My Utah Trip With Maciej

My Utah Trip With Maciej

A few weeks ago, photographer Maciej Blaszczuk and I took a road-trip together. This was a consultation with him on how to grow his business, where to go with his new ideas, and how to implement them in order to be more manageable. I help photographers focus, and I like to do it in a situation where we are relaxed, engaged, out of a familiar element, and being creative.

Hence: The road-trip consult. Genuinely successful, and a hell of a lot of fun.

This road-trip consult ended up being in southern Utah, so I rode my motorcycle up to Vegas, and Maciej flew in from the Bahamas. Maciej is based in both Bermuda and Poland and is a travel/adventure photographer focused on smaller camera work and cameraphone mastery.

I am happy to see he is implementing what we discussed and making his business more successful. And it is a fantastic new approach to a business model.

I love southern Utah. Some of the most amazing country on the planet, easily accessible, and marvelous people willing to help you find a canyon, choose a great restaurant,or pull your rental car out of the mud… heh.

The images presented here were either shot on my iPhone 7 and processed in the iPhone, or on a Nikon Df with an assortment of lenses (28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm) processed in LR / Pshop CC.

Day one we met at the Vegas airport (where I parked my bike for the duration) and headed out in a rented Volvo 4x4… and was that thing loaded! Power everything, full open view roof, lots of power for icy roads and some lovely interior features that made the trip out to the wilds of Escalante a lot more luxurious.

Our first night we spent in Cedar City. Great hotel with complimentary full breakfast AND dinner. We opted for some Mexican food and went in search of the best Cedar City had to offer. It was amazingly good Mexican food too. Don Miguel’s is the place, and it is on the main drag so easy to spot. Ask them for the spicier roasted pepper salsa they make for themselves. Yum!.

After dinner, we went exploring out west of Cedar City in a grand prairie-like environment. We found lots to photograph.


Cedar City over to Escalante, via Bryce Canyon, was a blast. It was so cold at times I thought my fingers were going to freeze, And watching the blizzard conditions move across the mountains and valleys before us was almost magical.

We had lakes, vistas, frozen waterfalls, and a little pass where there was an amazing amount of Petroglyphs… simply amazing!

Things we discovered this day:

  1. Not many people travel that part of Utah on a Monday. The roads were empty and we once went almost an hour before seeing another vehicle.
  2. Devlishly hard to find hot coffee in that area, that time of year. We finally found a little diner with great pie, and indulged while it snowed.
  3. Weather changes on a dime at that altitude. From snowing and dark to sunny and comfortable in a manner of minutes.

I want to go back to that area… same time of year. Loved the aloneness of it all.

Day Three: Escalante to Waterpocket Fold

We spent this day exploring the Escalante / Grand Staircase area around Escalante, and I finally got to see Waterpocket Fold with my own eyes. I have wanted to see it since I was 20 years old and reading about it in a photography book I owned named “Slickrock”.

It was glorious.

But first, we drove up the mountain northeast of Boulder, Utah to some very high elevations, lots of snow, and a deep, perpetual cold.

That part of the trip was so amazing… the clouds, peaks, tree skeletons and more combined for some truly fun imagery.

Way up on the top of the mountains east of Boulder, we found so many wonderful places to shoot. I must say it was simply stunning. All the trees on this mountain range are Aspen so no pines were present. White tree-bones, white snow, and blowing snow made a whiteout occur on occasion. I was able to get a few shots in the moments when it would let up.

Road trips invigorate me. They make me realize how amazing it is to be here – in this spot – at this time. Being surprised at every corner, interested in every view, and engaged with the elements. Well, there is nothing like it.

While we were on top, in the blowing snow, three guys on Harley’s rode by. I suddenly realized how cold they must be… wow.

But then, we do what we need to do to be reminded that we are indeed alive!





This part of the road rides a ridge with very steep canyons on both sides for about a half a mile. It is simply amazing.


We were pretty beat from the long day in Escalante and Waterpocket fold so we elected to stay at the hotel in Kanab and have breakfast before heading to Zion. Good thing too… the light was mediocre and the traffic was horrendous. The breakfast, on the other hand, was superb!

We were going to eat lunch in Springdale but couldn’t find a place to park so we headed on down the mountain and decided to drive over to highway 93 through Modena and Caliente and then on into Vegas. I was quite surprised at a number of mountains in that part of Nevada. I thought it was all flat like over on 95, but it isn’t. Bluffs, peaks, mountains and canyons are plentiful in a high desert area. Simply beautiful.

On the way back we stopped in Modena – an empty town of maybe 3 people, saw a grass fire on the prairie and generally had a great discussion about what Maciej was going to do next. Fabulous!

Thanks for coming along on the virtual trip. I hope you enjoyed the images.

If you are interested in doing a one-on-one road trip consultation with me, just drop me an email and we can talk about what you are looking for. (NOTE: I do not do hotel conference rooms, or other sterile, non-creative environments.)

See you next time!

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.
“Lighthouse: Maine; A Photoshop Twist

“Lighthouse: Maine; A Photoshop Twist

Lighthouse: Maine Coast at Sunset

A Lightroom / Photoshop Video

I recently rediscovered this image from a shoot I did in Maine a few years ago. I really wanted this image to work, but after trying it several times it just didn’t have the snap I wanted.

A few days ago, I was revisiting that shoot for a client and found the image. It suddenly dawned on me what I had not been able to do before. I needed a focal spot of light in that otherwise dreary flat ambient.

By deciding to play up the lighthouse and give it a sense of lighting itself, the shot came alive. Some of my P52 folks wanted to know how I did it, so I prepared this video. I hope you enjoy it.

I am not a Photoshop guru.

The shot as it was made. Super flat light, yet I just knew there was an image hiding in that capture. I just wanted it to reveal itself to me and one day – it did.

Processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. This is what the image needed all along; a focal point for those leading lines and something to bounce the lovely soft sunset light.


Announcing Lighting Essentials V4

Announcing Lighting Essentials V4



Here we start the new year with a bang… a big bang.

Lighting Essentials has always been a quiet site for a select group of serious photographers and that will not change. However, I have decided on some new content ideas for the upcoming year.


A couple of years ago I traveled around the country giving lighting workshops to photographers on long weekend sessions. It was rated as one of the best 13 workshops in the world by the readers of Photo District News, and I had a blast doing it. Meeting wonderful people and doing photography for full days at a time was a very exciting time.

I am putting the workshop online. One assignment per week.

The assignments mix learning and creativity and all of the work is based on my “Subject Centric Lighting” approach to working with lighting. Students can start and stop at any time, and there is no charge for this class.

Although one assignment per week will be added, there will be lots of peripheral information added.

The goal is for the photographer to be able to understand how light works, and what light to use to produce the look they want to achieve.

This is NOT a ‘put the light here and shoot’ workshop, although there are some technical points that should be followed. This is a comprehensive approach to lighting that will give any photographer a solid base / intermediate knowledge of lighting.

Class starts on January 2, 2017. And again, it is free.


This will be an ongoing part of Lighting Essentials. It is a critique and lighting discussion of some of the best shots from my Project 52 Pro group. We will deep dive into how the images were made with lighting diagrams and BTS shots to explain how they were done. This will be an incredible experience for any photographer who is thinking about going pro in the commercial world.

We will most likely not be discussing a single wedding, senior, baby, maternity session for the entire year. That is consumer photography and it is not what I know. I only teach the stuff I know and don’t go near the stuff I don’t know. Besides, at last count there were slightly more than a million places to learn about wedding photography. But not here.


I plan on kicking ass, taking names and doing it again in this area. Look, if you want to go pro, it is really goddam hard and it is necessary to dig deep and find ways to get stuff done.

This will be a mix of assignments, research, and business acumen. This is for a select group of course, and you will do the selecting yourself. There is also no charge for this.

Photographing Chocolate: A Sweet Challenge

Photographing Chocolate: A Sweet Challenge


Photographing chocolate is very challenging. For one thing, humidity and temperature can play a big part in what the chocolate looks like. And chocolate is very susceptible to damage from fingerprints, casual bumping against other product, and time.

Working with chocolate to make it look great is what we worked on with this Project 52 assignment. I chose these 11 images to show a cross section of the work the students did on this difficult assignment.

Cover image by Terri Queen.


Soft ambient from the back with a little kick from the rear-right bring these ridges of chocolate alive. The perfection of the chocolate is revealed by well thought out lighting.


Notice the beautiful lighting on the different types of chocolate. Dawn used a large light from above with carefully placed fill cards to keep the dark tones readable.


Super soft lighting and wonderful composition show off these rare, exotic chocolates with fruits and nuts. A very large, diffuse light source in close to the subject creates this look.


A frame within a frame helps create a bit of mystery for these specialty chocolates. A large light source in close to the subjects presents a wonderfully soft light that helps fill the shadows.


A small drip of chocolate on a white pear is a beautiful treat for the eyes. Melissa used a very soft ambient light to create this image. The liquid like highlight in the chocolate help sell the difference in textures.


A single light helps define the textures of this simple chocolate cupcake. Using a gradient surface allows the highlights atop the chocolate swirls to look even more glorious. A small shiny fill to the front opens up the cake toward camera.


Yep, that is chocolate wine. I haven’t tried it yet, but it is on my list. Kurt’s lovely lighting and beautifully shot bottle helps show off the candies all about the surface. The small splash light behind the bottle and glass help keep them front and center.


Chocolate in a very simple form. Strong backlight, and a specular on the surface of the pan leads our eyes to the chocolate ball. Styling to include the chocolate powder helps keep us focused on the subject.


A colorful display of fancy chocolates lit gently from behind with a softbox behind a little kick of light from the front for fun.


Shallow Depth of Field helps to present the textures of these fine chocolates, while giving us a pleasing composition.


For the last time this year, I am running this very popular class on Black and White Portraiture. Lots of information on shooting people and converting the images to monochrome (black and white, sepia, toned etc…).

Please check out the page for a lot more information.

If you love still life photography as much as I do, you may want to check out this 8 Week Still Life Class. It is one of the most popular I offer and it will be the last time I do this in 2016. We take a deep dive into the structure, techniques, and styles of still life photography.

Please see this page for more information.