Quavondo’s Photography Lighting Techniques Book with Images and Light Set-ups

There are so many how to books out there on photography lighting, why is mine any different?

When I started photography, I reached out to many photographers in my community for help and guidance, most were standoffish and secretive about their techniques. One said that I could come on set and assist but that I would also have to pay him. To this day, I wish I would have kept that email so I could remember the photographer’s name. There were a few who welcomed me with open arms and let me come on their shoots, but our styles were very different, I ended up going on my own after a shoot or two. I would like to take this time to thank those photographers: Steve Bloch, Joni Kabana, Dan Tyrpak, Pete Springer, and Manny Minjarez who’s style was close to what I wanted. Even though I had just started and had no “style,” I knew in my mind what I wanted to create, I just didn’t know how to execute it. So I resorted to searching for books on fashion photography and lighting. It was a long road to find that golden goose. Most of the book that I came across, the author had a good grasp on the technical side but for some reason it didn’t translate over to their photography, what I found were books with awful sample images and I would think to myself, “Why would I spend $40 to try and replicate how to make these ugly photos?” Just like we all know how a free throw is made in basketball. You have to have the right motion of the arm, the right flick of the wrist, right amount of power and arch in the throw to get the ball into the basket, and we can sit there and explain it to someone over and over, but if you can’t do it yourself why would they listen to you? I never did find that golden goose. I ended up just learning through trial and error. I bought three strobes and locked myself into my spare bedroom and shot with models for 30 days straight. I made sure that the lighting was different for each shoot. In that month, I started to develop my own style.

Through that process, I developed a sense of protection on what I learned and maybe this was the case with the photographers who didn’t want to help me. They too, learned their craft through much blood and sweat. A year after starting photography I landed an interview for an internship in New York City with a high profile photography team. I flew out there, stayed in a hostel, went to the interview, they offered me the internship 15 minutes later. I had 3 pairs of underwear and no place to live, regardless I said YES! I thought this was going to be my big break, a chance of a life time to learn from one of the best. I called my wife of just a year to tell her the news, she cried. She was very happy for me but it meant that we would be on opposite coasts for at least 3 months. We talked and felt like it was the best thing for my photography.

Three months went by. I was nothing more than a personal assistant. We had only two photoshoots. I wasn’t taught a thing. Scratch that, I didn’t learn a thing related to photography, what I did learn during this period in NYC would later change my life for the better (and I also made two awesome friends for life!). After my internship I was offered a position to run their studio, I declined. I didn’t want the shackles, I would have been at their beck and call 24/7. I’m not joking. I had a hard decision to make, should I move back to Portland after three months of not getting anywhere? Or should I stay in New York and see what I could do on my own? After deliberating with the wife, I stayed. It was a long year but I grew as a person.

After moving back to Portland I had a shift in my mentality. I saw what my life could end up like as a high profile celebrity photographer, to be self absorb, selfish, and how depressing my life could be if I lived for myself. I started accepting interns and teaching other photographers what I knew, and making sure that I actually helped them and not use them as personal errand staff. I started creating BTS, how to videos and teaching workshops. This is where I started being selfish, in a good way. Teaching others was very rewarding, the joy and gratitude that they express makes fulfills my soul. This is when it occurred to me that I was in a good spot in my career to write a book on photography lighting. I have a big enough collection of images in different genres to be able to create a book that I’ve been searching for since I first started photography. The golden goose.

At its core, this is an easy-to-use technical handbook with lighting set-ups and simple tips you can implement right now to improve your lighting. Each chapter focuses on a type of lighting (e.g. one-strobe, four-strobes, camera flash, natural light, hot lights). At its heart, this book and its images are meant to inspire you, with a candid look into the background and thought behind each creative concept, and the amusing realities of bringing an idea to life.

There is a wide variety of imagery in this book, 50 to be exact shot both indoors and out, ranging from lifestyle, to beauty, to sports, to fashion, to portraits, to commercial work, so all photographers can benefit from the demonstrated techniques. Anyone looking to make the move from amateur to professional will find this an invaluable resource. Professionals looking to kick-start the creative juices will find inspiration and perhaps new lighting techniques to improve and simplify their process. Novice photographers may wish to familiarize themselves with the glossary terms first, but rest assured, this book minimizes jargon and maximizes utility.

I want to thank Zemotion (Jingna Zhang) and Solstice Retouch (Pratik Naik) for taking the time to review my book and writing a foreword in it. Both of your talents are amazing and to have your respect is truly humbling. Thank you for your support. Here’s what they both had to say about the book (click on the image to get a better resolution).

Zemotion's Foreword

Pratik's Foreword

I also want to thank Corey Michaud for putting together the elements for the lighting diagrams, without those I wouldn’t have any way to share my lighting set-ups. And most of all, thank you Lindsay Michelet for your endless editing of the book and content direction, you make me sound smarter than I really am, and less of a smart ass than I really am.

You can find Quavondo’s Photography Lighting Techniques on Amazon. Here’s a preview of the book:

  • 132 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1466463844
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 0.3
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces

Book CoverInner SpreadTable of ContentsIntroductionZemotion's ForewordPratik's ForewordInner Spread 1Inner Spread 2Inner Spread 3

Here are 25 of the 50 images that are dissected within this book:

Some of the Images From the Book

This book is also available as an eBook for the Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPad, etc.

Here’s what it looks like on the iPad:

iPad Book CoveriPad Inner PagesiPad Inner Diagram

For the Kindle Fire:

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.38.26 PMScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.41.25 PMScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.41.01 PM

For the Kindle:

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.42.40 PMScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.43.15 PM

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.47.43 PM

Signed book with a personalized note is available for a limited time. Price is $50. Please send inquiries to q@quavondo.com. Only 25 signed books are available for the Christmas rush. First come first served. I need to know who to make the book out to and also a link to their photography if they are a photographer. I handle and ship all personalized book orders.

If you’re not a photographer, get it for the photographer in your life. Trust me, they will thank you. They will love it. Please remember to rate my book as well. Thank you for your love and support.

Also an oversight on my part, the photo of me in my book is one of my favorites to date and I forgot to give credit to Bryce Lewis for taking the shot. Great job buddy!

2 Day Photography Lighting and Retouching Workshop

Hey guys, as you know I’m moving to LA this fall, before I go I’m going to put on my last workshop here in Portland Oregon. It’s a two day workshop on lighting and retouching. I’m teaming up with one of the best retoucher in the business, Pratik of Solstice Retouch. He is also a dear friend of mine. He has some secrets from the industry that no one else knows besides the people whom he taught. I consider myself an expert in photoshop and I was still blown away from Pratik’s techniques. His way of teaching is very easy to follow and to understand.

I’m also trying to finish my photography lighting book by then too or at least before I go. If you’ve taken our workshop before, a testimony would be great. Please spread the word. Space is also limited. First come first served. We may decline your registration should the class is over capacity. Don’t wait.

Don’t forget to follow Solstice’s blog as well! Good stuff on there daily.

How to Light for Headshots

The three most common areas of focus that photographers get into when getting into photography are headshots, senior portraits, and weddings because it’s the easiest route to make money plus you don’t have the pressure of a big budget production that normally goes into fashion/commercial photography. The problem however, is that since it’s an easy way for new photographers to make money, there are an over abundance of photographers offering these services in the marketplace.

So how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? 

Today I’ll focus on headshots: 
Get to know your client before the shoot. Make sure you know what type of roles your client tend to get. If your actor is a comedian, you certainly wouldn’t want to give him headshots that look all serious and vice versa. 

Make sure the background is not distracting, then really knock the background out by shooting with a smaller F-stop (wider aperture). Next focus on your client’s outfits, avoid patterns or anything too out there. Solid colors are usually the best, but make sure the color complements the skin and the background. 

Even though they are actors, most aren’t comfortable being in front of a still camera. Your job as a photographer is to capture their essence, but if they are stiff and uncomfortable, it will certainly show up in the pictures. Talk to them, make jokes, ease their mind so that they’re no longer thinking about the shoot. 

Avoid shooting in direct sun. If there’s no place to hide and it’s your only option, shoot with the sun at their 3/4 back so that it rims part of their body and head. Use a reflector in front on the opposite side of the sun at 3/4 to your subject as well to create subtle shadows on their face. If you put the reflector right in front of your subject, the light will be flat. 

Most of the time you won’t be shooting headshots in the desert, so you’ll be able to find shade to hide under or wait for an overcast day, the World will then be a large softbox. 

Here’s a shot in natural light. 

Shooting in natural light is the easiest option, but if you want more control over the light, you can pack lightly (no pun intended). You can get away with 1 light, but I prefer 2 lights sometimes 3 so the image is not too one dimensional. 

Here’s a shot with 2 lights so you can compare it with the natural light.

The main light is 3/4, to the left of the actor. The back light is twice the distance away and a usually a stop or two higher than the main light to create the rim effect.

Nowadays, people are starting to break away from the vertical headshot (which I still prefer because actors usually paperclip their resume to their headshots, hence the casting directors don’t have to turn the image to read the resume). If you go horizontal, don’t center your subject in the frame. Avoid cropping too much off the top of the head, casting directors like to know what the hair looks like.


Give your client options. Back out and shoot a few 3/4 body shots so they can use as secondary headshots for those times where they have to show the casting directors their physique. 

I hope this was helpful for those who are looking to do headshots.

Dissecting The Yeyo Image

I think most people out there don’t understand the amount of effort that goes into an image. The complexity of lighting, staging, shooting, and editing all come together to create “the shot.” I think people usually just look at a photo and think that you can haphazardly walk in, put the people where you want, take a picture and have that be the end result. I was suppose to work on a collaborative project with a MUA/Hair stylist, we got together and brainstormed ideas, I got a designer lined up to create the gown, then later the MUA/Hair stylist contacts me to apologize and say that she was going to try and photograph it herself. More power to her, but there is a reason why she’s the MUA/Hair stylist and I’m a photographer. We both play different roles.

When I go into a shoot, I usually have an outline from the client in what they want such as look and feel, target audience, and a shot list. 75% of the time, I’ve seen the location, the other 25% makes me nervous because I don’t know what to expect. Even if you’ve scouted the location, sometimes things don’t go according to plan and you have to think on your feet quickly. In this post, I’m going to dissect the Yeyo Tequila ad. Originally on our walk through, we had decided on a corner to be the “hero” shot that showed off the Couture Lounge pretty well. It had really cool wallpaper on one side and the other side had window slits with colored lights shining through. The three guys (Jon, Alex, Mark) were going to be sitting at a frosted glass table, surrounded by the ladies, almost like a poker table but not chips or cards, just Yeyo. But on the day of the shoot, Jon brought in the table and it was a little underwhelming, so I vetoed the shot. I discussed my concerns with Jon and he gave me his blessing to do whatever I wanted. My assistants had to break down the lights and set up for the next area (the bar), in this case I actually think it works to our benefit since it is a Tequila campaign. Even if the original location would have worked out, I think it wouldn’t have been as strong of a shot as this one. We wouldn’t have had time to do both shots.

In this shot, I wanted to create a club/lounge scene. The walls on either side of the TV didn’t have any life compared to the rest of Couture, so I had my assistants throw up a couple lights behind the counter with red gels on them to add some color to the atmosphere. I asked Mark (one of the owners of Couture) to take down some permits that were hanging on the right side of the wall.

I decided to leave the twigs to give it depth and texture to the photo, and it also adds a little height to that side since Alex is a little shorter than Jon.

While the girls were getting their hair and make up done, I had the three fellas show me their gear. They all brought nice suits, I definitely didn’t want the Yeyo brand to seem stiff with a bunch of business guys standing around, so I told Alex to just wear his “wife beater.” He looked at me with one raised eyebrow and asked, “Really?” with a little smirk. Alex was perfect for this character that I wanted to portray. He had tats on both sleeves and I had to take advantage. I wanted to create a dichotomy of the two personalities and the fact the Yeyo Tequila is the bridge between them, and that Yeyo is for all kinds of people.

Taking group photos is a lot more difficult than single models. You have to make sure that everyone complements each other in their outfits, posture, poses, hair (or lack there of, Jon & Alex). Nothing in this image is happenstance. Here are a couple pictures of me trying to show and explain to the models what I wanted in their poses. Thanks for catching it Bryce, you sneaky bastard. =P

When you first look at the image, your eye is drawn to the logo on the TV screen, then makes its’ way down to the bartender (Mark, Owner of Couture) who is my favorite character and the main pillar that holds the brand. He draws you in by making eye contact with the consumer, you. You then realize that he’s got a swagger, the Tom Cruise (1988 Cocktail) flash, by pouring Yeyo Tequila (from high above) into the glass without having to look down. It’s the Cool, Wow factor that Yeyo Tequila brings.

After looking at Mark, your eyes WANT to look at the hot blond =) but it’s drawn to Jon because of the big bright red empty space that hovers over his head. Our eyes tend to naturally move towards bright areas or negative space of an image. I wanted Jon to be the second focal point, after all he is the Founder of Yeyo Tequila. I wanted to portray Jon as the classy confident male who’s approachable. His body is facing towards the camera and he’s engaged with the target audience. I wanted to add an element of sensuality to the image with Michelle. I didn’t want her to look at the camera. I wanted her to be all about Jon without being overly slutty, so her outfit wasn’t your average “clubbing” attire. It was more business and conservative, but yet sexy.

On the flip side, we have Emma, a sexy blond “party” girl. She’s flirtatious. She’s making eye contact with the male audience. She’s with Alex, but unlike Michelle, her body language suggests otherwise. There’s distance between Alex and her. Alex hears you coming up behind him, so he turns slightly to see who Emma is smiling at. He’s guarded. He has his back to the audience, his jaw is clenched, Alex is less welcoming than Jon. His hand on Emma affirms that he’s protective and territorial. His tattoos adds “street credit” to his persona.

We’ve come full circle. Our eyes go back to Yeyo Tequila, the common bond between these four people.

Yeyo Tequila as intended.

That might have been TMI for some of you out there, but just thought it be cool for you to go into the mind of a photographer.

I had two strobes in the back with red gels for the mood.
Rim light on each side.
An overhead light.
Main light at 45 degree.
Umbrella bounce in the front on each side for fill.