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Learn How to Light.

Last Build Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2018 11:21:41 +0000


Announcement: Strobist Full-Day Shooting Workshop, June 7th in Washington, DC

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 22:33:00 +0000


Just a quick heads-up that I'll be teaching a small-class lighting workshop in Washington, DC this June 7th. It is part of the Focus on the Story International Photo Festival being held June 7-10.

This class is small — a maximum of 16 people — and we will be shooting all day. It is designed for people who are new to intermediate in their lighting skills. If you are comfortable with shooting in manual mode, you will not be out of place. If you already have some experience, we will happily stretch you out a bit.

If you have your own lighting gear (small flash only, please) feel free to bring it. But you need not, as lighting gear will be provided for the class. Just bring a camera, normal range lens (a kit zoom would be fine) a storage card and batteries and you are good to go.

I teach this class a lot; it's my favorite course. But oddly, almost never in the U.S. In fact, this is the only time I am scheduled to teach a small shooting workshop in the U.S. this year.

Here is my promise: if you show up as an "available light" photographer, you will leave as a lighting photographer. Period. I guarantee it. (In fact, I won't let you leave until you understand it. So if you are intimidated, maybe... bring a sleeping bag.)

The class, which includes lunch, is $230. You need not sign up for the whole festival to take this class. (But the festival has a really strong speaker lineup, and a 40% off early bird discount until March 18.)

Links below, hope to see you there. (Hit me on Twitter if you're coming!)

FOTS International Photo Festival
My Lighting Workshop(image)

SLC-0L-01: Flash or Continuous, Light is Light

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 16:58:00 +0000


In Lighting 101, 102 and 103, we learned to control our flashes. In the Strobist Lighting Cookbook, we're expanding that approach to learn to move in a fluid way between flash and continuous light. Read more »(image)

Our Next Two Strobist X-Peditions:Havana, Cuba and Hanoi, Vietnam

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 23:17:00 +0000

We are back from our inaugural Strobist X-Pedition, which was held last month in Havana, Cuba. The attendees are readjusting to life back on the grid, and busy editing photos and trading stories via email.Havana X-Pedition, January 2018Photo by Jeremy LaskyOur week in Havana was filled with photography, new friends, eye-opening experiences and perhaps even a spot of Cuban rum. Now that we are back, I wanted to send a quick note out to Strobist's readership both to show off some of the student work and give you a heads-up about plans for next year's X-Peditions. Photo by Martin StephensPhoto by Michael GrigorievPhoto by Bob PlotkinUpcoming X-PeditionsIf you would like to learn more about our planned X-Peditions for next year, you can read all about them here. We are planning to return to Havana in the winter and then we're off to Hanoi in the fall. (I am headed to the latter on a shooting/scouting trip in three weeks.)The info page linked just above is also where to sign up to ensure you'll get advance notice about next year's trips. As with 2018's Havana X-Pedition, these will certainly sell out. There are only 12 slots available for each of the two trips. And because of the advance interest sign-up sheet, they may not be publicly announced.I hope to see you next year, someplace really interesting.-David[...]

SLC-1L-02: One light, Inside the Frame

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 21:37:00 +0000


Long-time readers will recognize this shot, of the Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel in Maryland, as the photo from the very first post on Strobist in 2006. I was happy with it when I shot it. And to some degree, I still am.

But looking at it today, there are definitely some things I would approach differently. So let's walk through it, bearing in mind what we've learned since way back then.Read more »(image)

SLC-2L-02: Two-Speedlight Daylight Group Shot

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 16:50:00 +0000


Using speedlights without softening modifiers greatly expands your outdoor working range. And it does so enough that you can easily light a large group photo with a small, portable gear pack.

Today, we'll walk through how to do that, along with a few tips to tweak and improve your results.Read more »(image)

SLC-2L-01: Owning the Sun with Two Speedlights

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 22:03:00 +0000


When working with one speedlight outdoors in daylight, logic dictates that you need to find the shade if you want to create a nice quality of light.

This is because you only have one light, which a) needs to do all of the heavy lifting, and b) is not very powerful. Which means that you tend to go soft—and close—with your one light.

So one light can be limiting. But as you'll see, a second light can open up some pretty neat options. Read more »(image)

SLC-1L-01: One Speedlight Outdoors — Find Shade

Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:11:00 +0000


There is an inherent tradeoff when using small speedlights outdoors in daylight. They are light, and convenient and cheap. But they don't have a ton of power.

And the aggravating factor is the relationship between a small flash and a bright environment. Which is, in turn, governed by our sync speed. And by this I mean our natural speed limit for flash, absent power-robbing gimmicks like high-speed sync (HSS).

At a sync speed of 1/250th of a second, even at a low ISO, you are probably going to be at f/16 in full sun. That's a small aperture, which means your flash will be working hard to create a full exposure.

Because of that, working in full sun with speedlights usually means we lack the power that we need. Certainly, we don't have enough power to push the flash's light through a softening modifier to look nice.

The solution: Get more power... or find some shade. Read more »(image)

Strobist Lighting Cookbook

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:19:00 +0000

NOTE: Links to individual lessons are below.The Strobist lighting Cookbook is a practical manual for how to use your flashes. It's where lighting theory meets real world situations — and solutions. In this module, we will assume you have read Lighting 101 through Lighting 103. (If not, start here.)Unlike On Assignment, which was haphazard and chronological, the SLC will build out to be an organized resource. You'll be able to find a solution set for yourself if, for example, you just own one light. The examples will be (mostly) speedlight-based, and grouped by the equipment it takes to make them. This way you can learn what you can do with your present gear, and/or make a more informed decision as to whether to add another light to your bag.The categories for the Strobist Lighting Cookbook are as follows:No Lights (0L)Having a better understanding of ambient light will make you a better lighting photographer. Ideally, you want to get to a point where ambient and strobe are seen as virtually interchangeable. If you don't own any lights, 0L is for you. POSTS:0L-01: Flash or Continuous, Light is LightOne Light (1L)Combined with a good grasp on ambient light — and how to balance it — one light gives you some cool options. But you have to work within some creative restrictions.Shooting with one light is usually compromise between what you'd like to do, and what you're equipped to do.POSTS:1L-01: One Light Outdoors—Find Shade1L-02: One Light, Inside the FrameTwo or More Lights (2L)Adding a second light is the sweet spot for most photographers. A second light lets you add separation — either on your subject or on your background. Or it can let you control the shadows created by your first light.And if you want to add a third light, or more, we'll explore that here, too.POSTS:2L-01: Owning The Sun With Two Speedlights2L-02: Two-Speedlight Daylight Group ShotOdds and Ends (OE)If it doesn't fit well anywhere above, it goes here: DIY, cool hacks, connective tissue for the gaps above, and the like.POSTS:(coming soon)__________How to Follow AlongThe Strobist Lighting Cookbook will grow in size and usefulness as new posts drop in. There is, however, no set schedule. If you are on the mail list, you'll get a heads-up anytime a new idea or technique is published. Or you can also keep tabs on new SLC posts via Instagram.As for scope, the Lighting Cookbook is totally open-ended. We'll see where it goes when we get there.[...]

Lighting 103: Takeaways

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 20:48:00 +0000

Abstract: Some parting thoughts as we wrap up Lighting 103.


Hopefully, you have enjoyed our discussion of color and light in Lighting 103 v1.0—or at least found it useful as you explore your own lighting.

Coming next will be a whole new section: The Strobist Lighting Cookbook. (More info here.)

But for now, here are some takeaways as we wrap up our module on color. Read more »(image)

First Look: Phottix Juno

Mon, 30 Oct 2017 23:09:00 +0000


A value-priced, all-manual flash with a built-in radio and a real warranty? Yeah, I'm interested.

Today, a first look at the new Phottix Juno. Read more »(image)

Upcoming Strobist Events: Buenos Aires, Dublin and Havana

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 19:26:00 +0000

Just a quick heads-up on upcoming Strobist events. If you are local to Buenos Aires or Dublin—or have ever wanted to spend a photo-centric week in Havana—check out the details below.Buenos Aires, Argentina: November 17-19 I'll be doing a seminar and two workshops in Buenos Aires in November. In the half-day seminar on the 17th, we'll move beyond F/stops and shutter speeds and take a step back to look at photography from a broader perspective. How can you approach your photography in a way that also incorporates your other skills and expertises? How can you turn this approach into sustainable business models and ecosystems? Whether your goal is to make money or just to become more aware of and focused on who you are as a photographer, this talk is designed to prompt deeper thought. And because of the Contrastes Magazine's sponsorship, the talk is *free*. Well, at least for subscribers of the magazine. (Which means that if you are not yet a subscriber, the half-day seminar will only set you back the cost of a magazine subscription.) On the 18th and 19th, I'll be teaching small-class workshops on lighting. These are shooting workshops, and are appropriate for anyone who wants to learn (or learn more) about small-flash lighting. Because of the sponsorshop, they are also economically priced.More details are here: Buenos Aires WorkshopsDublin, December 3-5I'll be both speaking and teaching for the Irish Professional Photographers Association in Dublin in December. More important: Italian photographer Sara Lando will also be teaching here during this time. Sara and I will both be speaking on Sunday the 3rd. Sara will talk in the morning about the thousand things you wouldn't think about that go into a successful conceptual portrait session. I'll be talking in the afternoon about how to incorporate your photographic expertise into a wide range of external possibilities—and how to build digital and economic ecosystems around that.On Monday and Tuesday the 4th and 5th, I'll be running a two-day, small-flash speedlight bootcamp. This is a small class, and we'll be shooting the whole time. But between us, where you really want to be is in either or both of Sara's two classes. Her unique approach to creative portraiture will cause you to completely re-examine your own approach. Honestly, the less creative you feel you are, the more you can benefit from spending a couple of days with her.More details here, with early bird prices in effect until October 31: Dublin WorkshopsX-Pedition Havana, January 12-19 Our inaugual Strobist X-Pedition is set for Havana, Cuba, from January 12-19. This is not a photo junket. This is an intensive week in perhaps the most photographically (and culturally, economically, etc.) interesting city in the western hemisphere. The US government makes it a total pain in the butt to get to Cuba, and it is becoming far more so under the tightening restrictions. But having been there, I can tell you it is well worth the trouble. Go while you still can.Our week is designed around learning and photography in a tight, small-group environment. When the light is crap, we'll be indoors learning how to think and see more like a photojournalist. When the light is right, we'll be out shooting. We have several location shoots lined up, and you'll get plenty of time to explore on your own as well. Throughout the week, we'll also be learning to bridge the perception-reality gap for lesser-traveled destinations. Our goal by the end of the week is threefold: to make you a more observant and focused traveling photographer, to learn to shoot efficiently while retaining time for yourself and/or family while on the road, and to have the knowledge and experience to grab your camera and confidently head to nearly any place in the world.This trip is nearly full.[...]

Lighting 103: Becoming More Intuitive with Color

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 16:00:00 +0000

Abstract: Even an on-camera flash grab shot can be elevated by an intuitive understanding of light and color.


As your understanding of light and color grows, how does it affect your daily shooting? Like most things that seem complex at first, color pretty quickly becomes a secondary thought process, just like tying your shoes.

I just had the above archive photo picked up by a nonprofit, to promote children's books. Looking at it, I'm reminded that creating a natural looking color need not be complicated at all.

This was a little more than a snapshot, done with on-camera flash, and no gels. And the thought process behind the light is a good example of how you'll start to see and control color, even if you're just grabbing a snapshot. Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: How Designers Gel Live Performances

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 20:01:00 +0000

Abstract: A dynamic, 3-D scene and hundreds of sources—a talk with a theatrical lighting designer

Photo © Lucas Krech

Today in Lighting 103, a little side trip. Fair warning: we are taking a bit of a deep dive. For some of you this will make your eyes glaze over. But for others, it'll be a very cool look into the way live performance lighting designers think with respect to color.

No worries; we'll be back in the center of the bell curve in the next installment.

A Chat with Lucas Krech

New York-based Lucas Krech is a lighting designer who works with operas, dances, plays and performance pieces. He is also is a photographer, which is how we originally intersected via Twitter.

A ways back, I wrote to him to find out a little more about how people approach the process of lighting live performances. What I got back was basically a firehose/brain dump that gave me a fascinating look into how he thinks. Read more »(image)

Major Updates to Strobist Lighting Kits

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 17:08:00 +0000

Strobist lighting kits are the modern day version of the basic speedlight-based setup I carried on my daily newspaper assigments for the better part of 20 years.Over the past ten years, the recommended kit has gone through several evolutions. But recently there have been significant updates to several of the components (and a cool addition) making the kit better now than at any other time. I thought the updates merited a shoutout.The kits are built around the idea of strong value with thoughtfully chosen components, many with unique features. All components carry best-in-class warranties, and can be expected to give you good service for years. If I was talking to myself as a 20-year-old, I'd advise me to get this before even buying a second lens.The lighting kits come in several variations: Single with flash, single without flash, two-light version (two of everthing; but one remote) and add-a flash (one of everything, no remote).Current components are as follows, with updates/additions noted:Flash: LP180The LumoPro LP180 is basically a bullet-proof (not literally, but relatively) manual flash that comes with the stuff you need, without the bells and whistles that you don't.Notable features include four-way sync, 1/1 - 1/128 manual power, variable slave, selectable ready tone, smart thermal protection, power equal to or greater than OEM flagship flashes, 1/4"x20 side mount and built-in gel clips. (It also includes a gel kit that covers the most commonly used CC and theatrical colors.)Build quality of the LP180 borders on ridiculous. (One was famously destroyed in the field by a leopard. It was replaced.)Warranty: twice as long as OEM flagships.Price: one-third of OEM flagships.Remote: Phottix Ares Original ModelA legit remote trigger for not much more than the cost of a sync cord. Features include: AA-powered (no weird batteries to find) 8 channels, hot-shoe based mount and excellent reliability. Backed by a two-year warranty.I have been teaching with (and using) these remotes for several years now. They are solid.Stand: LP605SRecently updated; best in class. The LP605S is the classic, 5-section compact stand — except beefier build, and with a couple of unique added features.One, it comes with folding ground spikes that will add to stability when used outside. Un-sandbagged umbrellas are always a risk in wind. But you can at least spike this stand and use bare flashes outdoors in a stiff breeze. Two, the LP605S come predrilled for a strap, and includes the strap. This is somethng I DIY'd for many years, and the idea has now found its way to what was already the best compact stand on the market.Umbrella: LumoPro 3-in-1 Double FoldRecently swapped; best in class. Functionally similar to my older Westcotts, but with better build quality, more durability and added features.The LP version gives you the choice of the best umbrella surface for any given job. It converts from white shoot-thru, to white reflective (black-backed) and silver reflective. Unlike most double-folds, LP 3-in-1 umbrellas do not feel like fragile little flowers right out of the box. They are more substantial, and have lasted far longer than other models in daily use. They also come with a slip case the does not make it feel like your umbrella is trying to squeeze into skinny jeans every time you try to case it.Swivel: LP679-v2[...]

Lighting 103: Developing a Framework

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 21:53:00 +0000

Abstract: Think about the reasons behind the color of your lights, and your palette will often take care of itself.


When you are placing a light source, it's pretty normal to ask yourself, "What color should this light be?"

If you step back a moment and think, the answer will often present itself. A better question to ask is, "What color would this light be?" Read more »(image)

X-Pedition: Cuba

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 14:55:00 +0000

UPDATE: The January 2017 Havana class has sold out. You can sign up to receive early notification of future workshops, here. -DHThis January I'm leading a small-group trip to Havana, Cuba. It will be the first in a series of X-Peditions for photographers.The last time I was in Havana was 2013, teaching for Santa Fe Workshops. But that was someone else's curriculum. This time the program is ours to design, and we are planning a week of exploring, learning and lots of time behind the camera. __________An Immersive WeekThis is not the typical photo tour group, which invariably ends up as some version of a photo walk with everyone getting versions of the same pictures. I'm partnering with Focus On The Story, a D.C.-based organization for photographers. The trip leaders are myself and fellow journalist Joe Newman, whom I've known for over 30 years. X-Peditions have a maximum of 12 participants, and are very photo-centric. They include daily instruction, location shoots, and plenty of time to explore on your own or with a teammate.Our goal with X-Peditions is to help you learn to travel closer to ground level, to travel more lightly, and to learn to see more more efficiently (and effectively) as photographers. We also hope to help you build the knowledge and experience to confidently choose more interesting destinations for your future travels. And while we believe this approach is a better way to travel, it also allows us to keep our X-Peditions prices more affordable.Photography and LearningPlease note that this is not a lighting class. Cuba does not allow the import of radio transmitters. In fact, I'm not even bringing a flash. That said, light itself will be a large part of our daily discussions. We'll be out shooting at the edges of the day when the light is good, and at other times as dictated by the locations we have lined up. But during the harsh light of midday, we'll typically be in instructional mode. There will be daily talks that not only help prepare you for the day's experiences, but build on your general knowledge around the intersection of photography and travel.You'll learn how to prioritize your day to become more efficient at producing higher quality photos. This will help you reserve the time to just be a traveler; to absorb the city and watch the world go by. That downtime is important for you (and for your family, when you travel with them.) It also makes you more receptive to the insights that lead to better photos.We are traveling to Havana under a people-to-people license, which means you'll get interaction with locals throughout the week. We'll work both individually and as a group. We'll be editing, comparing notes, evaluating what we can do better and preparing to go out and do it again.In the evenings we'll continue the conversation and share our day's experiences, perhaps over a mojito or a glass of Cuba's famous dark rum. This sort of thing is typical when photojournalists are working together (or competing) in a foreign city. The X-FactorThe "X" in X-Pedition is a nod to Fuji's X series cameras. Small, light, quiet and unobtrusive, Fuji X series bodies are near-perfect tools for photojournalists. And they are ideal travel cameras. I took a leap of faith on my first trip to Havana, bringing only a Fuji X100s with its fixed 35mm equivalent lens. In retrospect, it was a great decision. And it has changed the way I approach travel photography ever since.So if you are also a Fuji shooter, you can expect specific tips and advice on how to get the most out of your cameras. Or to even borrow a lens if you like.Non-Fuji shooters are of course still welcome. And don't worry, we promise not to try to co[...]

Lighting 103: Learning From Your Couch

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 18:58:00 +0000

Abstract: Don't just look to still photos for inspiration. Great inspiration also awaits you on your TV.


We may think we are getting a good feel for color as photographers. But you know who kicks still photographers' butts every day? Cinematographers, that's who.

Today, a look at some examples from 2010-era Dr. Who, which we have talked about on this blog before. These guys are near and dear to my heart, because they are unabashedly fearless when it comes to using color to manipulate light—and their viewers. Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Use Color to Evoke Time and Place

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:41:00 +0000

It can be scary to add a lot of color to your light. But it's easy to underestimate how much color it takes to transform a scene and set a mood. Don't be shy. Those gels won't bite.


This nighttime portrait of soprano Alexandra Rodrick was a big step for me. It was made about five years ago, when I was just starting to realize how color-fluid real light could be. I kinda knew it, but I still didn't have the nerve to actually do it.

So I took a deep breath and threw way more blue into the environment than I normally would. And not only did I come out alive on the other side, but I ended up pretty happy. Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Avoiding Cross Contamination

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 05:05:00 +0000

Abstract: When complementary-gelled lights are falling on the same plane, they can easily rob each other of color. So it is important to make sure your lights are hitting different areas, with minimal overlap.


Above is a two-speedlight portrait against a white wall. White walls are the natural enemy of a gel, and practically live to wash out your color. Especially when using two flashes with dense, complementary gels. Knowing how to keep your multi-colored lights operating on different planes will help you retain more saturated color.

Let's walk through the portrait above to get a better look at how our two lights are working separately—and together—in a variety of ways.Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Greg's Assignment: Results

Thu, 22 Jun 2017 19:36:00 +0000

Abstract: So, did you do Greg's gels assignment? I did. Twice. Below are my results, and what I learned.


Reporting in from our last assignment, in which you were asked to shoot a portrait in three different ways: clean white light, warm/cool light, and warm/cool light with the shadows muddied up with a little green. I did this one along with you—twice—and learned a lot in the process.

Which brings up a valuable point. You can read about this stuff all you want. But until you actually get off your ass and do it, you're not going to learn it.

In other words, learning to use color in your lighting is just like anything else. Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Greg's Assignment

Thu, 01 Jun 2017 15:13:00 +0000

Abstract: The best way to get a better understanding of light and color is to just do it.


In the last part of our conversation with Greg Heisler, he gave what I think is a very good piece of advice about light and color:

"I think what you have to do to be able to see it, is to shoot it. And then shoot it.

Like, shoot it the clean way, with white light. Then the next way is to shoot it with a warm and a cool. And so you see that. And then muddy up the light a little bit, and then see it that way."

So that's exactly what we're gonna do. Read more »(image)

Jinbei Studio Flash Units Recalled for Electrocution Risk

Thu, 25 May 2017 11:47:00 +0000

The Swiss government last month issued a recall for ten models of Jinbei studio flash units. While the recall notice has made the rounds on message boards, I am frankly surprised that photo media outlets have not picked this up. Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Greg Heisler on Light and Color

Thu, 18 May 2017 16:16:00 +0000

Abstract: Chromatically complex light adds much more realism to your lit photos.


Today’s Lighting 103 post features excerpts from a bar conversation with Greg Heisler. It's just as if we cornered him at a conference (which I did) and he agreed to have a drink and talk color (which he did).

This is roadmap stuff. It's above and beyond the specific info he includes with each of the assignments in his book, 50 Portraits, the companion text to L103.Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Use Gels to Tune Your Home's Lighting

Thu, 04 May 2017 18:13:00 +0000

Abstract: You can use your knowledge of color temperature and gels to improve the quality of light in your home.


So far, everything we have done has centered on gelling a single light to create a single desired color shift. But before we make the jump into using multiple colors and light sources, one quick hack for your home's lighting that will help you to improve the quality of light in compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Like the gawdawful green-tinged lamp above, for example. Read more »(image)

Lighting 103: Using Gels to Shift the Ambient

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:33:00 +0000

Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complementary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.


In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.

The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights. Read more »(image)