The need to understand the light…..




Actually a repost and slightly changed topic of something I did before, but I strongly believe this is a very vital piece so I also added it to this blog, feel free to comment or ask questions.
I get ALOT of questions about how I get the look in the shots I take and post. According to


most it must be some secret photoshop trick, or some very expensive camera and glass. Although I do use photoshop and a MF camera this is however not where it comes from. I have started teaching workshops and releasing instructional DVDs for the simple reason I found out that 99% of the photographers asking these questions are not shooting the way it supposed to be. I’m a firm believer that when you setup a shoot you should have the correct results straight out of the camera, or if you know your workflow use the light needed to get the endresult you want. There is NO way you can fix something in photoshop that is better than when you shot it right from the start.


About the workshops
In the workshops I try to teach photographers to go back to the state where you can trust your lightsetup and get stunning results straight out of the cam (and use photoshop to finish it, although it’s not really necessary to be honest for some people). What we do in the workshops is teach the students how light works, and more importantly how to manipulate the light and how to measure it. I don’t believe in all the urban legends about the histogram and fix it in photoshop. I teach the students how to calibrate their meter and how the system works, in other words your meter and understanding the light are the most powerful weapons a photographer can have. This way you will never ever wonder if your black background will turn black or if your white background will still show a little detail or should blow out.
But with the basic knowledge you can also very easily calculate the appearance of a background, or in other words raise the exposure on the background to exactly what you want, (or lowering of course).


Only studio ?

Some people will say that this only applies for studio work but I disagree, I also use the same techniques outside. With the proper techniques you can make a day turn into night or get the wonderful pastel almost blown out backgrounds, and you will never have to guess anymore. (and anything in between). Remember that in the old days the photographers also had to trust on their metering and knowledge (although polaroid helps :D). In the workshops you will learn to understand the light and with that you can manipulate it. After the workshops you will never have to wonder how a certain shot was done, because you can see it and with the knowledge you can recreate it yourself. Also take note that alot of great photographs are not only light or photoshop. Theme/styling/pose/Makeup etc. are all vital for the succes of the photo.
Communicating with your model (coaching) is something that is also very difficult for a lot of photographers, in the workshops there is a lot of attention for this part, which in my opinion is about the most important for a session. You can have the most stunning light setup and the most expensive camera, but if you have no model you can’t shoot it. Working with the models is often talked about but never appriciated the way it should be, that’s why in the workshops I will give the students pointers in how to pose your model, look for compositions and most importantly how to work with models to get them to do what you want in the photograph.
So in short.
There is no photoshop trick to give you stunning results. There are simple lighting tricks that can look stunning without a big investment or dragging a whole studio outside. When you have a technique that relies heavely on photoshop (like the populair animated look) remember that the basis for that shot ALWAYS is the lightsetup, when taking for example Dave Hill you can never get that look if you don’t use the lightsetup he uses. Working with composition/posing/styling and communicating with your model is just as important as previous mentioned items.
So please don’t think that I can give you a simple trick in photoshop that explains everything. Also I can’t give you lightsetups from my work to simply copy, when you don’t understand how to measure them the exact setup will not work. Buy one of the DVDs or visit the workshops and learn how to do it yourself and get stunning results straight out of the camera, it seems a commercial remark but don’t read it like that, I strongly believe that the knowledge about light/color etc. is something that every photographer needs to master to get good results. In the workshops you will not learn how to setup one lightsetup. You will learn to use the light the way YOU want it, to manipulate difficult situations and how to get the end result you have in your mind by learning the compositions and communication between your model and you.
When you are done with the workshops you will be able to workout your ideas and will not be limited by expensive gear (which you don’t need) or light situations that you think you can’t manipulate.
I’ve been teaching for some years now and am very active online, 99% of the questions are about getting that wonderful shot that is shown as sample, however the questions are always about photoshop and the images shown that should look like sample are totally different lightwise, somehow people really expect a wonder filter for photoshop that makes everything else. For me it’s very simple, learn how to take the shot, learn to understand and look at the light, work your shadows and angles and you will improve considerably as a photographer, photoshop for me is about 5-10 minutes per shot but only to make it 100% the way I want it and I can’t fix on location (like skin etc.) I will however not take away shadows or change the light.


Understand how a light meter works and you will see it makes your live so much easier. I always try to visit some fellow photographers or clubs when we are on the road and it sometimes puzzles me why I guess 90% of the photographers are NOT using a light meter, when I teach the seminars sometimes people even walk away because I start about light meters, the people who stay (luckily 99.9%) often come to me after the seminar and say they sold their light meter but will now buy a new one.It all boils down however to the simple principle that photography should be, photography means painting with light, not with magical filters or photoshop, so when you see a shot you really like first try to make that shot in camera, without any tricks, and than you often find out that the photoshop work is often very minimal (mostly color adjustments).
You also don’t ask a landscape photographer for his lightsetup.
You know it’s all in the light and composition.
Why fake it when you can create it.



To see the light you have to understand the light.
To understand the light you HAVE to see the light.