How-To: LED Photo Lights

Photography & Video Technology Woodworking
How-To: LED Photo Lights

led photo lights

What do you use to light small objects you’re trying to photograph? MAKE contributing editor and author of the bestselling Make: Electronics book Charles Platt found that electronic flash is overkill and photo lights are too bulky and hot, so he built an array of miniature LED photo lights and shared the how-to with us in MAKE Volume 34.

From Charles’ intro:

On eBay I found complete LED reflector bulbs for just $3 each. They are plug-compatible and identical in size and packaging to the little 12V quartz-halogen spotlights often used in track lighting (although the LEDs have a cooler light temperature of 6,000 Kelvin–very similar to cloudy daylight). … Since each unit was rated at 4W, I needed a 12VDC AC adapter rated to supply at least 40W. Fortunately this kind of switching power supply is commonly available as a power source for laptops and LED displays. I found a 50W unit for $5.

How to mount the lights? I wanted to use them in two sets of five, so that I could position each set on opposite sides of a subject. The angle of each individual light had to be adjustable, so that I could focus their combined beams around a small object, or point them at a larger object from farther away. I also wanted to be able to angle the lights up and down, or backward toward a reflective photographic umbrella if I needed diffuse, shadowless illumination.

The design that I came up with uses jointed arms, made from 3/4″ oak and small aluminum angle brackets. Originally, the lights push-fitted onto a 3/8″ brass peg. I later changed the design so that they screwed onto a ¼-20 threaded stud, which is a more common termination on a photographic light stand (plus it fits on a tripod). If you don’t have light stands or extra tripods, you can easily improvise something from a vertical 1″ dowel screwed into a plywood base.

Essentially, you cut the wood and aluminum angle to size, make the brackets, mount the lights, wire it up, test, and you’re ready to shoot. Below is a general visual overview. Check out Charles’ full LED Photo Lights how-to for the details.

led photo lights wood diagram

led photo light bracket

led photo light mounted

led photo light mounted2

led photo light diagram

led photo light mounted3

led photo lights2

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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