View Full Version : OneLight Photography Workshop DVD review

December 12th, 2009, 01:22 PM
Just wanted to post a quick summary review of Zach Arias's "OneLight Photography Workshop" DVD set. Zach is a pretty popular guy over on The Strobist and does some really phenomenal work with the most basic of gear.

Zach first off starts in the first DVD by explaining the basics and it runs almost 2 hours in length. How light, both ambient and flash are affected by 5 things; Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, Inverse Square Law and Flash distance to subject. He does a fantastic job of beating the basics into your head, often repeating the same line, over and over. What he is trying to do is make you think about light in a way that becomes second nature just as trying your shoes, putting clothes on or brushing your teeth can all be done without any real thought. Inverse Square law was something that I was aware existed but never really understood it or how it worked but he does a fantastic job of breaking it down into understandable chunks and will make your results more consistent, especially when shooting large groups.

He then goes into required gear, which i must say, is shockingly basic. Most of the work he does is with a single strobe and a very simple modifier. He uses inexpensive flashes; older Vivitars, Sunpacks, Nikons which are all available for well under 100 dollars each. He does use an AlienBee 1600 and a Vagabond when he needs substantially more power, which are a little pricey but there again, in the grand scheme of things, they are cheap compared to some of the other alternatives out there that can cost several thousands of dollars. The modifiers he uses are basic; a convertible umbrella, 2 soft boxes(one large, one small) and grids of a few different degrees. All very basic, very affordable and the results he obtains with them are very nice. Zach also briefly touches on ways to fire your flash off camera but for the purposes of the video, to minimize cords and clutter, he uses Pocked Wizards for the entire video.

Zach then takes us to a very basic, no frills studio which is reminiscent of something you would see in someones basement, garage or spare room. Again, very basic, very plain but delivers outstanding results with it. He does a few on camera shots to show how flat, unnatural and plain they look and then proceeds to show you how to add more of a dramatic look to your photos by moving the flash off camera. He goes through each of the modifiers and how they affect the light while the entire time, he is still pounding those basic laws of light into your head. Another key element he stresses in his video is composition. He says multiple times through the video "If you say to yourself, i can fix that in Photoshop, slap yourself as hard as you can". He helps to teach you to look for unsightly objects in your photo and how to shoot in the most basic or cluttered of settings and still get photos that will make you say "wow"! His thinking is that you need to become a better Photographer, not a better Post Processor; the closer you get it in camera, the less time your going to spend in PP(something i REALLY need work on!).

The second DVD is filled with him on location at several different photo shoots. This part of the DVD collection is more oriented to how he acts, performs and does his job day to day. He is a professional in every sense of the word but he does have a good sense of humor and will keep you entertained along the way. The cops even get involved in a couple scenes... :eek: lol Take things seriously but not so seriously that you bore your clients was the message i took from this DVD. He touches very briefly on how he post processes his images using Lightroom and Photoshop, which I was a bit surprised, is shockingly close to how i do my post processing.

Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend this DVD set for any serious portrait photographer or for anyone looking to add a more dramatic flair to your photography. The music in the DVD does get very repetitive as its the same intro tune, over and over when the scene changes but that is a minor flaw IMO. The video camera is good, the audio is clear and overall, its a very well put together package and I would highly recommend it to anyone! :thumbsup:

December 12th, 2009, 06:59 PM
Here is applying a few of the technique taught in the DVD...all my "in house models"(Kim and Gavin) are gone for the day so i ripped off the 4 years olds oversized Woody for my model. :flipoff2: Note, these are, aside from a few very minor LR tweaks, straight out of the camera. Shot with a Canon 1DMKii and a 17-40L and 50mm lens, plain white muslin background. These photos are nothing special or spectacular, but just demonstrating some of the ideas he teaches.

First, let me show an example of on camera flash. This was lit using a 580EXii speedlight fired directly at the subject...mind you, the speed light itself is a 400 dollar light:


Note the harsh light, sharp shadows and the large cast shadow on the backdrop. Ugly, flat feeling, unappealing...

This one was shot with a Calumet Genesis, bounced with a 60" convertible umbrella. The light, stand, and umbrella can be had for around 200 dollars, so substantially cheaper and look at the results you can get with it(still using the same background too!):


Much softer light, shadow fall off is much smoother and appealing and the overall feel is much more "dramatic". Notice the nice catchlights in the pupils and how the image has a much more three dimensional feel to it. Now granted, you can fire a speed light into an umbrella and get identical results, but im trying to stress cheap like Zach does.

Using another technique that is demonstrated on the DVD is using just a single light in the background to such extreme proportions that it blows out all detail in it(the background) and using walls around you for bounce. This was shot against a cluttered background with the Genesis at full power. You would think this was shot against a solid white background but i assure you, there was a ton of junk back there! lol There was a low ceiling and white walls on either side that give it good lighting with very few shadows:



Anywho, just playing around a little bit since im bored and the weather is crap...ill take some more with something alive tomorrow...should be a little more entertaining :flipoff2: Hopefully the weather blows out because there are some awesome outdoor techniques that im dying to try!

December 13th, 2009, 04:16 PM
Alright...weather was freaking COLD AND WINDY today so i didnt get a chance to really get into it as i didnt want to send my light and umbrella into the next state, but again, heres a few more applying the techniques taught in the video. Shot with an AlienBee B800, bounce umbrella and an occasional bare light. Very simple and inexpensive lighting but you can see the dramatic effects that can be achieved. I ran these through LR and Portraiture and did a few very minor tweaks to them...









December 14th, 2009, 05:10 PM
Yup, fricking amazing!!!

Nice job Jeff! Going to have to grab the DVD from Zack and a maybe a flash...still haven't replaced my SB800s for 580EXIIs.

December 14th, 2009, 07:17 PM
Im just totally blown away by the simplicity of it all...all this time i was having "you need more lights, you need more modifiers, you need this, you need that" shoved down my throat but am just amazed at what you can accomplish with a single light and either the simplest of modifiers or none at all. Im sure big expensive lights and huge modifiers are great but this just goes to show that you can take great pics with very little gear.

Zach is a super talented guy and in the last few days, ive learned a wealth of information from him! Even perusing his website is just an amazing amount of information...his critique videos on there are awesome and you can learn some REALLY good ways to market yourself better, make your portfolio stunning and overall, be a better photographer. Hes a no BS, cut the crap, tell you what he honestly thinks kind of guy and he really has given me new energy to get out there and pursue this with everything ive got!

December 14th, 2009, 07:34 PM
That's great Jeff. Like I said Zack (it's Zack...no h unless you want to hear about it) is a great guy, down to earth and talented beyond my wildest dreams.

I'm glad you got and will probably continue to get so much from his CDs. I may be going back to Atlanta to visit my friend and if I do I plan to make it around one of his workshops so I can attend.

December 14th, 2009, 07:37 PM
Sorry ZACK! :P Ive got another good friend and his is spelled with an H so its just habit.

Does he only do Atlanta based workshops or does he travel around any? This is one workshop i would be first in line for because i can understand and appreciate the way he thinks.

December 14th, 2009, 07:46 PM
He travels the WORLD!!! I want to go to one in ATL so I can see his studio.

My son spells it with an H so I did the same thing at first....he corrected me in his own way ;)

I have been hollering from the rooftops that simplicity is the key to excellence. I liked playing with all the lights at the studio, but without question all my sessions where I just used one light and moved my ass around came out so much better than the gazillion light projects I tried.

PhantomD AKA Zach
December 17th, 2009, 01:41 AM
heh... just replying because the whole H and K thing is hilarious...

I deal with it constantly... I dont care anymore...

-Zach (with an H)

December 18th, 2009, 09:39 PM
My Dear Jeffro,

I have to tell you that several of the observations you make in the post above are just excellent. There is such a huge temptation in photography to become an equipment junkie. One has to remind himself continually that some (most) of the greatest photographs of all time were made with equipment that would be considered laughably primitive today.

Great photography comes down to two things: voice and vision. By voice I mean the whole realm of equipment. At some point you have to settle on one system, explore all of its possibilities, understand it profoundly, and master all of its capabilities. As exhibit A I would cite Edward Weston. For virtually his entire career he worked with a shutterless 8X10 stand camera, measuring light by uncovering the lens and covering it back up. His "Green Pepper #30" is widely considered one of the greatest photos ever made. The point is, he worked with a simple, straight-forward technique over which he was an absolute master. He did not chase every will-o-the-wisp of novelty that came along.

But that is the easy part; vision is what is really hard. Most aspiring photographers make the same pictures, so that when one looks at them, they all turn into a pot of mush. You have to find something that deeply interests you, something that is innately evocative, something you really care about. Then, you have to find a way to let that subject speak for itself. As an example I would cite Charles Sheeler whose architectural/industrial photographs are American icons.

But back to your post. Thus, your comment about maximizing the possibilities of a simple setup is spot-on. The beautiful series of images you include attest to the sincerity with which you embraced that idea. They are lovely. Quite independently of the particular DVD you review, I hope the other folks on this forum take your general comments to heart.