Sunday, July 12, 2009

REVIEW: 50 Lighting Setups for Portrait Photographers

50 Lighting Setups for Portrait Photographers: Easy-to-Follow Lighting Designs and Diagramsby Steven H. Begleiter is a very unique book from others that I have read in that it offers 50 case studies that all follow an identical template for shoots that Steven has done in the past. I loved the concept and format of the book because each case study presents itself with the following sections all on one page opposite the final image:

  • Gear – Camera, Lens, Film (more on that later), Exposure and Lighting used to accomplish the shot
  • Assignment – What Steven was asked to accomplish for the shot
  • Visual Objective – Steven’s artistic intent
  • Posing – Details about how the model was posed
  • The Story – Details about the story the image is trying to tell
  • Tips – Additional notes about how to capture this particular type of shot
  • Setup Diagram – This is the most helpful part of this book, and something I would have loved to have seen Joe McNally do in his books. Here Steven shows you exactly where the gear and model was placed in an overhead diagram that makes it easy to understand how you too might capture this type of shot yourself.

Before diving in to the case studies this book as a brief intro and very trivial “Lighting Basics” section that offers some info about studio and off-camera flash systems. Overall I felt this section was sorely lacking and not up to same caliber I’ve seen from other Amherst Media Books.I highly recommend readers of this blog take the time to read Light, Science and Magic cover to cover as it is the best resource I’ve found to date to truly understand how light works and how you can master it to your advantage for any subject material.


As I mention up front, the format of this book is fantastic. However, the problem is that the author is stuck in the past and nearly all the images feature shots taken with his Hasselblad 503c film camera. As a result, the images look bland and washed out by today’s standards. While I’m confident that if you applied the techniques Steven describes in the book with modern day cameras and equipment, that you’d get fantastic results, I think many readers are going to be turned off by the dated film-based images portrayed in the book. With that quibble aside, the fact still remains that the properties of light haven’t changed and the diagrams are indeed helpful and applicable to modern day equipment. If you were to scan the case studies and find a shot that is similar to what you are trying to shoot, you’ll be thrilled to see the setup diagram and read the notes on how the shot was accomplished. You may want to ignore some of the camera settings used as digital cameras face different challenges (i.e., diffraction) and advantages (RAW images that support +/- 2 stop exposure adjustments after the fact & of course Photoshop) not found in film cameras. I applaud Steven and Amherst for releasing this type of book – it is sorely needed – but I’d love to see future efforts ditch the film camera work and focus strictly on using the latest gear (the latest Canon or Nikon cameras and flash systems as well as the latest studio lighting from Elinchrom, Profoto, etc… and their modifiers). In short, I’d like to see gear that people can go out and buy rather than stuff that you can’t even find on eBay anymore. I’d also like to see a little more variety in the shots presented (ala Joe McNally’s fantastic variety of shots in Hot Shoe Diaries and The Moment it Clicks).

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Value: Excellent (because of the light setups included)
Recommendation: If you are the type of person who can be given a little information and extrapolate the goodness from it, then I recommend this book to you as the lighting setup diagrams are invaluable. However, if you are someone who is looking for a recipe book where you apply the concepts presented and get the results shown, then this book isn’t for you. You’ll have much better luck at for stuff like that.

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