When to use continuous light for your campaign photography

Tip 15 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“All you need is light”

PART 3: When to use continuous light for your campaign photography

continuous light is mostly used for video productions


It’s almost needless to say but for the sake of completeness: continuous light is designed for film making. For photography flashes offer the most efficient way of lighting a set – they save energy due to releasing light for just a short amount of time, yet they are powerful and furthermore do they come with plenty sorts of light shapers, which are mostly easy to build up and attach. However, continuous light has one very clear advantage: you can see the light of the setup even before the first photo or footage is taken and it’s, therefore, a good way for non-professionals to start understanding light – or at least to be confident of the light situation created.

What else continuous light is used for

Most film light is based on bundling by built-in mirrors or lenses (except for LEDs and fluorescent lights) and its intensity is oftentimes adjustable. This allows us to use the camera settings that we like for our project, we just need to be aware of the fact that we need to “freeze” a moment by speeding up the camera’s shutter, otherwise we might get a motion-blurred model in our photos. Of course, this is not your concern but the photographer’s task. Anyway, blurriness can be the desired effect that can’t be reached with flashlights. With the latter, we’d just get a frozen image with some weak blurry traces when using a long-time exposure – which is also a style. Blurred images are currently quite trendy, but they’re not new: Paolo Roversi has always been a master of photographing fashion with continuous light and in his opinion, a longer exposure adds a certain depth to the darks which I personally agree with – at least when it comes to his photography. So whether you’re aiming for still or motion-blurred pictures in your campaign make sure to point out which appearance they should have and discuss it with your photographer. This way he or she will know how to handle the camera according to the continuous light used.

Depending on the brand continuous lights such as Arri and Dedolight produce strong beams to fill a big scene and oftentimes simulate daylight. Therefore, using them for photography can result in very cinematic and moody images. If you’re planning to shoot photo and film on the same day – and considering multi-channel marketing you certainly need both mediums for your content – using continuous light for both guarantees that all material will convey a corresponding atmosphere. Besides that, your photo and film teams don’t need to build two different sets so you neither need to pay for double the light equipment nor for a super large studio or location. They’ll just take turns on set and use the available time more efficiently because logistical issues are kept down.

How continuous light is shapeable

Shooting photos with film light is a bit like working with plain sunlight and many lamps turn perceived as hot over time. Continuous light is, therefore, not as easy to handle when it comes to modifying it. Oftentimes devices are stocked with barn doors which allow narrowing the light beam quite precisely. However, they heat up as well so changing their angle resp. the illumination area is just recommended with all due caution e.g. by wearing gloves. Other than that, film light can be very harsh even though it mostly can’t reach the intensity of strobes. At the same time, it’s more delicate so it doesn’t create a super crisp skin structure like when shooting with strobes (and this can reduce the amount of work in post-production resp. your cost). Due to its hardness, however, placing it close to the subject will drop a sharp or semi-sharp shadow. A bigger distance between the light and the model (and the background) results in a slightly softer (and lower) light version because of its scattering and like this, you might also prevent that the person starts sweating in your clothes. As you can imagine placing softboxes or umbrellas in front of a hot lamp is dangerous due to the heat (– I can tell because back in the days as an intern I melted one…). So how do we successfully soften our film light? The answer is: exactly like daylight, we just place one or more scrims in front of our lamp (with a little distance of course). Another possibility presents itself when using it non-directionally in the sense of pointing it to a white surface such as a wall or styrofoam (but please keep some distance here as well because styrofoam is very inflammable). In both cases, you will lose a lot of light intensity, but this might be perfectly suitable for a cinematic look that you’re aiming for in your photos. As you can certainly conclude by now a bigger studio is very helpful when shooting with continuous light. Last but not least your photographer can fine-tune the light’s colour by sticking fireproof gels to the barn doors which are specifically made for film light. Like that he or she can turn daylight lamps into artificial light sources and vice versa so you get the perfect atmosphere for your campaign photos. 

softening continuous light is possible with scrims

Disadvantages of film light on photography sets

Considering film light for photography is reasonable because of its specific Hollywood look and the photographer’s different approach to shape it. It can help to create an intimate dialogue between the model and photographer which is not interrupted by any sudden lights and beeps. Yet, you should learn the following unflattering facts before you decide to go for it. Besides heating up itself and the room around it continuous light can possibly blind the model and make them look tense. Because it’s so bright and dazzling it might be hard to ever get used to it (depending on its position) and to stop narrowing the eyes all the time. Caused by that, maintaining the right attitude can prove difficult for the model yet it would be crucial for your campaign.

continuous light is likely to blind the model sometimes

Besides the obvious pros and cons mentioned it’s important to think about some aspects regarding sustainability. Usual continuous light (again except for LEDs and fluorescent lights) consume a great amount of energy and is mostly more expensive to buy and rent compared to flashlights. If you decide to shoot with it anyway, please make sure there’s enough manpower available to set it up as most film lights are super heavy. Once turned on be careful not to touch or move the lights. It’s possible that they break due to their high temperature and in the worst-case toxic substances can leak. Normally, the lamps are very robust and an additional safety gadget is built-in to prevent the worst-case but having a light dropping out during your shoot wouldn’t be ideal either, right? Anyway, there’s no reason to panic or be afraid of continuous light – you just might want to make sure everyone on set is briefed, hence careful not to stumble over the gear. 

The LED revolution in film and photography

To be honest I haven’t worked with LED lights a lot so far but I’ve done some research for you and I’m summing up here what I know about it. What’ obvious is that LEDs stay quite cool and they don’t weigh so much. 80 % of the energy needed to run an LED is transformed into actual light which makes it much more energy-efficient to use than other lights. By today more and more film and photo productions started using LEDs and there’s a variety of products on a market already, also coming from the big brands who are else known for other kinds of continuous lights. There are even more improved models to be expected in the next few years. However, today’s LEDs can’t reach the brightness of a strobe or e.g. HMI light except for when there are many bulbs next to each other which combine to a big panel resp. a big light source. As a consequence, it’s not the easiest to modify this light’s character. Not only is every brand creating differently shaped devices and there aren’t any adapters to attach and to make regular light shapers compatible to them – but the light also loses a fair amount of its intensity when scattering it with foils or scrims in front. Nevertheless, the advantages of LEDs sound attractive to me personally, especially because with some versions it’s possible to dim it smoothly and even change the light temperature. I’m definitely going to try it sometime soon and I’m curious to see and judge its consistency when using it on a model. I’m sure that shooting fashion campaigns with LEDs will be a reasonable option in the near future that reduces cost and saves energy, so why not keeping it in mind… If you want to learn more about LEDs in Detail I found this article quite helpful. 

LED panels are available in different shapes and sizes


Using continuous light is mostly a change of perspective which requires a little bit of courage for sure – but it’s worth it. Due to its moody look and therefore emotional results your photos will have a certain something that others don’t. Our eyes and brain can subconsciously recognise a movie reference and automatically take it in more like a narrative story which can be as moving as a film even though it’s about a still image. In a world where video is gaining in importance and innovations like IGTV with its vertical video formats take place, we might want to react to this with over-thinking our traditional way of photographing. Nevertheless, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel as we can find many great examples in the history of (fashion) photography using continuous light from who we can learn a lot.


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