06: Assignment Six; A glass of wine on location

06: Assignment Six; A glass of wine on location

This shot cannot be done in a studio, the client would prefer it be done on location.

Snow is good. Desert is good. Trees are good.

It’s all good because their tagline is “It’s Always a Good Time for a Good Wine” (Please drink responsibly means probably not while driving down the freeway or flying a plane… soooo –  there is that.)

Remember a few things about wine:

  1. Dark, red wine is hard to light for color. You may have to drive some additional light through the wine from the back. This may open up the wine for a more attractive color.
  2. Wine is transparent. If you have a busy background, you may want to use a white card for behind the wine glass so the busy background is eliminated in the glass.
    Method A: cut white card the same shape as the wine glass and carefully angle it to not show on the sides.
    Method B: Insert a white card behind the wine and take a second shot. Blend the white card glass into the shot without it.
  3. Pouring the wine is a great way to add dynamics, but make sure the lighting is absolutely dead on for that pour. Otherwise the highlight that is so important will not be brought out of the pouring wine. Think fill cards… lots of fill cards.

Use a lens that will render the wine glass sharp and the background less so. The client wishes to make the wine definitely be the center of attention.

Surfaces can be anything from a snow covered rock to a patio bench to a porch with all the accessories. This is YOUR shot. Make it reflect their tag line and you are golden.



This class focuses on 8 classic and diverse portrait photographers. We learn what makes the image makers tick, and use that information to help polish our own work even tighter. You will make more deliberate imagery after taking this class.

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Get on the list for more information. Enrollment starts soon.


This class has turned into a really powerful, and very popular class. Students rave about their increased vision, lighting, and compositional skills. Becoming very conscious of light, dimension, and shape helps in all aspects of photography.

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05: Assignment Five: Industrial Magazine Cover

05: Assignment Five: Industrial Magazine Cover

This is a fun assignment.

An art director needs a cover shot for an industrial trade magazine.

Which industry?

Whichever industry you choose – but it is industrial. Mechanical… build stuff!

The gig can be one of three approaches.

This shot would be a worker, holding something in their hands or working with their hands. We have background included… and it must be lit. Whether you use natural light or bring your own, the background cannot be ignored. Art director would prefer lighting from the right, as that is somewhat a custom of their magazine.

Still Life:
Tools, dies, saws… whatever you choose for this shot, there must be patina, a sense of them being used. Heavy lifting stuff. Real hard working tools. Gardening and light housework tools are not included.

Industrial Transportation:
Big trucks, skip loaders, construction site. If you go this way, remember to bring lights. This is a cover shot and it MUST be dramatic. Absolutely dramatic. Use your strobe to light something up, light paint in something to be featured. Take off the ‘snapshot’ hat and put on the “OMG, I can’t believe you shot this” hat.

The shot is vertical. I have included a layout for those who wish to go that way. Use of the layout is OPTIONAL.

Room for Masthead (magazine name)

PSD for those who want to put your work in a layout (optional). INDUSTRY.psd

Use Google to find what is out there… and you may be disappointed that so much bad photography exists in the construction arena.
Or… you may be very excited that so much bad photography exists in construction and find a niche that needs to be filled… ya know?

Research is GOOD.

Some ideas:

05: Subject Properties: Part One

05: Subject Properties: Part One


Let me say that again. Everything reflects.

Some things reflect more than others. Some surfaces are more reflective than others.

But since everything reflects, we are sometimes presenting what that subject reflects rather than ‘bouncing’ light into a dark area.

In portraiture, I think of providing the shadow side of the face something to reflect back to me rather than ‘filling’ as in creating light on a dark surface. The reason is that the cheek and chin and hair on the shadow side can be made to reflect the object I have placed there if it will indeed be within the angle of reflection to my camera.

I believe I get more control that way. The brighter the ‘reflectors’ the brighter the reflections back to me. Moving the reflector away from the subject increases the distance, and the reflection becomes less bright.

One of the chief reasons that things reflect the way they do is the surface of the subject. Smooth surfaces may reflect absolutely, with lots of contrast, while adding texture will cut down on the reflection of the light and actually cause it to be presented with less contrast.

It is this nature of the subject that I focus on first when deciding what kind of light to use.

I will say this before we go on… there is NO one way or right way or best way do make images. There is your way and my way and her way and his way and on and on. I will present to you what I do and you are free to take it and modify/adjust/deconstruct/start over or discard what I do. It’s OK. In fact it is what I want you to do. Take this information and make it yours. Utilize subject centric lighting in your own way and make better photographs.

Surfaces have a couple of distinct parameters for us to explore: rough, smooth matte, shiny and combinations of all three sometimes. And each one of them reflects light back to us in different and particular ways.

Shiny, glossy surfaces, matt surfaces, and textured surfaces.

We will first look at textured surfaces.

Texture is what I see first when I start to look at a subject. I just do. Of course color and shape and all play into it, but the light has its way with texture, and I notice how it is presented back to the camera. In nature it can help me decide the angle of my camera to subject and in the studio it helps me decide on what kind of lights/modifiers I will be using.

I can choose to either enhance or mitigate texture by using the angle of the light as it is presented to the subject and back to me. A very rough wood wall with light scraping down across it shows a lot of texture, and I can use that angle of light to reveal that texture to my viewers. If I decide to lessen the contrast I can wait for a cloud to come between the sun and the subject, or go around the subject to see if there is texture wood in the shade. It will still be a texture, but it will have less contrast between the bright part of the texture detail and the shadow side.

The cloud lowers the contrast just as being in the shade does. In simple form, the light source becomes larger than the detail of the texture, but we will discuss this further in the next chapter.

If the light is on either horizon, I can change the look of the texture by changing where I put the light in relation to the subject – in relation to the camera.

Light from the side shows more texture. Light from the camera means less texture. The reason is that there is more contrast between the highlights and the shadows cast on the sidelight than there is with the light coming from the same direction as the camera. The light behind the camera actually doesn’t show shadow to the camera (angle of incidence = angle of reflection) while the sidelight throws shadows and creates contrast.

Texture shows the viewer how rough an area is, or what kind of surface they would find if they were there. It delineates the shape of details and it gives us information beyond what we would see on the surface. Old things have lots of texture from the weather or the sun. Areas that are full of texture have lots of visual energy. The eye knows that the light is playing on something that shows itself with character and charm. Cookies have to have texture, as does old barn wood. We want to see the texture in an old book as we want to see it in a pasta dish or leather jacket.

In the picture below, I am using a hard light to emphasize the texture of the pods. A small light source placed at a side angle to the pods and camera gives me highlight and shadow with very little transition between.

You can see the side light in the stems and the rim of light that is created by the quick fall off from reflection of the light source to the shadow.

Texture gives us context, and it is nearly unconsciously understood. We have seen what light does to texture our whole lives, so when we go to photograph it, we are naturally drawn to those times of day and places where the texture is well rendered.

But there are places where texture may not be as welcome. A subject’s face or skin may not be considered a good thing when rendered with a lot of texture. Unless, of course, they are quite interesting with the texture rendered. Age is something we can show with texture – and along with that inspiration, wisdom and the universal knowledge of what aging does to us all.

The old brick wall that Jamie is running on shows lots of texture due to the sidelight (top light) giving us edges and shadows.

A close inspection shows us the highlights on top of the bricks and then the many indentations exacerbated by highlight and shadow with a fast fall off. This is created by using a small light source – the sun – and a large subject – the wall.

We want our things to be rendered as we expect them to be in real life. Water is wet, rough-hewn wood should look like it is a splinter waiting to happen, glassware should be very smooth, and skin should be smooth and attractive.

Sure there are examples of things being rendered in an un-natural state – and that’s fine. I am talking in a generality here, and one with a lot of history to back it up. While there may be an example of two of rough, scary skin on teenage girls, the vast majority will reject that image instantly.

This shot of cracked earth exhibits many of the properties of a subject / light relationship. Notice how much texture is shown due to the small light source side lighting the cracked earth. The sun is a small light source, and you see no soft, wrapping light, In addition, there is a bright spot in the middle of the image created by the specular – although it is a bit diffused, the dried mud is still reflective enough to show us a reflection of the sun at the same angle from camera. If I moved left or right, I would change where that bright spot was because it was locked into the same angle as my camera from the other side.

I chose to place my exposure one stop less than the recommended exposure to increase the feeling of a vignette.

Small lightsource, at a side (back) angle and a slightly reflective surface gives us more to work with than just a dried mud slab.

Texture is also shown by the angle of incidence rule. If we choose to include the light as a part of the composition, for instance, we may choose to include its direct reflection back into the lens. A highlight on a shiny surface will show us how shiny it is by the relationship of the light and the surface around it. A less smooth surface may make a softer reflection of the light source, and that will also tell us about the surface texture.

In this detail of an alto saxophone, the light is coming from the top back and it leaves small speculars on the areas that are efficient (shiny) and emphasizes the texture of the old keys and metal discoloration.

There are many places where we can use the reflection of the light source to create a cool looking gradation or highlight to create some interest as a point of composition as well.

The main point of this composition is the light on the wooden tools. By making sure the matte textured tools have a soft, directional light without any fill, the texture of the wood shows clearly in the image.

Ways to create texture:


Top light.

Hard light (small source).

Backlight can also be used in many situations.


  1. Shoot a textured item (product / thing) to show the texture and find ways to mitigate or lessen the texture. Hint – front light nearly always kills texture, and sidelight nearly always makes it stronger.
  2. Take a single textured item – like a shoe – and using your flashes or studio lighting, create as many different texture shots as you can using only one light – no fill.
  3. Look for texture in nature and shoot images that emphasize and also lessen the texture just by walking around the subject to see different angles of light to subject to camera.
04: Assignment Four: The Game of Chess

04: Assignment Four: The Game of Chess

CHESS as a Business Strategy

We read about chess masters. There are movies made about chess and those who play. An esoteric, and definitively challenging game of wits and skill.

Like business.

Your assignment this week comes from a business magazine (Forbes, The Economist, or similar) for an image that will accompany their article on company acquisitions being similar to a game of chess.

The headline is “One Move Ahead May Not Be Enough” and your illustration must use something of the game of chess in it to give the headline some context.

It could be a piece, or a board, or the capture of the King, or a whole lot of other things – right?

How about a giant chessboard with people in business suits as the chess pieces? Or a chessboard with briefcases on the squares? C’mon, there are a lot of ideas when you get into the world of chess.

The image must be in color, and it must be portrait orientation. The client has also mentioned the magazine would not mind a unique post production process if you have one in mind that could boost the illustrative feel of the image.

What ideas does this give you for your shot? Can you see it in your head?

Use your sketch book or journal to put down ideas and suggestive terms to get your creativity in gear.

And try not to lose your rook… just sayin’… 😉

10 Black and White Portraits That Look Like Film

10 Black and White Portraits That Look Like Film

From some of the students in the 8 Week Black and White Class comes this selection of ten images that really look like film and paper. The assignment was to make sure the image was designed to look as though it was shot as a black and white, not simply a converted color image.


Julie LHeureux

Greg Pastuzyn

Leonardo Ferri

Brian Miller

Janice Eddington



Coty Montroy

Gloria McDonald

Tom Ladwein

Ivan Singer

Dawn Gardner

Daily Critique / Image Review: 1-17-17

Daily Critique / Image Review: 1-17-17

This is an ongoing feature of Lighting Essentials, a Place for Photographers.

We will be looking at images on a consistent basis. The images will all be work from my 8 Week Workshops or Project 52 Pros. These critiques will be short, but very informative and full of lighting, composition, and professional tips to help you become a better photography.

Note: we are focused on commercial and editorial photography, not consumer work.

Our Photographers.





For more information on upcoming classes, check the workshops tab above.