Photographing people is at the very core of what I do. The style might change, the lighting might change but the fundamental principles stay the same. The type of lighting I apply is normally about creating an image or trying highlight one.

Just like people, no two shoots are the same and nor should any two lighting setups be either – they might start the same but this is only ever a planning stage. As the shoot moves on so does the lighting. There is a quote I have used many times and I shall put it here too.

The work is primarily subject driven. All decisions from there, The photographs are made to respond to a unique subject, in particular context, at a specific moment in time. The thoughtful preparedness that defines my working methods actually facilitates spontaneity and allows me to embrace surprise. I always have a game plan but view it as merely the jumping off point.

Years ago, I saw Gregory in London and had the chance to sit and share some time – the way I looked at my lighting after that day has never been the same. The structure and rigidity of the set up increased but the shoots were more relaxed and casual. It seems like the proverb ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ has some elements of truth to it.

Amersham Studios

For this blog, I wanted to share some of the setup tips & shooting tips that I have come to trust over the years.

This blog is going to cover these elements – which are more about a mental approach to photography and lighting. Photography is a unique blend of emotion and technology. We always need to understand the roles both play, then, understand we have control over both. I mean this in both a physical and mental way.

Planning Stage:

  1. Understand your subject.
  2. Where are you shooting?
  3. What is your backup plan?
  4. Capture or create?
  5. How many images are you making?

Shooting Stage:

  1. Shoot simple & Shoot quickly.
  2. Stop if it’s not working.
  3. Know your basics.
  4. When to try something new.
Chloe-Jasmine for Beyond Burlesque


Understand your subject:
The most simple shots can be lost on the smallest of details. Understanding who you are photographing is a core tool and nothing to do with photography. Understanding who are photographing and how to build and maintain there trust in you is vital. Photography might be normal to you but to your subject, it can be an intimidating thing.  You might think that working pro models would get around not having to worry about a subject but this is quite the myth. Models and actors are humans too and you never know what is going through there mind or what is going on around them in a personal way. Being super aware of your subject and how to handle them is critical.

Where are you shooting?
You might have spent a lifetime in a studio but to a new person, the sounds the smells and normally the lack of temperature in a studio can be quite off-putting to a subject. Get in early, turn the lights on, make some coffee, get the heating sorted, get your prep going and make the space look lived in and used. A super clean sterile studio might make sense to you but to others might feel like a dentists surgery.  If you are on a location you have even more to worry about. As normal do a recon mission and scout out all the local things. Coffee shops, supply stores, shops and toilets.  A place to warm or get a cool drink might be needed. When on a location, your crew and model will turn to you for advice and help. Keep them happy and well looked after and your shoot will go great. Plus if something breaks or you need some supplies, you know where to get them. Be prepared for anything!

What is your backup plan?
Having a plan ‘B’ is about planning to fail with plan A, but letting you be more adventurous with what plan A is.  If you are on a location getting early and scouting about is vital. Maybe take a drone and see what the land looks like from above, check for interesting elements that might be around you or finding a location that would work in the wind and rain if the shoot has to happen on that day. Spare cameras, spare lenses and back up mood boards all the way to back up models and make up artists all things that people turn to the photographer to sort out when things go wrong. Have a plan in your back pocket to keep the team and subject confident that you are on top of everything.  Remember “A photographer is responsible for creating a climate in which they can do their best work.” – more wise words from Gregory.

Capture or create?
There are two different types of photographer – those like street photographer Bill Cunningham and photographers like Ben Von Wong. One creates images and the other one finds them, the rest is about how that happens and the way the final message is given to the audience. Let’s look towards ourselves for a moment and ask some questions. what are we trying to say and who are we trying to say it to?  What do we want the end result to be – are we making a call to action or just trying to explain something? Are we trying to entertain or inform ? Are we making something that is historical and accurate or are we making a work of fiction using the full range of the artistic tools we call photography? Knowing who you are is only going to help you communicate whatever message it is to other people as you will be able to shape the message from a clearer standing point.

How many images are you making?
We all know problems and accidents happen when things are rushed and un-balanced – photography is the very same. Knowing what you are shooting and how many images you need in the final outcome are very important things before picking up the camera. As with life knowing the goal will only help us be focused on the job at hand. If you only have 4 images to make, you can plan your shoot according to with the amount of time you have per image. Reduce the stress and plan your time according, have clear goals and stick to them.

Ryan Hamilton & the Traitors

Shooting Stage

Shoot simple & Shoot quickly.
This sounds backward, but, the less time you have the camera in your hand the better the shoot will be. Let me explain, if you shoot confidently and have done all the right planning you should not need to shoot 1000’s of frames to get one decent image. Do your prep work correctly and it will limit the time you need to shoot. Smaller bursts of images will be much easier on your subject. Be more like a sniper and less like naplam – be accurate, efficient and confident.

If it’s not working, Stop!
This should be common sense, but we have all forgotten this rule from time to time. There are many reasons to why an image might not be working and some of them might not be in your control. Maybe your subject needs a rest, break or to just chill out, we should also be aware that if we have a technical problem we sort it with little fuss so that the confidence of the sitter is not affected.  This is something I have seen time and time again, especially when working with new or nervous models. If the shoot is not working perfectly, they might blame themselves – which causes a ton of other problems. Fall back to a simpler plan, take a break, fix the problem and carry on.  Taking hundreds of images you know are rubbish is only wasting your time and your sitters time.

Know your basics.
Be aware, be on task, be confident. Be a master at simple.
Practice is the key to this element. Over time you will know your settings, you will know your lights and how they will affect your subject. You will know your camera and be able to react seamlessly to a situation. Get the basics right and building a solid foundation for your photography will be the best way to build up a more styled body of work. This tip could of been called – start simple, master the basics or even know your kit. Being able to shoot cleanly and be create any of the simple three portrait lighting styles instantly is going to be your bedrock.

Learn to pre-visualise how your lighting and understand how the size of the light, the power of the light and the distance from your light to the subject will change. A good lighting tech has the skill to judge and balance all of these aspects for each light – sometimes 8 or 9 on a film or TV set.  Most photographers are only ever using 3 light max – we have it easy.

When to try something new.
Simple is good, simple is effective but sometimes we want to push things into a new way. The first thing to remember is client time is not testing time. When on a job, don’t think about your portfolio or if an image would well on your Instagram – stay on task. Maybe at the end of a shoot, if there is time, ask if you can try some stuff out, but remember who is paying who.

Testing is a term we have in the photography world where in short, everyone brings some ideas to the table and people test ideas out, try stuff, meet each other and try to experiment. This is the time to play and experiment. Most of the work that is in my portfolio comes from test shoots where we have the time to really nail down a concept or idea. Sometimes it can take hours to get one look and in some cases, you can shoot for a day and get nothing but the knowledge that an idea is bad.

As I you might tell, I am a huge fan of Gregory. I have found this video that Stumptown Visuals recorded a few years ago. It is a great little video to give a short insight to see what goes through his mind pre-shoot and how to mentally get in shoot mode and make the right environment you need to get the shot you are after.

“Sometimes, mother nature just provides and all we have to do is be ready”- Dave Kai-Piper

If you want to know more about lighting and specifically portraits, beauty and fashion. Why not come along to our Fujihlics workshop?

The day will be packed with awesome tips and a hands-on guide to setting up lights, using different styles and getting used to creating the images you want to take.

As photographers, we all have a journey learning about light. This Fujiholics workshop is all about looking at creating light using speedlights, studio strobes, and other light sources. We will cover the basics of setting up lights, understanding modifiers all the way to setting up and shooting with HSS and blending ambient light with flash. After the demonstrations showing the classic portrait lighting styles, this workshop will leave you with a rounded knowledge of what you can do with light.

This is an interactive workshop featuring a female model. This is a Fujiholics event taking place at Wilkinson Cameras’ Liverpool Learning Suite. Please note, tickets are sold directly by Fujiholics and you will be redirected to the Eventbrite website.

Click here to book your space – CLICK

This workshop takes place at The Liverpool Learning Suite. Tea, coffee, etc. will be provided and attendees will be given time for lunch. Lunch is not provided, but our central location means that there are many lunch options within a short walk. If you wish to bring your own packed lunch, then we do provide a fridge and guests are welcome to eat their lunch in The Learning Suite.

The workshop starts at 11.00am promptly running until 4.00pm.

Read more about Dave & see his portfolio via his website: