You Need Protection Against Yourself!

Or rather, you don’t.

A somewhat advanced Lightroom tip for studio photographers today.

Adobe Lightroom, since version 4, has protected us from ourselves. Any overexposed areas are automatically brought back as much as possible as part of the RAW conversion, so that they appear not overexposed.

Fine. Until in a studio portrait, you try to deliberately overexpose the background, so that it becomes pure white. Fine, except Lightroom stops you.

Until you change the RAW conversion back to the older, 2010 version. Then you can overexpose as much as you wish.

I just posted a short video about this here:

TIP: Sign up for my YouTube channel, so you hear when I post a new video.


Silence In The Studio!

And here is my own studio:

That consists of:

  1. A backdrop stand with a white paper roll (other colours also).
  2. A main light with a softbox (on a light stand).
  3. A fill light with an umbrella (on a light stand).
  4. A hair light with a snoot (on a light stand).
  5. A background light with a grid and yellow gel (in this case, a speedlight on a clamp).

Other necessities include:

  1. Pocketwizards to fire the first flash and the speedlight (the rest can use the built-in “cell”).
  2. A stool.
  3. Music (so not “silence in the studio”!).
  4. Lots of props.
  5. Lots of extras lights and modifiers.

I used three strobes and one speedlight in the shoot a couple of days ago. That setup pictured above gave me shots like these:

Where it is easy to enhance the saturation of yellow (and to go horizontal if you wish):

Or indeed to go back to black (and white), where it’s all about the shadows:

You can use the colours you shot:

Or you can go “desaturated”:

This shot, at first, seems to shout for colour:

But the same shot in B/W gives you new possibilities – e.g. to darken the lips a little and make the face stand out extra pale and beautiful:

What I like about studio shooting is that exposure is always perfect, provided you meter or guess it right in the first shot, and further, that you have control over everything. And that means you can now concentrate on expressions and ideas, not just on aperture and shutter settings.

PS: those of you who are in LinkedIn and do not yet have a headshot: contact me and have me make one. To be taken seriously, you need a headshot, and I mean need. No blanks, and no snapshots – those are two deadly sins.


I recommend you learn studio-style shooting and those of you who come spend the days with me at Niagara School of Imaging will learn all this, as will those who come to me for private or planned training (as in, Sheridan College Oakville starting in September).


No Meter? No Problem

In studio shoots, you use a flash meter.

But if you do not have one, can you do it? Sure you can. Here’s a trick:

  1. Set up your lights. Guess the light’s power setting.
  2. Get a grey card, and hold it in the exact spot where your subject will be, aimed half way between the light and the camera, as your model may be.
  3. Set focus to manual (we are worried here about exposure, not focus!)
  4. Fill the viewfinder entirely with the gray card (be sure not to block the light)
  5. Click.

Now review the pictures. Press INFO or DISP, or hit UP/Down, until you see the view that includes the histogram.

Now here’s the trick. A good picture has the histogram peak (or peaks) in the centre. So if you see this, you are ok:

What if you see this, a histogram on the left side:

That means you are underexposing. You need to turn up the flash power and try again:

And if you see this, the histogram on the right side:

The histogram is on the right; you are overexposing: turn down the flash power, wait a few seconds so it can dump its excess charge, and try again.

As soon as you are in the centre, take a real shot and check – you should be OK. And you metered it – and all without a light meter!



Here’s a shot from last night’s Portrait Lighting workshop:

That is a classical portrait:

  1. Key light (metered normally); with a softbox.
  2. Fill light (two stops darker), also with a softbox.
  3. Hairlight (a speedlight using a grid).
  4. Another speedlights as a (gelled) background light.

The participants now know how to do this. But you can keep it simple too.

So I turned off all lights except the two speedlights, re-oriented those, and then got this:

The second speedlight is behind the model, aimed at us. And note, I focused very carefully on the left (for us!) eye.

The message: you need to know classica portrait techniques, but once you know these, you can get creative using very simple light. Stay tuned and find out more and more about how to do this.



Last call for….

….tomorrow night’s course in Hamilton, Ontario on Studio and Portrait photography ( In just three hours, from 7-10pm, get the fundamentals plus lots of practical tips and “guaranteed success” starting points, or “recipes”, for studio-style portraits.

It’s just $145, a very small class, taught by me in person, and you need nothing special (just bring your DSLR camera). Book right now on

What, again, is a “studio-style portait”?

That picture qualifies, not because it was made in a studio (it was in the classroom at Vistek’s Flash course Saturday), but because it was made under controlled conditions:

  • The subject was “posed” (although I call it “positioned!) carefully.
  • It involved flash (not by any means necessary, but usual).
  • It has simple layouts.
  • There is no “clutter”.
  • Light(of whatever type) was carefully considered and controlled.
  • The subject is the subject – i.e. it is not an environmental portrait.

The point about controlling light is especially important. I used two small flashes in the case above: one. through an umbrella, for the main light (the “key light”) and one as the rim- or hair-light, shining towards the camera.

If you come tomorrow night, you will learn all about this, and much more – like light positioning, camera settings, using a light meter, success recipes, obtaining natural expressions: the list goes on, and all inside three hours, with a professional studio, a model, and myself. See you there?