Using a Video Light to Enhance Your Nighttime Photography

By Christina Craft on August 19th, 2013

Now that many DSLR cameras allow you to photograph at high ISOs with less grain or noise, you can take advantage of a more cinematic look to your photos. I love to use my video light to enhance my nighttime portraits. These are simple LED lights that videographers use. I paid under $100 for mine on eBay, and it’s a great tool to kick in extra light and add some drama to a scene.

Using a Video Light to Enhance Your Nighttime Photography

LED video lights usually have a hot shoe so you can mount one on your camera. You can also mount it on a tripod or have someone hold it. There are dials at the back of mine that allow me to control the amount of light (kind of like a light switch). Some LED video lights have Kelvin settings, which will allow you to control the color of the light. You can also use colored gels. My light came with a white and a yellow gel. You can buy them at many stores, including department stores. Ebay is also a great place to find them.

Using the Video Light as a Substitute for Flash

A video light is not as powerful as a flash and will barely register if you’re shooting on a bright, sunny day. However, if you boost your ISO, you can use it as a continuous light source in a dark setting.

I once photographed a wedding in Panama that was two hours late, which meant the sun had already set. It was outdoors, and there was no ceiling to bounce my flash. The ceremony official needed to use a flashlight to help the couple sign their registry. Yes, it was that dark. My camera had trouble focusing, so I decided to put my video light directly on my camera. This meant I could focus easier, and I could also take several photos in a second without needing to wait for the flash to power up. I only use it mounted on my camera on rare occasions because I need to stand quite close to people in order to project enough light. However, it is a great tool to help you in a pinch.

1/125th sec, f2.8, ISO 4000, focal length 50mm

Using a Video Light For Portraits

I love to take low-light portraits of my wedding clients. It allows me to use a scene that may not be that pretty and make it look more dramatic. I like to underexpose in low light to eliminate details in the shadows. When I can’t find a good ambient light to use, I will use the video light.

Example 1: A rainstorm hit during an outdoor portrait session, so the couple ducked into their car. I decided to use the opportunity to continue to take portraits. There was still light in the sky, but we were in the woods, so it was low enough light that I needed to shoot at ISO 800. I underexposed by around one stop. I then set up the video light on the dashboard of the car with a yellow gel filter and photographed the couple through the window while I protected myself and my gear with an umbrella. I needed to focus manually because of the raindrops on the window.

1/160th sec, f3.5, ISO 800, focal length 35mm

Example 2: I asked this couple to sit at their reception head table and have a kiss. This photo took only about two minutes to set up. The video light had a yellow gel and was propped on the table, pointing at them. My lens was right next to the vase (it’s the large blue object in the front). The high ISO allowed the camera to pick up the other ambient light of the candles.

1/160th sec, f2.8, ISO 2500, focal length 44mm

Experiment with video lights, and you’ll find new and unique opportunities to use them.

Bonus: If you want to learn more about photography and taking better photos, try an online online photography course from NYIP today!

About the Author

Christina Craft has placed 3 times in the top 10 with the prestigious International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers, and she was recently ranked #2 for 2012 with the Professional Wedding Photographers of Canada. She has also placed as a finalist with the Shell BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards and the Nature's Best Photography contest. Christina has a master's degree in journalism from Carleton University with a specialization in broadcast and documentary reporting, and she has a diploma in photography from the Western Academy of Photography. While at Western, Christina won the award for best overall student and is now a faculty member. She also offers wedding photography workshops. Find her at