Heisler Teaches Photo Students Valuable Lesson

“I don’t know how to explain how fun it is,” said photographer Gregory Heisler of his career choice.  “It’s super duper fun.”

Photo Courtesy of Greg Heisler, Portrait by Maja Jutanda

Clad in a bow tie and round glasses, Heisler, currently the artist-in-residence at the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls, MA, addressed the Advanced Photography students as the penultimate lecturer in the 2011-2012 Photographers’ Lecture Series on Tuesday, April 24.

Heisler’s range of work includes advertisements for clients such as American Express and Nike, and privately commissioned portraits of subjects including Bruce Springsteen and New York City Mayor Edward Koch.

A veteran photographer, Heisler gave an animated anatomy of a photo shoot, using as an example a recent shoot with Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade he had done for Sports Illustrated.

Step one:  “A big part of it is how you engage people,” he said.  Subjects react to the personality of the photographer.  “For them it’s like a bad trip to the dentist without the happy gas,” he said.

Step two: “Take three or four frames and move them,” said Heisler.  “You have to be random, flexible, spontaneous, roll with it.”

Photo shoots take place either in the photographer’s studio or on location.  “In the studio you’re God,” explained Heisler.  “You have to create everything.”

On location, on the other hand, “you get stimulated by the cool places and surroundings,” he said.

Step three:  Sometimes photographers have weeks to plan a shoot, more often hours.  “At noon the day before I had no idea I would be taking the picture and the next day I was in Miami,” explained Heisler of the timeline of the shoot.  “This is how it works.”

Heisler had arranged for an assistant to film the James shoot and he showed the class the 15-minute footage.  As it played he explained how important it is to keep the subject moving, talking, laughing, interacting with both you, the photographer, and the camera.  Personal is dignity out the window.

“There’s a million ways to do a shoot and any of them are valid,” he said once the film finished.

Having emphasized the importance of lighting throughout saying, “lighting is the crux of what I do,” Heisler ended his talk with a lighting technique demonstration and slideshow.

To a chorus of nodding heads, using a small scrap of cloth and a shower curtain attached to a metal rod, Heisler revealed how he had made studio-quality lighting during a shoot that had gone terribly wrong, for a fraction of the price.

Professional photographers purchase upwards of thousands of dollars of lights and backdrops and diffusing material to recreate natural light.  Heisler was able to manufacture the same light using products he purchased at Home Depot for less than $30.

On his way to Georgia for a shoot, the airline had lost his luggage.  Thankfully, “I carry my cameras on-board with me,” he said.  “I always like to have something I can create a picture with.”

“Light,” he said waving the $12 pot lamp in his hand, “and light,” now pointing to a photo he had taken using professional grade equipment.

And so Williston Northampton’s Advanced Photography students learned a valuable lesson from Gregory Heisler.  Lighting environments similar to those of million dollar magazine ad campaigns can be recreated using everyday items.


Check out our Flickr gallery of the event.

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