A few months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to photograph Santa and Mrs. Claus posing with families in my community. No, not the mall Santa — THE Santa Claus himself, hired by my local city’s development organization. There would be a custom backdrop built, including Christmas trees and colored lights. It was a part of the city’s annual tree lighting, and they expected a HUGE turnout!

The problem

Originally the event was slated to take place outside at night. One of their requests — provide lighting so that guests can take photos on their cell phones. For me, this was a big question mark. How would I light the photographs in a way that kept the quality of the scene? I planned on using my AlienBee B800 strobes for my photographs, but I didn’t have a constant lighting option to provide the parents.

After doing quite a bit of research, I finally settled on getting some LED lights, and B&H agreed to send me some for review. Primarily meant for video, these would evenly light the scene and provide a soft light, versus a hard, distracting light that might blow out some of the scene.

The solution

The lights that were sent were the Genaray SpectroLED Essential 500, which are bi-color LED video lights. They come with 504 LEDs at 40 watts, allowing for a color temperature range from 3200 to 5600K that can be adjusted easily with a dial on the back of the light unit. Other specs include 4060 to 4280 Lux, 60-degree coverage and a bulb life of 30,000 hours.

Needless to say, I was set for my photoshoot with Santa — and then some.

Setup was easy. I mounted them on to the included 6′ light stands and positioned the lights right next to my AlienBees electronic flash units. This meant that the light source would be centered at approximately the same position, providing even lighting throughout the scene. This meant that skin tones would be faithfully reproduced.

Both sets of lights were at about 25% power, whereas my AlienBees were at 1/32 power, the lowest setting. Because the photoshoot had been moved inside, I didn’t need the lights to be super powerful, but I did need to have them bright enough to eliminate the shadows that were caused by the lights directly above. I put on the included diffuser on each light, which bows out slightly so the LED light isn’t directly covered.

The results

The nice thing about having the LED lights and the AlienBees is that they worked together to fill in shadows that created by my AlienBees. It made for a softer, more natural light, allowing me to show off the subjects and the surrounding scene.

Folks photographing with their cell phones had plenty of light to work with. Thanks to the LED lights there was enough the light to provide a focus and light the subjects for those using their camera phones. Below are some of those photos.

What’s great is having the LED lights also allowed me to capture some close-up candids of the kids interacting with Santa, without having to re-position or move my lights.

Closing thoughts

The Genaray SpectroLED Essential 500 Bi-Color LED Lights are great lights whether you’re photographing stills or shooting video. They provide nice, even light and have a plethora of controls ready at your fingertips. The Genaray SpectroLED Essential 500 Bi-Color LED Lights retails for $439.88 for a two-light kitA single light costs $219.96.