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Shooting test portraits with the Kick

We did some test shots with the Kick the day before yesterday and Alex helped me out. Actually, he did all the shooting and I helped him out!

Kick may not be your typical portrait light. But we made some shots anyway, just for the heck of it. Alex made some lighting diagrams to go with the images.

Per, who we cajoled into posing for some of the images, helped us get access to an empty theater. We needed a large pitch black space for some technical shots to illustrate how far the light would reach when using an iPhone as a camera. You can see the examples in an update under our Kickstarter page.

From Alex’ portfolio


 Alex Asensi is a friend and a young emerging photographer/filmmaker. He set up some typical lighting scenarios and made some test shots using one or more Kicks as the sole lighting source.

This shot uses a single Kick above. The girl is Katarina, Per’s niece, who were nice enough to be our model for the shoot. This lighting gives hard dark shadows. Katerina has a beautiful strong face that can take this kind of lighting. But lighting from a steep angle, like this will exaggerate and bring out any skin imperfection. Normally you would do do a little retouch and soften the skin a bit. You would also reduce the reflections along the nose and forehead. We have done minimal post processing to these images.

In this shot Alex used 2 Kicks about 45 degrees from each side. This fills in the shadows and makes the face less 3-dimensional. Katarina looks great in any light, but you get a little bit of “deer-in-headlights” or papparazzi feel here.


This shot was made with 3 Kick lights. One on each side and one above dimmed down a bit. The Kick does a decent job for this kind of dramatic lighting.


Here is an example of using colored light on the background. Per stood against a grey background if I remember correctly. The light is behind his back, and directed at the background. You don’t have to do it quite as explicitly as in these examples. A little touch of light can be enough to make your subject stand out against a dark or dull background. Very handy if you have little room to shoot and you want to avoid the up-against-the-wall look.



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How RGB light works

I’m getting some questions about ‘digital light’. How does it actually work, and how on earth can an RGB light source be suitable for photo and video? The answer might surprise you. Lemme explain.


The sun has been around for a long time, it shone down upon us as we staggered out of the primordial ooze. Because our eyes evolved under the sun, we expect to see stuff in sunlight. Colors look ‘right’ when seen under sunlight.
Intuitively you would think that any light for photography must be as similar to sunlight as possible. Sunlight is after all the gold standard. Well, that certainly sounds reasonable, but it is not the whole story. Not even close.

From Wikipedia
Normalized responsivity spectra of human cone cells. From Wikipedia

How do we actually see colors?

Humans eyes contains 3 types of color sensitive cells called cones. One type is sensitive to red, one is sensitive to green and one is sensitive to blue. Physically, we can sense three colors and three colors only. So how are we able to see the other colors, for example purple? Or yellow? The eye has no sensors for purple or yellow or any of the millions of colors we can distinguish.

The explanation is this: Light are waves. Actually they have a wave-particle duality, but let’s not even go there. Some lightwaves, the blue ones, have a short wavelength, some have long wavelengths, those are the red ones. Different wavelengths gives different colors, you can see them all in a rainbow. Yellow light has a wavelength half way between red and green. The sensitivity of the cones in our eyes overlap a bit, so yellow light will stimulate both the red and the green cones in our eye. The brain knows that an equal amount of red and green means yellow. So we experience a mix of red and green as the color yellow.

Let’s do an experiment. The eye see yellow because both the red and green cones are stimulated. So what happens if you shine, not a yellow light, but a mix of red and green light into the eye. Well, the eye again senses an equal amount of red and green, and again sees yellow! Interestingly, the eye can not see a difference between actual yellow light and a mix of equal amounts of red and green light. That requires of course that the lights mix. That they overlap or are so small and close together that the eye can’t resolve the individual lights or pixels, like on your computer monitor.

Proof is right in front of you

Still sceptical? Think about it. Each pixel on the computer screen you are watching right now is made up of three colors only, red, green and blue. So there is no way for your computer screen to send out yellow light. But you are still able to see these yellow dots right here: • • • , right? If you look at the screen with a magnifying glass, you will see that the red and green in each pixel is lit.

This is called additive color mixing. Colors of light add together in the eye. Mix green and red, you see a third color, yellow. Mix red and blue and you see purple. White is what you see when you mix equal amounts of all three. Additive color mixing is not a physical property of light, it is how the eye interprets light.

Additive color mixing, From Wikipedia

But if there is a yellow object on a table, say a pencil, and you shine an RGB light on it, there is no yellow wavelengths in the light. The pencil can’t reflect yellow light. Won’t the pencil look black? No, and that is because we don’t see an object as yellow because it reflects yellow light. We see it as yellow because it absorbs blue. Your head spinning yet? Take an aspirin and watch this.

The ability to produce any color from mixing three primary colors are at the core of digital video and photography. Your eyes senses red green and blue (RGB), your camera sensor is a big array of RGB sensors, your computer screen is made up of RGB pixels. Here we are making digital lights with RGB emitters. Makes sense.

Neat system, yes?

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Big light, speedlight, and ambient light

As a young photojournalist [..] when I was lighting something I would bring out the Big Lights. You are completely fabricating light at that point… you are overpowering the daylight, you are starting from black, and you’re building that up, or whatever. So it’s a completely altered reality that does not even take the ‘real’ reality into account.

But speedlights and ambient is a relationship that is forced to exist. As you progress with it, you realize that that dance between ambient and speedlights is a really interesting place. A place where they mix; “this looks really cool, except for I want to modify it this way ” or “this ambient looks really neat, but I just want to bring it under control”. There is lots of different ways to approach it.

Yeah it is definitely a dance. To me, that is the interesting place. It’s the margins that are really interesting.

David Hobby interviewed by Ibarionex R. Perello on The Candid Frame

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What is Digital Light?


Here at Light Thinking Rift Labs, we’re working on a new generation of photographic light. Something very different from the traditional light sources used for photo and video. We are working on ‘digital light’, and I thought I’d prepare a little FAQ-style post about it.

Digital Light concept illustration

So what IS digital light?
First, the term ‘digital light’ is a bit generic, I should probably start by saying, that this is our definition of digital light as applied to photography.

Without getting too technical, digital light is light made up of ‘pixels’. Instead of a steady flow of light, like the kind of light you get from a light bulb, digital light is made up of a stream of very rapid blinks of red, blue and green.

But… why?
Well, the overall goal is to open up new creative possibilities. Digital light can do things that traditional light don’t do.

Like what?
First of all, with digital light, you don’t have to worry about filters and gels. You can dial in any color temperature you want. Daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, etc. You can dial in any filter you want, CTO, CTB, plusgreen, etc. You can also go beyond white light and dial in any color if you need, say, “Summer Green” for a background.
We are also working on some pretty far out stuff that involves modulating the light during the individual exposure, ambient light amplification and shadowless light. I’ll post more info when we can demo these things.

Is this, like, laser light?
No. Lasers generate light of a single color. If you illuminate something with a laser, you get a monochrome image. If it’s a red laser, everything would be shades of red. This on the other hand is a broad-spectrum light with very good color rendering.

Does it mean LED light?
Yes, and no. We need a light source that can be controlled very precisely and turned on and off very quickly. It does not have to be LED, but LED is currently the only commercially available technology that can do this. LEDs also have some other attractive properties; they are efficient, they run cool, the are small, and lightweight.

So is this similar to the other LED photo lights out there?
No, this is very different from the simple white led panels that has appeared over the last year or two.

If it blinks, won’t the light flicker?
No. The blinking is very, very rapid. You may be able to sense flickering from a light that blinks 50 times per second. This light blinks typically 25.000 times per second, way beyond anything humans can sense. You could say that the ‘light pixels’ are so small you can’t see them. And importantly, the camera works well with digital light.

Is it a flash or a video light?
The distinction between a flash and a video light makes less sense when it comes to digital light. You can apply it to stills or to video, which is really great if you shoot both.

This is something Light Thinking invented? Have you patented it?
The underlying principles of color mixing is old knowledge. The same for chopping up light into small chunks. We have filed a number of patents on specific ways these principles are applied to photography and some inventions on how to use digital light in conjunction with a camera.

So this is the future of photography?
Your camera is digital. We believe the next generation of photographic lights will emit digital light.

OK, when can I try this out?
By the end of the year, we hope.

Does this make any sense at all? Hit the comments if you have questions!

If you want to learn more about digital light and the new generation of photographic lights that are being developed here, be sure to subscribe to this blog. You can also find us at the twitters.