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LED Lighting: Professional Techniques for Digital Photographers Paperback – January 23, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"This book marks the start line of the next big wave of evolution for photographers. . . . The best place to start I've seen." —Will Crockett, CEO of CrockettCo Technologies and FridayPhotoSchool.com

"Tuck, a corporate advertising photographer, demonstrates to digital photographers techniques for using LED lighting and how they work." —www.BookNews.com

"If LED is indeed the lighting of the future, Tuck's enlightening and informative book is a great introduction." —www.portlandbookreview.com

"Easy to follow and an invaluable tool for anyone who is using LED lights professionally, or is an amateur looking to learn more about using LEDs effectively." —www.ephotozine.com

From the Author

The road to my LED Lighting book is a bumpy one that includes twenty years of working in the trenches of advertising photography.   The actual book is the distillation of new information about LEDs mixed with a couple years of shooting with them, and my general knowledge of photographic lighting.  When I started out I worked as a teaching assistant for several professors who taught commercial photography at the University of Texas.  We used 4x5 and 8x10 inch view cameras and, to get deep enough focus, we used small f-stops and very powerful studio electronic flash units.  Over time film got better and better which meant you could get nearly as good  quality with smaller and smaller formats.  Flashes got smaller but the lighting essentials remained the same.  You worked with:

Color Temperature
Quantity of Light (volume)
Quality of Light (hard or soft)
Direction of Light
When I started working in the advertising field as a creative director in the early 1980's I started coming up with creative ideas for television commercials and writing the scripts for the commercials.  This required me to be "on the set" to inform the director how I wanted a scene or segment or read to "feel."  With my background in commercial photography it was only natural that I'd delve into what made TV lighting work.
The first thing you realize is that all light on a set is going to be continuous lighting.  And in ample quantity. Tungsten lights were the lights of the day and that meant "hot lights." Very hot lights!  I learned what all the different kinds of movie lights did and why DP's set up their lights the way they did. How they "designed" with lights.
I quickly realized that all lighting directors had their own styles and their own looks.  And I realized that you could get a nasty burn just handling the light fixtures.  On film sets and TV sets of yore everyone who handled the lights had a pair of heatproof gloves hanging out of a pocket. And you had to be careful of what you hung in front of the lights, too.  If a gel got too close to the light beam of a powerful light it would start to smoke.  So would wooden clothespins.
And all the lighting back then, still and motion stuff, was very, very heavy and consumed a lot of electrical power.  In the case of tungsten lighting it returned most of the power back to you in the form of infrared= heat.
When Canon and Panasonic started coming out with DSLR's that had really, really good HD video, coupled with big sensors, I started to get excited again about shooting video.  Or making my own little "indy" films.  So I started doing research.  I wanted to find the current sweet spot in the market for things like microphones and fluid heads for tripods.  But most of all I realized that I'd need a source of continuous lighting.
I had a wish list that came about because I like to be able to go out at the drop of a hat and shoot with myself as my only crew.  That meant everything on my list should be small and light and easy to handle.  I can't do projects by myself where sound is important  but I sure can light stuff and then shoot by myself....
The wish list:
1.  Small and easy to move/handle
2.  Capable of good runtime on battery power.
3.  Close to daylight balance.
4.  Cool running.  (Hey, I live in Texas, the last thing I need to do is heat my studio in the summer.
5.  Able to be pressed into service for still photography.
6.  Affordable.
When I hammered down the list everything pointed to LED's.  I bought a bunch of different units and started practicing.  When I felt like I was getting to the point where I could light most things as well with LED's as I had been able to with studio electronic flash, and I had samples of successful shoots, I approached my publisher with the idea of doing a book about the subject.  It would be the first book dedicated entirely to using these new lights in still photography.
This book has a very specific target audience.  It's not aimed at a novice user.  The person I wrote for is:  A working professional photographer who has come to the realization that he or she needs continuous lighting in order to move the business in the direction of including some video services for clients.  It also includes advanced amateurs who understand lighting and have probably worked extensively with off camera flash, light stands and modifiers, ala David Hobby's Strobist work.
LED's have an obvious appeal to film makers but when photographers give them a good hard look they find the lights to be useful for most still life work, and quick portraits where balancing ambient light and fill light are important.  The one group I think will benefit most are food shooters.  WYSIWYG lighting combined with no lettuce withering heat means that set ups are quicker and surer and the comfort level, on set, is much better.
When I wrote the book I didn't have a huge backlog of images that were created using LED lights.  In previous books I could save time by dipping into twenty years worth of flash lighting and coming up with photos that accurately illustrated the text.  This meant that I had to start setting up test shoots with my favorite models and trying out techniques while I was in the process of writing the book.  Sometimes I'd write a page or two and then run into the studio and shoot in the style or manner I'd just described to make sure it worked.  Like a cookbook writer testing recipes.
I know this will be obvious the minute I write it but photographers who write books are at a decided vocational disadvantage.  We train for one thing but have to do everything.  Writing a book is hard enough but imagine having to write it and illustrate it at the same time.  You go back and forth, from one side of the brain to the other....  Even though the images illustrate the text I tried to write this for my readers in such a way that one could make do without the photos. The photos are like the icing on the cake and make getting the concept that much easier.  
My biggest help in getting the book finished and out the door was my friend and sometimes assistant, Amy Smith.  She patiently set up lights, positioned models, shot behind the scenes sequences and was a charming companion at many a lunch and coffee break.  She was also instrumental in helping bring my book on studio lighting to life as well.
The biggest challenge for writers is always to keep working at our day jobs (mine is photography) and stealing time to write in the early mornings before the family is up and late at night when everyone else is settled into their beds. If we stop doing photography to write about photography we end up writing about the past. Not about what is relevant right now.
I hope this book provides a starting point for anyone interested in learning to integrate and use LEDs in their practice of photography or video.  It cannot be comprehensive, with respect to what's current in the market, because that changes all the time, but it should serve as a guide from which you can launch your own research. 
Cool. Light. Shockproof and fun.  The more I use LEDs the more I like them.  

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 158 pages
  • Publisher: Amherst Media (January 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608954471
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608954476
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.4 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #561,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I started my photography career as a teaching assistant at the University of Texas at Austin working for three diametrically different commercial photographers. Charles Guerrero was the consummate Brooks Institute graduate who possessed the knowledge to do every type of photography well. One day Charlie would be shooting technical shots of semiconductors with a 4x5 inch view camera and on the next he'd be shooting a wedding. Reagan Bradshaw was a kindred spirit, an English major who felt more at home with a camera than a typewriter. He would later become one of the most influential presidents of the ASMP (The American Society of Media Photographers). He could shoot fun ad stuff in his studio or head out for a long bout of Texas Landscape photography. My third major influence was Tomas Pantin who was resolutely an advertising shooter. He still has his fingers on the pulse of what looks cool and what doesn't. These three depended on me to run their labs for their commercial photography courses.

My early photography days were spent teaching students how to set up and use 8x10 view cameras, studio strobes, cinematic lighting equipment and much more. We also maintained a large and efficient darkroom.

One by one my mentors left the University to go back to their true love, taking photographs. When the last one left he recommended me to the chair person and I spent another few years teaching both commercial studio photography while occasionally filling in for a fine art instructor who'd gone of a sabbatical.

Eventually I left because that kind of teaching becomes a routine and the time and energy for your own work drains away. I spent seven years as the creative director of a regional ad agency until finally opening my own advertising studio in 1987. Since then I've be all over the United States and most of Europe and the Caribbean making photographs and cataloging experiences.

A student asked me recently what my favorite assignment of all time was. I could truthfully say that it was a toss up. There was the freezing February I spent in St. Petersburg, Russia shooting art in the Catherine Palace and being the first American photographer to bring equipment into the Alexander Palace. The Alexander Palace was the last palace of the Czars and the current headquarters of the Russian Naval Intelligence Agency. We were their guests. We worked hard during the gray days and we played hard in the evenings. A favorite memory is the evening we spent at the Mariensky Theater watching the Kirov Ballet perform "The Firebird". We were sitting in the box seats of the Czar and the show was great but one of our ongoing quests in Russia in 1995 was to find clean public toilets. I didn't find them in the basement of the theater but I did come back up to the long private hallway that led to our box seats. There was an ornate door with a velvet rope in front of it. Naturally curious I lifted the rope and tried the door knob. It was unlocked. I went in and closed the door behind. As I looked around the room it dawned on me that I'd discovered the "real" throne room of the Czar. It was his private bathroom. WC. Loo.

After making sure the plumbing worked I ascended the throne. I won't go into more detail but suffice it to say that few have sat upon the throne of the Czars. As the guards said when I was thrown out, "IT IS FORBIDDEN!"

My second favorite photo assignment took place in Monte Carlo for an American high tech company. It was a week long conference that, for one reason or another, was very sparsely attended. I had a marvelous room at the Lowes Beachfront Hotel, right next to the Grande Casino and, since the program had to be truncated because of the low attendance I was forced to entertain myself every afternoon, surrounded by beautiful people, swimming laps in the Prince Ranier Memorial competition swimming pool adjacent to the harbor. Oh, and having dinner at the Prince Ranier Private Car Museum, chatting with Tom Peters and Sir David Frost.

Over the past twenty years I've been present at the nomination of Clinton for his first term, done one of Renee Zellweger's first headshots, hung out in an executive suite with former president George Herbert Walker Bush and Michael Dell, met high ranking Chinese government officials, photographed the October fashion shows in Paris, and dragged camera gear through clean rooms, sewage plants, and printing factories.

Over the course of the years I've found that additional knowledge has generally helped me lighten my load of gear while giving me more access and more mobility.

I decided to share that information when I was approached a few years ago by the folks at Amherst Media. They really believe in books. Not just as receptacles of information but as beautiful objects in their own right. They asked me to do a book I called "Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Location Photography". I didn't know what to expect but a great review from David Hobby propelled the book into bestseller status, and, as the information has not changed, it continues to sell very well.

My second book is on Studio photography and the third book covers the ins and out of commercial photography. My fourth book is a compendium of lighting Equipment and my latest book is the first of its kind, a guide to using LED Lights for Photography. Exciting times, for sure.

I still love taking photographs and I'm constantly playing with new cameras and lenses. I think it's like a sport where you have to practice daily to preserve your edge, your "chops". I can't understand professionals who've given up shooting for themselves or hobbyists who only shoot on vacation. Cameras are small and light, especially these days. Is there any reason to travel anywhere without one?

I'm not totally consumed by photography. I also love to swim and swim with a masters group just about every morning but Mondays. (That's the day the pool is closed.....). Much of my discipline for writing comes from a life long discipline learned in the pool. As my coach, Kirsten Weiss, always says, "The only way to get better is time in the water." The only way to become a better photographer is time with the camera. Books, workshops, DVD's and such are just the building blocks or the modeling clay. You have to do the design, stack the blocks, throw the clay on the wheel and some times it's just basic hard work and drudgery. But in the end it's all that matters in the making of a beautiful image.

I bought a Honda Element a few years ago. I didn't see it as a car so much as a giant camera bag with tires. When I buy a TV I really just see it as a device to hook up a Panasonic GH2 to and scroll through images. I stopped drinking caffeine so I could handhold my cameras at lower shutter speeds. I named my child Shutter Speed. Why do something if you aren't committed to doing it well?

Next up for me are novels about a photographer. More swimming and a lot more writing about the things that can make our images different and better.

I live in Austin, Texas with my wife, our sixteen year old son and my dog. Life is fun. Photography is too.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bill on February 6, 2012
Format: Paperback
When I heard Kirk was working on a book about LED lighting, I knew it was going to be good.

What I didn't know was that it was going to be THIS good.

Kirk and I are similar in a lot of ways - we shoot a wide variety of stuff, we like appropriately lit photos, we like predictable results, and we are criss-crossing the ever-shrinking digital divide between photo and video.

Kirk's book on LED lighting is perfectly timed with the explosion in LED lighting options, from small to large, from inexpensive to "sell off your first-born child" costly. He cuts through the marketing flak, and tells us what we (as photographers and videographers) really need to know - "How do these things behave on a real life shoot, and how do I tweak them to get the best results?"

He explains theory, then practice, then shows real-life situations (complete with lighting diagrams and behind-the-scenes photos) where he walks the talk. He shares the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And there isn't much ugly - because he's found the flaws in the system of using LEDs for lighting, and found how to fix them.

Thank you, Mr. Tuck, for saving me hours and hours of trial and error, and hours and hours of frustration and hair-pulling (and client apologizing) so I can get great, repeatable results, with these new lights. I was actually considering "gearing up" with CFLs - but after reading the books, I'm instead shopping for LEDs.

If you're at all interested in using that video feature in your snazzy new HD-DSLR, you need this book. If you're interested in calmer, quieter portrait shoots - you need this book. If you need less intrusive still photos in editorial situations - you need this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By WillCrockett on April 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When something new and revolutionary arrives into the photographic frame I always like to learn as much about it as I can. The info I look for is unbiased, free from any agendas, and very open minded to the possibilities of how we can implement the new technologies at hand. Kirk has always presented solid, fact based info in a complete and open atmosphere and this book marks the start line of the next big wave of evolution for photographers. LED lighting is approaching quickly and will be in sharp focus over the next year as we learn how to make better pictures with it. I like to jest that "there is no flash for video" so if an imagemaker wants to use their cameras to create video, they will need to start to work with LED lighting. This book is the best place to start I've seen. You will most likely be shooting with LED instead of your shoe flash in the next 2 years, and there's a lot to learn. Kirk outlines the basics and beyond in this easy read with plenty of illustrations that give me lots of ideas on how to use my new LED lights. Well done Kirk, as always sir.
Will Crockett / CrockettCo Technologies
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kyle Batson on February 15, 2012
Format: Paperback
As an enthusiast photographer who occasionally does paid work, I'm always interested in gear that will make my job easier. I follow Kirk Tuck's blog and keep an eye out whenever he points out inexpensive gear that might prove to be useful. Last year, I grabbed a cheap LED ring light he suggested and experimented with it. It was my first experience with LED lights, and while interesting to play with, I haven't used it much since. I could see plenty of advantages to a small, lightweight, inexpensive, continuous light source, but they posed a few problems as well; notably their low power output.

While I was hoping Kirk's latest book would provide me the slam dunk argument to switch over to LEDs completely, I'm still not convinced they are convenient enough for to use as my primary light source. This is no fault of Kirk's. He provides a great deal of well-illustrated examples of how he has incorporated LEDs into his professional photography. His portraits are good, and I found his food photography examples to be especially compelling.

I do wish he had provided more before-and-after examples when shooting outdoor portraits, however. Since the power output of LEDs are still low compared to flashes, it could have been made more clear what level of fill was being provided by the LEDs rather than ambient or reflected light.

Overall, however, the advantages of LEDs are communicated well by Kirk. He writes eloquently and passionately about lighting. You'll want to have an understanding of basic lighting techniques before reading this book (I recommend, Light: Science & Magic), but I think it will be useful reading to photographers of all skill levels.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By L. Buck on April 21, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm a fused glass artist. I enjoy making glass, but photographing it has been a nightmare. It seemed like there was always a reflection or hotspot, the colors were off, even after hours of trial and error it was never right. This book has taken the mystery out of lighting, and the LED technology makes it simple, safe and cheap. I got two small, inexpensive battery powered CN 160 lights. They weigh almost nothing, there's no cords to hassle with and no heat. I don't bother putting the lights on a stand, I just hold one in each hand. I move them around while looking through the viewfinder and hit the remote (also in my hand) when it looks right. It takes maybe 30 seconds. The pictures are coming out so good they look like they've been PhotoShopped. But they're not, they're just done right in the first place.

I never could have done it without this book. It's allowing me to do in minutes what used to take hours, and the quality is consistent. It's honestly the most useful photography book I've ever read.

If you're struggling with lighting, get this book, get some LED lights, get a gray card (this is important) and prepare to be amazed.
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