Back in The Day...

We used to have to walk five miles to school and back. Barefoot. In the snow. Uphill. Both ways.

I'm just kidding -- we had shoes.

But while you are finishing up your Boot Camp shots (which, by the way, are due today) howzabout a little inspiration from back in the '80's, when we didn't have no hotshot digital cameras?

Take this pan shot of a Yamaha bike, for instance, the original of which is absolutely perfect despite the crappy video screen grab version seen above.

What if I told you this was done on an 8x10 view camera -- using just four small quartz lights -- and no Photoshop, either.

Hit the jump to watch it happen via two, ten-minute videos.

Today: A Full, Dean Collins Shoot

I have said before and I will say again that there is no better source for learning how to create sophisticated light than by studying work of Dean Collins. Through the wide range of shoots on his Best of Dean Collins DVDs, he shows you example after example of how seemingly impossible lighting challenges can be broken down into a series of small, solvable problems.

Are you ever gonna be asked to shoot a speeding motorcycle with an 8x10 view camera without Photoshop? Not likely.

But the point is, this is just another problem that can be solved with a thorough understanding of the principles of lighting. And if you understand those principles, you can solve -- or reverse engineer -- just about anything you come across, with ease.

So, how do you perfectly pan a fast-moving bike with an eight-by-frickin'-ten view camera?

Simple: You don't, because the bike is not moving. In fact, the bike is the only thing in the frame that is staying completely still.

The beauty of watching problem-solving at high-end levels is that your challenges start to become ridiculously easy by comparison. Which is one reason I recommend his educational materials so strongly.

And today, a big 'thank you' to the folks at Software Cinema for porting one of the twenty shoots on the 'best of' DVDs to YouTube in its entirety.

Its 20 minutes long, and shows how Collins handles such problems as creating the illusion of speed where none exists, getting highlights on the dull, black tires and creating absolutely perfect specular highlights before Photoshop.

And, IMO, the best things about these types of shoots is not that they teach you how to solve a specific set of problems. It is that they make you realize that you can learn to light anything.

So, without further yakkin':

Part 2:

You can see more -- including another video of a more down-to-earth shoot, at Software Cinema: The Best of Dean Collins on Lighting.


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Blogger Kenneth said...

Thanks for the en-"light"-ning post. Learned a lot from this. Is that how promotional car photos are taken too?

September 21, 2009 12:56 AM  
Blogger O3DigitalBath said...

I've actually watched this before and was amazed and all that went into this shot from sooooo long ago.

September 21, 2009 1:02 AM  
Blogger OaklandMisfit said...

Amazingly cool, complex and simple at the same time.

Doing the bootcamp assignment and struggling with reflections on a car, I can appreciate the work involved to get nice reflections on a bike.

Having so many assistants must be nice, lots of knowledgeable people to discuss the problem. It looks like the only unknown is the rider, who could move slightly during the exposure. I guess it is not that bad, it could be a result of motion.

Between the series on lighting hotel rooms and this motorcycle shot, I am definitely interested in Dean Collins' DVD set. Maybe a prize for the winner of a future bootcamp assignment?


September 21, 2009 1:59 AM  
Blogger Carlo Garcia said...

Amazing amount of work put into this shot.

September 21, 2009 2:12 AM  
Blogger PShizzy said...

Oh man, I've seen this so many times, and it's still awesome. Always reminds me that the best tool a photographer has is a sharp mind. Dean Collins is definitely a lighting OG.

September 21, 2009 2:38 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Well, that was fantabulous. Dean is awesome - and I just realized that you are the web 2.0 version of him. (In your own uniquely original and witty way that is.)

DH ftw...

September 21, 2009 2:53 AM  
Blogger Paul Baarn said...

Dean Collins is a master of lighting details. Compared to him most of us are just playing around. On my to do list for today: watch Dean Collins dvds.

September 21, 2009 2:56 AM  
Blogger A J FRENCH said...

great stuff! fascinating insight

September 21, 2009 3:22 AM  
Blogger esotericsean said...

Funny to think, even this video was shot on film.

What was up with lenses back then? f/11 is "almost wide open"?

September 21, 2009 3:57 AM  
Blogger David said...

I can't believe how fast he talks!

Criticism aside, I think that was a very clever shoot, I'm interested in seeing more of his work... I do wish the DVD was a little bit cheaper, though...

September 21, 2009 4:32 AM  
Blogger Mohamed said...

I have this DVD. This guy is just amazing. One of the 1st Strobists.
He uses cheap and very effective light modifiers made of PVC tubes and Tissue but delivers wonderful results without photoshopping :-). A Must have DVD.

September 21, 2009 4:58 AM  
OpenID southgippsland said...

I got a tremendous amount of benefit from watching these two's lucky our tecnology for taking test shots has improved...what a challenging task they must have had.

Great light box setup too.

September 21, 2009 5:27 AM  
Blogger sd said...


Such attention to detail. I love the final POV shot, the relection from the street is amazing...


September 21, 2009 6:46 AM  
Blogger Chris said...




Seriously - this was flippin' amazing. I miss the days when photogs were that hardcore. You actually had to try to get the shot right the first time, before chimping 15 exposures, wheelin' your apertures around and fumblin' and stumblin' with the shutter speeds...



September 21, 2009 8:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I remember watching this entire series years ago when I was a USAF photographer. Wow. Did this post bring back some memories. :-)

Recently got back into photography after almost 20 years when I traded for a Nikon D70.

September 21, 2009 9:13 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

a beautiful image & an amazing insight into how some of these big productions are put together. def gonna look into the dean collins best of DVD. thanx David!

September 21, 2009 10:33 AM  
Blogger Patrick Eden said...

Ah film, bits of black card, moving stuff, jiggling things, line separations, the good old days. ;-)

September 21, 2009 10:47 AM  
Blogger Outhouse said...

Man Photoshop makes life a lot easier..

September 21, 2009 10:54 AM  
Blogger Duane said...

Okay, that was pretty sweet!

September 21, 2009 11:14 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I've studied his videos before and I'm reminded how much it resembles a movie production. Next, he'll do a cowboy on a mechanical horse with a moving background.

Those large light boxes with the PVC piping are way-cool. A while back you gave a link to DIY lightboxes that I've made and take out occasionally. Nothing this scale however. Goes to show you need to match your lights, background, camera, etc. to the job and not the other way around.

Moving the lightbox! Brilliant.

Great stuff. Thanks Dave.

September 21, 2009 11:50 AM  
Blogger mstrubbe said...


Think he was using a 300mm lens for an 8x10? In any case, as you go up in film size (or sensor size), you need a longer lens to cover that area. F-stop is a ratio of the size of the aperture (lens opening) divided by the focal length when the lens is focused at infinity. So in this case, f11 would be wide open. On the other end of the scale, for a lens like this you'll see higher f-stops up to f64. (Maybe higher than that, others may know more. Never shot with an 8x10 before.)

September 21, 2009 12:25 PM  
Blogger JT from KC said...

Some pretty cool stuff.
I was lucky enough to work with a contemporary of Dean Collins- Nick Vedros, and got to be involved in projects like this. These guys think with more of their brains than most.
Unfortuantely, Dean passed away in 2005. Thanks, Strobist, for keeping his memory & talent alive.

September 21, 2009 1:11 PM  
Blogger Jakob said...

Interesting to see what an incredible amount of work that goes in to this shot - and the caring for all the detail is amazing. I only wish we could see the final image in detail.

September 21, 2009 2:50 PM  
Blogger Carl said...

It's an interesting video, but it focuses too much on the assembly and miscellaneous details of the bounce-box. Collins left out discussion regarding how he decided upon the dimensions and placement for the bounce-box, etc.

Still, I'm glad I could watch the video. I'd been thinking about buying DC's DVDs, and now I know to find out more before I shell out the cash.

September 21, 2009 4:09 PM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

The great thing he did was to make sharing videos way back then. He is so handsome and young, what a waste to die so early in his career.

September 21, 2009 4:56 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I had the good fortune to attend two of Dean Collins' seminars, and I think it's terrific that you're focusing attention on his work. He was truly amazing and inspirational. One question for the group: Does any manufacturer currently sell modular light panels of the sort shown in the videos? Collins used to publish do-it-yourself plans for various light control devices, including light panel frames, and he eventually sold such panels. For awhile, Domke also sold similar panels. But I don't know of any manufacturer doing the same thing these days. I'd like to put together an overhead box like his for car photography rather than spending thousands for purpose-built boxes. Thanks for any suggestions!

September 21, 2009 7:16 PM  
Blogger John said...

This is extraordinary. It seems like an awful lot of work went in to this, but the result speaks for itself. I certainly wouldn't have reverse engineered this shot correctly.

In the last video, towards the end, I liked Dean's comment "I can't find anything else to tinker with", then he moved on to the main shot.

September 21, 2009 9:04 PM  
Blogger sep42k said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

September 21, 2009 10:15 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

That was fascinating. I'm guessing that video is 20-25 years old, and except for the medium (film/digital) I can't imagine much at all has changed for studio shots like that one.

September 21, 2009 10:16 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Jim, you may want to look into Matthews studio equipment or Bogen's Avenger line. This would be Hollywood type equipment. They make frames of varying size. For Cars you may want to look into 12x20ft or 20x20ft. they also have the silks for them. I also believe Photoflex has them as well as Calumet. My day job is at a large commercial studio and a few weeks ago I had to babysit a video crew that rented space from us for an outboard motor shoot. They used 20x20 frames. I think theirs were made of corners from Matthews and aluminum poles of the correct diameter.

If you want to make your own silks. I did some testing on fabrics. We have silks from Matthews that are their artificial silks. I went to the fabric store and bought " no cling lining" It is used for under dresses. It comes 5' wide and you buy it by the running yard. It tested out exactly the same as the Matthews silk, color and density,at a fraction of the price. Someone at the store did sewing on the side for something like $10 a silk for sewing 2 pieces together and doing the edges.

Hope that helps

Bill K

September 21, 2009 10:35 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

It's amazing!
I especially like to get know these kind of little tricks and secrets how they made it.

September 22, 2009 2:49 AM  
OpenID rayrushingphotography said...

I like the funky beats.

September 22, 2009 12:30 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Photoshoped images don't impress me.

This, however, is wildly impressive. Even in the age of digital, THIS is REAL photography....

September 22, 2009 4:01 PM  
Blogger Kirk Lau said...

Old School strobist! this is amazing work!!!

btw, the diagram completely redefined physics, the angle of incident that bounce the back of the box doesnt' equal the angle of reflection :D
but then...
u could argue the "backing" is not as flat as... :P

September 28, 2009 3:48 AM  
Blogger rjgreenphoto said...

Loved it!

September 28, 2009 3:51 PM  
Blogger Chris Biele said...

These are two great vids. I love the part where he says they can save loads of money by not having to send it to the retouchers. Hard to think that the clone tool didn't exist 20 years ago.

November 11, 2009 6:41 PM  

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