Lighting Basics

This two-day intensive will explore what light can do and how to control it to make better pictures.
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Light is the essential tool of photography. Deftly used, it defines the forms of objects, delineates details, and even evokes a mood for the viewers of the images we create. But while it envelopes us every day, most of us are unaware of its importance much of the time — much like the air we breathe.

In these sessions, we’ll talk about what light is and how it behaves. With some very basic knowledge of the nature of light, we’ll begin to explore what it can do and how we can control it to make better pictures. In just a short time, you’ll become more confident with your ability to make images that not only depict objects in front of the camera, but also express what you want to say about the subject.

You’ll be able to try various lights to familiarize yourself with their similarities and differences, and you’ll be able to judge for yourself what tools work best for you and which techniques might be most appropriate for the types of subjects that you want to shoot. You’ll have the opportunity to photograph real models in the studio and ask questions as we go. Finally, we’ll talk about what kind of equipment you need for the type of shooting you do, where you can get it, and what you can improvise when the situation demands it.


  • How does light affect a scene and what exactly are exposure and contrast?
  • How does the camera record light and how do we control what comes into the camera?
  • What works and what doesn’t — are you creating a natural look or lighting for effect?
  • Different types of light sources, both continuous and flash, examples of each, and a discussion of their differences.
  • Light meters – different types, their uses and how to meter mixed flash and ambient light.
  • Different characters of light sources, direct and diffused, and their uses.
  • Additive versus subtractive lighting techniques and tools.
  • What is color, how do we control it, and how do we use it effectively?
  • Lighting accessories — the “what, when, where, and why” of reflectors and flags, filters and foil, scrims and snoots, cookies and cutters, and many other modifiers.
  • Applying it. This is your chance to try it all out, so jump right in. Since I don’t work for the CIA, my sources and methods are not secret. So feel free to ask me, and I’ll tell you what I know.

A good example of clever studio lighting to simulate a product on location.


  • A camera with a manual setting and a PC socket or hot shoe. Some models of Sony cameras have a proprietary hot shoe and you’ll need the adapter to use our lighting equipment.
  • A charged battery and room on your memory card.
  • A thorough understanding of your camera’s controls including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance. We’ll do a brief review of these basics and how they relate to flash photography.
  • It’s essential that you bring your owner’s manual. If you don’t have the original, please download one from the Internet and store it on your phone.

These pictures were taken about the same time of day. Jim used a flash and camera exposure control to create a day for night effect.

  • Cost per person is $450 early registration, $495 late registration.
  • Doors open at 8:45am.
  • Workshop starts each day promptly at 9:00am and ends at 4:00pm.
  • Advance registration and payment is required.
  • Maximum number of students is 14, minimum number to make a class is 8.
  • Lunch and modeling fees are included in the registration price.
  • Parking is available on the street or in the adjacent lot at Electric Light & Power.


Day 1


  • Class introductions and instructor slideshow of his work, emphasizing imagery that relates to the class.
  • Working with one light: we will take a look at a basic flash unit, radio transmitters, stands and various modifiers from small to large.
  • Next we’ll examine lighting placement in relation to the subject, the effect of changing distance from subject to the background, feathering, and rim lighting.


  • Shaping the light: using cutters to modify background and reflectors and cards to open shadows or subtract light.
  • Students will break into groups to apply what you have learned as you photograph each other.

Day 2


  • More lights: we’ll add background, fill, and backlights, and work with lighting ratios.
  • We’ll have a demonstration on edge and hair lighting.
  • Q/A time to cover anything participants don’t understand or are curious about.


  • Students break into groups and photograph a model (or models) on simple sets we have created in the studio.

  • It’s recommended that you’ve already taken the DCP Beginner DSLR Workshop, DSLR 1 and 2 classes, or equivalent training.
  • Have a thorough understanding of your camera’s controls including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance. We’ll do a brief review of these basics and how they relate to flash photography.
  • To participate in shooting photos with your own camera it must have manual exposure control and a hot shoe or PC sync connection. If you have a Sony camera, you may need the hot shoe adapter accessory.

Q: What’s included in the price?
A: Workshop registration, lighting gear, lunch, modeling fees.

Q: Are there previous requirements for this workshop?
A: Yes. Please see the Requirements tab.

Q: How will I know if the workshop makes or not?
A: If the workshop doesn’t make and has to be canceled, you will receive an email no later than two days before the scheduled class date.

Q: What if I have to cancel?
A: If you cancel 3-7 days ahead of the scheduled date of the class, you will receive no refund or 50% transfer credit toward another similar class within 3 months of the cancellation date. There is no refund or transfer credit for cancellations within 48 hours of start time of the class or workshop. Full details on cancellations are on our Policies page.

Jim Olvera

Jim has been behind the lens of a camera for almost 40 years and counting. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and experiences with others, and he’s worked with students at every level from middle school classes to graduate degree programs. Coming from a family of teachers, he understands what a joy it is to hear someone say, “Oh, now I get it!”

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