How to use an iPad or laptop as a light source for portraits, still lifes and more

How to use an iPad or laptop as a light source for portraits, still lifes and more

In our most creative DIY Photography Hacks series post yet we show you how to use your iPad, tablet or laptop as a light source for illuminating portraits, still life set-ups, create shapes in catchlights, painting with light, making backgrounds in macro photography and even cross polarisation.

How to use an iPad or laptop as a light source for portraits, still lifes and more

Did you know that you’re carrying around a brilliantly versatile little softbox in your backpack? Your tablet or laptop isn’t just useful for editing and sharing photos, it’s also easily converted into a light for illuminating portraits and still lifes. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper and more portable than expensive, heavy lighting systems.

Laptops put out a lot of light, especially in a darkened room, and using a program like Microsoft Paint or our favourite lighting app, Softbox Pro (£1.99/$0.99), you can open up a white screen that will act as a light source in the same way as a softbox does.

The great thing about a digital lighting system is that you can choose new backgrounds, colours and shapes to instantly customise the effect.

In this guide we’ll look at six different lighting set ups that use just your tablet as a light source. We’re shooting portrait photos of our model, Charlotte, using iPads as softboxes to light her face, and experimenting with shapes to create unusual catchlights in her eyes for a really striking look.

We’ll also look at how to use your tablet to light a simple still life for better food and product shots. Plus, we’ll show you how to add patterned backgrounds to your macro shots, play with cross-polarisation effects and even paint with light for really creative photos.

Using an iPad to light a portrait

Set your tablet up next to your model’s face like we did at the top of this page, or have them hold it so the light falls where you need it

For this technique, you’ll need to shoot in a darkened room so that the tablet’s light is the only thing illuminating your model.

Use a tripod for stability and pick a high ISO to compensate for the low light. We used a shutter speed of 1/15 sec and created a shallow depth of field with an aperture of f/5.6.

Set your tablet at an angle to the model’s face and adjust the angle until you get an effect you like. This technique works just as well with a laptop screen.

How to use a tablet to light a portrait - use a tripod

Proper support
Tablets and laptops produce a lovely soft light, but there’s not very much of it, so you need to choose your settings carefully.

Start by mounting the camera on a tripod – this will enable you to choose whatever lens aperture you need to make the photo composition work without having to worry about the shutter speed.

If you’re shooting portraits, though, you’ll need to increase the ISO because your subject won’t be able to stay still enough for long exposures.

We were using our 18-55mm kit lens at its maximum aperture of f/5.6 at its maximum zoom setting, and ISO1600 gave us shutter speeds in the region of 1/15 sec to 1/30 sec at f/5.6.

PAGE 1 – DIY Photography Hacks: using an iPad to light a portrait
PAGE 2 – DIY Photography Hacks: use your tablet to create cool catchlights
PAGE 3 – DIY Photography Hacks: use your iPad to light your still life photography
PAGE 4 – DIY Photography Hacks: use your tablet to create a background for macro photography
PAGE 5 – DIY Photography Hacks: create rainbow cross-polarisation effects using your iPad
PAGE 6 – DIY Photography Hacks: use your iPad to paint with light


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