Gregory Heisler

Light Work with Gregory Heisler at the Maine Media Workshops – Part Two

Various lighting setups being tweaked by Greg inside the studio/barn that was our home base for the week. I used my iPhone to take visual notes throughout the week - my memory works better through images than words.
The third day, like all the following days, began with a critique of the previous day’s work. Sometimes it would be just the class, and sometimes we’d have a few models or actors join us. By the end of the week, they were all familiar faces, some of whom we’d hang out with at meals or after class. Many people would drift in and out throughout the day, and it was very friendly indeed; we all were teasing buddies by the end of the week. Speaking of meals, the food at Maine Media was AMAZING. The main chef, David Coyle, was an absolute delight, and was so solicitous of my food allergies; his goal was not only to have stuff I could eat, but to have absolutely delicious stuff I could eat not only at meals but in between. They had a whole shelf full of gluten-free goodies for my fellow celiacs, and it was unbelievably thoughtful. Usually, I’m just happy if I can eat something, anything, but the food for the whole week was wonderful.
Overpowering the sun with strobes, as the rest of we photographers (Jeannine,  and an actor - hi Amanda!, TJ, me) trying not to burn in the sun.
In the afternoon, we had a demo that involved overpowering the sun with strobes outdoors using the shipyard next to our studio and classroom. We also learned about how the color of the light mirrors the position of the sun in the sky, and how to imitate that information while creating our own light in the studio or mixing light sources while outdoors.
We then drove about a half-hour to an vintage hardware store (full of bits and bobs and books and taxidermy) and used some strobes that the Workshops had provided us with to create light indoors, Sadly, this was the one place that we felt frustrated, because the order that had been placed by Greg to the rental agency (MAC Group - boo hiss) that provided lights for the workshop had never come through, despite Greg, teaching assistants, and MMW's photo manager asking multiple times. We had to use old lights that we couldn’t adjust ratios from the battery pack, which was pretty challenging, and didn’t want to spend a lot of time figuring out a new lighting system instead of shooting within the limited window of time we had at the hardware store. We also interspersed the strobes with a Speedlite. Luckily, Chris Reis, our teacher’s assistant, helped us make the best of the equipment we had, and we got a few nice shots in before the end of the day. I really liked one of the images in particular I took of Sam, top left of the below set of images.
The fourth day was spent in the studio, primarily, with several demos of lighting techniques which we then played around with in our groups of three. We worked with a couple of wonderful actor/models, Juliette and Stuart, and with multiple lights, including an absolutely enormous light source; I swear the umbrella was about 12 feet in diameter.
Greg showing me, TJ, and actor Heidi Hackney an image. Our 12-foot light source is behind us, camera right, which was used as part of the actor headshot lighting setup below. Photo credit: Stuart Green.
Heisler class snapshot by Stuart Green
The lovely Juliette
The dashing Stuart. The goal of this assignment was to create actor headshots; each image portrays a different character that Stuart can portray - the first, more leading man, the second, more character actor.
The final day was also spent much of the day in the studio, after the crit, and we went through more lighting setups including mimicking high daylight in the studio, and some outdoor lighting techniques with the models and actors. We took a look through Greg’s traveling kit, and he answered lots of questions about which lights and modifiers he can’t live without. He also photographed the entire class individually, to great amusement, capturing each of our personalities wonderfully. He had to take a couple of me because I tended to crack up when I was supposed to be holding a pose. But almost everyone else he completely captured on the first shot.
Greg was kind enough to allow us a couple of extra hours of class on Saturday, right before we left, so that we could see a set up that he’d be using to photograph a client the following day. Again, he photographed many of us using a continuous light setup. At the end of the day, I gave Greg and enormous hug and thanked him for all he’d taught us, before traveling down the east coast, and catching a ride home with Sam and TJ.
All in all, a wonderful week, barring the hitch with equipment rentals, and I would definitely come back to Maine Media Workshops. I highly recommend Greg Heisler as a teacher, and am very glad for the experiences I had, all that I learned, and the warm relationships formed with colleagues and other creative folks formed while there.
Goodbye, beautiful Rockport, and thank you Greg Heisler and Maine Media Workshops...

Light Work with Gregory Heisler at the Maine Media Workshops - Part One

Heisler bookSurrounded by so many images every day, it’s rare you come across one that arrests you and pins you by your ears. When first I saw the cover of Gregory Heiser’s recent book, 50 Portraits, I felt jolted. The image, mostly velvety black, was the portrait of an older African-American man, bathed in a pool of light, his enormous hands wrapped around his lined face. It was extraordinary; simple yet beautiful and interesting, and it grabbed me and made me want to know all about this person caught in the pool of light. I later learned that he was the life-long masseuse of Muhammad Ali, but it almost didn’t matter, because I could see who he was caught in that moment.

Heisler’s book is an unusual photo book, in that it was just as well-written as it was photographed, with a wry, kind, and humorous voice. He has photographed more than 70 covers for Time Magazine, and is known for his evocative portrait work. Gregory, or Greg as we came to know him over the week I spent in Rockport, Maine at the Maine Media Workshops working with him, is exactly that in person. I had been considering taking a longer workshop relating to my portrait work this year, and I knew from reading his book, and seeing him on YouTube, that I would be in good hands with this master photographer as my teacher. I remember my heart pitter-pattering when I signed up for the workshop back in April. Not only I was so excited to meet Gregory, fan-girl like, but because it was quite an investment to take a week-long workshop, and a working photographer can buy a lot of equipment for the price of a workshop! However, knowledge is the investment that always pays back (at least that what my student loan officers say ;-).

The advanced workshop I chose was called Light Work, and the majority of my classmates were working artists and photographers.The first day we reviewed five images by each of our fellow class members, as a way of introduction. They ran the gamut; one was an editorial photographer, another a fine art photographer, another an architecture photographer, another a food photographer for a major supermarket. I was one of the few folks  who had a lot of experience with commercial portraiture, but others were certainly more technical. A couple of folks were retired, and were conducting photo projects around the world. Some had gone to art school, some hadn’t, some were sent by their employers, but most weren’t. It really ran the gamut. Some of us had a lot of experience with strobes and artificial continuous light, and others primarily had shot using ambient light. Seeing each other’s images was a great introduction, especially since I’m famously bad at remembering names, but I always remember what they shot, their senses of humor, and their character quirks. Heisler thought my portraits were lovely - I showed five of my recent author shots - and that certainly brought out the warm fuzzies on my end of things! He was similarly encouraging to the others in the group as well.

Visual introduction of my recent work for Gregory Heisler's class
The second portion of the day was Greg introducing his work, and explaining exactly his light set-up for each shot. We saw images of presidents, famous actors, mayors, monks, and authors (yay)!. Of course, all were beautifully lit. As he patiently walked through each set-up, Greg was generous in answering questions and giving feedback.

In the evening, we went to the Rockport Opera House to watch two of the faculty members present and speak about their work. One was our own Gregory Heisler, and the other was the very inspiring and rather wonderful fine art photographer, Cig Harvey, who presented her beautiful visual storytelling work. She was so lovely and personable, and her work took my breath away with its depth and emotion; I hope to take a course with her sometime soon. After the talks, we students chose to bumble around Rockport, photographing available light that we’d imitate in the studio the following day.

iphone photo of streetlight falling on TJ for finding light assignment. IMG_5796

The second day, after our critique and a morning demo and practice, we went out into the field, so to speak, and shot in a church in groups of three using continuous light with different color balances. I became very close with my team-mates, Sam and TJ, and we remained as thick as thieves for the rest of the week. Sam does beautiful fine art work of landscapes, and TJ is a headshot and underwater photographer from Dubai transitioning to Chicago, who has trained with the headshot guru Peter Hurley (shebang! He really does talk like that. Hurley, not TJ.).
Practicing with tungsten and incandescent lights in studio with TJ and Sam.
We buddied up with one of the models that Maine Media provided for us, Peter Paton, who was wonderful, with a fantastic craggy face of great character. The goal of the day was to figure out how to DIY any lighting setup with continuous lights that can be bought from any retail store to beautiful effect, and also to provide a visual story with one image. The exercise helped us understand the various colors of light, how to create effects through directionality, and how to mimic ambient light. Heisler has lit heads of state using lights he picked up from Home Depot. It ain’t about how fancy your lighting devices, it’s about how you use them. Applies to many things in life!
Photographing Peter Paton 2014-07-18_0005
To be continued...