July’s Location Lighting Workshop

After several days of non-stop disasters, leading up to Wednesday’s workshop, starting with the originally booked model having to back out only 3 days before the event, and culminating in waking up on Wednesday morning to a washer/dryer that had “crashed” in the middle of the night (containing a drum full of wet clothes I’d planned to wear that day), it felt like this workshop had to go well – I mean, things just couldn’t get any worse.

As it turns out, I was right.  Things had already started looking up before I even realised it.

I had, of course, informed everybody who was coming on the workshop that I had to seek out a replacement model, and between 7pm on Monday, and about 1pm on Tuesday, all battle stations were on red alert.

I was supposed to be packing and preparing, but what good was all that if we had nobody to shoot?  During Monday evening and Tuesday morning, I must’ve spoken to around 60 different models that I had found through various channels, and all of those models fell into one of three categories…

  • They were already booked for a shoot on Wednesday
  • Modelling isn’t their main income and they have another job during the week
  • They live so far away that the travel costs put them out of budget.

All, that is, except one.  I was contacted by a lovely young lady named Vicky who, thank the stars, was available all day on Wednesday.  Fantastic!  Little did I know at the time just how amazing this lady is.  With what can only be described as infectious enthusiasm, Vicky played no small part in turning Wednesday into what would be a wonderful day.  Vicky just got her page set up on Facebook, so why not head on over and show her some love?

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Panic over.  Well, almost, I still had to get batteries charged, memory cards formatted, equipment checked, bags packed, buy food for the barbecue, as well as drinks & snacks for throughout the day, and sort everything else out that needed sorting out.  But, it got done.

By Tuesday evening, I could relax, I could get a good night’s rest, and awaken on Wednesday morning bright and early knowing that it was plain sailing ahead.

Oh, yes, the washing machine.  Well, that was a whole new panic setting in, with the rush to find alternate clothing suitable for wearing on location where it was going to be potentially muddy and wet.  It also meant that I would definitely not be wading into any rivers or streams, as my “wading in the river” clothes were also in the machine (and while they will get wet after I get in the river, I’d rather be putting them on while they’re still dry).  But, again, it got done.

My fearless assistant, Chris, arrived shortly before 9am, followed by Vicky about 10 minutes later as we were loading the last of the bags into the car.  After brief introductions, we were off to the location to get setup before everybody else started to arrive.  Chris was a huge help throughout the day, so a big thank you to that man!

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The weather forecast for the day looked quite confusing.  Accuweather said there was a 50/50 chance of rain at any given point in the day, BBC Weather said it’d be cloudy all day, but no chance of rain, and MetCheck pretty much predicted the apocalypse.  Fortunately, for most of the day, we were presented with a rather lovely mix of cloud and sun, and very comfortable temperatures (always handy when it’s a nude workshop).

The morning was spent going through some of the issues you may face when shooting on location.  How to find and scout your locations, making sure they’re safe and secure, with some tips on useful things to bring with you on location to make the day go more smoothly.  We also looked at some of the technical aspects of shooting on location, various metering techniques, a bit of light theory, how to mix flash with natural light, dealing with potential lighting challenges, hard light, soft light, directional light, bringing out textures and detail in the environment, and I think you get the idea.

2013-07-31-12One of the things I’ve learned about teaching on location is that your schedule for the day is very much about timing, and planning things in “slots”.  When you know the location, and know how the natural light is going to behave throughout the day, it allows you to account for demonstrating certain things at a particular time.  You have to organise your time to explain different things by a certain time so you can walk up to a particular tree and demonstrate what you’ve just spent the last 30 minutes prattling on about.  Then you have to fill the next 30 minutes explaining some more things before the light hits a rock face a certain way.  After a while, this kind of planning and almost military precision can make your head hurt.

As well as this, you have to know when to light the barbecue in order for it to be ready to cook on when you’re finished talking.  The barbecue, as is often the case, was a big hit – despite a dog walker’s labrador wandering over to say hello, and then stealing a pack of Cumberlands!  Please forgive the dodgy iPhone shot on the right.

In the afternoon, everybody got to really play around and experiment.  The location was rich with potential shooting areas and compositions, and with sun becoming completely covered by clouds, the gap in the trees meant that the natural afternoon light was fairly consistent and predictable for the duration.  The much needed rain over the past week or so also meant that the stream running through the wood was flowing rather well.

There were several spots that I’d picked out in advance, and each person got to shoot that spot, but I challenged each of them to make it their own based on what they’d learned in the morning, and their personal shooting preferences.  While the spots were the same for each of the photographers, they changed their focal length, shooting position, distance to the subject, as well as making their own choices about how they wanted to light the scene before them.

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Did they want to just use the available light?  Did they want to add any reflectors?  Did they want to add a flash? two flashes? three?  What modifiers did they want to use?  How were they making the decisions that allowed them to answer each of these questions?  What were they looking for?  What did they hope to achieve?  What happened if we moved this light over here? Over there?  What if we raised or lowered it?  What happened if they adjusted their angle slightly?  What happened if the pose was tweaked slightly, or the subject moved around completely?  What problems could they see in the image they’d just shot?  How could we overcome those in the camera?

One thing I don’t do on my workshops is tell people how to make their photographs.  They’re their photographs, so who am I to tell them what to do?

What I do try to teach people are the fundamental principles & techniques and show them what options they have that will allow them to make their own decisions by themselves and understand how and why they’re making them.  When you have a picture in your head, putting it onto the camera’s sensor (or film, if you’re so inclined) is extremely difficult when you don’t understand what you need to do in order to get the results you expect.

We spent some time, initially, working around the log shown above, shooting from various angles, with and without flash, with and without reflectors and diffusers to see how different decisions would affect the images they were creating.  The initial demonstration of specular highlights produced this, using a little flash power to give the available light some assistance and add a little more contrast.

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One of Wednesday’s students, Mike Hudson, has graciously allowed me to share a couple of images with you that he created on the day.  As you can see, while we all had access to the same lighting equipment, were working with the same ambient lighting conditions, and used similar cameras and lenses, Mike’s images are of a very different style to mine.  This is why I don’t tell people how to make their photographs.  Your images should be a reflection of you, and what you want to create.

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Above images Copyright Mike Hudson ©2013. Used with permission.

After we did each of the pre-planned spots, everybody had the opportunity to setup a shot completely from scratch of their own.

Each student would find their own spot, that would only be used for their set.  They chose where Vicky would be, how she would pose, the vantage point from which they would shoot, the lighting setup they wanted to use in order to either complement or override the available light, the focal length that would give them the composition they wanted, and any other decisions that had to be made.

Upon getting the original shot they’d envisioned, they were pushed just that little bit further.  “What happens if we do this?” was a running theme throughout this.  They were surprised by many of the results, and by how effective simple adjustments can be.

This was another effort to challenge the students, and allow them to think outside their respective boxes, with the added benefit of having somebody on hand to answer their questions and make suggestions, as well as offering them another chance to put into practice and reinforce what they’d learned earlier in the day.  Having several people available to act as assistants to quickly move lights, hold reflectors, and try out a lot of different things in a short space of time was also a great advantage.

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It was during this part of the day that the rain started to kick in.  We had been prepared for it, and we had been lucky that it didn’t arrive until around 3pm.  We still had one or two setups left to do, so we found spots that were a little more sheltered and got those done.

By this point, the rain was coming down quit a bit harder.  Not uncomfortably so, but enough to make things tricky and force many photographers to pack up their equipment and go home.  Not us, though!

This is where Vicky’s enthusiasm and positive attitude really shone through.  I did have a plan in mind, in case the rain hit.  I didn’t warn them beforehand, because I didn’t want anybody to be disappointed in case it didn’t happen, but this is one of the challenges we face when shooting on location.  We have to plan ahead, and adapt to the situation as it changes.

Photographing in the rain, for those who dare to get their equipment a little wet, can be pretty challenging.  Often, you just end up with a grey and dull scene.  You really can’t see the rain, because it’s falling so quickly, and your shutter’s so slow that it simply blurs out of existence.  Even when you know how to do it, you generally have to work pretty quickly in order to get the shot before you start to risk drowning your equipment.

DSC_4345So, I fired up several flashes, and one at a time, handed them over and sent people in various directions to stand at a particular spot, explaining what each light would do for the scene as we went.

Instead of dampening our spirits, the rain actually had the effect of making this one of the high points of the day.  I know many photographers who have wanted to do something like this for a long time (and I was one of them), but it’s difficult to find models willing to stand out in the rain while nude.  It’s also difficult to predict exactly when the rain will start, and if you’re not prepared for it, and able to move quickly, you’re not going to get the results you were hoping for.

The shot on the right is a one that’s been in my head for a couple of years, and it’s nice to have finally been able to create it.  It is a shame that sizing the image down for the viewing pleasure of a web audience has removed a lot of the subtle detail in the rain drops, as it looks fantastic in high resolution on a large display.  So, I can’t wait to see how it looks on an 18×12 print.

All in all, this was an amazing day, with good food, great photography, and wonderful company.  Thank you to Vicky, Chris, Doug, Mike, Jamie and David.  I can’t wait until I get to do this all over again at the next workshop!


“Very informative workshop executed with military precision…I like that. I had the feeling I was being taken care of which you dont get often.

Learned tons of stuff and I’m really looking forward to trying this for myself once my gammy knee decides to get better.

Thanks for putting it on John – I do realise how much hard work goes on behind the scenes.

Great value – highly recommend Johns workshops. He does actually go the extra mile.”

Doug, Blackpool


“An excellent day. John mad a huge effort in all the prep work even down to loads of drinks munchies and a barbecue.

The day started with john explaining all the ins and outs of actually arranging the shoot, locations, supplies what to bring what to look for etc.

Then we got down to the nitty gritty of actually shooting. John explained things very efficiently and down to earth so very easy to understand.

A range of different locations where used around the woods. Last thing was our own set up…each individual member chose their spot, position of lights etc etc so we all came away with a unique image to us.

All in all a very enjoyable day, learned loads and got images in the bag too. Highly recommended from me and will definitely be going on another course that he runs.

Thanks again John for a great day….keep up the good work buddy and see ya soon”

Mike, Wigan


“Had a last minute shoot with John and his workshop attendees and all I can honestly say is wow, not only did I have a fantastic day with some great image results, I think I’ve made a friend.

Ladies and gents, if you get the chance to work with John do not pass it up. Such a lovely talented gent. Made me feel so at ease, and whilst being incredibly professional we had a great laugh.

Thank you so much for the opportunity and I look forward to working with you again”

Vicky