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1500 Lumens, Same Brightness As A 100-watt Light Bulb

“Yeah they’re cool looking, but let’s face it, put LED’s in a Louisville Slugger baseball bat and you’re not going to hit the ball any further—you got to know how to use the bat.” — Rolando Gomez

Over a year ago I wrote an article about the paradigm shifts in photography, specifically DSLR owners move to mirrorless cameras and how clean high ISO’s plus the ability to handhold mirrorless cameras at slow speeds is impacting flash manufacturers. Throw in smart phones, apps, and now various forms of “LED light sticks,” and flash manufacturers are scratching their heads on how to survive this shift away from flash.

Light Stick, LED Photography

This photo was taken on Fremont Street as a dry-run for our upcoming Fremont Street Photography Experience event.

As I mentioned in that article, Lighting & Cameras, Paradigm Shifts In Photography, I love my lighting strobe systems, but I use them less than I once did and for more specific lighting choices, like over-powering the sun with flash on location, something LED’s can’t effectively accomplish at this time or any light stick for that matter.

LED’s are here and they come arranged in cubes, sticks, rings, etc., and one reason they’re becoming popular is that they are a continuous light form, so when you combine that with a mirrorless camera, what you see is what you get in the live viewfinder, BEFORE you release the shutter. With flash, you have to capture the image, confirm, and adjust exposure if necessary. Continuous sources of light also allow you to work seamlessly with video. Even the iPhone flash is not a real flash; it’s actually an LED that provides a short burst of continuous light.

You can search all over the Internet and find many articles on how to make homemade light sticks, heck, you can even use glow sticks, they come in different colors—and besides, for the RAW shooters, does Kelvin really matter? With my mirrorless camera I can adjust white-balance on the fly, see actually how my photo will look before I capture, make any adjustments live, then BAM! I’ve got my photo without even worrying about white balance because with most mirrorless systems, especially the Olympus OM-D, E-M1 and the E-M1 Mark II, what you see is what you get—WYSIWYG.

Continuous light sources aren’t new, but tungsten hot lights gave way to the cool, low power LED’s and now you can find them in light saber look-a-likes known as light sticks. Whether you want to call it something you’d think Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers carry as part of their uniform, or tons of other names like pixel sticks or just plain glow sticks, thanks to marketing hype, and probably Star Wars, these light sticks are popular. You can spend hundreds on them, or DIY and save hundreds. Personally I think they are more of a gimmick than a tool because you can take a table lamp and light a great photograph today just as good as any light stick.

Ambient Light Model Photo

Photo taken during one of our photography workshops using natural window light.

Yes, a table lamp, or better yet, just the natural sunlight that flows through any window facing the sun—the key is the angle of the light striking your subject, not a cylindrical plastic tube that holds it. Yeah they’re cool. But let’s face it, put LED’s in a Louisville Slugger baseball bat and you’re not going to hit the ball any further—you have to know how to use the bat. Light sticks aren’t going to make you a better photographer if you don’t know the fundamentals and basics of lighting. I’m not saying they’re bad or you shouldn’t use them, I’m saying like any light tool, learn what the tool does for you, how to use it properly, and why light reacts the way it does.

For the record, since the days of film, there were mechanics’ drop lights, then mechanic droplight fluorescent sticks—and they cost tons less than those made for photography. And the dimmer switches were simple, just move your light forward or backwards from your subject as the intensity in lumens when it comes to “any” light stick, those for mechanics of photographers, is not that strong, plus thanks to the Inverse Square Law, the light fall off is fast—so in reality you don’t need a dimmer—that’s marketing hype to sell you something you don’t need.

Lumens Don’t Lie

Now I’m sure a few diehard light stick users will argue with me—well my rebuttal is simple, we’re not talking about Star Wars light sabers here, we’re talking about doing your research. As an example, I noticed that version two of a very popular light stick that sells for almost four hundred dollars went from 1160 lumens output to 1740 lumens. WOW! A 580-lumen increase! That must be great right? Well it depends on how you look at it.

Ambient Light

This photo was taken with ambient window light and the LED lights found in the light fixtures, no light sticks.

First, lumens are, “a unit of luminous flux in the International System of Units, that is equal to the amount of light given out through a solid angle by a source of one candela intensity radiating equally in all directions.” In layman’s terms, 580 lumens equal about 50 (fifty) watts more power than if you’re using a common incandescent table lamp at home. Lumens are a measurement of brightness, watts are a measurement of energy use, not brightness, and that is why incandescent light bulbs use more power (energy) than a fluorescent bulb and an LED bulb uses the least amount of power to provide the same amount of lumens.

That means that 1740 lumens are equivalent to just a tad brighter than a standard 100-watt incandescent home, table lamp bulb, which today costs about a buck, old style, and if you have to have the energy saving LED version, about four bucks! So, do the math, do you purchase an LED light stick for $400 or an LED light bulb that produces the same amount of lumens for $4 and put it in a cheap $7 mechanic’s drop light housing? You do not measure light intensity or brightness on watts, it’s measured in lumens. If you want a battery powered version, you can make one with aluminum foil, PVC pipe, a fluorescent plastic tube sleeve, and an LED flashlight for under $30 and paint it black if you’re into Star Wars.

In fact, the first light sticks that touted slightly over 1100 lumens, were basically the equivalent to a 75-watt incandescent bulb. So if you haven’t purchased any light sticks yet, do this, take a table lamp with a 100-watt incandescent bulb, set your white balance accordingly, and shoot with that as your light source, indoors and outdoors. This simple exercise will allow you to understand how much light brightness light sticks, or similar LED device of equal lumens, regardless how it’s shaped, will provide you when it comes to light intensity and what your camera exposure settings will be. No joke!

Want to learn more about lighting and photography? Just join me at one of my photography workshops, if you want, you can bring a light stick, but no weapons or light sabers are allowed.

Yes, we can argue about CRI, color rendition index, when it comes to light sticks, but flash beats LEDs in that department like rocks beat scissors. With that I close, and as always, I ask let’s not forget the men and women who proudly serve our nation to protect our freedoms—God Bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.

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