lighting essentials advanced workshop – a brief review

For those not familiar, Lighting Essentials are a series of workshops put on by Don Giannatti (you may know him as “Wizwow” on flickr).   I am a big fan of Don, not only is he an excellent photographer, with years of commercial experience under his belt, but he is also a fantastic teacher – which is just as difficult a skill unto itself.  He’s also a really down to earth guy with a low tolerance for BS and fools, which I find refreshing, particularly in the online photo community which can often turn into a bit of a hive-mind circle-jerk at times (you know what I’m talking about)…

Anyway, I got to go to his workshop in Philly in ’08 and it was awesome – definitely kicked my work up a couple of notches.   At the time I was already somewhat experienced with lighting, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was blown away; it was amazing to watch Don demonstrate things that I already “knew” lighting wise, and still be able to pick up something new – a new way of thinking about it, new ways of analyzing and constructing and deconstructing light.

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to attend the advanced lighting essentials ‘shop down in Baltimore.  Different than the standard workshop, this one assumed a baseline familiarity with lighting to begin with – getting a baseline exposure, balatncing flash/ambient, ratios etc… This was fantastic, as we were able to jump right into working with little “catch up” required.  The format was well done. Don split us up into groups, with various assignments/challenges – in the morning we worked “in studio” talking about and working on precision lighting techniques for still life/objects.  I gained a whole new respect for product photographers – it’s a lot more difficult than you’d think.  One light, and lots of carefully placed white/black cards/diffusers etc…  I particularly appreciated this as it  really made you focus on analyzing and constructing light carefully rather than the “throw some strobes on it till it looks good” approach which many lighting novices seem to take.

In the afternoons we worked with models,  but instead of the standard “how to light/balance” we focused more on creating a mood or complex lighting schemes – sometimes using 4, 5 or more lights – little accents and subtleties to construct a meaningful lighting scheme.   Now I tend to be more minimalist in terms of my own lighting (I tend to favor zero, one or two lights – rarely more) but even so it was valuable to concentrate on the subtleties of the lighting scheme as a whole.

One of the things I like the best about Don’s workshops is that it’s all hands-on.  There’s no “sit around and listen to the instructor talk about how great he is” for 6 hours, as is the case with many “workshops” – Don has everyone jumping right in and shooting right off the bat.  It’s simply “talk about technique -> apply technique”.   Good stuff.   We also spent quite a bit of time talking business.  Don has been a full time photographer as well as designer and creative director for many years, so he has a fantastic amount of the experience in the industry and shares freely.  There are few things more valuable for a new photographer than the lessons of experience from someone who has “been there and done that”.   It’s like going through the school of hard knocks without having to take the knocks.

To sum up, aka the TL;DR version:  if you get a chance to attend one of Don’s workshops, go for it – it’s worth every penny.  What boggles my mind is that folks who will drop thousands on a new camera body or lens, are so hesitant to spend money on education or workshops.  I can say without reservation that the couple of hundred bucks for the LE workshops improved my work far more than any gear purchase I have made (and yeah, I’m also guilty of chasing the latest and greatest toys when it comes to gear).

finally some shots from the ‘shop:

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