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Monte Zucker Had Some Great Advice

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough illuminated from the side.  Lighting is the sun during the Golden Hour in the Moab.

Playboy Playmate Holley Dorrough illuminated from the side. Lighting is the sun during the Golden Hour in the Moab.

Earlier this year at a photography event my seminar on “The Art of Lighting for Impact” followed Clay Blackmore’s spectacular lighting demonstration.  Clay, a Canon Explorer of Light, and I were using the same studio, so we assisted each other. While listening to Clay and observing his demonstration, he said something that stuck to me to this day that he learned from our mutual friend, the late Monte Zucker, known in the photo industry as the “Prince of Portraiture.”

Clay reminisced how Monte, who held the Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsman degrees from the Professional Photographers of America (PPA), always taught him that the greatest photos are the ones where the main light comes from the back, or the side, not necessarily the front.  I haven’t stopped thinking about it since, especially since Monte and a few other photographers and I were involved with an old business so I knew Monte well.

Photographers around the world miss Monte who earned the 2002 Photographer of the Year Award from the United Nations.  He was one of the greats and before his death “initiated the Zucker Institute for Photographic Inspiration, a charitable organization dedicated to inspiring at-risk youths through photography.”

Often I think about the conversations with Monte, but the day Clay spoke, I thought about some of my photos and sure enough, my better photos have a strong light from the side or back. I also remembered Monte making a similar statement to me at Photo Plus Expo one year about light from the back or sides and it seems like every time I pick up the camera to photograph someone, I immediately look at the light in a different manner than I did before.

It’s funny how I’d forgotten those words and how Clay’s spreading of the gospel of photography reminded me—obviously the best way to become a photographer is by practicing your craft, but also be hearing things in repetition and over time.  That’s why events like Photo Plus Expo are worth attending, perhaps you’ll see me there this year as I’m a speaker there once again.

Shelby illuminated from sun filtering light through a window in the Virgin Islands.

Shelby illuminated from sun filtering light through a window in the Virgin Islands.

Hence, I’ll repeat it today, if you want to capture some great photos, look at the direction of the light, then ask yourself, “Where is it coming from?”  If you see light coming from a nearby window, reposition your subject if you’re taking a portrait and place them near that light source and try to use that natural, diffused window light as the main light, but have it come from the side.

If you’re outdoors and you place your subject underneath a tree to take advantage of the open shade, turn their back toward the sun and have your subject move back far enough where the sun falls on their hair and shoulders, perhaps providing some nice accent or rim lighting, then fill your subject’s face in with light reflected from a California Sunbounce reflector or perhaps from the light of your on-camera flash or if you’re fortunate enough, from the flash of a portable studio power pack like a Hensel Porty Premium or a Broncolor Mobile A2R.

One of the greatest photography accessories for digital cameras today that I also like to carry, especially when working outdoors (though I use it in the studio too as my eyes aren’t as young as they used to be) is a HoodmanUSA, HoodLoupe 3.0.  While many photographers have loupes leftover from the film days of viewing slides on a light table, these are not the same as the HoodLoupe which doesn’t magnify pixels, as it uses three German glass lenses that give a true 1:1 viewing ratio.  This viewing ratio is important because when you “chimp” (view your images on your LCD screen while shooting), your pixels aren’t magnified. Magnified pixels from cheaper loupes create large dots from your screen’s pixels and it will throw you into a loop as you’ll misjudge your focusing.

And for those that claim to be more purest and don’t chimp but only use their LCD screens to verify their image histograms, these Hoodman loupes provide a glare free environment and come with an adjustable diopter of +/- 3, which comes in handy with eyeglass wearers like myself. When I’m looking for that sidelight outdoors, I usually have that HoodLoupe attached securely around my neck with the comfortable lanyard it comes with and I never worry about it banging around as it’s made of a user friendly rubber.

If you’re not fortunate to find that big mesquite or oak tree, like the kind we have in South Texas, then hopefully you can capture a great sunset shot with the subject’s back toward the sunset and by simply dragging your shutter (slow your shutter-speed down as the flash duration is the actual shutter-speed for your subject and the camera shutter-speed controls the ambient light) and increasing your aperture value (F/Stop) to match or by closing your lens aperture down another half to full stop and compensating with fill-flash to match (think overpowering the sun with flash).  Your sunset should back light your subject, thus your image should be amazingly appealing to any audience if done correctly.

During one of my Virgin Islands, Glamour, Beauty and the Nude photography workshops, I captured this image of Playboy model Ashly with the sun from behind.

During one of my Virgin Islands, Glamour, Beauty and the Nude photography workshops, I captured this image of Playboy model Ashly with the sun from behind.

Well that’s a photo tip for you today on lighting and the use of a proper loupe for previewing your images and histograms.  Hopefully Monte’s method of using side and back lighting will stick in the back of your head like it does to mine since Clay reminded me.  While Monte, also a Canon Explorer of Light, is resting in a better place, his words of photography wisdom are not forgotten.  I wish everyone the best, and don’t forget our service members, their families and friends, without them we’d have no freedoms and we’d certainly miss a lot of light.  Thanks, Rolando

Observing Model Leads to Photo

The Moab existing light, photographic experience continues as we discuss how observing models can sometimes lead to some great ideas or concepts in photography. In this particular image, the model, Jenni, decided to check her make-up while resting as I was off shooting model KT.



A photographer should always look around, sometimes you’ll even get ideas from an assistant toying around a photographic set or location, but in this case, what caught my eye was the reflected light on the model’s face. In fact, I even had KT hold the compact, make-up case mirror from a short distance out of camera view so it would reflect light back on Jenni. Ultimately the final image, shot in existing light with a Leica M8 digital rangefinder camera, was from what I originally observed, though I had the model standing instead of sitting on the ground.

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Existing Light in Moab

This is first in a series of “How it Was Done” and I begin by taking you to the Moab, Utah’s Canyon Lands. While the concept of this section is to focus more on how a photograph is created, I decided for this first article I’d provide information on an entire photo shoot that created some wonderful images, rather than just one image. More of the images from the Moab Natural Light Portfolio are available for viewing in our portfolio section of this site, so here I’ll provide a couple of images and establishing shots to give an overview of the terrain and location involved for this one-hour shoot.

First, we flew three models into Utah, two to Salt Lake City, one to Grand Junction. All three I’d worked with before. The logistics to the Moab make it challenging at times, but since I had a fellow photographer and private instruction client, Brian W., who is more attune to the area, the trip was a bit easier. Brian picked one of the models up from the Grand Junction airport while I flew into Salt Lake City, where I’d pick up the other two models and the rental car.

(Two of many photos from the location, all done in one hour! For more photos, click here!)



While there is a small airport in Moab, it’s limited in what it can provide and based on prior experience, the drive from Salt Lake City, about 240 miles, is scenic and well worth the savings of flying into a major airport than a small regional airport. Grand Junction is about 120 miles and located in Colorado, limiting the airlines and flight schedules, hence I chose Salt Lake City. It’s best if flying into Salt Lake City that you arrive early enough to claim your bags, get a rental car and be able to drive while it’s daylight. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and plan on stopping half way there for a refill just as a precaution.
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