“Man In The Red Coat” – Photoshop Magic by Irene Liebler

“Man In The Red Coat” – Photoshop Magic by Irene Liebler

Here is a chance to get something very cool.

One of our Project 52 long time members has created a book of images from her series “The Man In The Red Coat”. Irene Liebler is a photographer and designer in Connecticut and has been working on this project for a while now.

For many of the Project 52 assignments, Irene would find creative ways to use her man in the red coat and derby. We would often be awaiting her next masterpiece and she never failed to deliver.

liebler-2 liebler-1

In this book Irene has put together many of her favorite shots with explanations on how they were created. It is both a whimsical look at some highly creative work, and a roadmap for you to find ways to use Photoshop to create worlds of mystery and magic.

Available at Blurb.

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Still Life for a Water Repellent Company

Still Life for a Water Repellent Company

The assignment was to show two images for a company that made water repellent spray. It could not have the spray in the shot, and the client wanted a second shot for the banner across the top of the website. Type and images would be placed on it, so it was to be fairly plain but harken the senses to the main shot.

The photographer on this assignment is Jean Huang.

A single large softbox over the top / back of the set offered a very large and very soft highlight, and the angled light forward helped keep the shadow area of the orange peel in a darker luminance.

The photograph was created as part of the Project 52 Pros group.



The very large light source, close in to the subject, combined with the highly reflective nature of the cloth and water drops helps keep the image dynamic and fun. Notice the reflection of the light source on the water drops, and how differently it presents on the orange cloth background. Also notice how the light falls off on the orange peel. By having no fill card or bright surface to the front of the set, the orange peel had nothing bright to reflect. This dramatic fall off shows the texture of the orange as well as the dimension of the twisted peel.


Photograph something that has a lot of curves in it… whether a sea shell or an orange/lemon peel. Light it from back / top / side an front. Photograph it on a surface that is not reflective like a cutting board or rough hewn tile.

Then wet the scene and shoot it again – back / top / side / front. How does the photograph change from dry to wet? Which lighting position shows the most change in the presentation of the subject? Which shows the least?

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Lighting Basics, Class Two

Lighting Basics, Class Two

The Lighting Angle: Part One

Now that we are starting to understand the metering a bit better, we are going to look at how the angle of the light can create different presentations – AND different exposure situations.

The camera is a fixed position. It is where the Point of View is coming from, and it always presents one leg of our triangle. There is a straight line drawn from camera to subject when looking through the lens.



We call this the “Axis” of the camera to the subject. Since the subject is always what is in front of our lens, this is a fixed angle.

Shifting the light from front to side to back creates all sorts of interesting changes in our subject. These changes are brought about by contrast, shadows, angles of shadows, and can be used to reveal or hide texture.

Front light is coming from on axis of the camera or very near the axis of the camera. Angled light (45 degrees) can actually be anywhere from slightly off camera axis to the point where it becomes side light.

Once we move the light back behind the model any distance back from the 90 degree side light, it would be considered backlight. And something other than that light source would become the ‘main’ light even if it was not as bright as the backlight.


Front Light Example:



Briana is lit from the sun which is over my shoulders. Notice the ‘flat presentation’ of skin and the shape of her arms and legs. Dimension is not presented well, and that is the point of front light. It flattens and contains dimension. Front light can be a particular favorite of some fashion shooters as it creates something akin to studio lighting, and alleviates many distresses on the skin.

Meter from the skin at the same axis as the camera. Using your in camera meter, choose any middle gray reflectance you wish, or by understanding the exposure (see class one) you can “place” the exposure where you want it to be.

Side Light Example:



In this shot of a man I met in Superior, Arizona, I used the sunlight from a side position to give texture to his face, hair and denim clothes. Light from the side meant that I had two areas of light on his face… the direct light, and the shadow (ambient) to base my metering on. I was very careful to use the dome of my meter right in front of him with the light striking the dome the same way it was striking him… half with directional light, and half with the ‘shadow’ or ambient light.

The resulting exposure indication would be very close to what I needed, and I double checked it through my in camera meter by placing the spot meter on the white t-shirt in the sun and opening up two stops (from middle gray, the reflection that gave me the reading – to the actual placement of the white shirt at a point that would still be white, with texture; two stops brighter than the indicated exposure reading.

See the Using a Photographic Light Meter on UDEMY (Assignment One). This class is free for all photographers.

Side / Back Light Example



In this shot the light is coming from the side and slightly back. This is a ‘rim light’ use, and can be thought of as a “special”. The sun is indeed the main illumination tool here, but the “Main Light” that is providing the light on Briana is the ambient light of the sky above her and behind the camera. The sun is adding the rim affect, and is brighter than the main light.

Notice that the sun still lights up part of Briana’s hands, chest, vest and hair. Notice that these areas are brighter than she is – as they should be. Basing (or placing) the exposure on her face presents us with a slightly brighter side light. This is more natural than if we had based the exposure on the side light on her chest or hands which would have rendered  the image much darker.

Back Light Example:



The sun is coming from behind Briana, and I based the exposure totally on her face. The sun then becomes quite bright and even provides nearly overexposed skin on her shoulder and arm. By placing the exposure on her face, we keep the skin tones of the subject area correct.

I used a handheld Minolta meter for each of these shots. With the ambient exposure dome pointed at the camera, I was very careful to keep all direct light (like the sun) from spilling over on the ambient dome so it would ONLY measure the light as it was presented to the subject – and therefor back to the camera.

In all examples I point the dome directly AT the camera and on the axis line.

Alternatives would be to come in close with the camera filling the frame with the subjects face and taking the reading from the camera. Making sure that all I was reading was the face or cheeks, and that there was no extraneous bright areas or flare from a backlight, I would take the exposure meter reading (thus finding the exposure for middle gray) and open up by one stop to “place” that skin tone at the proper reflectance. (For Caucasion skin I open one stop. For Hispanic or Latin skin, I keep the exposure and for dark, African skin I stop down one stop. These are my rules of thumb and I use them as guidelines to make sure that the reflectance levels remain true to the values I want to portray in the image.

Keep working on the first nine chapters of the Udemy course linked on assignment one. (This is a free course.)

Additional Assignment:

Shoot a person in full on sun, but not “noon” sun from above. Either early in the morning or later in the afternoon so the sun is coming more at an angle to the subject. How much of an angle is up to you, but I like to work with a shallow shadow under the chin. If the shadow under the chin goes all the way to the neckbones, the sun is still too high. This is done with the subject looking at the sun.

Shoot them in the same position but keep taking two steps to your left or right. No farther from them and keep them the same size in the viewfinder, but keep stepping away from the sun on axis until you reach a spot where the sun is slightly behind the subject. The subject turns in place to keep looking straight at you.

This will take you from front light to angled light to side light to slightly back side light.

You may keep on turning if you want to go all the way to full backlight.


The first time take the reading of the full on axis sun, and leave that setting as you continue around your arc.

The second time, use either the handheld meter or the one in your camera to make exposures  come out correctly to your taste as you go around.

(HINT: a gray card should remain the same exposure as you work your way around the second time. Have your subject hold that card and base exposure on that as you go around the arc.)

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Lighting Basics, Class One: Light and Exposure

Lighting Basics, Class One: Light and Exposure


This is Lighting Basics… a way to get a fundamental instruction in the art and science of photography. It is geared toward beginners, and those who are mid level but have not had formal training of any kind. Please do all the assignments, it will help you more fully understand photography and how to make better photographs.

– Don

Light and Exposure:

Understanding the qualities of light and exposure means we have to master a tool that is part of our camera system… the light meter.

Here is a link to my UDEMY class in using a light meter. We discuss the handheld meter and the meter in your camera. The class is free, and I want you to start there.

I want you to study the chapters 1 – 9 and understand that information. The goal of this first exercise is to acquaint yourself with the power of understanding a light meter.

Note: If you do not use a handheld meter, do not worry about it. Just watch to understand the principles of how a handheld meter works. It is also important to know that your camera is equipped with a reflective light meter… so it works the same way as the reflected light meter on my handheld meter.

You only have to go through the course up through Lecture 9. Please go through all the lectures up to lecture nine so you can do the following assignments.

Camera meter settings:

I usually recommend using the spot meter setting or at least the center weighted meter setting. With my camera on spot meter, I can use it very much like the handheld meter in the videos you watched. I can pick out and choose what I want my light metering to be based on. I can move in close to fill the frame with a gray door or a black shirt… and get the reading I want. I then make the exposure based on what I know… that black is reading two stops OVER and white is reading two stops UNDER. Or damn close anyway.

For the assignments here, please use your camera on spot or center weighted and make as close to accurate reading EXACTLY on the part of the scene you want to use to base your exposure.


  1. Find something black to photograph. Car tires, black leather jacket, a small pile of charcoal… something black, but NOT shiny. Make an exposure based on what your meter says, then make an adjustment in your mind to where you want to “place” that black and take another exposure. Note where the exposures fall and what you did to compensate for the obviously incorrect exposure that was indicated by your camera meter.
  2. Find something white to photograph. Brides dress, white shirt, white brick building. Make an exposure reading based on the reading and then adjust in your head to make a second exposure. Note where the exposures fall and what you did to compensate for the obviously incorrect exposure that was indicated by your camera meter.
  3. Look around your location and find subjects that look like they are middle gray. Meter them with your camera and shoot the image with that exposure.How did you do? Is that exposure based on what you considered middle gray correct? If it is, find another subject. If not… where does it fall? If it is too light, it will be necessary to move the exposure down to compensate. If it is too dark, open the exposure till it is correct.
  4. Repeat the above for at least 30 minutes. Becoming familiar with how the meter works in your camera is very important and will be a real lifesaver when you need an accurate exposure fast.

You can see in this portrait of our dear leader… heh… where we found the middle gray reflectance to base exposure on.


And here is the image in grayscale so you can see how close the reflectances are without color involved.


Remember that the meter does not see colors, it sees the amount of luminance that the subject is reflecting. You can more clearly see in the second shot how close all the reflectances are.

When you are comfortable using the spot meter to make readings, and your mind to adjust those readings to make the exposure correctly, you can move on to the next assignment.


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Lighting Basics: The Introduction

Lighting Basics: The Introduction

It’s February 1, 2014.

This begins the “Year of Teaching” for me. I may or may not be doing any workshops, but I love to teach so here goes.

What this year long series will be:

A comprehensive look at what I call “Subject Centric Lighting” – the understanding that the characteristics of the subject have a great deal of influence over the way different light sources react with and present from the subject. Whether or not a specific light or modified light will work with a specific subject has as much to do with the subject as it does the light.

We will be covering natural light, studio light, and lighting on location. Our subject matter will range from still life and food to portraiture and product. And we will throw some curve balls occasionally.

Assignments come out every Saturday morning… things to see, things to do, things to read. If you are diligent and committed, you will be a much better photographer at the end of this exercise. We will not be grading anything here… this is YOUR chance to push forward. Push beyond procrastination and malaise and into the exciting world of imagery.

For the basis of my discussions here I will be using the techniques discussed in both of my books, Lighting Essentials and Lighting Essentials Two (available on Amazon).

We will start with an basic understanding of light and subjects and begin to shoot specific assignments based on the methods and techniques that are discussed.

What this year is not:

A discussion on speed lights, or any other specific kind of lighting gear. We will be discussing lighting, and that includes speedlights, natural light, tungsten lights, studio flash and fluorescent units as well.

Nor will we be discussing wedding photography. There are more than enough websites, books, classes and online presentations on wedding photography.

What you will need:

  • A camera with controls… your controls. DSLR’s, Mirrorless, MFT’s… whatever.
  • A working knowledge of your camera; Setting the apertures, shutter speeds and ISO.
  • A familiarity with what is called reciprocitythe shutter speed/aperture relationship and how ISO can be included.
  • A light.
  • Light stand.
  • An umbrella or softbox for the light
  • Tripod… while of course you can shoot handheld, having a tripod makes taking the notes and working with the notes much easier.
  • Enthusiasm. This is supposed to be fun.

We start tomorrow… so be prepared for a really fun and exciting year.

Jump in any time… no need to begin at any special time… the classes are free and they are specifically geared to people who want to understand light and make better images.


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And We Are Back

And We Are Back

That medical issue took more out of me than I was willing to admit.

But I am back – and so is Lighting Essentials… a new post every day.

Lighting, gear, photography and fun…

What’s gonna be new? Watch and see.

We will have a new photograph, complete with lighting information every day. From natural light to studio strobes and on location lighting, we will bring you some of the best from amateurs, semi-pros and pros out there. No matter what you are interested in, there will be something to learn here.

I decided to make this year the year of teaching so all my energy will be placed there… and here.

Starting Saturday (February 1, 2014)… Lighting Basics. One assignment a week for you to consider, work on and learn from. These are lighting assignments, NOT to be confused with the Project 52 PRO assignments that are geared to creating actual gigs. This is all technique and I will be giving you the entire breadth of my “Subject Centric Lighting” approach.

I will be continuing the “Tech Sheets” approach and I look forward to working with photographers from all over the world.

The Lighting Basics class is free… there is no signup required, although you will get more out of it if you ARE signed up for my weekly dispatch… see the column on the right at the top. It comes out every Sunday and has received some remarkable reviews from pros and semi-pros all over the world.

We will also be discussing my take on gear… a non gear-head looks at gear and the tools of the trade.

You will also get a few rants and challenges along the way, so be aware of those bumpy turns… and keep your arms and hands inside the car at all times.

So here we go… back at it full swing and full on.

Lighting Essentials is BACK!


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