Category Workshop

Introducing: The Main(e) Light Workshop




I’m proud to announce the dates for my first-ever Main(e) Light Workshops .    This workshop series is focused on an area that many photographers struggle with:  using electronic flash on location.  It’s my attempt to cut through the hype around specific gear and to teach the skills that photographers can put to immediate use when creating portfolio work or meeting a deadline for a paying client.   It’s practical, it’s hands-on and it’s set up to allow (encourage) tangential topics—how best to approach assignments for clients, how to organize and optimize your workflow, etc.— as they come up in relation to the work.  But let’s not kid ourselves: the work is first and foremost.


The first workshop, Speedlight Bootcamp, is built around the off-camera flashes that today can cost as much as a decent studio head.   The second is on location (in a very cool Maine setting) and combines a variety of studio and off-camera flashes with ambient (mostly sun) light to create spectacular effects.   For that one, we’ll roll with the weather and take a studied, and at times seat-of-the-pants approach to lighting to produce amazing images.


The Main(e) Light Workshop has been in the works for a year or more.  In a way,  I’ve been preparing for it my whole career.  I learned from a great many others in my field when I started out in journalism.  From Tim Rogers to Paul O’Neill to Brad Armstrong (to many others), I’ve learned about being patient, how to really connect with people and how to read light.  This workshop is my chance to help others succeed and grow in much the same way.   I’ve taught other seminars over the years, but never an intensive set of workshops quite like the Main(e) Light Workshop.  My plan is for each photographer to leave with the tools they need to create interesting portraits with the gear they can afford.   It may take years to master electronic light, but this workshop will give anyone a big boost in the right direction.

So please check out the lineup.  Tell me what you think, ask me questions.  And if you sign up, welcome.  It’s going to be a great ride.






























































Ambient light and dirty hands: meet Peter Brown

A week or so ago I found myself photographing Peter Brown, owner of Cumberland Ave. Garage (my friend Matt swears by these guys).  There always seems to be an antique car or two there, Peter’s passion.  On the day of our shoot, a 1921 Model T Ford was sitting, wheels off, in a corner of his garage, waiting for a little TLC.

I was there to get a portrait of Brown, but he was busy working in between my setups–it was a busy Monday with a line of cars needing work.  So I started by lighting the space and photographing him within it—all small lights.  In fact, I prefer working in such spaces with my small lights because of their portability and flexibility.   If you’re trying to light dramatically, you want the right amount of light in the right places.  Big studio lights tends to light everything you want and some things you don’t want, too.

I started by lighting the Model T—one flash in the interior, several working the inky black exterior  and the flourescent -bathed shop walls cluttered with tools.   My favorite is actually a tight shot (see just the headlamp of the Model T jutting into the frame.  I like the look on Peter’s face and his body language.


Portland Maine Mechanic Peter Brown
Peter Brown, owner of the Cumberland Ave. Garage on Portland's Munjoy Hill.

At the end of the shoot, I did a simple three-light setup in the bay with the colorful garage sign behind him.  I gelled the lights, but let his face go a little yellow just because I like the warm tones.

Portland, Maine Mechanic Peter Brown
Peter Brown gets his hands dirty.

Sometimes the light you find is better than anything out of a can.  While Peter did a weld repair,  I was able to show him in action in his environment.  This is the kind of stuff we’d encounter routinely on assignment for the newspaper.  Quick couple of portraits, enhanced by ambient light, and an interesting angle on a man going about his business in his environment.

Portland Maine Mechanic Peter Brown
Ok...that looks cool. Strobes off, ambient light on...

The gear you need when on the road

Pocket Wizard Radio Transmitter

We’re just a couple of weeks from our Traveling Light Workshop, and as a lead-in I’m previewing some of the topics and shoots we’ll cover during the three-hour class.

You can’t  discuss portable lighting without getting heavy into some nerdy gear discussions.   So, we’ll be talking plenty about triggering your flashes using manual and auto triggers—everything from old-school sync cords to off-camera TTL cords, from optical slaves to Pocket Wizards and Radio Poppers.

But it’s not all about gear.  It’s also about technique—how you approach a shoot and what works best for different situations ‘in the wild’.

As always, the best system for you is the one that fits your budget and allows you flexibility in lighting on location.

I’ve gotten requests from people who want to bring their flashes and other gear.  Great!   We’ll discuss those and, time permitting, will give hands-on demos with your gear.

If you have any questions about off-camera lighting that you want to make sure we cover, shoot me an email with your feedback.

Traveling Light #2: Location portraits

Ben: Two-light portrait

Here’s another sample of the types of portraits we’ll be building with small lights during the upcoming Traveling Light workshop on May 24.
Location photographers find themselves in an incredible variety of environments. In the studio it’s easy to control all the variables. When you show up at a location, you’ve got to make some decisions to make regarding ambient light and background. Namely, how much of each do you want to include in the final image?

For me, location photography is kind of a reductive exercise—start with what you find, and then remove light, clean up background elements, modify your flash— until you end up with what you want. In the studio, it’s more of an additive approach: start with nothing and build up the lighting and elements to create the image.


In the case of these portraits, shot with the help of Matt and Ben of Single Source Staffing, we had about 15 minutes to do two different looks. The vivid green walls in the office were an interesting feature I knew I wanted to use, as was their cool, colorful logo—perfect for an environmental portrait.

No lighting diagrams on these—we”ll talk more about approach during the workshop—but here’s the basics: Ben (green background) is lit from camera left with an SB800 shooting through a white diffuser screen simulating window light. There’s an SB900 in a medium soft box (camera right with a 1/2 power CTO gel), placed to hit Ben slightly angled toward the back side of his head.   The shadow?  A happy accident.  Once I saw it, I liked it.

Matt is lit by the same soft box. There’s another SB800 with a diffusion dome just to camera left, pointing at the right side of Matt’s face. On camera right, there’s a third strobe with a snoot aimed at the SingleSource logo. In this case, we underexposed the background so that there’s very little ambient light (ugly flourescent lighting) in this image.

These are two quick-hit examples of location portraits that use their environment to create interest and drama.

Matt: three-light environmental portrait

Traveling Light shoot #1: Beauty Light

Beauty Light: soft, almost shadowless light

In preparation for our upcoming. May 24th lighting workshop, Traveling Light: lighting for photographers on the go,  I’m publishing a series of portraits that use some of the specific techniques we’ll discuss—and play with—during the all-too-brief workshop.  Again, all of these shoots are done with “small” strobes—the expensive pieces of gear too many photographers leave attached to the hot shoes of their DSLR cameras.

First up is Beauty Light.  Why beauty light?  Because it looks good, is flattering especially to women, and is the height of simplicity.   Three strobes, a diffusion scrim and one well-placed reflector.

Here’s a lighting diagram:

Note: Diffusion panel is actually directly overhead subject; reflector under subject's chin not shown.

Now I hear the question:  why should we come to the workshop if you’re showing off the shoots (and the lighting diagrams) here?   Well, from my point of view, describing a shoot isn’t the same as being on a shoot.  Not even close.  Hopefully you’ll glean some helpful info from these short descriptions, but this is more inspirational than strictly informational.  You can play around with settings and locations in order to recreate these shots, and you can eventually recreate them.  Thus you’ll learn, which is the point.   But if you have limited time and learn best by interaction, then you might want to attend a workshop or a class.  This will save you some time—usually, a lot of it.   At the Traveling Light workshop, for example,  we’ll discuss not just technique, but approach, philosophy and how to react when you’re in the pressure cooker situation of a real, live shoot, with real, live, impatient people.

So I hope you get a lot out of these posts.   Stay tuned to the blog for more sample shoots.  Special thanks to!