This guest blog is by Eileen Earnest, an expatriate photographer who lives in Abu Dhabi. Follow her on Twitter.
Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It is the latest in the Kelby Training Series. I am a fan of Kelby’s how-to books for several reasons. The first and best is that Scott Kelby is funny. I find it fairly impressive to make an instruction manual entertaining, and he does just that. His writing tone gives the impression that is just how he comes across in a conversation. Quite a skill to have and I gravitate to his books because of that ability to make me laugh now and then amongst fairly dry material.
I own two other Kelby books, one on Photoshop and the other on Lightroom. They both provide clear, easy to follow instructions and many, many photos. They are good books. But Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It is different-good. Here’s how: In any type of instruction book, typically the author starts with the most basic, foundational stuff. Then they build, build, build. If I am interested in a specific aspect of the program I am reading about, it might be page 193 before I get my answer. Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It gives photographers exactly what they need, each step of the process, and it’s complete from start to finish in under 20'ish pages. Some chapters are even shorter, but still chock full of all the information and detailed instruction on getting the best photo, during and after the shoot.
The Info Before the Info and the Info After the Info
Each type of shoot is described in the book as it’s own chapter. However, before we even start the first lighting set up, Kelby gives us eleven things we need to know prior to diving in. He has some equipment suggestions and points the reader to his online companion to the book.
Every chapter is accompanied with detailed photos of the background and lighting configuration so Scott also explains how to read these. These eleven tips are followed by an equally important list of ten tidbits that he wishes he had known before using studio lights. And yes, I also wish I had known these things, so thank you, Scott! On a personal note, I’ve only worked in a studio for the last 4 months. Setting up the lighting and making the transition from only natural light photography is no small task. This quick section of the book is well placed and very important to any photographer who is getting his or her own studio off the ground.
Towards the end of the book, there is a look at each of the setups with hot shoe flashes instead of strobes. In addition, there is a comprehensive gear list as seen in the different shoots. Scott Kelby shoots Nikon, which I have decided to not hold against him, but it is easy to figure out the comparative Canon equipment when necessary. (Also, he flip-flops between using a Nikon and Canon body for the back-of-camera photograph in each chapter so no one feels left out. The list of modifiers was incredibly essential to me as I find myself randomly buying gear at times. I would have made better choices with a little more direction before purchasing. This is a perfect wish list of studio equipment.
Chapter By Chapter, Shoot By Shoot
The next twelve chapters describe in thorough, but concise, detail each different style of photography he is shooting. We begin with a 3-Light Classic Beauty Setup, and continue through eleven other types of lighting. I imagine Scott started with the 3-Light Classic because it’s such a common set up in the studio. My favorite “style” in the book, however, is the 3-Light Sports Setup. It’s so simple but the final image is evokes a sense of strong, silent power. The full length set up was particularly helpful, as I tend to struggle with evenly lighting from head to toe. With each of the twelve set ups, we get to see Kelby actually shooting the subject and the light configuration, including the power settings on the strobes. There is literally no better way to explain how he took this photo than by showing us a photograph of how he took this photo. Actually, FOUR photographs for each lighting set up. Plus, each chapter starts with the final image placed next to the contact sheet from the shoot. Seriously, it could only be more helpful if Scott Kelby himself came to my studio, set up my lights and held my camera for me!
Wait! It Gets Better!
What comes next, however, was even more eye-popping. Scott details his retouching, step by step. Not in a general, “if you’d like to remove a blemish you might choose the spot healing tool…” but in a, “I am removing this blemish on this eyelid with this tool,” method of instruction. Combine this level of detail with Scott’s conversational writing tone, and it’s as if he’s standing over your shoulder pointing to the right keystrokes! I can only imagine the depth of his love of teaching and sharing of knowledge that Kelby must have to go into such detail as he shares his tricks of the trade. Even if you feel pretty confident in your lighting ability and your shooting is sharp, the quick, specific and step-by-step Photoshop aspect of this book is worth its weight in gold. Ok, this man is the President of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, and he clearly knows Photoshop much more thoroughly than the rest of us mere mortals. Still, he makes it look so darn easy and intuitive! I came away from the book believing if I can read, I can make these edits happen.
Does It Work?
To test my “literacy is the only requirement” theory, I decided to choose a lighting set up and follow Scott’s directions as closely as my equipment will allow. My test will sample the 3-Light Classic Beauty Setup. I don’t have a beauty dish, so I am using a 24×24 soft box. My bottom light is a 24×34 soft box on a strobe.
The first hiccup: No flexible arm on my light stands. To remedy this, I had to remove the boxes from the stands and prop them on the floor. My model would have to kneel … not ideal, but it worked! The photo [PHOTO 1] below shows the position of the lights and backdrop.
Ok, here is the straight out of camera (SOOC) image:
I have a few disclaimers to make about following Scott’s steps in Photoshop.
#1. I am a self taught PS user. Before upgrading to CS6, I found everything (I thought) I needed in Elements. This is another reason why LI, SI, RI is the perfect tool at this stage in my learning process.
#2. I have a horribly unsteady hand and do not typically retouch this much because I do not shoot glamour or beauty shoots. Really, I am the perfect candidate for this test because I am basically a novice user. I followed step by step, skipping only that did not apply to my photo. The blemishes were removed, skin softened, dodged and burned, eyes brightened, unsharp mask applied.
Suzanne, my willing model, has long dark, wispy hair as you can see from the image below:
I didn’t remove as many wisps as Scott may have, but instead focused on smoothing down above her head and removing flyaway hairs on her face. Again, I think a more experienced user could do a better job. However, the question is, can someone follow along with the instruction in the book and get a decent result? I believe yes! The steps are there; the technique and ease will come with a lot of practice.
At the end of the day, we have so many books to choose from as photographers. Picking one that will literally come in handy on a weekly basis ensures my time and money is not wasted. I feel confident that Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It by Scott Kelby will not get dusty on my shelf nor will it on yours.