Smart lighting system controls light to facilitate better product photos
“For the umpteenth time when I faced problems of object shooting, I figured out that all current available equipment is inconvenient, non-practical and not technological.”
BY JEREMY LOSAW
There are 2.71 billion smartphone users in the world, which means there are roughly 2.70 billion bad smartphone photographers in the world.
Although imaging technology continues to improve, photography is still the art of light—which makes controlling light crucial to great photography.
Inventor and photographer Iaroslav Neliubov understood the challenges of creating great photos, even with professional equipment. So he invented a smart lighting system with the goal of allowing professionals and novices to create great product photos.
The Photon Light Module System is a modular light box for product photography. It has three light panels to illuminate the subject from the top and the sides, and has different color backgrounds.
Each of the three light panels has 25 light blocks that can be individually controlled via a smartphone app. This allows the photographer full control of the light on the subject without having to set up or tune any equipment. The device can be used in standalone form for a DSLR camera, or it can be used to take photos with a smartphone.
An inconvenient truth
Neliubov was a professional photographer in his native Ukraine who was frustrated by photography equipment, because he felt that he could not get the great detail he wanted from his product shots. Studio light setups are expensive and cumbersome; softboxes are great for isolating an object from the background but not for creating beautiful images.
“For the umpteenth time when I faced problems of object shooting, I figured out that all current available equipment is inconvenient, non-practical and not technological,” Neliubov said.
Before spending time prototyping his concept for controlled light panels, he did a computer simulation. He built a 3D CAD model of the system with an object inside it and rendered the scene with different light configurations.
He was able to show how drastically different frames he could achieve with the concept and was encouraged to move forward designing the product.
The first prototype of Photon LMS was made from readily available materials.
LED strips were attached to cardboard and plywood that were painted black. Neliubov found some students to build the circuit and created the prototype app himself. Many of the components were harvested from other products or procured from Asian suppliers.
“The first prototype was very primitive, but in the end we got a not-quite-beautiful but fully working prototype already having our own management application,” Neliubov said. The prototype was shown to fellow photographers, who were excited by the new possibilities the device opened up for them.
After the initial prototype was built, Neliubov entered Photon LMS into the Concepter Acceleration competition in Kiev. Concepter is a US/ Ukraine design firm that, with help from the Ukrainian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association, has an accelerator program to help tech start-ups.
Neliubov and Photon LMS won the 2018 competition. This pocketed him $20,000 and a subsidized trip to this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in January to show off the project.
However, in November CES was just two months away, and the prototype was still unrefined. Neliubov and his engineers went straight to work refining the product for their big launch, as there was plenty to do on the physical, electrical, and app side of the product.
“There were numerous tests with LED, frame details, mounting system, electronics schemes and software,” he said. “Thankfully, we made it.”
A full kit of three panels and three backgrounds is available for pre-order for $599, or panels can be purchased individually for $239 at the company website.
After CES 2019, the team pushed to launch the product on Kickstarter. While at CES they met the crowdfunding marketing firm Funded Today and enlisted it to help with the marketing of the campaign.
Crowdfunding went live in June; Photon LMS reached its funding goal of $25,000 in two days on its way to the $100,000 range.
Intellectual property and manufacturing development work looks promising, based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. Photon LMS has European copyrights and design patents. Up to now, funding challenges have been the primary reason it has not applied for U.S. patents.
The company set up this plan for a manufacturer: If pre-order volume was low, the device would likely be made in the Ukraine. If larger, it would be made in China—with the goal in either case to deliver product to crowdfunding backers in the second quarter next year.
In a little over a year, Neliubov took a concept and turned it into a fully funded Kickstarter campaign. And the journey is not yet over for Photon LMS.
He and his engineering team are looking forward to creating line extensions for the device as well as other photography gear, with the hope that it will lead to a successful company with great products.