Dean Collins - Live at Brooks Institute

Without a doubt, my biggest influence when I was first learning how to light was Dean Collins. He passed away suddenly at far too young an age, but we are very fortunate in that much of his material was preserved on video.

Cruising through YouTube the other day, I found a 6-minute excerpt from and old VHS tape of one of his presentations at Brooks. A similar Brooks presentation has since been released on DVD, the sales of which benefit Collins' family.

He was a wonderful educator. If this is your first taste of his techniques, you are in for a treat.

Video and links, after the jump.

This clip is from an older VHS version of Live at Brooks Institute of Photography, one of two Dean Collins DVD courses still in print. (From the comments, this clip is not from the talk used to make the LaBI DVD, but the content is very similar.)

Most of Collins' library of material is from the 80's, so you have to translate the film ideas to digital. (Not to mention the hairstyles and wide-collared shirts.) But his concepts and techniques are timeless.

I highly recommend his Best of Dean Collins on Lighting (full review) as well as his Live at Brooks Institute of Photography.

Got a few more mins? There is clip from the LaBI DVD at the Software Cinema site.

Related Posts:

:: Full Review: Best of Dean Collins on Lighting ::
:: Channel Your Historical Mentors ::
:: Where to Rent LiBI Online ::


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Anonymous dan said...

Best video you have ever posted. More content like this please.

September 22, 2008 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Michael F Cassidy said...

I have another Dean Collins video which was also shots at Brooks which is as entertaining as it is informative. They tend to be geared towards to someone already familiar with lighting concepts but there is a wealth of information in his presentations and they are not at all boring  Highly recommended.


September 22, 2008 1:50 PM  
Blogger Dankas said...

Great video, short but right on the spot.

Daniel from Croatia

September 22, 2008 1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great find. I remember watching his videos in college and often think of getting them.

Hmmm, light meter? (wink)

September 22, 2008 1:54 PM  
Blogger Dankas said...

Great video, both of them...short but right to the spot!

Daniel from Croatia

September 22, 2008 2:10 PM  
Anonymous Austin said...

Thanks for this, David.
To try and understand him in context, was Dean a commercial shooter? Any idea how he started out?

September 22, 2008 2:14 PM  
Anonymous felipe said...

he's very understanding!

September 22, 2008 2:21 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

That's my clip!! I'm famous!!

This clip is not on the DVD. Sadly they left out a good chunk of info (after the marketing, still cool) and the beginning of the specular lighting with the knife on shiny black paper.

Hard to find the VHS anywhere. There are a few universities that list the tapes for rent but not for non-students out of state.

I guess I am going to be buried in requests for more clips? I'll see what I can do. But nothing from the released DVDs.

September 22, 2008 2:26 PM  
Blogger Lindon Mitchel said...

Timeless principles made simple. David I can see his influence on you. thank you. Great content.


September 22, 2008 2:35 PM  
Blogger said...

Yeah wanted to ask the same question how did he start out?

September 22, 2008 2:52 PM  
Blogger danny bird said...

wierd- this came through the post just today from software cinema! Can't wait to get stuck in- I have the box set and can't recomend his DVDs highly enough. Some of the work is dated looking but conceptually so solid and expressed in an easy to digest way. I'm not sure if it's his irrevorant manner the clarity of information or his moustache but I find myself smiling all the way through deans them now!

September 22, 2008 4:07 PM  
Anonymous Mag said...

great vids!
im a beginner.. and i didnt really undrestand the "photographic black". he says its a couple of stops below 18%? does anyone know whats 18%?

September 22, 2008 4:21 PM  
Blogger Ken said...


I'm sure someone else will jump in with a very scientific explanation, but 18% = Neutral Gray.

September 22, 2008 5:52 PM  
Blogger MARTYr said...

Fa'reakin' love that guy. Between him and the Strobist blog, countless questions and concepts have been clarified and reinforced for me. Go to and rent his videos or, even better, buy them directly from his foundation. You'll find yourself watching them repeatedly, if for no other reason than just to soak up some of Dean's energy and enthusiasm for the craft. He seemed like an incredibly fun person to work with. Thanks for posting this Michael...and David.

September 22, 2008 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


when Collins refers to 18%, he means 18% grey. 18% grey is considered to be photographically neutral. 18% grey is the exposure your camera's meter is calibrated to, which is why when you shoot a white object or the snow, your camera wants to underexpose, effectively rendering the bright white as 18% grey. The same is true when shooing very dark objects...the camera wants to overexpose and render those as grey, too. Collins just used 18% grey as an example, to demonstrate how light can be used to turn a grey/white background white, black, or any other shade in between.



September 22, 2008 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mag : as in 18% grey. Basically, something that reflects 18% of light on the visible spectrum.

A quick reading on the "Zone" system (I think should get you there) will also help you out.

September 22, 2008 6:54 PM  
Anonymous Joe said...

Many of the Dean Collins instructional videos are available for rent at They will ship them to you for one week's rental (cheap!) along w/ a return mailer that you simply drop into the return mail up to 7 days later. Wonderful teacher!

September 22, 2008 6:59 PM  
Blogger Ian said...


18% = standard gray card for metering.

September 22, 2008 7:11 PM  
Anonymous scougs said...

I saw him a couple of times and found him to be entertaining (the 'caveman' principle: "mm, pretty, take picture")and educational. I particularly liked his one light techniques using mylar reflectors and diffusion panels to make one light act like three.
Greatly, sadly missed.

September 22, 2008 7:16 PM  
Blogger joshua said...

Well organized with the backdrop of the duck and all well said. Great video. Thanks for posting it.


September 22, 2008 9:00 PM  
Blogger Alex DiFiori said...

Dean was a brilliant guy.
I've seen a few of his videos.
The guy could control any light, which is a lot harder that most people really know.

September 22, 2008 11:29 PM  
Blogger Kenny said...

I actually laughed out loud at the zone 5 joke. My professors would be so proud.

September 22, 2008 11:33 PM  
Blogger Digital_Junkie said...

Dean Collins was one of my biggest influence as well. I remember my studio photography teacher making us watch the old VHS tapes. I enjoyed every minute of it, he was a very funny guy. I consider him the god-father of showing lighting techniques for his time. Regardless of technology lighting principals will not change.

September 23, 2008 2:15 AM  
Blogger Rollasoc said...

Excellent clip. I may have to purchase the DVD now...

Oh you are costing me a fortune Mr H.

September 23, 2008 2:40 AM  
Anonymous Patrick Cavan Brown said...

I miss Dean, and I miss Brooks... oh, the science of photography... not nearly as pertinent as it used to be... sad.

September 23, 2008 2:49 AM  
Anonymous Bruno said...

What a great way to teach this guy have. Where can I find the DVD?
Important technics explained in a propper way.

September 23, 2008 6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey great post about brooks and dean collins.
saw this site today and thought it might work as information and source for mounting speedlights and pocket wizards.

obviously this post is more of an email to you so you don't need to post it.

hope all is well with the family! enjoy every day with them, those kids will be grown before you know it. my oldest came home from college with buddies this weekend and we had a great time but I can't believe how fast he went from adorable little guy to nearly a man.
melissa macatee

September 23, 2008 9:36 AM  
Blogger Marcin Retecki said...

This vid. made me wanna buy this dvd, I heard about this guy before and seen his techniques but never seen him talking and he talks good! Thanks for sharing!

September 23, 2008 10:38 AM  
Blogger Andy M said...

About time! :)

I had the Dean Collins "The best of lighting collection" , but after I rented LABI from smartflix, my whole understanding of lighting changed dramatically.

I even suggested we watch this at our Toronto Strobist Group meet.

The best 105 minutes of my life, you have to watch it over and over again though as it's so condense and packed with gems and tips and he talks bloody fast.

I guess some people tend to overlook (or are not aware of) the striking similarities between your style of teaching lighting and Dean's.

Here's the link to smartflix rental:

September 23, 2008 11:16 AM  
Blogger Telmo said...

Why do you learn so easily with Dean!?
Because he is doing stand-up comedy! We all want to be funny and do the jokes.
I watched this over and over again just to get the bride and groom joke! And I got to memorize not only the joke but also the idea behind what he is teaching...

Great stuff! I've ordered the DVD. I Going to learn a great deal whit it.

September 23, 2008 1:30 PM  
Blogger Dan Lubbers said...

Wish I had that seminars like that when I was in College, but fortunate to get it now. I'll be looking more into his videos.

September 23, 2008 2:33 PM  
Blogger Gabone said...

Milles merci, c'est magnifique et encore bravo de

September 23, 2008 3:32 PM  
Blogger Gabone said...

Bravo et merci de France pour le partage de vos connaissances

September 23, 2008 4:14 PM  
Blogger Will and Debbie said...

Again sticking with the basics...great info...

September 23, 2008 4:14 PM  
Blogger Paulo Rodrigues said...

Damnit David! I had got as far as the shipping info before I remembered that my kids need feeding.

I think I may have to ebay some gear

September 23, 2008 4:35 PM  
Blogger be said...

This guy rocked my world back in the 80's when he came through my lil corner of nowhere. I mean he did an all day seminar with a 4 projector setup shown back light on screens... I mean as Photo seminars went back n the day Dean Collins was a ROCK STAR!

I can still remember all the things he talked about. The videos as just as amazing!

September 24, 2008 6:34 PM  
Blogger JohnnySewell said...

In the case of needing to budget a little bit, would you recommend buying your DVD first and then after digesting it for a few weeks buying the DVD from Dean Collins? Or get the one from Dean first?

Thanks for all the great things you post here.

September 28, 2008 4:42 PM  
Anonymous A.A said...

great video. Now I have got to get the whole dvd!

September 29, 2008 12:36 PM  
Blogger Telmo said...

I received the DVD this morning, fresh form the USA... great stuff.

What amazed me (if you start by DVD 4) was that he starts by saying something like: "Yes I use Broncolor because it's the best!", but then he only shoots with a Metz strobe. He is a real strobist...

September 30, 2008 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

I am 37 years old and I started photography when I was 7,..that means I could have actually gone to one of his seminars in the 90's,..and I did not. We all are so lucky he made these highly instructional, but very understandable DVD's. Sitback, look carefully, take note and learn,..and then press the 'back' button and start all over again.

Wish Dean was still alive.

April 06, 2009 5:41 AM  
Blogger rhys said...

I was very surprised to see that Dean is actually incredibly funny, it's amazing how he can teach such a complex subject and make it seem so straight forward and comprehension-able, yet rival a stand up comedian for entertainment prowess, the guy was clearly soo very talented, which just makes it that much more of a shame he's no longer with us.

March 07, 2011 6:12 PM  

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