I've been wanting to experiment with LED lights for portraits and product photography for some time now. It took me a while to take the initial plunge for a number of reasons. The cost of good quality lights with an accurate color representation is not trivial. They also aren't nearly as powerful as good hot shoe flashes and certainly no where near the power you get from studio strobes. LED lighting can also be hard on the eyes and create weird shadows since they are made up of hundreds if not thousands of tiny individual LEDs. Some sort of diffusion is almost a necessity.
Recently I found a good deal on the IKAN Piatto 7" x 4" accent lights and decided to grab a couple. The price was right and the design of these lights addressed my concerns of harsh light. The Piatto series has a diffusing layer and my understanding is that the LEDs face inward rather than blasting straight out toward the subject. The resulting light has a radiant quality that while still hard due to the small panel size, it isn't as harsh as the typical bare LED panel.
The panels come with a mini ball head that mounts to standard light stands or you can attach the panels with standard 1/4 20 tripod attachment screws as I did above. An AC adapter was included, along with 3 battery adapters for popular video camera batteries. It's nice that you aren't restricted to a single battery type. These panels feel solid and well made. The two I bought fit side by side neatly in the laptop compartment of the messenger bag I use to carry my small camera kit.
Here's what the light looks like out of the bare Piatto panels. I used both panels to light my model for the sake of power in order to keep my ISO down at 400 at f/2.8 and 1/60 second. The panels were about 3 feet away.
The light isn't bad at all even though it is definitely hard light as you can see in the nose and chin shadows. There are some specular highlights starting to appear on the cheeks and forehead but nothing that a little retouching couldn't smooth out.
Here is the same too panels with a layer of diffusion added by way of a Westcott 5-in-1 reflector with the reflective cover removed. I handheld the reflector very close in, just outside the frame. Because the diffusion panel soaks up close to a stop of light I had to increase the Piatto panels to their maximum output.
With a little diffusion we now have beautiful soft light. This looks promising! I decided to add a hair light with a small Promaster LED video light and shoot a moody portrait of my lovely model and budding film director, Denise Bradley.
Here are a couple of behind the scenes shots. Apart from the compact light stands and reflector holder, the entire lighting setup fit in my medium sized messenger bag along with my camera gear. As true test of a minimalist and compact setup, I shot the portraits with a Fujifilm X30 instead of my usual XT-1. In the future I think I'd opt to use the XT-1 for more exposure latitude with faster lenses and the ability to push the ISO higher without introducing excessive noise.
I'm impressed by the quality of light of the Piatto lights, especially when used with a little diffusion. While it wasn't too difficult to handhold a diffuser, I'll probably be looking for a proper diffusion scrim, maybe something like a Westcott Fast Flag. In addition to portraits, the Piatto lights will be great for product photography. In fact I used them to take a few shots of the Olympus film camera I recently acquired. While there are certainly less expensive options for LED panels out there, the build quality, excellent color rendering, and a less harsh light output make the Piatto LED lights a great choice.