Review: Photo Recipes Live

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I recently purchased Photo Recipes Live: Behind the Scenes: Your Guide to Today’s Most Popular Lighting Techniques, the DVD/workbook combo by Scott Kelby. This product goes into detail about how the photographs were achieved in “Photo Recipes That Help You Get “The Shot”" – the final chapter of each of Kelby’s three Digital Photography Volumes.

In anticipation of writing this review, my initial attempt was to play the DVD on my television so I could watch it and take notes at the same time, without having to switch back and forth between screens on my laptop. This is when I discovered that the DVD only plays on a computer or laptop. The DVD is menu-driven and each chapter can even be downloaded onto your iPod, which is why it can’t be played in a regular DVD player. It only caused me minor inconvenience, I just thought I’d mention it in case consumers were expecting a standard DVD.

The contents of the DVD are excellent. Demonstrations take place in a New York City photography studio, and Kelby performs lighting and composition techniques in a straightforward, conversational manner. The instructions come across as ad-lib and very informal, with Scott conversing with his assistants and models in an unscripted way that really gives the viewer a sense of what it would be like to work with him on a studio shoot. You can really tell that, going into the DVD shoot, they had the shots they wanted to accomplish in mind, and the setup mostly ready to go, but didn’t feel it necessary to have everything perfect and “just so” before they started rolling. I really liked that about the tutorials – they were real and unpretentious, and demonstrated circumstances that we as photographer would experience ourselves.

There are sixteen tutorials, plus an intro on how to use the player, iPod upload instructions, and an introduction from Scott Kelby. Most tutorials are just under ten minutes long, with a few that are shorter. Each segment starts with Scott explaining the purpose, reviewing the required equipment, and offering suggestions for aperture and shutter speed. The assistants and models do their thing to get the equipment set up and everyone standing in their places, and then Scott starts taking shots. The results are shown as the shutter clicks – live view of the session is replaced with a static view of the shot that was just taken.

The workbook that comes with the DVD is useful to refresh your memory on key points after watching the individual segments. There’s not a whole lot of detail in the workbook itself, it is just meant to be a companion to the DVD and not a stand-alone source of information. The workbook chapters coincide with the DVD chapters, and serve as a summary of what is discussed on the DVD.

Some con’s:

- There were only two chapters that I was somewhat dissatisfied with. Since he was working in a studio, Kelby could only discuss on a conceptual level how to shoot good landscapes and panoramic shots, but couldn’t demonstrate either in a real-life setting. Understandable, but I hope that if they come out with a sequel to this DVD, they’ll include more “on location” shooting, and not just studio work.

- A couple of times Scott compares two shots that he’d taken – one shot taken before adjusting light levels, equipment placement, or exposure compensation; and then one after the adjustments. While he’s talking about the two shots he’s comparing, often times only one shot is displayed on the screen so the viewers can’t see the comparison he’s talking about.

- When Scott was demonstrating the use of strobe lights, the live action shots of the strobe light in action were replaced by the photo he’d taken as he clicked the shutter, so the viewers didn’t get to see the strobes actually firing. I would have liked to have seen that at least once or twice.

Now for the Pro’s:

- Kelby instructs in a conversational and informal manner (with all the um’s and uh’s, but not too many). I find this much more entertaining and easy to understand than dry presentation-ish delivery.

- Scott explains the pro’s and con’s of the gear he uses without it seeming like he’s plugging the product as an advertisement.

- I really like how he works with the models, and describes what he’s doing and what he’s looking for so the models are well informed of how close in he’s zoomed on them, what the lighting and positioning is doing to facial features, etc. There’s a lot of humor there; he obviously is familiar and friendly with his crew, assistants, and models.

- Kelby mentions the shutter speed and aperture used for all of his shots. It might seem so obvious as to be left out, but budding professionals like me really appreciate that.

- Inexpensive equipment tips are provided, like using drugstore vanity mirrors to light food.

- As much as Scott is a proponant of Photoshop (for good reason) he really prefers to get the shot right the first time, in the studio or straight out of the camera. He also experiments with the shots real time, trying different reflecting surfaces, different exposures, etc. And when he makes a mistake or takes a not-so-great shot, he owns up to it and uses it as a teaching tool.

- The studio used is really great – look around in the background as you’re watching the video and see the details of the studio, and all of the GEAR laying around (drool).

All in all, I came away from the viewing of the DVD with a much better understanding of how lighting works, and how simple changes can make a dramatic difference in the quality of the photograph. I highly recommend Photo Recipes Live to anyone who wants to learn more about lighting, brush up on their techniques, learn the “recipe” for a specific shot they’re trying to accomplish, or just add fodder to their lust for gear.

Photo credits (all): Tiffany Joyce.

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