Posted by: David Vernon | June 22, 2009

I have nothing else to learn (except maybe lighting)

Train Ride(Note: You guys met Lily aka LolaTakesPictures a few days ago with her first guest blog on the CIPB. But she’s an overachiever so she’s back for more. And she still does her thing at the Peoria in Pictures blog)

“I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn (except maybe lighting).” Original quote by Pablo Picasso (embellished a little by me).

I’m guilty. I admit it. I have stacks and stacks of photos stored somewhere in my basement of people with eyes so red they look like spawns of Satan. I have even more photos of people with shadows so dark against the wall behind them they look like some featureless Gumbi. Unflattering light, all of it! That’s because my camera was always set to automatic and that pop up flash would hit my subjects with a light so powerful it could have been used in a police interrogation. So when the Peoria Art Guild offered a class on how to light with small flashes, I signed up. It was time to wean myself from the pop-up flash and start getting creative.

But there are pros and cons to taking an interactive, fun lighting class (that Dave teaches, by the way), like:

Pro #1 – you’ll definitely take more flattering photos of Aunt Meg on her 81st birthday and everyone will compliment them and even offer to buy some from you…BUT…

Con #1 – you’ll learn so much that you’ll become your own worst enemy. You’ll go down to the basement to look through that box of old pictures you took before you knew what you were doing and want to throw nearly all of them away.

Pro #2 – the more familiar you become with your flash the more you’ll want to use it…BUT…

Con #2 – the more familiar you become with your flash the more you’ll want to use it…to light everything! You’ll look at a scene and think, “Man, if I had another flash I could make that sucker really pop!”. That’s great unless you’re trying to light the side of a mountain or the propellers on a 100 foot tall windmill at night.

Pro #3 – the more you use your flash, the more comfortable you’ll feel using your flash, which is a great thing. Until you realize you don’t have enough accessories, which brings us to…

Con #3 – the more stuff you’ll want to buy for your flash. I already owned one flash for my camera when I started the class. When it was over six weeks later, I owned two, some gels, a Paul C. Bluff Cybersync transmitter and receiver, some light stands, a couple of umbrellas, and a foam core board. Eventually I’ll own a set of tri-grip diffusers and maybe even some Alien Bees, in hot pink, too.

But seriously, if you’ve ever been even slightly interested (but terrified/mystified) of using your flash unit, I recommend taking a hands-on class such as the one the PAG offers. Not only did I become more confident of using my flash off the camera, I’ve also become more aware of how I look at my subjects overall. “Could it use a little more light there?” “What would happen if I pop the flash from this angle?” My pictures have gone from having startled, red-eyed people in them to having people who look more natural and relaxed.

If you can’t take the class but want to get started, check out “The Hot Shoe Diaries” by Joe McNally or the Lighting 101 section at the Strobist site . All I can tell you is if I can do it, so can you.

(Editor’s Note: If you want to take the summer version of the Art Guild’s Lighting class – which runs four weeks – with a bonus week TBD – contact Education Coordinator Erin Robert at the Art Guild to sign up. The class starts July 8. Our apologies if its already full. We’ll be back in the fall.)


  1. As soon as I’ve mastered shutter speed and aperture I’ll hit you up for some lighting tips! Great article!

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