Studio Portraiture Workshop

Class Portrait 1  Class 2

This past Sunday I lead the first day of a two-day workshop discussing posing and lighting. I hadn’t planned on undertaking any workshops this early in the year, but I had been getting requests from several excited photographers who are out there getting ready for spring and summer portrait sessions.

I finally made the decision to proceed when my friend Dave Monsees, owner of the Versatile Photography Studio near Kamloops, mentioned that photographers renting his studio told him they needed help in lighting couples. They lamented that most tutorials available were only about photographing one person.

I am sure if they browsed the internet they would have found what they were looking for, but working with live models is a lot more fun than reading articles and looking at pictures, so I hired two up-and-coming local models that fit that request perfectly.

In previous posts I have stated how I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when students of photography participate in active learning. So when I started getting requests that I offer  another session I crossed my fingers and hoped for an early spring, booked that large local studio, and hired two models.

During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and I rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead, unless it is to take a snapshot or two of photographers in action. And besides, when I finally let the workshop participants apply what we had discussed, there wasn’t room for me anyway.

The workshop dealt with modifying and placing light. We employed one, then two, and then three lights; and modified the light first with umbrellas, then changed to a softbox and reflector to create shadow, and, of course, that classic and compelling “Rembrandt lighting” effect.

This was an advanced workshop and I limited participation to seven photographers. As with all my workshops, my main goal is to help participants gain an understanding of how to use light. I want them to consider the “quality” of light instead of the “quantity” of light. I lecture to them that they should use light to “flatter” their subjects as opposed to only “illuminating” them.

I think that studying the mechanics of lighting includes two additional aspects, which are (1) experience, and (2) the willingness to step beyond lazily pointing a camera in a light filled room or out in the sunshine. Posing a model, or in our case, two models, seems to me to be more about engaging with the subject and being comfortable with telling someone how you want them to look. I once heard a photographer say that he never posed people because he thought is was rude to tell adults what to do. I can’t comment on that fellow’s work, maybe he was really lucky, but I expect there were lots of missed shots. I suppose he would disagree, or just plain ignore the words of award winning Dallas, Texas photographer, Caroline Mueller when she says, “What I look for in pictures (that) I take: eyes, hands, head tilt, body language, background, and use of space.”

I believe those photographers that are successful at portrait photography don’t hide behind their camera, but they start with a plan and are good at engaging, explaining, and demonstrating what their vision for the session is.

Now I am really looking forward to next Sunday. The few images I have seen so far are great and I am certain spending another day (this time with speedlights out-of-doors in the failing afternoon light) helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

class 3  class 4


Thanks in advance for your comments, John

My website is at

Another Strobist Meet-up for Photographers

Demetra Koutsopdiotis  Monica Nicklas   Monica Nicklas 2

My friend, Dave Monsees, decided to host another Strobist Meet-up at his photography studio, and I was definitely up for that. I like trudging around photographing snowy scenics, but, the thought of spending a photo-filled day in a warm, wood-heated studio was enticing, and when he extended the invite I didn’t hesitate to accept.

My request to the other photographers was to continually change the two lighting setups  that we were using. I had participated in past meets, and, they were fun and photographers got to make lots of pictures of models; however, even though the resulting pictures were great, the lighting remained basically static for every image. For this day I wanted to change the modeling lights and modifiers every hour.

That meant photographers and models had to rethink what they were trying to do, but after the first change everyone got into the swing and began to get really innovative. Photographers changed lenses, shooting angles, helped each other out by moving the lighting around, and our models went through several clothing changes and were as involved in the creative process as the photographers.

The studio had lots of lighting equipment set up with wireless camera connectors for each photographer. There were two different backdrop set-ups, and we had our choice of lights and modifiers like softboxes, umbrellas, snoots, barn doors, and reflectors.

When I wrote about the last studio meet-up I attended I said that photographers always need to explore and experiment, and get-togethers like this are perfect for practicing off-camera lighting in a studio (that most photographers don’t have access to) without the pressure of actual clients, and it is a fun way to refine one’s skills. Monsees commented that he liked being around fun people with a true passion for photography, and dedicated to off-camera flash.  He also said that he enjoyed himself so much that he intends to try to have photographer and model get-togethers in his studio every month if he can.

Although photographers have been using off-camera light nearly as long as they have been making portraits of people, that practice has really been limited to a few that owned studios. Recently all that has been changing what with quickly advancing camera technology, and the word “strobist” now refers to a photographer who uses off-camera flash to take pictures, instead of the usual pop-up flash, or hotshoe flash attached on top of the camera.

I am often asked, “Why use off-camera flash?” Instead of using just a camera, one must lug around a light stand and a flash. That means carrying extra weight. Sometimes a photographer would require an assistant since weather conditions might knock over the light when shooting outdoors.  My response to the question is, “Better pictures.” Light is the language of photography. Without light there are no photos. With off-camera light one adds light and control over the final image. Adding light might introduce drama in a picture and can increase detail or hide it. The extra work greatly affects the output.

I like quotes and here is one regarding light from George Eastman, American innovator and entrepreneur, who founded the Eastman Kodak Company and invented roll film. He summed it up for me when he said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.”

I always appreciate your comments, Thanks

My website is at

Photographing models at a Strobist meet.

Stephanie4 Molly 2 Monica 1 Stephanie 2 Molly Monica3 Stephani 3

Last Sunday I joined six other photographers and three models at photographer, Dave Monsees’, rural studio for what Dave organized and referred to as a Strobist work session.

The rustic studio, nestled beside a stream in a picturesque treed valley, is a short ten-minute drive from city center to the rural community of Cherry Creek, British Columbia. I had heard about it from other photographers and was looking forward to his Strobist session so I could check the studio out, and, of course, spend the afternoon with like-minded photographers. Now what could be better than that?

This Strobist get-together was the third held in my area that I have been fortunate enough to attend, and as with the first two, it had its own uniqueness.

Some of the participants had experience using off-camera lighting and got right to the business of arranging lights and posing our three models for the day, Molly Lampreau, Stephanie Johannesen, and Monica Nicklas.  I had agreed to begin with a mini lesson and to be available to answer questions for those invitees that were just beginning to enhance their portrait photography with artificial light, and with a few minutes of instruction and a bit of prompting before long everyone was in the act of portrait photography.

The word, Strobist, and gatherings like the one I was invited to have become popular because of American photographer, David Hobby’s, lighting blog that promotes off-camera lighting techniques among photographic enthusiasts, with an emphasis on the practical knowledge rather than just the gear. Those that think our meets in Kamloops are unique should try searching Stobist meet on the Internet. There will be page after page featuring Strobist meets all over the world.

My regular readers know that I rarely make a photograph of people, indoors or out, without using a flash. So getting together with other photographers, experienced or not, that like to use off-camera light for their portrait work is fun. The studio was jam packed with lighting equipment set up with wireless camera connection. There were two different backdrop set-ups and we had our choice of several larger studio type lights in the larger space, and some smaller hotshoe flashes on stands in the more intimate space. There were also lots of light modifiers, softboxes, umbrellas, snoots, barn doors, and so on for us to employ.

How a person in a portrait appears does have a lot to do with how the subject(s) are posed, but I think light and how it is applied is just as important. Using flash, on or off camera, to modify light gives a photographer more control than just using the sun, or relying on a high ISO.

In addition photographers always need to explore and experiment to learn how to balance the background, or ambient light, with flash, and get-togethers like a Strobist meet are perfect for practicing off-camera lighting in a studio, with willing subjects without the pressure of actual clients, and watching other photographers work is always fun.

I was in a hurry to download my images from that day and began sorting, editing and optimizing as soon as I got home. As I opened PhotoShop and began, I thought of a quote by American supermodel Tyra Banks that fit the day of photography from beginning to end, “There are three key things for good photography: The camera, lighting, and…PhotoShop”.  In my opinion there might be a few more important things for good photography, but to a model the final picture is everything.

I appreciate you comments.

My website is at

Eulogy for Chuck the Rooster

This past week Chuck the rooster died. I don’t think my neighbors will feel too sad because, if that rooster was anything it was a loud talker. I called it talking and everyone else called it crowing. But, to me he seemed like he had something to say and anyway I am going to miss him and his point of view.

Why would I write a eulogy for a silly bird? It should go something like, “Chuck kept the hens together, crowed lots, and then he died.” Surely a rooster isn’t worth more words of praise than that. He had a good pedigree; he was a Buff Orpington rooster with striking colouring and handsome spurs.

In May I wrote an article titled “Pets make Great Photography Models”.  In that I wrote, “Got a new camera or lens? Want to try out that studio lighting technique? Or just bored and want someone ever ready and able to pose for a photograph? Call the dog, or coax the cat. I can’t even begin to count the pictures I have taken of the horses, dogs, cats, parakeets, hamsters, chickens, fish, and frogs I have taken in my life”.

Those pets never complained when the pictures didn’t work out, and even waited for another blast of the flash without blinking. And I continued saying that Chuck, my rooster that guards the hens, doesn’t seem too interested in standing still for his portrait.

So, other than not having Chuck to keep a bunch of chickens on the straight and narrow, I’ll miss having an ever ready, constantly moving subject to practice my photography on. That rooster never stood still for long. He was always guarding, herding, searching for interesting stuff on the ground, then telling us all about what he found, flapping a lot and was always running around.

Sometimes I would set the lenses I wanted to try out on the rickety old wooden picnic table that sits in the back meadow and then open the gate to the chicken pen so Chuck and the girls could get out. They always want to get out, and eyeing my wife’s flower garden would clumsily run out and across the unmowed field grass with Chuck guarding the perimeter like some soldier on patrol.  I would sit, crouch, and lay in the tall grass, making exposure after exposure until they trundled past and into the overhanging bushes of the garden. In retrospect I should have been more serious about the pictures I took, and now I wish I had kept more of that silly old bird. But I seem to only have one or two stashed on my hard-drive.  Anyway, who wants a picture of a chicken hanging on their wall?

I tested cameras, lenses, flashes, and my ability to light with flash outdoors, stop movement and focus properly on quick moving subjects. I would walk out in the yard, find Chuck and the chickens, try something out, dump the images from my memory card to the computer, check them out, make a decision about what I wanted to try next, then delete them and go out and start again.

I couldn’t have thought of a better photographic test subject. Yep, that rooster never stopped moving and I am going to miss our time together.

My website is

Photographers that have pets have something special.

In my opinion photographers that have pets have something special. I’m not just writing about the companionship, or the devotion one receives.  That relationship is special and important, however, what I am referring to is that pets are perfect models for our portrait photography.

Photographers point their cameras at just about everything in their lives. Spouses and children patiently put up with constantly having their picture being taken, but eventually even they need to go on about their lives without being constantly photographed, and when that happens, if you are like me, you go looking for the family pet.

Got a new camera or lens? Want to try out that studio lighting technique? Or just bored and want someone ever ready and able to pose for a photograph? Call the dog, or coax the cat. I can’t even begin to count the pictures I have taken of the horses, dogs, cats, parakeets, hamsters, chickens, fish, and frogs I have taken in my life.

Those pets never complained when the pictures didn’t work out and even waited for another blast of the flash without blinking.  I admit the goldfish aren’t very good posers, and Chuck, the rooster that guards the hens, doesn’t seem too interested in standing still for his portrait, but Peaches, the cat, seems more than ok with posing for long periods of time.

Peaches became a resident years ago in the barn, as cats do from time to time. I have no idea her origin, or how old she is, but after a bad run-in with either a wandering coyote or the neighbor’s dog and the follow up convalescence in our home, she somehow moved from the barn to sleeping on my wife’s lap.

The name Peaches came from when I was feeding three strays one winter. My wife asked me what their names were, but, heck, I just didn’t want them starving in the cold weather and hadn’t bonded enough to exchange names. I explained, “ the black one is named Furry, the spotted one is Furry, and the yellow one is called Furry”.  Linda named them Furry, Trixie, and Peaches, respectively. So after Furry got old and died, and Trixie was adopted by a neighbor down the road, Peaches came inside for first aid, a warm place to live, and has become a constant object of my photography.

I will admit that cats are great posers. They will sit without moving for long periods of time, giving photographers lots of time to test out lenses, learn flash techniques, and get creative with a camera. Peaches ignores me most of the time, except when she wants food. So I can take all the pictures I want pretty much any time without any interference. She just sits and waits.

I have never been one of those picture takers that take cute or silly pictures of the animals with which I share my home. I like portraits, so my pet photographs are usually planned and not much different than a formal portraiture of a person. Actually, that cat is a lot easier than most people because she just sits motionless staring at some spot in space for long periods of time. Other than sleeping and eating, Peaches the cat doesn’t seem to think much else matters, thus she is the perfect poser.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.”  That quote from “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll reminds me of my cat, Peaches.

I am not suggesting that photographers should rush out and adopt a cat or any other pet only because they need a model, but if one already inhabits the home then put them to work as an artist’s model. And if any of the pictures are good, then add some words like Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday in PhotoShop and make some cards for your friends and relatives.

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