lighting essentials advanced workshop – a brief review

For those not familiar, Lighting Essentials are a series of workshops put on by Don Giannatti (you may know him as “Wizwow” on flickr).   I am a big fan of Don, not only is he an excellent photographer, with years of commercial experience under his belt, but he is also a fantastic teacher – which is just as difficult a skill unto itself.  He’s also a really down to earth guy with a low tolerance for BS and fools, which I find refreshing, particularly in the online photo community which can often turn into a bit of a hive-mind circle-jerk at times (you know what I’m talking about)…

Anyway, I got to go to his workshop in Philly in ’08 and it was awesome – definitely kicked my work up a couple of notches.   At the time I was already somewhat experienced with lighting, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was blown away; it was amazing to watch Don demonstrate things that I already “knew” lighting wise, and still be able to pick up something new – a new way of thinking about it, new ways of analyzing and constructing and deconstructing light.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to attend the advanced lighting essentials ‘shop down in Baltimore.  Different than the standard workshop, this one assumed a baseline familiarity with lighting to begin with – getting a baseline exposure, balatncing flash/ambient, ratios etc… This was fantastic, as we were able to jump right into working with little “catch up” required.  The format was well done. Don split us up into groups, with various assignments/challenges – in the morning we worked “in studio” talking about and working on precision lighting techniques for still life/objects.  I gained a whole new respect for product photographers – it’s a lot more difficult than you’d think.  One light, and lots of carefully placed white/black cards/diffusers etc…  I particularly appreciated this as it  really made you focus on analyzing and constructing light carefully rather than the “throw some strobes on it till it looks good” approach which many lighting novices seem to take.

In the afternoons we worked with models,  but instead of the standard “how to light/balance” we focused more on creating a mood or complex lighting schemes – sometimes using 4, 5 or more lights – little accents and subtleties to construct a meaningful lighting scheme.   Now I tend to be more minimalist in terms of my own lighting (I tend to favor zero, one or two lights – rarely more) but even so it was valuable to concentrate on the subtleties of the lighting scheme as a whole.

One of the things I like the best about Don’s workshops is that it’s all hands-on.  There’s no “sit around and listen to the instructor talk about how great he is” for 6 hours, as is the case with many “workshops” – Don has everyone jumping right in and shooting right off the bat.  It’s simply “talk about technique -> apply technique”.   Good stuff.   We also spent quite a bit of time talking business.  Don has been a full time photographer as well as designer and creative director for many years, so he has a fantastic amount of the experience in the industry and shares freely.  There are few things more valuable for a new photographer than the lessons of experience from someone who has “been there and done that”.   It’s like going through the school of hard knocks without having to take the knocks.

To sum up, aka the TL;DR version:  if you get a chance to attend one of Don’s workshops, go for it – it’s worth every penny.  What boggles my mind is that folks who will drop thousands on a new camera body or lens, are so hesitant to spend money on education or workshops.  I can say without reservation that the couple of hundred bucks for the LE workshops improved my work far more than any gear purchase I have made (and yeah, I’m also guilty of chasing the latest and greatest toys when it comes to gear).

finally some shots from the ‘shop:

what I’ve been working on

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Tons of shooting, Punta Cana for vacation, more shooting, lighting workshop, working on a painting commission… whew…

Had a fantastic time at Don Giannatti’s workshop in Baltimore, we had some great brainstorming on a portfolio revamp. So that’s my next project! (more on the workshop in a separate post)

Now it’s just a matter of wrapping everything up, finishing up some processing and getting ready to start all over again! Oh, and round 2 of my 1×120 project will be starting up as well!

Without further ado, here are a few images from the past couple of weeks (in no particular order)

new portfolios

I’ve been watching Zack Arias’ series of critiques over at, and even though he didn’t critique my site directly, I took a lot of the general points he made to heart.  Specifically he commented a lot on the need to convey a focused vision through your portfolio.  It made me start thinking about my own port, and what I was trying to say with it.  After some brainstorming and feedback I basically tore down everything and decided to redo my portfolios from scratch.  Less of “my own work that I like” and more of “who I am as a photographer”.   I broke down my work into my commercial/editorial work – separated by “environmental” work and “studio” work, and put all my personal work into it’s own section.  I like the “flow” of the portfolio much better now – it still needs some tweaks but, overall I’m happy.   I’m still deciding whether to put in a separate section just for tearsheets, or incorporate those into the regular galleries.(   I also am thinking of doing one of those videos of my physical book (all the cool kids are doing it…)

I’d love to hear some feedback on the new ports -love em? hate em? don’t care either way?  Click on over and let me know what you think…

An old flame…

It’s funny, there seems to be a kind of “collective unconscious” in the photo community… All the buzz about film lately, from discussions on strobist to Brian Auer’s fantastic “build a film developing kit for <$50”  Of course it just so happens that’s I’ve been rekindling my lost love affair with film as well…I started out developing film (from my 1967 Pentax spotmatic) and printing it in a wet darkroom.  Once I moved to digital, my 35mm film kind of fell by the wayside…

I picked up a Holga a while back with the intention of just messing around, running some 120 film etc…  At the time, I still had access to a pro darkroom, and intended to do my own processing and printing… Of course, that never happened.  With 99% of my work being digital, my poor rolls of 120 sat un-developed for <ahem> quite some time.

Of course that was before I discovered Diafine.  (for those who don’t know, Diafine is what is known as a “Compensating developer”  It comes in 2 parts, solution A, and solution B.   You pour in A, the film absorbs as much as it’s emulsion can hold, you then pour it out, and pour in B.  B reacts with A, doing the developing until A is all used up – then it stops (as there is no more A left to react.) essentially it is a “self terminating” development process.   What this means in practice is that it is just about the fastest, easiest way to develop black and white film that I have ever seen.  No carefully controlling temperatures of solutions (it works just fine anywhere from 68-80F), no exact timing down to the second (because it is self terminating, it doesn’t matter how long your film in).   You can load your film, pour in A, walk away and eat a sandwich, come back pour in B, go grab a beer, come back a half hour later, and your film will be done.  Just like that.

There are a couple of other cool features as well (eg it gives an effective “speed boost” of a stop or more to many films – my preferred HP5+ becomes effectively 800ISO when souped in diafine) and a few downsides.  It’s definitely not the developer to choose if you demand exacting precision & control over each step of the development process.  But for a low-fi neg like the holga produces it’s a match made in heaven.

Say what you will about film v. digital.  I love them both, I think they both have their place, and I think that every photographer should use both to at least some extent.   Even if you are die-hard 100% “digital is superiour to film in every way”, the “creative experience” of film is very different than digital.  It makes you shoot in a different way, think in a different way, see in a different way.  Not better, not worse, just different.  And that in my opinion is one of the great “creativity juicers” that we get.   So if you are in a creative rut, try it out.  Grab a holga and a few rolls of black and white 120 film ($30-40 bucks) and some diafine, and shoot some blurry, light-leaky, distorted, streaky, vignetted, *beautiful* frames.   Guaranteed to cure what ails ya!

All shot with the holga,  Ilford HP5+ film, processed in Diafine:

Philadelphia, Old and New

Independence Hall

At the Beach

Adrift on a sea of clouds


I’m so… conflicted…

Ok, so the whole “selective coloring” thing is kind of cheesy at best, and completely cliched and overused for the most part…

but now you can do it on your iphone, which is kind of cool:

but… it’s selective coloring…

but it’s on the iPhone….

Argh… I’m so torn as to whether this is awesome or awful…

recent work – Elaine on white.

From this past week’s shoot with Elaine for a local fashion designer (Nicole Haddad)

I wanted a lighting scheme that would show off the clothes and textures in the fabric (so nothing too contrasty/dramatic) but at the same time give some visual interest and not be too “flat”

I decided to go with 2 small/medium softboxes (actually a 46″ softlighter and a 28″ westcott) almost from the sides, just a bit in front.  This gave me nice wrapping side light to bring out the textures in the folds of the cloth.   A 3rd strobe in a bounced brolly from the right rear provided some rim light (just a touch) while the final strobe from the left lit the background.  I like to call this my “wall o’ light”

The setup:


And some of the results:



Making the Image #1

2007-10-27at11-45-42-pentax-k10d-edit-2I wanted to start off this series with one of my favorite images, which was actually relatively simple to make.  The piece is titled “Sunshine in the Rain” and began with a concept and a rainy day.


I don’t remember exactly where I came up with the idea for this shot, but it was something that I had been kicking arond for some time.  I had a vague notion of how I wanted to juxtapose the rain and “sunshine” with the umbrella by making it look like light was shining out of it.   As I recall, it had been raining for a while and Vicky and I were stuck at home.  I was itching to shoot, so the idea just popped into my head and started to take shape.  I was envisioning the model stainding in the park with rain pouring down all around while holding an umbrella with “sunshine” coming out of it.


Challenge #1 was how to get the light to “shine” out of the umbrella.   I thought of using a standard silver photo umbrella, but 1) it didn’t have the right “look” and 2) I had no idea if it actually was waterproof 🙂  I ended up taking a plain ol’ large rain umbrella and lining it with foil (taped in with duct tape).  I used  a cord to tie the strobe to the shaft, high enough to be hidden by the curve of the umbrella.    Since I didn’t have a park handy, I decided a cityscape background would look good as well.  I knew this place around city hall that had some open space with not a lot of foot traffic to get in the way of the shot.  We ventured out (in the pouring rain 🙂 and set up.   I was using a 35mm equivalent prime to get a pretty big FOV, as I knew I wanted sky in the image, as well as the ground with the light shining.   The scene was metered for ambient, and the strobe was fired wirelessly in TTL mode.   Played around with a couple of shots/angles, but I wound up liking this framing with city hall framed between the two buildings.


(note – that is the actual raw file, directly converted without any processing whatsoever.)  Pretty rough, huh?  I knew it would be a bit of work to get to the final product.  Most notably the “pool” of light on the ground is fainter and ill-defined.   I knew that this would be a compromise going into the image.  Because of the inverse square law (light falloff), given that her face was so close to the light source, if I had exposed for the light on the ground, I would have gotten a totally blown out face, but If I had exposed the face properly I would have gotten no light on the ground at all.  I compromised by overexposing the face a bit (recoverable) and underexposing the ground a bit, and planning on fixing in post.  Normally I like to do as much as possible in camera, but his was a case where I knew I would need to enhance it in post from the beginning.


With my concept in head, there were a few things I needed to do right off the bat – firstly to clone out the areas where light had leaked through cracks in the foil.  I wanted to keep the umbrella “solid”.   First the image was straightened and the overall exposure adjusted in lightroom.   Then it was exported to photoshop.  Since I knew I needed to do a lot of selective darkening and brightening, created two dodge and burn layers.  In short this is a layer in “overlay” mode filled with 50% grey.  By painting into this layer using either black or white you can selectively lighten or darken areas of an image (like dodging and burning in the darkroom).  White dodges (lightens) and black burns (darkens).  I made 2 separate layers, one for dodging and one for burning.   I burned in the outer edges of the pool of light while simultaneously dodging the inner area to create a more defined circle of light to enhance the “streaming out of the umbrella” effect.  I then lightened up some of the dark areas in the foreground and darkened the sky /lighter areas to give the overall ambient exposure more balance.  Once I was satisfied with the lighting I created a new layer, and cloned out the light spill in the umbrella Finally, a HSL layer was added to give the colors a bit more “pop”, masking out Vicky to prevent oversaturating the skin etc…

in the end the layers looked like:


and the final image:


Amazingly that was pretty much it for processing.  You can really do a lot with just dodge and burn techniques.  although the image was relatively “simple” I think it works well, and is to date one of my favorites (if not my favorite) in my portfolio.

Chiaroscuro with Maureen…

I love playing with light and shadow in my photos, so when Maureen dropped me a line wanting to shoot, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to play with a technique I had been kicking around.   In short, I set up a background light to the right, close to the backdrop and flagged it to creat a hard line of light/shadow (I was working at f/16 to totally kill the ambient)  Then I put Maureen about 8′ in front of the backdrop and lit her hard from the left, using an apollo 28″ softbox.

The end result was to have the lit side on dark, and the dark side on light.    Kind of Noir-ish, kind of chiaroscuro… not sure what to call it, but I like it 🙂

From Miami Beach

Had a wonderful vacation, some well needed downtime/R&R.  Lots of beach/eating/sleeping and not much else 🙂  Not a lot of photography either, but a few interesting shots.  First were the *enormous* iguanas that were roaming the pool area by my family’s condo.  Seriously these things were huge… just kind of strolling around like they owned the place

A quick shot from the balcony of the hotel we went to for the evening of the 4th…

(this was shot at iso3200… I am absolutely floored by how clean and detailed the 5d is at 3200.  it is light years ahead of any crop-sensor camera I have used)

Finally one evening we had a spectacular lightning storm… the view over the ocean and the bay was fantastic as we watched the lighting move across into downtown Miami

(yes the second one is a bit blurry as I didn’t have a tripod, but the bolt was so cool it was hard to pass up)

Finally a few random snaps from here and there (along with the above, couldn’t figure out how to separate them out!)