Last week I drove to Decatur, Georgia to attend the One Light Workshop run by highly talented photographer Zack Arias. The course is an intensive one-day event that sets out to teach students solid techniques for using (one) off camera flash. I have been blown away by Zack’s work, and this was a chance to get face to face with a unique talent, how could I have been anywhere else?
The course is aimed at photographers that have at least an intermediate knowledge of the technical aspects of the medium, and want to expand their abilities by having options (more on that later).
The night before the course there was a mixer for students and local photographers. Zack invited some friends from the photography world along including Mark Climie, a wedding photographer we can all look up to. We all had a few beers and got chatting about the excitement we all shared for the following day.
SO, WHAT’S COVERED?
- Exposure Control
- Post Production
Zack’s been around the photography world for 13 years, and failed miserably once. He uses this failure as a benchmark and sets out to help others by being candid about where he went wrong. And for Zack he failed due to too much GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). He ran up debt – which put strain on his marriage, which put strain on his family, which put strain on his work, you get the picture… (it’s refreshing to hear someone experiencing such success being so forthright and humble).
So, he talked about using the bare minimum needed to get the job done (hence the name, One Light), and how to change the mentality that ‘just one more piece of equipment’ will make all of the difference. He encourages students to buy just one type of modifier (60” shoot thru umbrella by the way) and work with it until they know it inside out. Learn to use it in many different ways and know the capabilities and limits of it before even thinking about anything else. Same goes for lenses and camera bodies. Just because something else was released after you bought your camera doesn’t make it obsolete. All really wise words, and I had the feeling that most of us there (12 students) had already been dropping coin unnecessarily due to bad GAS, so lesson learnt.
So, a camera with a Pocket Wizard (or similar) on it, a flash (TTL not required, it’s all manual here) again with a Pocket Wizard, a stand, an umbrella and off you go. Zack then showed us a few shots with that very set up which would turn most photographic ‘pros’ into sobbing wrecks. Total cost of lighting around $249 not including the Wizards (alternatives are available) So, we know what the gear needs to be, now what do we do with it?
This is it, this is the reason that most photographers shy away from flash, the tiger in the bag, don’t get it out it’s going to bite you, argh, the end of the world is nigh. Well, Zack will tell you otherwise, and then he’ll tell you that you need to know that only five things influence the light.
- Shutter Speed
- Flash Power
- Flash to Subject Distance
That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. If you can remember five things (in roughly the order they are above) then you are well on your way to international recognition and unlimited wealth. Probably. Possibly. Not. I won’t go into each of them here, but the premise is simple. It’s a five way ‘teeter-totter’ (Zack’s words) between them (and ISO not so much normally) to get the results that you need. Keep calm, think slowly through the list, know what is being effected by what, change the appropriate setting and try again. As Zack points out, we aren’t curing cancer with our cameras, so when it goes wrong we need to get things in perspective. Pause, think, know your equipment, then get back to it.
These are the things that change the light, whether it be a soft-box, a grid, an umbrella or a beauty dish (not covered on One Light, but possibly in One Light II?) none are better than the others, but all are going to get you a different result and are suited to certain circumstances.
Want to light your model with a soft silky blanket of light wrapped around her features? Go for the softbox, make it the biggest you’ve got and get it as close as you dare. Need to chisel out some features on the next Rap Supastar? Get the grid out, get it up above and watch the stadiums fill.
Zack then shows ways in which the modifiers can be adapted to make a big difference, I won’t reveal them here, but you won’t be finding them in any traditional lighting book at the mall.
Okay, so we have been sitting and listening for a couple of hours at this point, raising questions, getting great answers, having a laugh and generally feeling good about life. Now we need to step up, get some shots taken and put the theory into practice.
Two models were booked for the day Julia and John. Both had the patience of saints, and both needed them.
Zack walked us through a few scenarios, showing us how he would approach the shot, positioning of the light, flash power, aperture, shutter speed etc then we were up.
Split into two groups of six and working two different scenarios. It took us all a couple of goes to get comfortable (eleven of your peers and a photographic genius in the room gets the pulse racing) but once we settled in we got it all going in the right direction. All of this was happening in Zack’s studio, a controlled environment, a good starting point.
A quick break for supper then we hit the road, heading out to a favorite spot of Zack’s. And this is where I think we all learnt the most.
We were shooting as the sun fell, bringing drama and depth to our shots. And this is why shooting with off camera flash gives you options. I have included a shot I took to demonstrate what the scene looked like without lighting, and then a shot taken ten minutes later with lighting that has received only minor exposure alterations in Lightroom. There is no way to get the scene to look like that without flash, and no way with it stuck on the top of your camera. So if a photographer tells you they only shoot ‘available light’, tell them they need to have a light in their bag available (or just book me).
Image 1 shows how the evening was looking, image 2 shows you what difference lighting makes (ten minutes after image 1 was taken), image three is twenty minutes later still.
With the sun setting time was limited, twelve photographers all looking for a piece of the action, but we rallied together sharing settings, holding equipment, to make sure we all had memorable shots to go home with.
We then returned to the studio to discuss the shoot, eat pizza and prepare for a ‘freestyle’ session where we wouldn’t have Zack setting up.
In groups of four we spread out inside and out to work our own particular vision of magic. This again was invaluable, interacting with peers and getting a fresh perspective on the shot.
That’s the one in the morning that I haven’t seen since my early thirties. But that was the time we finished, because Zack wanted to answer every question anyone had.
This summarizes his approach perfectly; be honest and give everything you can, even at three in the morning.
I attended this workshop having already purchased Zack’s DVD about the very same subject. I had used some techniques I had learnt from the DVD before I went to Georgia. Somewhere in my mind I was concerned that the course would be a live version of the DVD. I needn’t have, yes there was material from the DVD in the course, yes there were things I had covered and knew, but in no way did I see this as an issue.
As Zack says on the course, “you will be learning about light for the rest of your life”, I make him right on that.
I encourage anyone who is serious about becoming a better photographer to attend this course, it will separate you from your competition and help you give your clients a greater choice and something very special. You will however have to wait, as all of this year’s courses are fully booked with a line of people on the reserve list.
In the meantime you can follow Zack on Twitter, read his blog and get into his way of thinking, you won’t regret it.
My heartfelt thanks go out to Zack for sharing his knowledge, but I would also like to thank his wife Meghan, who is without doubt, his rock. Also a big shout out to Erik, Zack’s studio manager for doing the hard work behind the scenes. And also to Hawke Danger Arias for showing me what I have to look forward to in three weeks time. My love to you all.
I leave you with three of my favorite images from the day.
Julia, 28” softbox camera left.
John in the car lot at 2.00 a.m. 28” softbox, high, camera right.
Julia, softbox again. Note: this is a hand held 1.3 second exposure focused using a flashlight (5D MKII woes). No color alteration