studio lighting

My Afternoon with Frida

What fun we had today – trying to photographically interpret a Frida Kahlo poster that I had seen on the web. I found the poster after watching the movie, Frida, and then by doing a search on the web for the artist's life and work.

When I say "we," I mean my model, Gloriana "Glo" Gonzalez, who happens to be my friend Gonzalo's daughter, and my stylists/photo assistant, Susan Sammon, who happens to be my wife. :-)

The project was surely a team effort, so I only take 1/3 of the credit for the final photograph - which is one of my favorite studio portraits.

Here's a look at the evolution of "My Afternoon with Frida" photograph, which I made with my new Canon EOS 5Ds and Canon 100mm lens. The details (including the smallest eyelash) that the Canon 5Ds captures is astounding. Click here to read a previous post on the camera.

Here are the screen grabs of the Frida Kahlo posters that I found on the web. I did not want to copy the poster on the left exactly. Again, I used the poster as a suggestion. I wanted to do my own interpretation.

I don't have a studio, so I turned my office into a temporary studio. Setting up a home studio is the topic of my next KelbyOne class, which will be on-line later this year. For now, my most popular KelbyOne classes are listed on my Learn On-Line page.

Above is a shot I took of Glo before the official shoot. I asked her to pose so I could test the lighting before we got serious – if you can call having this much fun being serious. My lighting was two Westcott Spiderlites – which provide beautiful constant, even and soft light.

Earlier that day our team went to a Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft store and picked up the props (material background, flower headpiece and costume jewelry) we needed. Cost was $80 with Glo's student discount. Above is a shot that I took in our kitchen of Susan helping Glo get ready for the shoot. We had the poster of Frida printed out, as well as displayed on Glo's iPhone, so we could match, as closely as possible, the position of the props.

Here are two fun shots of Glo. Left: taken while I was testing the lighting. Quick tip: Test the lighting before an actual shoot. That will make your shoot go faster and smoother. Right: taken while I was joking around with Glo so that she would be relaxed for the shoot.

Glo has a inner and outer glow about her, but to enhance that glow and to soften her skin, I used Perfectly Clear, the number one plug-in I recommend for enhancing portraits. You can get a discount on Perfectly Clear on my Save On Plug-ins page.

Here's my photograph of Glo after applying Perfect Clear. For a realistic photo effect, I like the image. But I thought, after looking at the image for a day, I'd try a more artistic approach.

To add a painterly quality to the image, I applied the BuzSim filter in Topaz Simplify - another one of my favorite plug-ins. You can also get a discount on all Topaz plug-in on my Save On Plug-ins page.

Glo could not believe the first shot I took when I showed it to her. This behind-the-scenes photo by Susan captures her surprise. Added to her surprise: We (again it was a team effort) nailed it on the very first shot. I took six more photographs, but the first image was our favorite.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of the poster and my photograph. Sure, they are different images, especially when it comes to the feeling and mood of the images. Frida suffered greatly with pain most of her life (from a terrible bus accident). I wanted a more uplifting image.

If you want to learn about lighting and portraiture, try this:  find a photograph or painting that you like and try to recreate it . . .  using your own style. Above are two of my photographs that illustrate this idea. Left: My interpretation of Rembrandt's Old Man in a Military Costume. Right: My interpretation of Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. Both of these images were taken in my office.

Explore the light,

What's New?

My 36th book: Creative Visualization for Photographers. The story of my Girl with Pear Earring photograph is in the book, as well as tons of tips and processing ideas for shooting indoors and out.

My 2016 photo workshops, where I encourage my workshop participants to visualize the end result, as we all did for "My Afternoon with Frida" photograph.



Good Fun and Learning at My Latest Sammon Speedlite Session

rick sammon.jpg

Photographers who attend my photo workshops know that I like to make learning fun while making pictures (rather than just taking pictures). I demonstrated that philosophy during my Canon/Westcott speedlite session yesterday at Adorama's New York City store.

Photo by Richard Cohen. That's me behind the lens!

Photo by Richard Cohen. That's me behind the lens!

Yes, we had a great model, Rebecca West, and great gear. But what about shooting in a relatively small space in a busy store – in front of a standing-room-only crowd on a Tuesday afternoon? A challenge, yes – but a good one. I love challenges. As I said to the crowd at the opening of my presentation, "If you can make a good speedlite portrait here, you can make one anywhere."

The opening image for this post is my favorite image from the shoot. My gear for this portriat:
• Main light (positioned above Rebecca): Westcott Rapid Box 26-inch Octo Softbox - with Canon 600EX-RT speedlite
• Fill light (positioned beneath model) Westcott Eyelighter
Canon ST-E3 Speedlite Transmitter
Canon 24-105mm IS lens (my favorite lens)
Lexar 32GB Compact Flash card.

I shot tethered into Lightroom on my MacBook Pro using a Tether Tools cable.

All of the images here were taken with my speedlites set on the ETTL mode. Hey Joe Brady - I know you love manual, but I'm an ETTL guy. I mentioned our video during the shoot.

The exposures for all the images in this post were fine tuned, quickly and easily, from my camera with the Canon ST-E3 wireless transmitter.

I converted my color file to black-and-white with Macphun's Tonality Pro. Click here to see all my plug-ins.

Photographs by Richard Cohen

Photographs by Richard Cohen

Speaking of challenges (which I often see as opportunities), I often like to give audience members the opportunity to shoot during my speedlite sessions – after I set up the lighting gear and offer some quick tips. Above are two photographs by audience member (and first-time in-studio speedlite shooter) Richard Cohen.

Left: Westcott Apollo 28-inch softbox (Canon 600EX facing toward the back of the softbox and zoomed out all the way) placed to the side and slightly behind Rebecca. Thanks Jack Reznicki for showing me this technique.

Right: Westcott Apollo 28-inch softbox placed in front of and to the side of Rebecca, and a Canon 600EX-RT held directly behind Rebecca's head.

Nice work, Richard!

Thanks to all those to attended my seminar, and thanks to Adorama for hosting the event.

For more basic lighting tips, see my iPad and iPhone app, Light It!

I hope to see you on one of my workshops. I promise you, you'll learn a lot and have a lot of fun.

Explore the light,
P.S. I also give private speedlite (and Photoshop and everything else) lessons. Shoot me an email for info.

Removing Reality Can Result in More Creative Images

Today I had a chance to enhance (after jamming with workshop student Chuck Pierce) a few more of my images from my recent NYC model/lighting workshop. Check out my previous post to read about the awesome workshop.

My idea for the images in this post was to remove some of the reality from the files to create more creative and artistic images.

Opening image: I was envisioning a painterly look for my portrait of model Minyoung Cheong. To reach that goal, I shot a three-image bracketed set of pictures with my Canon 5D Mark III and processed the files in Photomatix. Yes, the in-camera HDR (a JPEG) looked good, but I wanted more control over my HDR image, so I used Photomatix.

If you don't have Photomatix, give it a try. You will find that it is the most powerful and creative HDR program out there. Why? Because these guys invented HDR software. Get a discount on Photomatix on my Save on Plug-ins page.

After creating what I call my HDR negative, I cropped and straightened my image, played around with the Pastel Filter in Nik Color Efex Pro, applied selective saturation, and did some burning and dodging.

Quick tip: Remember that light illuminates; shadows define - and that shadows are the soul of the photograph.

Above: While "reflecting" on the awesome workshop, I started to play with this image of Minyoung. After converting it to black-and-white with onOne software's Perfect Black-and-White Premium 9 (also listed on my Plug-ins page), I used the Render Lighting Effects in Photoshop to mold and shape the light around the subject.

By the way, this is a natural, window light photograph.

Quick tip: Use reflections to add interest to your photograph.

Above: Here are two more of my favorite photographs from the shoot. Westcott Rapid Box Duos were used to illuminate our beautiful model with beautiful light.

Quick tip: The background can make or break a shot . . . which is why we chose the Metropolitan Building as our workshop location.

Quick tip: If you want an interesting/dramatic portrait, don't light the subject's entire face.

Above: These stacked, old trunks made a perfect background for our model, Tanya S. Our lighting: Westcott Spiderlight TD6 Daylight and 36x48-inch Shallow Softbox – combined with a TD6 in a Westcott 12x36 Strip Bank with Egg Crate Fabric Grid. To change the mood/feeling of the scene, I used the Polaroid effect in Nik Color Efex Pro.

Quick Tip: Use plug-ins to change the mood/feeling of a photograph.

Above: That's Westcott's Dave Piazza in the background checking the lighting . . . I think. ;-)

Thanks again to my fellow instructors, Dave Piazza and Joe Brady, for making the event a success. And thank you Adorama and Westscott for sponsoring the workshop.

I loved the group of 12 photographers, too!

I hope to see you on a 2015 workshop. All are welcome!

Explore the light,

Model/Lighting Workshop Added to My 2015 Florida Workshop List

I just added another workshop to my January 2015 workshop list. Here's the info:

South Florida Studio Model Shoot


• Learn speedlite lighting and model photography with me and my good friend Cesar Rivera. We'll have some studio lights, too!
• Shoot in a real photo studio.
• Use Westcott softboxes, reflectors and diffusers. Gels, backgrounds and grids, too.

• We’ll have Canon speedlites. If you use Nikon, bring them along.
• 14 photographers, two instructors, two models.
• Door prizes: Four 128GB Lexar Compact Flash cards, 8 Honl speedlite accessories.


• January 24, 2015 from 10:30 AM to 5 PM .
• AM: lighting demos by Rick and Cesar. Tethered shooting so all can see.
• Lunch (with group if you like, but not included)
• PM: photograph the models!

3001 Alhambra St.
Fort Lauderdale, Fl 33304
Parking in front of the studio $5 charge.

How to Register
Register here, and pay through my PayPal account:

You can use the photographs for your web site, but need to make arrangements with the models if you intend to sell an image.

Cost: One-time payment of $200. 50% refund up to 30 days in advance. Sorry, no refund after that.

For more info, shoot me an email.

Cesar and I hope to see you in the studio.

Explore the light,

P.S. If you live in the NY area, I have a similar workshop on November 4th, 2014.