Posted by: David Vernon | February 23, 2009

Kevin May Studios

Schooling with Kevin 2Quite a few Central Illinois photographers got a little bonus this weekend. While teaching two sections of the “Lighting with Small Strobes” class (not its real name but it’s growing on me – its real name is “Photography: Lighting with Small Flashes”. Aren’t flashes small by default?), I got the idea to see if Peoria commercial shooter Kevin May would be interested in showing us around his place and doing a few demos. He was indeed – and we decided that in addition to inviting the 12 students in the class, that we’d open it up to a handful of Peoria Flickr members. Kevin is a member of the Peoria Flickr group, so a lot of flick’ites know him – and they jumped at the chance.

So on Saturday morning, we ended up with nearly 25 people standing around a seamless set-up in Kevin’s vast studio. After a brief introduction, Kevin walked us through a number of set-ups – showing the group the best way to do it and then how to avoid mistakes in lighting. We started with the set-up seen here – one softbox and one object on a middle-gray  seamless. Besides learning the advantages of running your seamless out slowly (instead of letting it stand up quickly), we saw how you can really hit a home-run with one softbox lit from above. Kevin added bounce cards and mirrors to fill and punch, and the final object came out looking great.

Set-up number two featured one of Kevin’s motorcycles, set back against the big cyclorama/seamless. The goal however was to shoot details on the bike, and in how to deal with lots of chrome and hiding reflections. We almost built a box around the bike to hide what was seen in the chrome. Again – very informative – and lots of little details that you just might not think of.

Schooling with Kevin 1

The very interested crowd out at Kevin May Studios

Set-up number three was built on the fly. There was a piece of translucent plexiglass, flexed slightly so it would turn itself into an infinite seamless. The object being lit? A simple bottle of Budweiser. Kevin walked us through, one light at a time, a set-up that really make this bottle look great. We lit it from below with a tight spot grid. We lit it from above with another spot grid. We hit the background with reds and blues… it was pretty darn slick. We saw things that didn’t work and things that did. We even got out the spray bottle and made the bottle look nice and wet – but not with water – with a mix of water and glycerin (start at 1:1 for a mixture – and cut the glycerin until it sprays smoothly).

Set-up number four took us back to the big seamless area, and we lit a very easy bowl. One catch in situations like this is catching the reflection of the light source in the bowl. Kevin showed us his polarizing gels – and how to really knock down those reflections. 

To round out the morning, we did about 20 minutes of questions and answers and then got a little schooling in what we locals like to call “Kevin May Blue” via Photoshop. 

And all of this Kevin did out of a sense of paying it forward. And that made it a very valuable morning indeed. If you didn’t go – you might ask yourself how can I do something like this when we do it again? It’s simple – come out and join the Peoria Flickr group. We’re always thinking of you guys first.

And a big thanks to Kev!


  1. […] And what a crowd we had – about 25 people showed up. I was very happy with that. There’s a couple images and a story on the Central Illinois Photoblog today. Also – last Tuesday night I got to do about 30 minutes for […]

  2. Thanks again, David, for setting up the outing. It was great to put some faces with names (oh, and learn some lighting from a master, too). Maybe we could plan a spring outing to the back areas of Banner. Perhaps a little landscape/nature photography along with some insight on mixing artificial and ambient light?

  3. This was quite the cool trip. Definitely showed that – it’s not ALL about the gear… it’s about the eyes.

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