In an industry saturated with educational materials, navigating the minefield to find which resources are valuable, and worthy of your hard earned money, can be rough. As a photographer, I have purchased countless tutorials, books, and magazines. I have poured through blogs, YouTube videos, attended numerous workshops and endured some questionable Facebook Live sessions. When I tell you I have discovered a gem, it isn't because this is my first time mining.
Chris Knight's first book, "The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting Light and Shadow," is such a gem. Knight, an instructor at both Pratt Institute as well as the New York Film Academy, brings his academic prowess to his writing. He is equal parts intelligent, funny, and informative in his instructional approach. Much like his photography, his book begins with his love for art and art history. Knight believes that to understand where we are going with our portraits, we must first look at our roots in the world of classical paintings.
Chapter one of his book begins with a journey in the history of portraiture, just as the subtext of the chapter heading suggests, Knight makes it more fun than one would think. The section is rich in imagery, with accompanying explanations of why each piece is important, but more importantly, it takes less than a school semester to digest. Knight is more than capable of getting his point across without belaboring the subject to boredom. This segment of the book continues in discussions of the evolution of style. Admittedly, I am not as much of an art nerd as I would like to be, so being exposed to the early works of now legendary painters was fascinating. Reminding me that where we end this journey is certainly different than where we start.
Knight moves on in his publication to discuss his mastery of light and how his brain dissects not only the tools he will use but how his mind sees the light not yet there. He walks his reader through how the brain, through the eyes, interprets a photo. He accomplishes this lesson both in written word and visually in a way I have not seen before. Each point he makes punctuated with the power of a photo. The lessons Knight produces in his second chapter are riddled with what can best be described as simplified technicality. What I mean by this is that the author has such a firm grasp on the technical, but his years of instructing have also granted him the unusual ability to put into words concepts that even a journeyman can immediately understand and put into practice. Knight departs from what many other instructors and authors I have seen in the past do, in that his volume doesn't just show you the pretty photos he is capable of making, but instead displays the context of the writing. In the case of his lighting diagrams, he highlights how often some of the lighting is barely visible, but when combined into the whole, yields incredible results. With discussions of falloff, contrast through falloff, flags, and other controls, this chapter alone is a reason to purchase the book.
As previously mentioned, I have attended numerous workshops in the past. Very recently I heard a seminar instructor incorrectly describe the classic lighting styles of paramount, loop, Rembrandt, split, and what constitutes broad and short light respectfully within each of these styles. So I know misinformation is out there. What Knight does in this volume is not only clarify what forms each lighting style but how to create it and how to find out when you have slipped out of the classic technique. Knight does warn that if you are looking for exact measurements regarding positions and placements of lighting/modifiers, you are in the wrong place: "If it were that formulaic, photography would not be a craft." The highlight of this chapter for me was the use of the lighting to create mood, not just to light a face. Knight is known for his dramatic flair, so fans of his work will certainly appreciate the insight into the thought process which creates his stunning imagery.
The book continues to progress in a very logical manner. Jumping into color and the use of color to develop the scene, Knight again discusses drawing the reader in and telling the story you intended to tell. Discussing the psychology of color in the same relaxed manner that many talk sports, he breaks down with intent which colors help produce which emotions and how powerful they can be in your imagery.
The remainder of the book consists of styling your shoot, picking the right props, the right backgrounds, environments (studio versus location), everything needed to pull the piece together. The section covering Knight's post-processing is a detailed, step-by-step instruction on what he does to create each image. I found his workflow to be surprisingly simple for someone who produces the photographs that he does, giving even more credence to the importance of everything discussed previously within the pages.
Knight closes the book with notes on developing your style. There is only one Chris Knight, his style will not be yours, but the roadway to finding your own is located here, within his written words. I have always found an affinity for those so willing to share all the knowledge they have obtained during their quest toward mastery. Knight is certainly on the heels of many of the master craftsmen who have come before him. His recent appearance on CreativeLive shows a student's teacher; someone invested in your growth as much as you are. If you are looking to excel has a portrait photographer, I can think of no better book on the market than Knight's "The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting Light and Shadow."
You can purchase the book from Amazon.
His in-depth tutorial expanding on the concepts in the book will be available from RGG EDU later this month on June 29.
All images used with permission of Chris Knight.