Commercial and fine-art photographer Rosanne Olson recalls that when she started her career as a newspaper photographer, “I knew nothing about lighting.” Everything changed when she took a lighting workshop with Gregory Heisler, who taught her and other students “to work simply and with minimal lighting equipment,” and to blend strobe with ambient light. Olson says she brings those principles, along with her 30+ years experience in the business, to her own students. Olson will lead the Santa Fe Workshops’ “ABCs of Beautiful Light” workshop from July 8-13. Here is what she says about her upcoming workshop, which will take place in Santa Fe:
“My goal in teaching is to really lead students to analyze the light in every image they see. They do this by evaluating the shape of the catch lights, the degree of hardness or softness of light (sun vs shade for example; and soft box vs grid), and the height of the light and where the resulting shadow falls. When photographers learn this kind of analysis, they can light intelligently, i.e., not just moving around lights but by understanding what each decision means and what effect it will have.
“Students learn to analyze tearsheets from books and magazines and what makes that light (sun, strobe, shade, etc.) I often use Irving Penn’s work, for instance, because I love it and it is great for teaching how to use light simply to create strong portraits. We put [theory] into practice almost immediately, beginning with natural light plus fill, then work with continuous artificial sources and finally with strobes, learning to combine strobe with ambient light. Students learn the subtle language of light and fill and the difference that even small changes can make to create emotional impact in an image. Even seemingly unimportant things, such as the use of a fill card, can make a big difference.
“One exercise I give my students is to create an exact replica of an image that they like. It really helps deepen the sensitivity toward lighting that we see everywhere, in every photography, painting and movies.
“Here is an example of a replication that a student (Ulrica Lindstrom) did from a photo of Yul Brynner [shown above right; photographer unknown]. She analyzed the lighting in the original photo and then tried to recreate the image using a model (her husband). She sketched her lighting diagram, indicating the position of and the kind of lights she used. [The exercise] requires awareness of light height, quality, positioning of the model, lighting the background, etc.
“I try to encourage in my students a sense of curiosity about the light in the world around us: Examine how images move us and why. Examine how cinematography creates a sense of romance or dread. Look at catch lights in your fellow human. What is it that makes that light shine? It’s really like learning a new language—suddenly your ear (or eye) is open to the world in a whole new way.”
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