You need a lot of power to do what we can do easily with even a simple speedlight as this video clearly shows. Improved LED tech is not likely to change that.

Even simple things that we take for granted like soft boxes are inefficient with light and with continuous light you need to rig your lighting for efficiency and thats a completely different way of shooting. If you've ever wondered why photos from the golden age of hollywood looked different... it's because they were using very expensive very efficient modifiers on powerful continuous lights that could just barely keep up with what they were trying to do. Electronic flash didn't come onto the stage until the 50's and they were working with what they had. Flash took the world by storm because of the power it offered. That hasn't changed.

LED lights are for videographers and still life. Period. Using them for still photography with a moving subject is a mis-application of the technology. Suggesting otherwise is mis-leading.

Certain brands of flashes have better modeling lights than others but for the most part the modeling light on a plug in flash flash will generally be brighter than most consumer grade LED panels. Some are significantly brighter with Broncolor hitting 650w in 220v+ countries. The trouble again is that most photographers are modifying these modeling lights with inefficient modifiers like softboxes and shoot through umbrellas which require far more light than a consumer continuous light is generally designed to handle and if they were using an LED panel with similar modifiers they'd encounter the same exact issue. End of story.

David T's picture

What are more efficient modifiers? Fresnel?

Jordan Pinder's picture

I think there are certain applications of still photography that may be best tackled with LED lights, because they allow you to see the image you are creating. Product photography is one of these applications. Some of the world's leading headshot photographers are known for using continuous lighting, like Peter Hurley.

Remus Roman's picture

Yea, you either don't understand why photographers use strobes, or you just needed to knock out a quick article... either way, pretty daft point on LEDs vs strobes.

Tom Reichberg's picture

Photographers always want to produce the best quality photos, and that’s why they choose energy saving lights such as LED.