Lighting Pt. 1 | Where to Begin…


It’s amazing how quickly something can catch your attention and pull you in without you even noticing. How you can go from discovery to obsession in almost an instant, and then strive to learn, practice, adopt, adapt, perfect, and evolve that obsession over time. For me, that’s what lighting is. I love to do it, learn it, live it, teach it, talk about it, eat it, sleep it, and think about it constantly. And, I believe, this is how some of the – in my opinion – greatest photographers in the world got their start and perfected their crafts into what we know them for today.

With that in mind, I wanted to start out this new year with a goal to myself and a series of blog posts that talk about this very subject and create my own tutorial of sorts. But, I want to take an approach different from that of many others out there that have done the same thing. I want to teach lighting the way that I learned (and continue to learn) off-camera lighting. Start from the beginning rather than the end like most do. Most of the tutorials or workshops or videos I’ve seen begin at the end. They show you exactly how to do a lighting set up with out really helping understand how they got there or determined it by throwing out rules of thumbs (which I hate!) and making something look easy that, for somebody doing it the first time, isn’t. So, the question has to be asked then: Where to begin?


This was the first question for me when I really got into photography and learned about the amazing and (almost) necessary skill of off-camera lighting. It’s not an easy question to answer as there is so much information and so many alternate ways of learning that the list is almost endless with blogs, YouTube, tutorial sites, books, etc. In that same sense though, I want to start out my series by giving a list of my favorite lighting tutorials, sites, and books created by others. Just as I started my lighting journey by learning from others, I want to start by teaching from others and then provide some of my own guidance over the coming weeks.

My top 5 places that I first consulted (and still refer back to!) to learn how to light and where to begin:

1. Zack Arias’s One Light Workshop DVD

If you can find it, this was an absolutely fantastic 2-DVD set by Zack that helps you master the use of the one-light set up. Most of us start out only being able to afford one light and (possibly) one modifier. Zack’s approach is awesome and he teaches the basics in the first DVD and then shows you how to use them in the second DVD. I can’t tell you how much I learned from these DVDs, and once you’ve mastered one light, adding more is the same process again and again.

Zack (fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) is taking some time off of the one-light series and concentrating on his work and other things. Fortunately for us, the awesome people over at creativeLive recognized how awesome Arias is and have had him on for multiple sessions. I would suggest Foundations of a Working Photographer in lieu of the One-Light series since it is probably the closest to his old workshop.

2. Dave Hobby’s Blog –

Dave is awesome because he takes a real-world approach to lighting and light modifiers. It’s always awesome to see Joey L, Tim Tadder, or Chase Jarvis light an awesome scene with ridiculous amounts of lights and light modifiers that are well outside the realm of the everyday photographer, but they don’t do us a lot of good if we don’t have them. Dave’s approach on his blog has always catered to the DIY and lower budget photographers working in the field with speed lights. His blog is absolutely LOADED with information and DIY projects to help you create some of the modifiers you ‘need’ but can’t afford.

3. Joey L’s Sessions DVD Tutorial

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again (and again), I wish I was this kid. Joey is an absolutely stunning photographer and his natural abilities to see and light a portrait are, in my opinion, unparalleled. This set is one of the first ones I bought (after One-Light) because not only does it show Joey light a few real shoots and his workflow for lighting a scene, but it also goes in-depth into his post-production process that is extremely important for putting the final touches on crafting an image. It’s still available at along with some new tutorials that are shorter, lower cost, more up-to-date, and continually being updated. With that said, I still recommend purchasing Sessions if you can swing it!

4. Photography-On-The.Net Forum

I have to include this place because tutorials and workshops are great, but actually being able to see the work of others and continually interact and learn from their mistakes and successes is invaluable information. This forum is based more towards Canon users like myself, but light is light so that doesn’t really matter. I would definitely suggest joining, perusing, and interacting here to continue to see light and learn from peers.

5. Chase Jarvis’s YouTube Channel

Chase has been one of my inspirations and digital teachers since I picked up a camera. I was initially drawn to his style of shooting and subject matter, but I was hooked once I found his YouTube site. His plethora (and I mean PLETHORA) of videos is amazing and his openness to teach others (for free!) is unparalleled in the industry. Definitely add this one to your YouTube account and try and find more of his initial videos to start with. He’s added a ton more content over the years that ranges outside of photography, but all of the videos are definitely worth a watch for instruction and inspiration!

BONUS: creativeLive

I throw this one on here as a bonus for two reasons… One, I’ve featured the site one here in a previous blog post for learning. And two, there is SOO much information here it can be extremely overwhelming on where to start, which lesson to pick, and who to learn from. So, what I would suggest doing is watching the calendar for when the free live learning is on and just putting the class on in the background to see if it tickles your fancy or helps you learn. If you really like it, you always have the ability to buy it for later use and reference.

So, now that I’ve begun where my own journey started… What comes next?

In the coming weeks I’m going to initially be doing a 5 part series on everything from lighting basics, to my lighting approach and theory, to technical mumbo-jumbo, using multiple lights, and beyond. So, stay tuned, make sure to sign up for the blog updates below, and don’t forget to follow on Vimeo and/or Youtube (whichever is your preferred video host) and Facebook for updates and the associated videos.

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