Light Right Q and A

The following post originally appeared on as part of their Digital Design Bookstore

We have about 50 years of commercial photography experience between us and almost that much time spent as photography instructors. While sharing a commercial studio together, we decided to write a book about studio lighting. We wondered if two people could work on a single book. Would the writing styles and individual voices mesh, or would the differences be too jarring? Like the Car Talk guys on National Public Radio, we think it’s helpful and perhaps entertaining to get different viewpoints on the same subjects because there is no single answer when tackling studio lighting. Here we take a similar approach by answering questions about some of the topics that are addressed in our book, Light Right. We hope you enjoy the conversation and find the information useful.

Q: Joe, when you’re looking at a new project, what are you trying to accomplish with your lighting?

I want to say ‘everything,’ but we I know that’s a little vague. I try to break down what I want to accomplish to just four key elements—dimension, texture, separation, and drama. This holds true for pretty much every subject that I shoot. The Pluto image makes an interesting subject because it’s really simple. The subtle highlights and shadows tell us it’s round, that same contrast makes the texture of the background and water droplets standout, and the overall tonal range between the foreground and the background adds separation and drama. If you address those four key areas then odds are the lighting will work.

Q: Brad, do you spend time thinking about the subject itself as you work on your lighting scheme?

Absolutely. The subject is what drives all my lighting decisions. What I want to say about the subject, its important features, can be enhanced or diminished by the lighting I use. The image of the bucket is a good case in point. The bucket is old, and the mop and brushes have great texture. I used light that raked across the surfaces to bring out as much texture as possible. I made sure to get light on the old wooden handle, and I used a warm light to separate the bucket from the background and enhance the emotional impact of the shot. If all the objects were new and shiny, I would have lit them very differently.

Q: Joe, what advice would you give a photographer starting out, regarding making lighting equipment purchases?

Everyone knows that I am an equipment geek, so I love this question. The first thing that I will say is that you don’t need every new gizmo that comes on the market. Lighting gear is really personal. What you need really depends on your subject matter, genre, and style. My wife and I, she is also a professional photographer, joke that we both use “available light.” I use every light that is available in the studio and she uses only what nature provides.  It's all in your definition of available light. You do want to make smart choices. I learned that it’s better to figure out exactly what you need and save your money until you can purchase the highest quality option. I own strobes today that are at least fifteen years old, and they still work great.

Q: Joe, we see so many lighting demonstrations where the photographer is lighting everything with a formulaic scheme. What’s wrong with this approach?

We’ve seen this a thousand times. Place a light here, a fill card there, and presto—your subject is lit.  It just doesn’t work. There are two big concerns when people use formulaic lighting schemes. First, no two subjects are the same. We both captured images of watches for our book, but one was rugged and the other one was sleek and shiny, which means the same approach wouldn’t work. The second, and probably more vital consideration is your career. You need to have a unique style that separates you from other photographers. A formulaic approach doesn’t let your personality shine through.

Q: Brad, what recommendations would you give a photographer who is looking to develop their style and improve their lighting?

That’s an easy one. Experiment and don’t settle for the first solution. There are certainly rules to lighting, but it’s important not to get locked into a single solution. This shot of the bottles was lit in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense with respect to traditional lighting. Usually, you would use a large diffused source to light glass, giving it pretty broad highlights. I started with that type of light, but I was looking for something edgier, so I switched to a ring light. Sometimes you just have to break some rules to get interesting results.

Q: Brad, beyond lighting, what are some of the other key things factors to help grow your business?

You need to make sure that you’re creating powerful images that speak directly to a particular market. Identify the people who need your images and then market to them in a way that they’ll respond to. It could be direct mail, social media, trade shows, etc., but you need to reach them. Once you contact them, engage with them. Let them know that you are confidant in what you do and that you have what they need. Treat each one like they’re your most important client because they are.

You’d think that after a combined 50 years of commercial photography experience that we would have all the answers, but we don’t. Being a photographer is about learning, adapting, and exploring new options. Have fun, and remember, don’t make it more complicated than it actually is.

All images are Copyright protected!

Photographers and Software

Wednesday evening I spent a few hours giving a presentation on Adobe software to a group of photographers and students at an ASMP Colorado event.  First off, I need to thank a few groups that helped make this happen.

ASMP:  Thank you for asking me to speak and giving me an audience.  We had a great turnout.

Participants:  I really appreciate your attending the event, especially when the Colorado Avalanche are in a game seven (we wont discuss the outcome).  The questions were great!

Adobe:  Thanks for the schwag; its always nice to have something to share.

Okay, back to the matter at hand.  The plan for the evening was to discuss some of the myths that are still floating around since the release of Adobe Creative Cloud, what Creative Cloud is, recent Lightroom and Photoshop updates, and some of my favorite tools.  Except for running out of time, and not getting to a few of my favorite items, I feel we covered most of the bases.  Who knew that I could talk for over two hours straight?

Myths:  I dont want to go into too many details as there is already a video on the blog addressing the subject.  However, it was really good to be able to put the notion to rest that you need to be connected to the internet to use Adobe Creative Cloud applications; they simply download from the cloud to your computer.

I have to admit that when doing my own research I found it eye opening to learn just how many updates have been made to Photoshop CC in eleven months.  It really shows the speed things are changing.  This is much better than waiting for the old twelve or eighteen-month cycle.

Here are a few of the updates:

June 2013:  Shake Reduction, Image Resize, Behance integration, Sync Settings, 3D imaging, Smart Sharpen Filter enhancement, ACR as filter, Spot Removal Tool, Radial Filter, Upright Modes, +many others

Sept 2013:  Generator (generate image assets from Layers), Shake Reduction improvements, 12+

January 2014:  Warp Perspective, Print 3D Objects, 3D Imaging, Linked Smart Objects, ACR updates, 20+ more

April 2014:  Lightroom Mobile

Soon 2014:  ???  Stay Tuned – They are pretty cool!

The list of applications that are part of the Creative Cloud is rather impressive and growing.  The Lightroom 5.4 upgrade brings us Lightroom Mobile, which includes a free app for your mobile device.  I love that you can sync collection between your desktop computer and mobile device, but my favorite part is being able to automatically sync new mobile device captures directly to Lightroom.  I KNOW that most of us have hundreds, if not thousands, of images that live only on our phones.  Lightroom Mobile has its limitations, but considering this is version one; I think it's a great first step.

The following is a list of relatively new / updated features that opened a few people’s eyes on Wednesday.  Sometimes, its the most subtle changes that have the biggest impact.

Upright / Lens Correction (LR/ACR)

Advanced Healing (LR/ACR)

Radial Filter (LR/ACR)

Lightroom Mobile (LR)

Perspective Warp (PS) –This was the biggest crowd pleaser

Smart Sharpen (PS)

ACR as a Filter (PS)

Intelligent Upsampling (PS)

Sync – Preferences (PS)

I know that the presentation ended with a few people still skeptical about Adobes Creative Cloud, and thats okay.  My goal is to inform, and help people make an educated decision on what is best for them; we each have unique needs. 

Thursday morning I received a call from a professional photographer who attended the presentation. They wanted to let me know that although they have used Photoshop for over a decade (and believed they were very knowledgeable) that there were multiple updated features they could use to improve their work and workflow.

As they stated, Maybe its time to take a second look


Taking you business to the next level

Last week I had the pleasure of introducing Utah based photographer, Mike Tittel, at an ASMP Colorado event.  Mike was brought in to talk to emerging photographers about taking their career to the next level, and how he managed getting to where he is now.

I first met Mike a couple years ago when we were both teaching photography workshops at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP) in Missoula, Montana.  And although our workshops could not have been on more opposite photographic spectrums, mine being food, and Mike’s being adventure sports, each morning we seemed to end up at the same restaurant for breakfast where we discussed our upcoming material and periodically licked our wounds from the previous day. 

With Mike’s permission (of course), I am sharing nine key points he addressed, and adding my own two cents.  Some of these items seem like no a brainer, but you’d be amazed just how many businesses fail because the “no brainer” is not considered. 

#1: Define Success and Set Clear Goals

Each person needs to define what this means to them, and WRITE IT DOWN.  Writing something down makes it tangible.  How do you know what path to take if you don’t have a starting and end point?  Be flexible, as your career progresses, the goals will change.  I have a neighbor who defines success by being able to pay someone to handle his yard work. 

#2: Value Outside Help

Photographers are great at taking pictures, or at least they should be.  Photographers tend not to be too good at graphic design, accounting, writing HTML code, marketing, and making an unbiased evaluation of their own work.  Just as you want to be hired for your expertise as a photographer, it’s good to do the same and hire people who are experts in their field.  It’s money well spent.  The first year that I paid an accountant to handle my taxes I realized how much extra money I had given to the government. 

#3: Define Your Brand

This is tough! Who are you?  What do you want to say with your work?  Who do you want to work for?  In under a minute can you tell a stranger who you are and what you do?  If not, it’s time to work on your elevator pitch.

#4: Shoot Personal Work and Build a Vision Based Body of Work  

I was taught early on (thank you Mark Kaufman) to fill my portfolio with the style of images that I want to get hired to shoot.  This is a tough and demanding business, so we better go after the type of work that makes us happy.  The best feeling is when you are hired to shoot “your style.”

#5: Solidify Your Marketing Plan

The idea of “if you build it they will come” does NOT work.  Building a website, designing a logo, and printing business cards is not a marketing plan.  A marketing plan is what you do with those items to reach clients.  If marketing is not your strong suit (see #2) then have someone help you.  There are many very smart people getting business and marketing degrees that could use a challenge. 

#6: Invest In Yourself

A successful business is not stagnant; it’s always moving forward.  Invest in personal growth, invest in business growth, take a workshop, bankroll your own dream project, and be willing to spend money on your dream.  Investing in you provides the opportunity to recharge the batteries, and possibly reinvent yourself as an artist.  I didn’t start my career specializing in Food and Beverage; the path took many turns.

#7: Keep The Main Thing, THE Main Thing (Learn to say no and focus on what you are really after)

Okay, I’ll admit that when Mike first said this it sounded like something out of a fortune cookie or from Curly in City Slickers.  There are two things going on here.  First, it’s easy to get derailed and forget your main focus; remember why you became a photographer.  Is it really a big deal that the lunch order got screwed up?  And second, it’s okay to say “no.”  Sure, sometimes saying no may cost you a project, but if something does not seem right, it probably isn’t. 

#8: Establish Key Relationships

This goes beyond point #2.  Don’t wait until you need a specialized service to build that relationship.  I am a huge believer in building a strong team that, to be honest, makes me look better.  As Mike told the audience, if your client asks for you to blow up a car in downtown Denver, you better know who to call for permits, or you better know a good attorney.

#9: Aim For Excellence, Not Perfection (Avoid Analysis Paralysis)

Photographers tend to over analyze everything!  Who can blame us, we are judged by our work, which is very personal, and that can be difficult to stomach.  The thought that if it’s perfect everyone will love it is wrong.  Art is subjective.  Knowing that you’ve done your best and strove for excellence is all anyone, including yourself, can ask.

You can learn more about Mike and his work at:

Costa Rica beach vendors have a better understanding of business and business ethics than most professional photographers.

Costa Rica beach vendors have a better understanding of business and business ethics than most professional photographers. 

I am sure that most people reading that statement are scratching their head wondering just what the heck I am saying, so let me explain.  While rambling through beach vendors on a recent trip to Costa Rica, I realized that several people selling their wares had similar, if not identical, items available, and the prices were all same.  They each had the identical price for the identical t-shirt, bowl, necklace, or whatnot.  Nobody was trying to undercut his or her competition.  Being curious, and having spent many years selling my wares as a commercial photographer, I asked one gentleman whether he thought he could sell more, and thus make more money if he offered a better bargain.  I wish that I had captured a picture of his expression because he looked at me as though I was from another planet. 

He explained that there were two reasons why he could not do that.  First, if he lowered his price, then they, pointing to another vendor, would have to lower theirs; the cycle would not end.  The value of the product would be lost.  Second, and more important, he simply could not do that ethically to his fellow sellers who are trying to make a living.  Wow; that makes sense to me!

Photographers, especially in recent years, have been too agreeable to decrease their rates to score a job without considering the consequences.  What happens to the value of your photography if without a second thought you reduce your rates?  Quite simply, the work is worth the lower value.  I then question why you were trying to charge more.  Could this be why photographer’s fees have been flat? Heck, I know photographers who give away their copyright with a blink of an eye, but that is for a future rant; I mean blog.

Okay, now onto the second point, and one that we all need to really think about.  Making a living in the arts isn’t easy; it never has been and it never will be.  What we need is to better support each other, and understand that we make up a community of artists.  None of us are an island.

I know that I have been on the wrong side of this discussion before, but I vow to remember my conversation with the Costa Rica beach vendor when estimating future projects.


All Images:  ©Joe Lavine 2014   / Playa Dominical, Costa Rica

LR vs PS, which do I need?

I was reading a Facebook post the other day of a photographer addressing whether they were going to subscribe to Creative Cloud, or just purchase Lightroom.  My take-away from the post was that they, in their mind, could do without Photoshop, but taking away Lightroom would be an act of war.  This appears to be a common discussion as people are a tad worried that Adobe may increase the subscription cost once people are hooked.  Personally, I dont see this happening, but thats for another discussion. 

This decision is getting little more difficult because each new version of Lightroom becomes more robust.  Of course, this decision should be based on ones work and workflow, but for me, I see the two working in tandem.  This video provides a little insight into my workflow and how I use the two applications.  

What do you think?

LR vs PH, which do I need?

Adobe Creative Cloud - Myths +

It’s hard to believe that almost seven months has past since Adobe announced the full switch to Creative Cloud.  I mentioned in an earlier post there has been a love-it or hate-it relationship, but I strongly feel as though more software companies will follow suit.  As an Adobe Community Professional, and someone who likes to chat about Photoshop, I’ve noticed that there is much misinformation surrounding the Creative Cloud.  I am hoping that the below video clears up some of the misinformation, and provides a few details about Photoshop CC.  -Enjoy 

Adobe CC Myths +

Food Photography Workshop – Missoula, MT

2013 The Year in Review – September

One of my favorite weeks of the year is running a Food and Product Photography workshop at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana.   How can you go wrong spending a week in Missoula in mid-September?  The students were amazing.  I have run this workshop for a handful of years, and I have to say that this group of students really stood out; they came ready to work and loaded with questions.  I even had my first repeat customer.

My awesome assistant, Robert Allison, and I tried something a little different this year, which will definitely be added into the teaching bag of tricks.  Instead of us walking the students through a demo, we stood back and acted as a client sharing a vision.  The students worked as teams of photographer and art director, each team overseeing an element of the image.  This really made it a hands-on demo, one that the students took full ownership.    Thanks again for another fun week RMSP and Missoula.  

Beer and Workflow

2013 The Year in Review – July and Dec

Peachpit Press has been working on a new product called Fuel Books, which are what I describe as single topic ebooks.  I’ve always been told to write what you know, which made beer and Workflow logical topics. 

My coauthor, Brad Bartholomew, and I have been having some fun with these and so far have released, “How to Light Beer:  A Photographer's Guide to Working with Cans, Bottles, and Pours” and “Simple Post Processing:  A Photographer's Guide to Workflow Options for all of Your Images in Lightroom.”

Simple Post Processing:  A Photographer's Guide to Workflow Options for all of Your Images in Lightroom (ISBN-10: 0-13-376323-4)  click to purchase

How to Light Beer:  A Photographer's Guide to Working with Cans, Bottles, and Pours (ISBN-10: 0-13-354938-0)   click to purchase

Adobe Educator Summit – Portland, OR

2013 The Year in Review – July

Every year, Adobe invites twenty educators from around the county to participate in a week of lively discussions, presentations, demonstrations, a ton of great food, and this year I was fortunate to be included.  I truly felt honored to be in such great company of imaging educators and people such as Julieanne Kost from Adobe.  What struck me the most was how open and sharing everyone was; no topic was taboo.  Educators shared their teaching philosophies, and Adobe let us know about changes on the horizon, and listened to our gripes and wish lists. 

The week ended with me thinking that we are in really good shape; this is a great time to be working and teaching photography and digital imaging.  As we all know, the world of photography is rapidly changing, but having educators and industry working together is exciting.  Thank you again Adobe for bringing us together! 

Adobe and the Creative Cloud

2013 The Year in Review – May

Love it or hate it, the world around digital imaging has changed.  Adobe’s new business model for many of our loved programs is that of a subscription service instead of a perpetual license.  No longer will we see an upgrade every twelve or eighteen months, but rather Adobe can update the application as new features become available.  No longer will we have CS5, CS6, CS; we simply have CC.  Photoshop CS6 was version 13, and when Photoshop CC was released it was version 14, which means it’s still easy to track the progression of the program.  It’s my understanding that every year or so, or when there is a major change we’ll see a new version, but still under the CC banner.

I for one am in the Love It camp when it comes to the new model.  I fully understand that it is not for everyone, and I respect that.  The desire to work with the latest and greatest tools and options is part of my DNA.

The SPE National Conference – Chicago, Ill

2013 The Year in Review - March

Once a year, a great event takes place that brings together some of the nations brightest photographic educators and industry professions at the Society of Photographic Educators National Conference.  It’s a perfect time to connect with old friends and make new ones. This year the event was held in Chicago and celebrated it’s 50th anniversary.   

For me, this year's event had a little extra meaning because not only was my book “Light Right” being released at SPE, but I was also moderating a panel discussion called, "Trends and Tools in Photographic Education, Where Photographic Education is now…and where it’s Heading?”   With an all-star panel that included, Ted Waitt, Jeff Curto, Rebecca Nolan, and Randall Armour, and an audience of over two hundred, my task was easy; the discussion just flowed. 

The biggest realization came at the end of the discussion, and that is that schools need to do a MUCH better job preparing students for what happens after they graduate.  Too many students are graduating without ever taking a business or marketing class.  Being an amazing photographer will only get you so far, you must know how to run a business.

Minus the flight home being cancelled resulting from a little snow in Colorado, the 2013 SPE National Conference was great.  I hope to see everyone next year in Baltimore.  

Light Right arrives!

2013 The Year in Review - March

I know exactly how Steve Martin felt in the Jerk when he ran around screaming, “The new phone book’s here!”   And “I’m in print!  Things are going to start happening for me now.”  You see, after more than one sleepless night, “Light Right:  Learn How to Create Images, Set Up a Studio, and Launch Your Photographic Career” arrived on my doorstep.  I am guessing that I freaked the UPS driver a little as I ripped the box from his hands.

My coauthor, Brad Bartholomew, and I are just ecstatic with the final book, and we also know that this would have never been possible with all the support we received from other photographers and the team from Peachpit Press; they were amazing.  click to purchase