Light the Portrait workshop        

 

 

This past weekend I lead the first day of a workshop titled “Light the Portrait”. My goal during the two sessions was to help photographers understand how to use light, indoors or out, when they photograph people.

Fear-of-Flash has always been a topic of discussion for photographers photographing weddings, and portraits both indoors and out.

American photographer and author of the Strobist.com blog David Hobby said,  “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist.”  He continues, ” What I hear is, I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it.”

It’s with those words that I began the workshop that would discuss using both studio lights and speed lights. Adding that personally, I always use a flash when I make a portrait of someone inside or outside. I don’t care if the ambient light is bright or dim.

My goal is to not only help photographers gain an understanding of off-camera lighting, but to also convince them that using flash will separate their photography from those that rely on natural or as I prefer calling it, “ambient light”.

The first session was about the big studio lights and accompanying light modifiers like, umbrellas, softboxes and reflectors, to name a few we employed during the day.

Those of us in Kamloops British Columbia are fortunate to have a local portrait studio that is not only large enough for a class, but also is packed with all sorts of lighting equipment, backdrops and change rooms for models. The portrait studio, Versatile Studio, also comes complete with a kitchen and dining area. And there are all sorts of props for posing.  All I needed to do was write up my lesson plan, print some handouts, book the studio, hire a model and show up in time to start leading participants into the exciting world of off-camera lighting.

I enjoy leading; I like that word better than “teaching”. I know to teach “is to show or explain to people how to do something”, but most of those that attend know a lot about photography and have already been shooting portraits for some time. All I need to do is build a bridge for them between what they already know and what I am presenting.  And as I stand with them in the studio/classroom I get watch that quick tightening of shoulders, widening of eyes and smiles when they suddenly get it. When that happens I can’t help but smile too.

Well, the first day is over and, as usual, they tired me out. However, I am already looking forward to next week with those enthusiastic photographers (and our energetic model). I wonder if I should begin next week’s session with the words of legendary filmmaker from the 1920s, D.W. Griffith. “Lights camera action”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leading a Photography Lighting Workshop   

getting-ready

photographers

reflector

modeling

having-fun

checking

American photographer David Hobby, author of the lighting blog Strobist that promotes lighting techniques, wrote about learning to use flash, “You may not realize it yet, but you have just stepped through a door that may change your photography forever…Photography is literally writing with light.” And he continues, “…you’ll learn how to take control of your electronic flash. If you can imagine it, you’ll be able to create it.”

I like using flash, and in my many years as a working photographer I rarely photographed people indoors or out without using a flash; and last Sunday with Hobby’s words in mind I led yet another interactive lighting workshop.

Actually I wonder if “study group” might be a better description of what happens when several photographers get together to experiment with flash. Nevertheless, these sessions are always an enjoyable whirlwind session for me as I try to present as much information as I can without reaching information-overload for the participants.

As photographers in the workshop begin to realize how much better, and more creative, their portraits are when they begin taking control of electronic flash they get excited. That excitement is contagious. So much so that I have to remind myself to slow down and explain what I am doing and why I am doing it when I add lights to a portrait setup.

Sunday’s group of photographers were quick learners and were demanding as they pushed limits and exhausted the model, then without skipping a beat, when our ever-so-patient model needed a break, one of the photographers took her place and the group kept on going.

I remember reading a book entitled, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, about student-centered learning over teacher-centered teaching. Sometimes one has to step back from being the center of attention and let people learn by themselves.

When I realized those photographers had reached the point where they were beginning to understand where I was leading them, I just got out of their way and let them be, besides that gave me some time to wander a bit and take some pictures of what was happening.

This first of two sessions, Modeling with Lighting in the Studio is now over.

Next Sunday we’ll be braving British Columbia’s cool October weather as we take our model outdoors to pose in several different locations with different lighting conditions in each. I entitled that, Balancing Lighting Out-Of-Doors.

In the studio we used large and powerful studio lights that recycled instantly. Next Sunday we will use much less powerful, small wireless speedlights that require waiting for batteries to recycle. The quick recycling studio lights are grand, but I like the slower speedlights because they force photographers to think about and plan their next shot.

Last weekend was a lot a fun. It is great being with other photographers and watching them get excited about learning something new. Saying that, I will add a quote by French photographerJacques-Henri Lartigue that I have used several times before, “It’s marvellous, marvellous! Nothing will ever be as much fun. I’m going to photograph everything, everything!”

 

 

Off-Camera Flash in Daylight  

Whatcha Got?

Perfect lighting

A little to the left

Teamwork

The right light

Ya gotta get wet

Who cares about the water

Lets see

Flash the Cadillac

 

This past weekend I lead another workshop for photographers about using off-camera flash when photographing portraits outside in bright light. As with past lighting workshops my goal was to help participants understand how to use flash in different environments during daylight, and gain techniques that I hoped would help them transform the harsh daylight of outdoor portraits into beautiful light.

I was fortunate to have a great rural location where participants began in the morning photographing our model using a speedlight and a diffusion panel in a bright meadow, then moved to a large, well lit, open barn with two-flash lighting using a shoot-through umbrella and softbox until lunchtime.

After a healthy lunch provided by Versatile Studio we set up by a small tree covered stream, getting both our feet and our model’s feet wet. We finally finished the day photographing the model posing beside an old 1970s Cadillac in a nearby field.

I enjoy guiding serious photographers through their first attempts to use flash as a tool to create better photos, I want them to think of the flash being more than an uncontrollable device perched on top of the camera when it’s too dark in a room to take the photo.

I have been offering off-camera flash courses since the early 1980’s, and still believe they are an important segment of a portrait photographer’s education.

So much has changed in photography, and yet here I am 35 years later, still helping photographers learn how to use off-camera flash. Modern cameras are amazing with sensors that are so much better at capturing light than film was. But just as 30 years ago, serious photographers realize how much more flattering off-camera flash is on someone’s face than just harsh daylight.

Off-camera flash gives a photographer the ability to choose the best direction of light.

There are times when I am forced to photograph a person without using a flash. I think “forced” is the best word, because I will always use flash if I can, and as those that have taken my advice have learned, in most instances using flash for portrait photography indoors or outdoors is better than not using a flash.

Those attending last weekend’s workshop began to get comfortable using flash.

David Hobby, lighting guru and founder of the blog, http://strobist.blogspot.ca, wrote,

“Learning how to light is incremental, creative and fun. There is almost no math involved, nor any difficult technical know-how. In fact, good lighting is less like math and more like cooking. It’s like, you taste the soup and if it needs more salt you add some salt. You’ll see that when we learn to balance a flash with the existing, ambient light.”

“Controlling harsh natural light – one of the most important things to know as a shooter is how to use bad light well. Taking hard, nasty daylight and turning it into beautiful light is actually pretty easy.”

One more outdoor lighting workshop.

A. An outdoor studio  B. Workshop participants  C. Adding light  D. Outdoor shooting  E. Softbox by the buggy  F. Thumbs up  G. Outdoor with softbox  H. Ladder and reflector  I. Got it.  J. Portraits in the barn  K. Gold reflector  L. Umbrella in the barn

I’ll begin with a quote from an interview with American photographer, and author of the Strobist.com lighting blog, David Hobby. “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist…”. What “I hear is, “I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead.”…. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it…”

 I wish I had read that interview with Mr. Hobby before I began my series of workshops on off-camera flash. I would have started every class with his quote. With that, I thought I would let readers know about the last day of what became an enjoyable and successful day for everyone, the photographers, our model Danya, and me.

Unlike the last session’s stormy overcast weather, the day this time was warm, sunny, and we didn’t have to contend with a cold, constant breeze. However, I couldn’t have asked for two better learning environments. An overcast day demands different lighting techniques than those that accompany a bright, cloudless day, and all I had to do was present the participants with opportunities specific to each so they could begin experimenting, and learning how to effectively use off-camera flash.

In the first session I introduced the ten participating photographers to basic outdoor portrait photography, and off-camera flash techniques that would help them transform their outdoor portraits into something special.

This time I continued by putting together different lighting setups. In the meadow, I erected a backdrop, and placed a 4×6 foot light diffusion panel with a wireless flash to one side. The second set up was a lean-to that used a 4×6 light diffusion panel. For the third set up, I placed in the barn a softbox and a bare flash on stands. I also left extra wireless flashes on stands and a few reflectors outside the studio, ready for photographers to use when they wanted to select their own location.

My goal was to give participants plenty of options as they put into practice what they had learned about adding flash to natural light.

We positioned the 10×12 foot backdrop, made out of an old painter’s drop cloth, so it blocked the sun and swathed our model in diffused light, and then fired a flash through a diffusion panel placed on the left.

The lean-to was constructed with a diffusion panel on one side. It softened the sunlight, giving a subject a diffused glow that could easily be manipulated with a reflector or flash.

The softbox was perfect for the open shade in the barn. The large metal-sided barn gave lots of room and an interesting patterned backdrop. In that location the softbox, a flash and umbrella, and a reflector were used.

I always use a flash when I am photographing people, inside or out. I can’t control the lights in a large room, or the sun shining on my subject from 93 million miles away. Participants discovered how to control the light they added from small off-camera flashes in the natural ambient light, and by the end of the workshop were using flash effectively, and learning about creating and controlling shadows rather than just filling them.

We live in a time when cameras can almost see in the dark, and the art of adding light to a scene is under-appreciated. Those photographers ready and willing to turn down that ISO dial and learn about off-camera flash are beginning a journey of discovery that will remind them that photography is all about light. And I expect they might finally ask themselves, why not try to have the most perfect light possible…and instead of waiting for that perfect light, learn to control that light by adding flash to make the best of the situation.

I really appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

 

 

 

Wireless Hotshoe Flash for Photography

I have always been excited about technology changes in photography; for example, I remember how spectacular it was to have a workable, in-camera light meter when I got my Pentax Spotmatic II. Shortly thereafter I added a Vivitar 283 flash that allowed me to do preflash tests with my flash off camera and make adjustments to the lighting.  Within a couple years came the wonderful Nikon F3 with TTL (through the lens) on-camera, flash metering, and for me the world of photography changed even more. Since then a lot has happened to flash photography and I will confirm that the current trend of using off camera, wireless hotshoe camera flashes is exciting.

A greater number of serious photographers are learning to employ flash, from what was originally a flat, one-light source for an image, and they are starting to use the word “modelling” to show how the light affects their subject, and easily can wirelessly locate several small flashes at different positions around their subject.

I recently talked to a friend learned about portrait lighting by attending a Scott Kelby lighting workshop, however, there are other very well known photographer-writers worth researching, people such as David Hobby (www.strobist.com) and Joe McNally (www.joemcnally.com) that have created a world wide following with their books, blogs, and videos on using wireless hotshoe flashes instead of the heavy, cumbersome, power cord lighting that photographers have previously used for many years (like me).

So why go to wireless flash? Or, why a wireless hotshoe flash that we originally purchased to set on our camera?   For me it comes down to ease of use and portability as I regularly do staff portraits for businesses.  In the past I’ve arrived on site with two large bags of lighting equipment containing big strobe heads, stands, umbrellas and lots of power cords. Now, I carry lightweight stands and umbrellas in a small bag slung over my shoulder, and several small hotshoe flash units in a handbag. Both the equipment and the setup time is considerably less.

In his book “The Hot Shoe Diaries,” McNally writes, “it makes my job easier. It enables me to move fast, and have a flash system that thinks along with me and solves certain problems historically attached to flash photography (big heavy units, cables and wires everywhere…”

As I have written before, I like using flash indoors or out. There are those times when I am following a moving subject and have my flash mounted above my camera on a flash bracket. I rarely rely on a single ambient light source and prefer using a flash to add light to improve the quality of my photographs.

For occasions when my subject is stationary I use the wireless flash off camera; and for portraits I like three lights, one above and behind me, one off to the side and one behind the subject. My set up isn’t always the same, it depends on the available space, but for example, the flash above and behind might be either in a softbox or a reflector umbrella, the sidelight could be a small shoot-through umbrella or bounced off a reflector panel, and backlight directed at the background with only a small dome diffuser covering it.  That’s one quick, effortless setup that I can easily carry in two small bags – one bag for light stands and one for the flash units while my camera is comfortably hung around my neck as usual. All this, as I just wrote, is easy to setup without having to connect the flash to the camera with wires and the flash to the wall with power cords.

Because of the interest and questions fellow local photographer Rick Tolhurst (www.shotsbyrick.com) and I have been getting questions about how to setup and use small, off-camera, wireless flashes for portraits, we have decided to put on a simple lighting workshop. The interactive one-day session will discuss one, two, and three-light setups for portrait and glamour photography. For those interested the workshop will be held on Sunday, 30 October, 10am-4pm, cost is $60. Pre-registration is required and any photographers interested should call or email me for specifics.

Using small wireless hotshoe flash has made photographing people a lot easier and serious photographers that have not tried it yet are going to feel the same way as those that dragged their feet in moving from film to digital.

www.enmanscamera.com