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

Virgin Islands-Nov 09′ (SOLD-OUT)

Date: 11/5-10/2009 (SOLD OUT)
Venue: U.S. Virgin Islands
Details: The first Virigin Islands worskhop sold-out in less than 2-weeks!  All of the VI workshops for 2008 sold-out, most sold-out a year in advance!  All of the 2008 workshops are sold-out! Here’s your chance if you missed out to book early for 2009!  Only Twelve Photographers and Six Models per workshop.  First-come, first-serve! 

This will be our 20th Virgin Islands workshop.    The dates are Nov. 5th-10th, 2009.  Fly in on Nov. 5th (Thurs.) to St. Thomas (Airport code STT) then we ferry over to a smaller island where it’s private, camp-style workshop–open to all levels of photography, from beginners to advanced–your departure day is Nov.10th (Tuesday) unless you choose to stay longer in St. Thomas on your own.

These workshops promise to be better than the best workshops ever done–this is not a foreign country, this is the U.S. Virgin Islands! No currency conversions, no foreign language, no crazy inflated value-added taxes or worries about the food and water or your camera equipment held in customs till you pay the “bribe.” Currently a U.S. passport it not required, provided you present a government issued identification card, such as a driver’s license.

(All images below, photographed at previous Virgin Islands’ Workshops, actual models, equipment and location featured!)

We’ve got a place that rocks! The location was featured on HGTV this year and Brad Pitt filmed parts for one of his movies on this secluded island part of the islands.  It’s not your “typical tourist hotel” trap found in other workshops–this is a private paradise 10-minutes from St. Thomas giving us great sunsets, sunrises, private infinity-pool shots with the ocean blue/green waters and golden sunsets in the background. 

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