The Essential Guide to Choosing the Best LED Lights for Location Shoots

Quality lighting can make or break a film or video production. Whether you’re shooting a commercial, short film, or documentary, your lighting needs to match the story, mood, and visual style you want to achieve. This is especially crucial for location shoots, where you often have to shape motivated lighting in real-world environments.

LED lights have become the default choice for creating professional lighting setups on location. LEDs offer major advantages like high brightness, battery power options, advanced control features, durability, portability, and the ability to dial in just the right color temperature and quality of light. With so many LED models and specs out there though, how do you pick the best options for your shoot?

This comprehensive LED buying guide will breakdown the key factors to consider when selecting LED lighting for any location production. We’ll cover the most important technical specs, feature must-haves, ideal lights for different scenarios, techniques for shaping beautiful lighting on location, and frequently asked questions. Let’s dive in!

The Main Factors to Consider When Choosing Location Shooting LED Lights

When evaluating LED lighting options for your next video or film shoot on location, these are the most important performance factors and features to look for:

Brightness

A light’s brightness output is measured in lumens. Consider both the maximum lumens the light can achieve, as well as the range of adjustable output levels. Higher lumen lights like the ARRI SkyPanel S60-C can illuminate huge areas. Smaller LEDs like the Nanlite Forza 300 provide ample brightness for smaller spaces. Consider your shoot needs, then choose lights with appropriate output power.

You can modify and control brightness on set using light shaping tools like diffusers, reflectors, flags, and gels. Having lights with a wide output range empowers you to start dim for precise control, then boost as needed.

Light Quality

The quality and characteristics of the light itself matter just as much as the brightness. Look for LEDs advertised as having high CRI (color rendering index). High CRI LEDs render colors accurately and naturally.

Also consider the color temperature options. Lights with dial-in color temperature control allow you to easily match or create any desired lighting color look. Daylight, tungsten, variable white balance, and RGB tunable are fantastic to have.

Power Source

LED lights powered by onboard batteries offer the ultimate portability and access to remote power-free locations. While corded lights offer unlimited runtime, battery-powered LEDs give you far more flexibility on the go. Just be sure to stock up on spare batteries!

For stationary indoor locations or night shoots, corded mains power is generally reliable. Just keep an eye out for available outlets in your selected shooting areas. Some LED lights offer both battery and corded power for the best of both worlds.

Durability

LED technology is inherently durable, long-lasting, and able to withstand bumps and impacts. But you’ll want the reassurance of IP65 or higher ingress protection ratings on lights used outdoors or in potentially wet, dusty, or muddy conditions.

Metal housing and protective cases help enhance durability for lights like the Arri 300C and Aputure 120d II. Verify your LEDs can hold up to the demands of your production.

Beam Angle

The beam angle determines the directionality and spread of the LED light source. Here are some ideal beam angles for different lighting needs:

  • Narrow spotlights like the Celeb Spectra 50° for precision control, dramatic shafts of light, and punching through ambient light.
  • Medium flood lights like the Nanlite Pavotube softbox for general wide-angle fill lighting.
  • Adjustable beam angle LEDs like the Light & Motion Celera 500 that allow you to dial in any spread. This lets you modify directionality for different setups with one unit.

Having a mix of spot, flood, and adjustable beam LEDs in your lighting kit is recommended to handle any scenario.

Size and Weight

In general, LED technology allows for good brightness and compact fixture designs. But lights still vary greatly in terms of size and portability:

  • Small on-camera LEDs like the Aputure MC are incredibly convenient for run-and-gun shoots with minimal crew.
  • Medium LED panels like the Litepanels Gemini 2×1 offer a nice balance of power, features, and mobility.
  • Large full-sized LEDs like the ARRI SkyPanel S60-C provide maximum output but are heavier and require more support gear.

Evaluate your location constraints, crew size, travel plans, and power requirements to decide on compact versus larger LED lights for your production.

Budget

As with any gear purchase, your budget plays a role in selecting LED equipment. Entry-level LEDs from brands like Neewer and Falcon Eyes offer solid performance at attractive prices for those starting out.

Mid-range options provide excellent value for the quality such as Westcott FJ400 and Nanlite Forza 500. While investing in high-end LEDs from industry leaders like ARRI and Cineo Lighting gets you premium performance and capabilities.

Brands

When buying LED lighting, stick with established cinema brands known for performance, quality control, and reliability. Some top names to look for include ARRI, Mole-Richardson, Cineo Lighting, Quasar Science, Litepanels, Kino Flo, Nanlite, Aputure, Westcott, and Fiilex.

Less expensive generic LED gear can work in a pinch. But you generally get what you pay for in terms of color quality, durability, flicker-free dimming, and robust features. Do your research to ensure reputable LEDs up to professional production standards.

The Top 5 Must-Have LED Lights for Location Shoots

Let’s look at the specs and ideal uses of 5 stellar LED lights perfect for taking on your next production on location:

1. Aputure 120D

With super bright output reaching 9000 lux at 10 feet, CRI/TLCI over 95, and a lightweight but durable design, the Aputure 120D is arguably the gold standard LED for run-and-gun location lighting.

Some standout benefits include:

  • Incredibly bright 120W output, yet only 2.4 kg including battery
  • Color temperature range from 2700K-6500K with Hue and Sat controls
  • Bowens S-Type modifier mount for attaching softboxes, beauty dish etc.
  • Handheld operation or pole operated with optional extension adapter
  • Water resistant design stands up to outdoor shoots

The Aputure 120D is ideal as a key, fill, or back light for interviews, corporate videos, YouTube content, and any shoot where mobility matters. Just be mindful of the relatively short runtime per battery. Overall, an extremely versatile LED perfect for taking anywhere.

2. Westcott FJ400 Strobelight

The innovative Westcott FJ400 uses a strobe flash tube design for incredibly bright 1600 lumen bursts of light with accurate 6000K color temperature.

Advantages of this strobe LED include:

  • Very fast 1/8000 flash capability stops motion for outdoor action shots
  • Built-in parabolic reflector for highly directional light like natural sunlight
  • Lightweight at just 1.8 pounds with 200 flashes per charge
  • Wireless control from iOS devices to adjust output and triggering
  • Water resistant construction for rainy outdoor environments

This uniquely powerful strobe LED light excels for outdoor portraits, sports action, landscapes, and commercial shoots where you want to overpower the sun naturally.

3. Nanlite Forza 500

The Nanlite Forza 500 is packed with impressive specs and features at an affordable price point.

Ideal for run-and-gun shoots, the advantages include:

  • Phenomenal 96 CRI, 98 TLCI color rendition for beautiful skin tones
  • Brightness up to 49,500 lux at 3 feet with wide flood coverage
  • Built-in dye-sublimation backdrop projection system
  • USB-PD 45W charging enables studio-level output on lithium batteries
  • Rugged waterproof, dustproof metal design rated IP65

This light is hard to beat for crystal clear interview lighting, YouTube videos, corporate projects, and any outdoor shoots. Power up Forza 500s for perfectly lit scenes anywhere, any time.

4. Quasar Science RAIL 48

The Quasar RAIL 48 linear LED light offers gorgeous cinematic quality and professional features in a slim form factor.

Benefits include:

  • Custom QUASAR® FOUR strip tech for 95+ CRI, power efficiency
  • Brightness up to 4800 lumens, adjustable beam from 16-65 degrees
  • Lightweight under 3 pounds with sturdy aluminum housing
  • Easy mounting via articulating yoke with 1/4-20″ stud
  • Runs off batteries or AC power with auto-sensing capability

The compact RAIL 48 excels as on camera lighting, location backgrounds, product lighting, and bringing pop to indoor spaces with stylized directional light.

5. ARRI SkyPanel S30-C

The ARRI SkyPanel S30-C is a premium quality mid-sized LED soft light offering tremendous creative control on set.

Notable features include:

  • Fully tunable across the entire color spectrum like no other light
  • Cinema quality light with TLCI/CRI over 95 and flicker-free output
  • Brightness up to 40,000 lux with amazing 1396% dimming range
  • Onboard controller for dialing in color, intensity, effects, grouping
  • Roadworthy aircraft-grade aluminum housing built to last

While an investment, the unmatched flexibility makes SkyPanels incredibly valuable for commercials, music videos, documentaries and other high-end productions where every lighting nuance matters.

Key Factors When Selecting LED Lights for Different Shooting Locations

To choose the best LED lights for your specific production’s shooting locations, here are some pivotal factors to consider:

The size of the space – For shooting indoors in small rooms, compact LED panels and small on-camera lights provide ample illumination without taking up valuable real estate. For giant sound stages, huge warehouses, churches and ballrooms, larger more powerful LEDs are required to provide full coverage.

Available power sources – Access to electrical outlets makes corded AC power a no brainer. But for remote forests, fields, beaches, and parks, onboard battery powered LEDs are crucial. Stock backup batteries and have a charging strategy.

Permits and regulations – When planning outdoor LED lighting setups, research if any permits or rules apply at your locations. Some parks, buildings, neighborhoods restrict lighting to preserve ambiance or avoid disturbances.

Ambient light conditions – Evaluate ambient and natural lighting at your chosen sites. Boost LED output to balance sunshine, or reduce levels if working in dim interiors. Match color temperature too.

Location variables – Consider how factors like weather, accessibility, terrain and permission access time may impact your portable lighting needs at different natural locations.

Shot requirements – Pick LEDs to strategically handle key, fill, back, and practical lighting needs per your shooting storyboards. Lighting continuity is crucial too.

Portability requirements – If accessing remote locations by foot, small battery powered LED panels and on camera lights are essential. Vehicle access enables transporting larger LED lights.

Crew size – A small run-and-gun crew will appreciate compact LEDs that are quick and easy to position. Larger productions have more hands to move bigger lights.

LED Lighting Techniques and Best Practices for Location Shoots

Here are some key techniques and tips for shaping beautiful motivated lighting with your LEDs in any production location:

Strategically place key and fill lights to sculpt flattering illumination on your subjects from the optimal angles. Follow conventional 3-point lighting diagrams tailored to your unique locations.

Use reflectors and diffusers to bounce and broaden existing natural light from windows, skylights etc. for softer illumination. A little shaping goes a long way.

Match color temperatures of all light sources for consistency. Kelvin temperatures for sunlight, practicals, and your LEDs should complement each other on site.

Incorporate practical lights like table lamps, sconces, computer screens and hanging fixtures motivate believable light sources while adding authenticity on set.

Conceal lighting setups just out of frame to avoid stark shadows and create natural-looking environmental illumination as if sourced from practicals.

Build soft light by grouping multiple smaller LED units together rather than blasting a subject with a single large harsh source. Achieves more natural results.

Dim LED output down closer to their minimum rather than max for that cinematic qualty of illumination. Boost levels gradually only as needed.

Use onboard controls to quickly dial in light color, angle, and intensity changes on the fly while shooting. Makes fine tuning organic lighting a breeze.

Mark light placements using tape or props like stands when alternating between location setups. Reassembling consistency saves huge time.

Gel lights using CTB/CTO color correction or creative gels to match practical fixtures, shade portions of a scene, or set a stylized mood.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using LED Lights for Location Shooting

Some common FAQs about selecting and using LED lighting gear for location productions:

What are the best LED lights for shooting outdoors?

For run-and-gun outdoor shoots, portable battery-powered LED panels offer the best combination of power, controllability, and mobility. Top models to consider include the Aputure Amaran AL-F7X and Mole-Richardson 1×1 LED panels.

How do I minimize shadows when using LED panels on location?

The key is diffusion. Using multiple softer LED sources from different angles fills in shadows, instead of blasting with a single harsh source. The Aputure 300d with a Westcott Rapid Box octa softbox creates gorgeous multidirectional illumination.

What accessories do I need for shaping LED light on locations?

Light modifiers like softboxes, beauty dishes, snoots, grids, gels, flags, and reflectors enable ultimate control over the quality, intensity, color and direction of LEDs on set. Every lighting pro should have an assortment in their kit.

How do I safely hang and mount LED lights on location?

Gaffer tape is ideal for temporarily securing smaller LED panels and light modifiers in place on walls, stands, furniture etc. For mounting heavier lights overhead, use rated clamps or grips attached to rigging and stands via safety cables as a backup precaution.

Is there a lightweight, battery-powered LED suitable for handheld/run-and-gun filming?

Yes! The Aputure MC uses advanced RGBWW LED tech to output a wide range of color temps from a palm-sized fixture. Perfect for solo shooters and documentarians on the move who need portable, rechargeable lighting with pro color quality.

What is the ideal key-to-fill ratio for interview setups on location?

For professional results, you generally want your key light around 2-3 times brighter than the fill light. This provides pleasing dimensionality without strong shadows. A 2:1 or 3:1 ratio is recommended for interviews and talking head videos shot on location.

What are practical lights and why are they useful on shoots?

Practical lights are real-world fixtures like lamps, overhead lighting, computer screens, and candles that motivate light sources on set. They lend authenticity to scenes, and let you play the light “practically” rather than revealing theatrical lighting off-screen.

The Essentials for Perfectly Lit Locations

Hopefully this LED buying guide provides you with the must-know factors for evaluating and selecting the best LED lights for executing your creative vision on any film or video location shoot.

Remember to consider light power, quality, portability, beam angle, durability, and control features based on your unique production needs and shooting environments. Building your LED lighting kit for locations is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come in creating gorgeous cinematic imagery.

Lighting for the camera is both art and science. As you continue your filmmaking journey, keep studying lighting techniques, experimenting with new setups, and honing your eye for how lighting impacts storytelling. Don’t be afraid to take risks and break the “rules” to achieve the mood, emotion, and imagery that your locations and subjects deserve.

The technology empowers you, but your vision energizes the tech. We hope this guide serves as a helpful starting point as you embark on telling incredible stories with light, camera, action. Let us know if you have any other questions about choosing LED lighting and we’ll do our best to answer them!

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