My Experience Attending The Felix Kunze New York Lighting Workshop

My Experience Attending The Felix Kunze New York Lighting Workshop

Attending a portrait workshop with a photographer that you greatly admire can be an intimidating experience. Last month, I had the opportunity to spend a day at the New York Lighting Workshop with photographer extraordinaire, Felix Kunze, and it was not at all what I expected.

A Stress and Ego Free Environment

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.

Even as a professional photographer, I must admit that I was nervous when I arrived at a loft in Brooklyn where the workshop was to take place. My nerves were immediately calmed when I entered the room, however, as Felix greeted me warmly by name and knew who I was even though we had never yet met in person. It was clear from the start that he was genuinely glad to meet me and have me there. His first question to me was, “What would you like for breakfast?”

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.
An image of Breya I captured at the workshop.

And with that, I already knew it was going to be a great experience. Felix proceeded to make breakfast for me and the other attendees, while we got to know each other. What better way to start a workshop than by breaking bread together? During breakfast, I realized that I was one of only five people at this particular event, which also helped to relieve any anxiety but more importantly showed me that I would have a good deal of hands-on time to take photographs and learn from Felix.

After breakfast, the workshop officially began with Felix speaking with each of us individually in order to see our work and learn about our goals as portrait artists. This proved to be an excellent way to start the class, as he referenced our morning meetings throughout the day to make sure the content was relevant to us as individuals at different points in our photographic journeys.

My approach to teaching lighting is fundamentally different from how other people teach. So, I always run through it as if someone comes with no experience at all, and beginners and veterans alike have the same ‘aha moments.’ 

An image of Breya I captured at the lighting workshop.

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.

A Lighting Revelation

Felix knows how to take complex studio lighting and make it easy to understand and implement. Many photographers can show you where to place a light, what kind of modifier to use, and what basic settings to start with, but Felix takes an entirely different approach and begins his class by explaining how light itself works, and how we as photographers have the ability to “see” what our particular lighting setup will create before we even press the shutter. His explanation included showing us how light travels through different modifiers and various levels of diffusion, and more importantly, what to look for in the softness and spread of the light. Felix’s explanation of light was one of the greatest takeaways of the day, especially as many photographers struggle with seeing what a final image will look like before pressing the shutter.

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.
I asked Felix specifically about teaching complex light to a varied group of students. “What I’ve heard from previous attendees is that my approach to teaching lighting is fundamentally different from how other people teach. So I always run through it as if someone comes with no experience at all, and beginners and veterans alike have the same ‘aha moments.’"

And I can vouch for this, as I had a number of “ah ha!” moments throughout the day, for which I am extremely grateful.

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.

Multiple Lighting Setups

After a discussion about light and even a quick talk about the exposure triangle (which was also explained in an enlightening way), our model exited the makeup chair and took her position in our first lighting setup, which simply included one light and a v flat. The setup, which was simple, yielded dramatic results because of the placement of the light and v flat. Each of us had a chance to photograph the model in this and the subsequent lighting setups, some of which included the ability to move modifiers or flags around to yield different results.

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.
Although the workshop included a number of lighting setups, which became more elaborate as the day progressed, I would best describe them as “nuanced,” rather than “complex,” since Felix never used more than 3 lights and a few v flats to get beautiful results. Because of this, the class was indeed accessible to all of the participants, regardless of their particular level of experience with lighting, and as a final touch, Felix captured a group photo of all of us together and explained how he captures evenly lit, dynamic portraits of larger groups. One highlight of the day for me was when Felix himself acted as our assistant, and held a light for each of us as we captured images of the model, providing tips and feedback along the way.

Lighting Democratized

There are some photographers who present light as some sort of ethereal mystery, which only a select few can understand and implement as if it was handed down to them from the gods. There are others who act as gatekeepers, and feel the need to protect their lighting methods from others for fear of losing clients or status. Felix, in stark contrast, is an open book; humble, kind, and generous with his time and knowledge. Although he is one of the greatest portrait artists of our generation, he spent the entire day invested in his students and their needs. He spoke very little about himself, his career, clients, and accomplishments, and his passion for creating beautiful images, as well as teaching others to do the same, was evident throughout the entire day.

Photo courtesy of Pratik Naik.

A Great Investment

Some photographers would rather purchase a new piece of gear instead of investing in a workshop. Unfortunately, a new lens is not going to teach you how to use it, and a new modifier is not going to teach you how to understand light. I have attended multiple workshops, classes, and even one-on-one coaching with photographers I admire, and there is no substitute for learning hands-on with someone who is a master of their craft. The New York Lighting Workshop with Felix Kunze was an investment into my portrait artistry and my business, and I have already began to implement many of the techniques I learned into my own work.

There is a lot more I can share about the day, which ended by all of us having dinner together (another highlight), but I think Felix himself summed it up best, when he told me, “I believe strongly that good lighting enables photographers to organically attract more clients. I’d like my workshop students to use what I teach them to get more and better clients. The cost of the class should be recouped easily by the improvements in attendee’s careers. That’s my goal.”

Hair and makeup: @redjessmakeup

Model: @breyalea

Styling: @styleingenewity

Assistant: @_magnuskarlsson

Pete Coco's picture

Pete Coco is a portrait photographer and musician based in New York. When not performing as a jazz bassist, Pete can be found in his studio working with a wide range of clients, although is passion is creating unique portraits of other musicians and artists.

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Pete thank you for doing this write up! I really love Felix's way of teaching lighting and advanced concepts in a way that has inspired me to take that into my own world and approach it from a totally organic and flexible point of view.

My pleasure, Pratik! Thanks for the great images!