I spent much of last weekend at a workshop on lighting for photographers. Our trainer was a very successful Auckland photographer called Bret
Lucas. At the end of it I had rather mixed feelings, which prompted this review.
Bret explained that we were in for a heavy session on lighting basics, full of long words and quite difficult concepts. I loved it. A key point emerged very early: Bret explained that he had spent so much time learning and understanding the principles of good lighting that it now had become second nature to him, leaving him free to concentrate upon the artistic aspects of the shoot.
There were no handouts but I’ve included my rough notes from that session at the end of this blog. By the end of the morning I felt that I’d learned a great deal. Then came the practical sessions.
Bret explained the theory behind the lighting arrangement used for the young model, then we were given a couple of minutes each to establish a close, trusting relationship with the young girl and capture a beautiful portrait. To my surprise, some actually managed to do that (not me). With 25 participants, that took quite a while.
We then moved outside, on an overcast day, and with the help of a speedlight pointed through an umbrella attempted a portrait of a slightly older model. The final result obtained by Bret was stunning. Here’s the image on his website. Just a few subtle (?) alterations in Photoshop: eyebrows arched for effect, lips given a collagen treatment, one eye enlarged, etc.
I’m not actually sure why he changed the eye. It happened in the Photoshop session the next morning, while I was going over the previous day’s lighting notes in a coffee shop downtown. Even though the workshop was meant to be about lighting, they spent most of the second morning learning about the latest goodies in Adobe Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5. I’ve been to plenty of courses on that topic and wanted to concentrate on lighting, so I skipped most of those sessions.
The practical sessions on day two worked better, mainly because we were split into two groups of a dozen. Even so, I found myself getting photographs like this as someone jostled in front:
when what I wanted was something a little more attractive:
This model, a flight instructor in real life, was photographed in ambient light using reflectors. This next shot gives you the idea:
Bret was working hard, giving as much individual coaching as he could.
There was plenty of time for us to help each other too:
The next exercise was an indoor shoot, a mixture of ambient, incandescent light plus a studio flash.
The final exercise was a still life, a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses. Lit from one side, by a speedlight shining through a tall diffuser. Deceptively simple. We were well and truly running out of time at this stage, so there are few odd reflections ( specular highlights? ) that probably could be attended to but it didn’t matter. This was something that we could easily follow up at home. A nice wine too!
So, was I glad I went? Yes. Did I learn plenty? Yes. Was it worth the money and would I go to another Bret Lucas workshop? No.
The numbers were simply too great. Spending two or three hours watching others take photographs before getting my three minutes was not my idea of fun, even if there were interesting people around to talk to. The lack of any handouts meant that, try as we might, we missed some of the technical stuff as we tried to take notes. It’s difficult to maintain a very interactive style and still keep to the program and I felt we got sidetracked quite often. Finally, as you’ve gathered, I was unimpressed by the Photoshop and Lightroom sessions. They were not up to the standard of good teachers such as David Harradine. Those of us who were not interested could for example have been given the chance to play with the lighting gear (which was a bottleneck for most of the practical sessions) in a separate room, using each other as models.
Which just goes to show how difficult it is to find someone who is both an excellent photographer and a good teacher.
Here are my rough notes: