Double Your Photography Website Traffic in 12 Weeks

Your content will be up shortly. Please allow up to 5 seconds

Big Guns and Small Shooters: Mixing HMI and LED on Set

By Megan Kennedy on March 11th 2014

Perhaps caught up in the romance of ‘opposites attract,’ Jay P. Morgan of the Slanted Lens takes us on set at the Orange Empire Railway Museum to showcase the mixing of LED and HMI lights.


A few weeks ago, Morgan introduced us to his love of the LED NorthStar Lite by Photoflex when shooting on a daylight-balanced set, particularly when shooting photo and video together, as they provide a reliable and quality constant light source.


This time, he pairs his LED kit with “the Big Guns”: an HMI Arri M18… one of the most powerful HMIs out there that can still run on a regular 20 amp circuit. In this behind-the-scenes video, Morgan shows that these lights – though very different tools in terms of power and price – play quite nicely together.

As Morgan shows us in the video, he is composing his shot for a large area… the length of three steam train passenger cars. Shooting his concept at night, he needed the power of the Arri M18 HMI to light the length of space, complimented by a 1/2 blue gel to cool the scene. Shooting through a layer of smoke from the Rosco 1900 offered some diffusion on the HMI, as well as generally adding character to the scene.


Morgan explains that he is building his setup to properly expose at 1/50th of a second and f5.0, ISO 1250. I love his lighting demonstration, building with one light at a time. In the first image above, we see that the HMI hardly touches the foreground couple at all, barely rimming the man’s shoulder… and the train looks fairly lifeless inside. Next up is the LED kit:

You know now that the broad strokes for a lighting set-up tonight are laid with that HMI, we’re going to add LEDs to kinda paint in the image. The nice things about single LEDs is that they allow us to use a single light in many different ways.


In the photo above, we see the effect of the first LED light, setup in the second train car with a seven inch reflector and 1/2 CTO Gel lighting up the windows. Next, below, another LED with a seven inch reflector and 1/2 blue gel to camera left to rim the foreground couple nicely.


The last LED with a seven inch reflector is placed camera right inside the train car as the man’s key light, which also acts to rim the woman’s hair and dark wardrobe.

You don’t see this train car but we’re going to use the windows to restrict the light… We’re shining it through the windows and they’re very dirty so it softens the light up a lot and gives us a nice look on their faces.


Lastly below, Morgan adds an OctoDome on a NorthStar Lite to wrap around them from camera right to fill for their faces, still leaving nice shadows and definition.


While it is neat to see something as high-powered and large-scale production as an HMI on set and working with single-light LED lights, some of the true gems of this video come in the form of sidebar topics and tips.

Morgan moves beyond just explaining his lighting setup, to discussing blocking decisions for his talent when he rolls video, how historic images impacted his posing choices, the perks of additional wardrobe options (notice the red jacket in the final image), and even some post-production pointers as he crafts a version of the image in B&W. Not to mention, I can’t help but love the energy that Morgan brings, as a self-professed Train Nerd. It is clear he is having a blast.

Gear List:


“This was an epic shoot, there was a tremendous amount of work but after the shoot I feel very comfortable mixing LEDs with HMIs. They are both daylight balanced, they just work very well together. HMIs lay down those big lights to give you the big look and then the LEDs go in to give you the little touches that kinda light the shot and make it really work.”

What do you think? Have you ever mixed HMI and LED lights? Comment below.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

With roots in nonfiction and commercial video production, Megan found a passion for still photography in 2009 while traveling through Ghana. Today she shoots weddings and portraiture with an adventurous bent with her husband at Rogue Heart Media, as well as continuing her work in video production. Connect with her on Facebook or through their website.

Q&A Discussions

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Brandon Dewey

    great Images

    | |
  2. Hanssie

    Very cool. Must try this.

    | |