acancarter’s latest blog : making a multi colour high power led illuminator – ePHOTOzine

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Making an LED Multicolour Flash/ Illuminator/ Strobe

For those of you who have looked at my images or read any of my blog posts you will know I like to try some quirky optical things with a bit of electronics thrown in for my photography. I have posted a few images taken with a high power LED illuminator I have been working on, including one today.

LEDs have become remarkably good, efficient and cheap. The technology inside them is remarkable, involving layer stacks of ‘quaternary or quinternary’ semiconductor materials (AlGaInPN) just a few atoms thick… Nobel Prize winning, world changing technology, absolutely amazing.

I wanted to try and make a versatile illuminator, mainly for fun, but also because I had a few photographic ideas to try out. The whole thing needs some polishing - particularly the user interface and software - but is now at the trial state so I can see how much more work is worth putting into it!

The light sources are 30 and 50W R, G, B, White LED blocks, primarily designed for things like traffic lights or floodlights. Look on ebay and you will find them at a few pounds each. Note that these come in two types - one with the power conditioning circuits included (which isn’t suitable) and ones with the raw connections to the LEDs, which are suitable. These need something like 1A at 35V (30W) or 3A at 35V (100W, but only seem to be white). At these power levels these lamps are SCARY bright! They also need to be well heat sunk, or they will fail quickly!

Below is a photo of 8 of these assembled on an Aluminium plate. These will run continuously at full power, but that would need a 35V 14A power supply… quite a beast! I didn’t want to run them like this - just at say 10% for modelling, then at maybe up to 200% in a short flash, or sequence of flashes. to enable control of the lights and the sequence there are 4 power transistors on the same heatsink.


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It shouldn't do the LEDs any harm to overrate them for short pulses as they won’t heat up much. How much is an unknown. I'm aiming to test some to destruction at some point (Elon Musk approach?). Generating the current pulses is more of a problem!

This is the back view. It is a birds nest of stuff, I know. This is pretty much a trial/ prototype, so has had a lot of adjustments and replacements as I’ve gone along.


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The circuit (for the techie amongst us) is four channels of programmable gated current sources, so they can be pulsed for any duration to any current within the range of the supply. The voltage is supplied through a ‘boost’ converter (shown on the first pic) - again a very cheap bit of electronics you can buy on line. This takes 12V in (from a drill battery) and converts it to 48V, with around 2A max current (it switches off if you take too much). To give the power for sequences of pulses there are a couple of large capacitors, just as there will be to store the flash energy in a speed light.

Front View. Looks a bit more conventional..


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The sequencing and intensity of each flash is controlled from a Raspberry Pi, although I will be using an Arduino for the portable version. These are very easy to set up and programme. Plenty on the web, and now widely taught in schools.

So what does it do? It can produce any sequence of colours (not just RGBW - you can mix them for all intermediate colours) and in any duration. 1/500s will freeze most motion, 1/50s will give good blur. The LEDs pulse very happily at 1/10000s, but you don’t get much light from them. A sppedlight might put out about 50W seconds - very bright, short pulse. For 1/100second, this illuminator will put out about 3-500W, so only 3-5W seconds, so don’t expect speed light or strobe brightness, but it looks like it will be good enough for people shots, including running and dancing.

I started with some close images, such as the ‘Colour of Pearls’ and ‘Precious Things’ below. These didn’t need too much power, but show what can be done with different colour sequencing.


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To make the illuminator more suitable for people, I had to slave it to the camera. A continuous colour changing bright flashing light isn’t pleasant. Like a disco strobe. Maybe dangerous. So I added a light sensor that triggers the illuminator from a camera flash (suitably masked so it doesn’t contribute to the exposure).

First trial (yesterday!) is the Crazy Man selphi just posted. This was with 1/500s pulses, ISO 500, around 1.5m from the illuminator. next target is to make it portable and get it outside at night to scare the wildlife (and the neighbours!)


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I’ll keep you posted on progress. If you are interested in more detail, schematics, code etc just message me!

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