Lighting isn't easy, a world-class-perfectly-lit studio portrait happens with a lot of instinct and experience. A strong grasp of lighting comes with experimentation and practice. Those that know my aesthetic know I'm a huge fan of one light photography. With that said, every image I produce I try and maintain the look of one light, even though it very well be lit with six lights. If I'm shooting for a hair, the hair needs to be well lit. If I'm shooting for makeup, the light needs to fill the face and really show detail. The same applies to product photography or fashion. I always give the client what they need, but always retain my dramatic lighting style.
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I'm guilty. As a commercial and fashion editorial photographer as well as a writer for Fstoppers, I love lighting, bokeh, rigging, and all technicalities involved with cinematography and photography. For many months, content fell second to setup. From my experience, there are three types of photographers: those that confide in instinct and sunlight, those that rely on post processing, and those that excel at artificial lighting and formalities.
We have been sold on the biggest myth of all time; In order to succeed at anything and have a lustrous career you must spend 4 years in an overinflated educational institution and spend a small fortune, which doesn’t include costly textbooks, supplies and living expenses. All in exchange for a fancy sheet of paper we call a degree… a piece of paper that gives us instant credit and a golden ticket to the gravy train. Right?
I’ve learned a lot over the past 15 years as a professional artist. I’ve learned a lot about fear, failure, and success. I’ve been fortunate enough to mentor and educate thousands of photographers all over the world. Even as a young four-year photographer who many would still consider “green,” I’ve taught photographers from all walks of life, all levels of advancement, and even some who had reached a level of comfortable success.
Some may say it’s quite the phenomenon. I only shoot commercial and editorial fashion and I seem to make a living out of it without shooting weddings, families, babies or seniors. I don’t live in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles and I don’t travel like George Clooney in the film “Up In The Air.” The number one question I’m asked on a daily basis: “Clay, how do I get more paying clients?”
I’ve always been enthralled with first person movie scenes, games and music videos. Clocking countless hours with Duke Nukem 3D in my parent’s basement on an old Packard Bell PC planted a seed that forever changed me. To this day I think The Prodigy's breakbeat electronic hit “Smack My Bitch Up” is one of the greatest first person videos of all time.
Day in and day out I see images that raise the question; what is the photographer truly trying to convey in the photograph? In fashion photography, editorial story-telling is commonplace, but you must have a strong foundation for that to manifest properly in your image. Forget the lighting, focus or pose, first you need to question the frame.
Compositing is no beginner’s tactic. Before you dive in, provide time for the proper research and learn the skill set to prior to the job. Like many photographers in the game, initially I had serious trouble with lighting groups of 3 or more. There was always a face with a hard shadow or one more exposed than another.
Photographers and artists alike are extremely passionate people. With strict deadlines and hectic schedules, we all have the tendency to jump the gun and act or open our mouth before taking a step back from the situation. There is one word which you will be hearing a lot throughout this article. It is a trait at the core of what we do and it’s very much a necessary virtue: patience.
During an initial meeting with local publication NFocus Magazine, the Editor-In-Chief asked for a unique aesthetic on Louisville's theater and arts community and wanted a massive group shot, but not your traditional group shot. I threw out the idea to shoot actors and their "characters" from directly overhead on a theater floor, as if they were action figures laid out and organized. Two seconds after I uttered the idea, I realized I had no clue how I would pull it all off.
Throughout my career so far I have failed over and over again. Although it’s the successes that I'm remembered and known for, it’s the failures that are always the catalyst. At the end of the day, the key to success lies in failure. This improvisational beauty shoot was only a success because I set myself up to fail.
It all started with a conversation between filmmaker Justin Gustavision and I this past Friday. Justin works for Nadus Films who just released a brilliant award-winning documentary “BBoy For Life” which shows how break dancing has provided teenagers a way out of Guatemalan gang life. The film has been picked up by Starz and Discovery Channel, yet their social media presence could be considered dry, when it should be arousing a well-deserved tornado of hype.
I get asked day in an day out; "What is that big black box on the front of your lens?" Well, it's a matte box that mounts glass filters in front of your lens... the LEE Filters System. In attempt to cover the question I recieve so often, I wanted to address it all and explain the system, but my friend and fantastic photographer Dave Kai Piper beat me to the punch! So, instead of writing my own article on the matter, I thought it best to simply share his article...
I always tether. Whether it's for a client or fashion editorial, the CamRanger has played a very important role in capturing rock solid images. But, before the wonderful technology of wireless tethering came into the picture, I always tethered to a workstation. However, that came with the annoyance of a long tether cable dangling off your camera. I always felt the sense of being trapped or held back from moving freely, I was always concerned and it was always a distraction.
We’ve all been there, stuck with bad light and fresh out of ideas. I may spend up to an hour pre-lighting before a model or subject steps onto set, I work out the kinks and make sure everything is how it should be. But, despite my best efforts to make it right, every now and then I run out of time and have to wing it. We all have our “go to” lighting scenarios, but when you’re standing in unknown territory, keep the following tips in mind and you just might make it through the storm.