Using iPad as a Light Source for Photography

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Using iPad as a Light Source for Photography

I’ve seen people on websites talking about using iPads as light for photography, and videos of people holding a panel of three iPads to illuminate a face to snap a portrait.

Although the result is good, attaching several iPads to a rig can be quite complicated, cumbersome and fairly heavy. Most people don’t have the luxury of having several iPads, so I wanted to see if using a single iPad was practical for photography.

To set up the stage, you’ll need an iPad, tungsten lights such as a studio light or a floor lamp will do to keep the room from being too dark as well as provide additional light source to your subject. You don’t need a flash because the strong light it produces will wash out all the colors produced by your iPad. Since the light is low, you’ll need to use a slower shutter speed to get a good exposure. Using a shutter release is also a good idea, especially if you want a great and steady shot while you are holding your iPad with one of your hand. Don’t forget to set your camera on a tripod and choose a still subject to prevent motion blur as well as keeping the ISO small to prevent unwanted noise and grain.

General speaking, iPad doesn’t produce enough light to act as the key light (primary light), if you really want to take advantage of the color light it produces, I suggest you to try a small object for your shoot. I used the flowers from the Kangaroo Paw as my subject matter (below) because they are so small (size of a thumb). I placed my iPad close to the area where I like to paint the color. Then with the ceiling lights off, I created a soft ambient light with my studio light several feet away to enhance the other areas of my subject.

I used the free version of an iPad app called “Softbox Pro” to produce different colors and patterns in fullscreen to create the images in this post.

If you’re using the iPad as a backdrop, you’ll of course need to otherwise illuminate the subject from the front. You have to experiment with the distance between your subject and the light sources. If your key light is too close, it may overpower the subject and flush out or distorted the color light produced by your iPad. So the key is to find a good balance just like any professional studio photography. You can try to soften your key light by bouncing it against a white wall, with a piece of paper, pulling it back, etc. to produce your desire results. Below are the 2 shots I created by using my iPad as a backdrop.

Australia Paw Photo with iPad backlight Australia Paw Photo with iPad backlight

Here is a few candidate shots to show you where I placed my camera in related to the subject as well as how close I need to place my iPad.

Canon 5D with 100mm Macro Lens, shutter release, iPad2 and tungsten studio light.

You can always do a little post production color adjusting to really make it pop. For me, I did very minimal color adjustment with Adobe Lightroom but mainly pushing the clarity level. Of course you can experiment and see what you come up with. Let us know what you think of these shots, and if you try it out, share your experience with us. We look forward to seeing what you come up with.


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