Whilst in London, being based in Camden allows me to jump on the tube and go across the city, from location to location with relative ease. Of course, to be able to do this, I can’t afford to be weighed down by equipment so the need to pare kit down where I can is key, from both a portability and weight perspective. When I shoot internationally this is even more true.
I met the guys at Lightly Technologies at an exhibition I was shooting and was intrigued by how thin and, therefore, potentially portable their lighting modules were.
“The first thing that struck me was how light and portable this rig is. It can fit into a vinyl album sleeve, or the laptop compartment of my camera bag alongside my Mac Pro.”
So, armed with some double-sided tape and some connectors, I rigged up 9 modules (4000K) on a simple square of 3mm-thick hardboard to see how their tech would cope with the rigours of life with a photographer on the road.
The first thing that struck me was how light and portable this rig is. It can fit into a vinyl album sleeve, or the laptop compartment of my camera bag alongside my Mac Pro. The quality, intensity and spread of the light is exceptional, diffuse, very consistent and with good, flicker-free output even at the slowest shutter speeds. Consistency is critical to commercial performance, when I’m shooting I need to focus on my connection to my subject, not thinking about my gear. Jury rigged though this panel was, the performance was flawless.
“The quality, intensity and spread of the light is exceptional, diffuse, very consistent and with good, flicker-free output even at the slowest shutter speeds.”
It’s powered by a driver, which fits into the camera bag and is plugged into 2 connectors on the back of the rig. In the few months I’ve been using it, it’s been used as a flood, background, portrait, ambient light and as a replacement for the sun. My makeup artist also repeatedly used it as a work light over the standard studio makeup lighting because of the quality of output and the ease of use. She did note that some radiant heat built after a while, this is likely because on my ‘prototype’ the modules were mounted on hardboard with no thermal path for heat to dissipate.
All of the following shots were lit with the panel:
Continuing with the vinyl records analogy, with each module weighing only 35g it would be very easy to fit a sufficient amount of 3 x 3-module rigs to far exceed the requirements for even most medium sized film productions into a record case. For context this normally requires a medium sized truck or two.
The dimensions of each individual module (100 x 100 x 3.2mm) gives them the potential to be used as easily-scalable build blocks for an on-site, custom-made solution. For example, 3 lines of 3 can become either a square or a line, or an ‘L’ shape. 4 lines of 4 increases the overall effect and ultimately scales to replace any main light currently on the market for photography or film, with the exception of spotlights.
This amount of flexibility doesn’t exist in the market right now and there's a huge variety of applications this enables from major film and TV lighting, set design, product photography etc with the simple addition of barn doors, grids, gels and modifiers when required. The volume of light was great (particularly for the size), although more is always good, but more important is the ability to control the volume of light.
In order to set this technology apart from the rest I would list the following as must-haves:
• Dimmable [yes]
• Colour temperature control [on roadmap]
• Adjustable beam [can be achieved with lightweight films rather than barn doors further saving weight and space]
• Battery option (still needs to be mains powered as well) [possible now]
• Modularity / plug & play [totally unavailable on the commercial market]
For a home-made lighting rig it has been great to use, works wonderfully and is so versatile that for the last couple of shoots it’s been the only light source I’ve taken with me. The team are welcome to share their conversations with me trying to avoid giving it back!
Aaron Smedley is an internationally-published editorial and set photographer working globally between London, NY, LA and Vancouver. He shoots film and digital exclusively with Leica cameras regularly featuring on their brand channels. You can view more of his work by clicking here.