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Friday, March 6, 2009

Learn Portrait Lighting from a Master

If you'd like to learn some of the secrets of professional portrait lighting, there are a few ways--most of them somewhat time consuming and a bit labor intensive. One way, of course, is to take lighting workshops or take a lighting course (if you can find a good one) at a community college or continuing education program. Or you could get a job at a studio--you'll learn a lot there! But a simpler and far more convenient way is to study one of the fine training DVDs that are on the market. These DVDs provide a great learning experience that you can study over and over again--when you have the time.

One of the best instructional lighting DVDs I've seen is Tony Corbell's Portrait Lighting on Location (Software Cinema). Rather than complicating location lighting, Corbell's DVD teaches great methods for simplifying lighting. And the results of his lighting techniques (you get to see a gallery of the shots from each segment) are brilliantly and creatively lit portraits. I am as impressed by the beautiful quality of his images as I am by his simple, straightforward method of teaching.

The DVD is divided into five distinct lighting lessons, including in-depth tutorials on: Controlling the Sun, The Daylight Studio, Portrait of a Physician, Amber & Abbey (photographing a mother and daughter at home) and Ambience and Flash Together Outdoors. There is also an excellent tutorial on image enhancing where Corbell shows you how he puts the finishing touches on his portraits (much of which involves Nik Software, for whom Corbell consults).

Each of these tutorial situations is a real shoot and you get to accompany Corbell on location and watch as he works with his models and creates his lighting set ups. His method of teaching is very one-on-one and feels very much like a personal workshop. Some of the tutorials are shot indoors using either flash and daylight or just flash (both portable and studio systems are demonstrated) and several of the outdoor shoots are created using just the sun and diffusion screens. In addition, Corbell demonstrates the incredible usefulness of acrylic mirrors in creating highlights and hair lights--something I've been trying to encourage students to use for years. (continued)

In the Controlling the Sun segment, for example, Corbell takes a model to a beach in San Diego where the ambient light is harsh, direct overhead sunlight--not the kind of lighting you'd use for any portrait. But by adding a single diffusion screen (I wish he'd mentioned what brand it was) and an inexpensive scrap of acrylic mirror, he manages to create a soft, dreamy quality of light that is absolutely beautiful. Using just two assistants (and you could use friends for this work, it's not complicated since there is no lighting gear) to hold the diffusion screen and mirrors, Corbell is able to exploit the brightness of the sun and yet control its intensity. The images you'll see him create are fantastic.

In the segment called the Daylight Studio he uses a similar set up to take portraits of a musician but also includes a painted backdrop--I love the idea of taking a painted background to a beach location. By using a huge diffusion panel Corbell is able to gently light both model and background and then uses the mirrors to add interesting highlights.

Corbell is a born teacher and throughout the lessons he comes across as a patient, very knowledgeable teacher who really wants to share his creative and technical skills. If you're looking for a very approachable series of lessons in portrait lighting you can do no better than this great DVD. It costs just $99 and it can be ordered directly from Software Cinema.

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