When making videos indoors, lighting is even more important than how good your camera is. Not only should the light be bright enough, it should also be the right colour temperature. For a shop that has windows that let in natural light, the lighting inside the shop should be a daylight colour temperature (5000k – 6500k) for consistent colour rendering in each shot.
So when I first thought about making a light panel, finding LEDs that were the correct colour temperature was the biggest challenge. The ones I used for this project claimed “daylight”, but the only way to know for certain is to buy them and try it out. Luckily, these turned out to be as advertised, and the colour temperature is a perfect match for the lighting in my shop.
While I made this specifically for video, there’s no reason you can’t use it for other things. It would make a very good work light over a bench, or the strips could be arranged differently to suit your needs. The frame I made was utilitarian, but it could also be made to look as fancy as you want. Since the LEDs only get warm during operation and run on a low voltage, there’s no risk of fire from using wood as the housing.
The LED strip I bought was 5 meters long and has 60 – 5050 size LEDs per meter. Rather than a single long strip, it was put together in pieces that were 30 LEDs long and soldered together. I used my soldering iron to melt the joins to separate the strips:
This left me with 10 pieces that I could arrange on a rectangular panel. Handy too, since the connection pads are already tinned and ready to solder on the lead wires.
The backing panel is a piece of 1/4″ plywood just big enough to fit the ten strips. I cut the first strip in half, so that I could run the barrel connector (that plugs into the power supply) out through a slot in the middle:
I used the extra double-sided tape that came with the LED, thinking it would help the strips to stick. I also painted the backer white to make it reflective and also gave it a coat of water based polyurethane to make it smooth. As it turned out, the tape is not reliable and I had to use another method to secure the strips.
To connect the strips together, I cut short pieces of stranded wire and tinned the ends after I stripped back the insulation:
I use a flux pen to dab each solder pad before attaching the wire. I’ve done a lot of soldering and find this is a lot more efficient than trying to hold three things (wire, soldering iron and solder) with two hands:
The flux pen makes the solder flow and there’s little risk of overheating the join or loading on too much solder.
A quick test to confirm that I’ve not made any mistakes – it works!
LED light is very directional, and to soften and disperse it I bought a regular 2′ x 4′ fluorescent fixture lens at the home centre. It cuts easily on the table saw, and I made it the same size as the backer panel:
Back to the lack of adhesion from the tape on the strips, I used polyurethane construction adhesive to glue them on and clamped it for several hours. I think this is the best, most reliable way to fasten these strips.
The frame that goes around the panel is fairly simple and I wanted to keep it as lightweight as possible. You can see two grooves – one for the backer panel and one for the lens:
I spaced the lens about 3/4″ from the backer to make the unit more compact. Spacing it farther away will diffuse the light a bit better, but make the enclosure more bulky.
With the lens in and the panel powered, you can see how bright and even the light is:
Side by side with my light stand, the LED panel actually looks brighter. The light stand has a 42 watts CFL bulb (equivalent to 150 watts in traditional terms) and puts out 2700 lumens. The LED was rated for 635 lumens per meter, so around 3100 total:
The LED strip came with a plug in power supply, but I wanted to run this from a small lead-acid battery to mount it on my camera gantry. Simple enough to dig through my electronics junk to find an old power adapter with the right size barrel connector on the end that fits the LED strip. I cut the cord, then attached spade connectors that fit the terminals on the battery:
I made a plywood box to hold the battery and mounted it at the rear of the gantry to offset the extra weight out front from the light panel:
This light is directly above the camera and can be aimed up or down to shed the right amount of light on the subject when needed:
I just glued and screwed a short piece of 2×2 to the gantry arm to mount it on, then added plywood wings that extend out with a carriage bolt and wing nut for adjustment.
The battery box does restrict the motion of the camera arm, but not in any way that will be a problem. To charge the battery, I made a small trickle charger that will plug into the barrel connector without taking the battery out of the box. Leave it to charge overnight, and it ready for use the next day.
I made a short (well lit) video showing how I made the panel:
The light panel has proven itself over and over and is used nearly every time I turn on the camera to either shoot video, or take pictures. Given just how happy I am with the performance, I decided to fix two problems that I’ve had with it from the beginning. First, it is larger than it needs to be and interferes with other things on my camera gantry. I also tend to bump into it with my head (not good). Second, I really should have wired in a switch in the beginning, since it’s much more of a hassle to plug in and unplug the connector. Also that low cost connector plug is starting to wear out / loosen up.
So, I took the panel apart and recut the frame parts to reuse. I made them thinner and they will also be cut shorter. The new panel will be nearly as long as the original, but only half as high:
The new compact layout for the LED strips. I glued these down with dabs of construction adhesive (see the video below for more on that) to the new aluminum backer. The tape holds the strips down while the glue sets:
The switch I used is designed to be mounted on a circuit board, so I just hot melt glued it into a hole in the frame:
The button sticks out the other side through a smaller hole. Not the most elegant, but it works and should hold up well:
I made a simple bracket to remount it on the arm of my camera gantry. It can adjust up or down just by loosening the wing nut. You can see the new power entry jack underneath. I hot melt glued that in the same way as the power switch:
Much brighter, lighter and smaller, I would guess it puts out as much as 25% more light than the original when the battery is fully charged:
I made a video showing how I took apart and remade the panel: