Continuous Lighting

Did a Top Pro Tour workshop last week that was sponsored by the lighting folks at Westcott here in Toronto. I wanted to attend as the tour features some of the top commercial photographers as instructors. Some of these workshops down in the states draw huge crowds. The Toronto workshop had a lot of unsold seats and this was really unfortunate as the small crowd didn’t inspire the instructors to bring on their A game. Having said that, I learned a lot during the workshop.

Our first instructor David Piazza is a technical rep (sales guy) for Westcott who despite not shooting professionally anymore and who was using a pedestrian middle-of-the-road Canon DSLR really knew his stuff when it came to light.

I’ve taught photography for years and my night school classes weren’t much smaller than this group. It’s too bad the workshop wasn’t marketed better in Toronto (and next time if Westcott is interested I could be available to help) to working professionals and advanced amateurs. David explained lighting better than I could. He had colour temperature down pat as well as colour balance and specularity (highlights like the kind you get from a flash on a cheek bone). One of the best parts of David’s presentation was his understanding of how a softbox works.

Now if David was using standard flash (speedlights or monoblocks), we’d have look at the projected display from his tethered camera to see the results. BUT David was using Westcott’s daylight fluorescents which put out a continuous light on the subject. This meant we could actually see the lighting as it struck the model’s face. And, since this was such as small group we got a chance to actually come up and photograph the model while adjusting the lights ourselves.

This is exactly the way I used to teach lighting but I was using my SB-900 which, while a whole lot more powerful and infinitely adjustable than the Westcott continous lights, aren’t as predictable or consistent. Also you can use the Westcott continuous lights for video productions too. Try that with a speedlight.

If there is a downside, it’s that the continuos lights aren’t as bright as monoblocks or even speedlights. This means you need to open up the lens more when using the florescents but that’s not a deal breaker in a studio setting. All in all I really liked the Spiderlite TDS Perfect Portrait Kit ($1700) that has a shallow softbox (36″X48″) and a stripbank (12″X36″) with an egg crate grid. The softbox is the main light and the stripbank is the hair light. David used a Westcott 6-in-1 reflector kit to throw a little light on the shadow side of the model’s face. (See photo for setup. The softbox is on the left and just skimming across the model’s face and the stripbank is above her. The reflector is down to the right.

Our second instructor for the evening was Jim Schmelzer who knows more about portrait photography than just about anyone out there. He’s famous for his photos of “seniors.” In the US there’s a huge market shooting portfolios of young people who are in their late teens who are called seniors because these photos are used in their high school yearbooks. In Canada I’ve only heard of one photographer out east who makes a living shoot teens. Jim also has a Facebook page.

Jim shoots in a very different manner than I do and his interaction with the model is different from how I do it so it was great to watch a master at work with a young model and a crowd of enthusiasts standing at his shoulder. Jim doesn’t use a lightmeter, which I found interesting, but his results speak for themselves. He does great work.

As I said even I learned a couple of new things and I’d highly recommend the workshop if it comes back to Toronto again. And if it does at $89 it’s a bargain. As I said the only unfortunate part of the light is the small crowd didn’t get anybody fired up and after the break there wasn’t much said and we all went home. The night should have ended with a bigger bang.


2 thoughts on “Continuous Lighting

  1. I find your comments on “teens” to be interesting. I live in the U.S. and your right about its popularity, but its not because of the yearbook. Senior pictures are taken in the beginning of a students senior or 12th grade, so their getting ready to graduate high school. These pictures are more for handing out to friends and family. Many parents will invest thousands of dollars in professional senior pictures and many photographers make a full time living doing this in the U.S. There is a link to a couple of these types of these types of photographers on my website:

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