Photography / Hands-on Review

Easy as One, Two, Three with Scott Kelby


The gist of Scott Kelby’s common-sense style can be gleaned from a page randomly chosen from his Digital Photography Book Volume 3, titled “Controlling Softness with an Umbrella.” A picture of a flash pointed at the underbelly of a shoot-through white umbrella has straightforward instructions on how to adjust the softness of the light coming through the umbrella. Scott writes: “I usually want really soft light for shooting things like brides and portraits of families, etc., so I slide the umbrella out around two feet from the flash. That way, the light from the flash fills as much of the umbrella as possible, making my light source bigger, which makes my light softer.”

That kind of crisp, targeted advice is found throughout Kelby’s books and in his DVD appearances. Kelby has a self-effacing style in which few words are wasted. When Scott talks, novice photographers are exposed to a treasure trove of tips; professionals add to their bag of tricks.

Volume 3 focuses on such topics as using flash, getting the most out of your studio, the truth about choosing lenses, shooting products, shooting outdoors, photographing people, and shooting sports. Scott's concluding chapters, Pro Tips for Getting Better Photos and Avoiding Problems like a Pro, provide guidance on everything from shooting in tricky low-light situations to tucking in your elbows for sharper shots.

While you can’t go wrong with Volume 3 alone, if you want the total Aperture-to-Zoom package, consider The Digital Photography Book Kit by Scott Kelby, which contains Volumes 1, 2 and 3. Some call it a “boxed set.” I call it a how-to encyclopedia about digital photography that is surprisingly jargon-free and even fun to read.

Despite the low-tech requirements of a book (just open and read), Scott’s output isn’t limited to print alone. In fact, many of his titles are multimedia extravaganzas that contain a book or booklet and one or more DVDs. So, for example, Photo Recipes Live: Behind the Scenes, is a book and DVD set that concentrates on lighting (indoor and outdoor) for photography, film and video, with an emphasis on budget gear.

Then, there’s the Kelby Training DVD, 10 Essential Studio Techniques Every Photographer Needs to Know. In this tutorial, Scott takes you through the basics of studio lighting and explores the mysteries of strobes, spider lights, soft boxes, flags, reflectors, beauty dishes and more. And in the three-disc DVD set, Light It; Shoot It; Retouch It, Scott provides a comprehensive course on setting up a studio shoot that includes lighting and makeup, executing the shoot, and then retouching the images in Lightroom.

Scott Kelby is extremely prolific, even becoming an impresario of the Kelby Training brand that has spawned a pile of instructional DVDs often hosted by people not named Scott Kelby. Not-Scott-Kelby Kelby Training DVDs include:

  • Freeze Motion Photography with Frank Doorhof, a fashion and glamour photographer who teaches you how to find the right balance between shutter speed, aperture and lighting values when shooting a moving subject. Doorhof goes into the importance of changing perspectives, using flashes and much more.
  • WordPress Basics for Photographers, a two-disc set presented by RC Concepcion. The first disc teaches you how to get a professional-looking photo blog running with WordPress; Disc two explains how to exploit WordPress for maximum exposure.
  • Fay’s Master Background Collection, presented by Fay Sirkis, an internationally-recognized portrait artist, photographer and instructor. Sirkis teaches you how to “paint” your photographs using Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter to simulate watercolor or oil paintings and other techniques. And Fay’s Master Brush Collection shows you how to create unique brushes in Photoshop and use them to mimic the styles of Renoir, Picasso and Hopper, among other artists.
  • The Photographer's Guide to Avoiding Common Business Mistakes, with Jack Reznicki and Edward Greenberg, a tutorial on how to avoid mistakes photographers make conducting business. Reznicki is a past president of the Board of Directors of Professional Photographers of America; and Greenberg an intellectual property and copyright attorney and a member of the New York Bar. Another Kelby Training DVD hosted by the duo is The Photographer's Legal Guide: Model Releases & Copyright Registration, a two-disc set. The first DVD explains various types of model releases and links to samples you can download; the second covers copyright registration and how to protect your rights.
  • Certain life events are irresistible to those who provide training for photographers. One is school graduation; the other is weddings. In Senior Portrait Photography, James Schmelzer, a successful portrait shooter for more than 30 years, presents on three DVDs everything you need to know about creating stunning images for yearbooks and pictures that will appeal to the parents of high-school students. 

Perhaps no event is more photographed professionally than weddings. So, it’s no surprise that Kelby Training offers a half dozen wedding-specific titles on DVD. The newest arrivals are Photographing Beautiful Brides with Cliff Mautner, and Wedding Photography: Rapid-Fire Tips & Tricks With David Ziser. Award-winning photojournalist Cliff Mautner, more recently Nikon’s international wedding photography spokesman, offers insightful tips on how to make any bride a star. According to Mautner, it starts with gaining her trust. Meantime, veteran wedding photographer David Ziser knows that though weddings tend to be dragged-out affairs, at times you have to work especially fast to capture irreplaceable moments. In Rapid-Fire Tips & Tricks, Ziser bestows an arsenal of shortcuts that could spare you from missing those not-to-be-missed shots.

Other Kelby Training DVDs that will help you traverse the wedding trail include:

They say you can’t learn life out of a book (or by watching the DVD), but they’d be wrong about learning to become a professional photographer when it comes to learning from one of these Kelby trainers. To read more about Kelby Training products, see the accompanying articles: Teaching Photographers How to Make Pictures Perfect and Conquering Adobe Software via Kelby Training DVDs. The latter focuses on such products as Photoshop and Lightroom.

Discussion 1

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Mr. Kelby's stated intent to achive wide, soft light is just right, but the equipment solution is so old-school. Weddings are fast, dark, full of nervous people and difficult conditions. Brides want the photographer to be inconspicuous, fast, accurate and to produce casual, fun, spontaneous images that look efforless and as candid as possible. 

When you bring out the big equipement like studio lights and umbrellas, usually the people tend to stiffen up. Spontaneity drops off dramatically. Brides today do not want to look like their mothers or grandmothers who had mostly standard, set-up pictures. They want real.

And umbrellas are cumbersome, big in what is often a tight space, and take time to set up. Do you have liability insurance if you were to poke a guest with that big umbrella or knock over a flower arrangement?

B&H provides plenty of new-school speed light modifyers that offer quick, inexpensive and innovative ways to create the light you need for weddings. Almost any of them will run rings around the challenges of working  with umbrellas in the wedding scenario. Check them all out, and I suggest paying serious attention to the Ultimate Light Box kits from Harbor Digital Design. Simple, inexpensive, quick and flexible to meet most any lighting need, this kit in my opinion can make you a pro overnight, or at least improve your lighting creativity many times over. It did for me.