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A Pop Of Color

We all love to add color to our portraits and with so many great RGB LED lights available like the Savage RGB Light Painter Pro LED Wand and now the Rainbow RGB Ringlight it’s so easy to do… And overdo. I wanted to talk a bit in this article about how I created some fun portraits during an impromptu shoot at the Savage booth, WPPI 2019.

Incorporating colored lighting into your portraits, like any technique or method, works best when you have an understanding of why and not just how to do it. While we don’t need to be masters of color theory to add a little pop to our images, having some idea of the emotional response created by different colors really does help.

WPPI 2019

I stopped by the Savage booth to visit the team and saw for the first time the Rainbow RGB Ringlight. Natalia Rosas, the beautiful model was posing while photographers adjusted the light and made portraits of her. Not being one to pass up the opportunity to try a new light I made a few shots of her and while the light produced a soft shadowless look, Natalia looked well… A bit like a Smurf as the Rainbow Ringlight was the only light on her and was currently set to a shade of blue.

We spoke for a few minutes about how many different shades of green, red, purple, orange, blue, you name it, she had been that day and I decided to see how I could better utilize the color effects of the Rainbow Ringlight for a finished portrait.

Whenever I work with colored light, I always incorporate a “neutral” light as well. That is, one that is set to (at least close to) the proper white balance with no other color shade (like purple or green etc) this allows the viewer to more easily understand the color I have added. Also, though a large ringlight can produce a soft even key light – because it is basically shadowless -I find it is often better used as a fill light.

Combining these two thoughts, I grabbed the Edge Lit that was being used to light the background and moved it in to become my key light, keeping it at an angle that I could create nice shadows across her face that I would then fill with the color of my choice from the Rainbow Ringlight.

Using the ring light this way, I was able to create a very popular effect, colored Shadows. The great thing about using a ring light for this, versus just another light source as noted earlier, is that the ring light will not produce any shadows of its own, thus looks more natural.

After playing with the light a little bit I ask the people at Savage if I could come back the next day to actually do a live stream of this technique as I was really enjoying the images I was creating and wanted to share them with my followers.

When I arrived the next day with a good idea of what I would be demonstrating, I decided to start with a very clean shot using the ring in a neutral color just to create the flat ring light look. I then moved the Edge Lit in to create a more standard portrait. Again with no color added, I find it is often best to set your light pattern before incorporating any color.

Now it was time to have some fun!

I added color using the ring light as an “on axis” – basically from the camera position – fill light. This really is a practically foolproof way to add color to your shadows. After we made a few shots like this, I decided to create the color shadow effect using a more traditional “clamshell” set-up, I tilted the Ringlight down and flat under her chin creating a colored fill.

I took a second Edge Lit and placed it under the Ringlight shining through the center, thus shooting a neutral light up to fill the shadows in addition to the colored light from the Rainbow Ringlight. This gave me even more control as to the saturation and density of the color fill light.

I was very happy with the results we were getting but always wanting to take it one step further, I enlisted my friend and fellow photographer Seth Miranda, who had been helping me out, to grab the RGB Light Painter Pro LED Wand so we could play with using two different colors.

Seth chose a color for the wand and used it, at first for a kicker, and then as the key light, while I selected a contrasting color using the Rainbow Ringlight as a fill. Together, we were able to create a wide variety of cool color effects.

Having RGB LEDs to work with made this process so much easier than swapping gels on a flash, as we could quickly change the colors and immediately see our results to know which colors might blend better together and which ones not so much.

One other thing I like about the RGB Light Painter Pro Wand is that its shape being long and thin allows for a decent amount of coverage, but also control when sculpting light in portraiture.

All in all, I think using color light in portraits has become popular because it adds another dimension that you can play with beyond just exposure and shadow pattern. Using color can help evoke different moods and feelings and using it sparingly or with a purpose gives it even more power.

For me, I plan on continuing to use the Rainbow LED Ring Light in my portrait work as both a neutral and color fill light. The LED wand is also very interesting and really appealing to me because of the portability of it. The Wand can easily fit into my bag next to my softboxes and will find a purpose in many projects to come.

Daniel Norton

Daniel Norton is a Photographer, Creative Director and Educator with 20+ years in the advertising and editorial markets. Daniel also produces and hosts FREE weekly training for Adorama and on his YouTube channel as well as the Adorama TV series On Set with Daniel Norton.
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