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50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers Ed Tang, May 2009
50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers book review

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Lighting is something that a professional photographer always considers. “50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers”, published in December 2008, is written by freelance photographer Steven Begleiter.

With twenty five years of professional photographic experience, this book aims to share many of Begleiter's past portraiture assignments and the manner in which he decided on his lighting.

I have to say that this is an unconventional photographic book, taking a feel that is more suited to a recipe book.

Indeed Begleiter uses a simile in his introduction that: 'photographic lighting, like cooking, has “recipes.” And this is indeed that.


50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers content

This book has been divided into two distinct sections: one entitled 'Lighting Basics' and the other 'Lighting Case Studies'. Both sections serve different purposes.

The 'Lighting Basics' section begins promisingly across the opening double page spread by going through a few classical lighting setups that should be in any portrait photographer's armoury. These are presented in the commonplace overhead diagrams accompanied with an example photograph of how these lighting layouts translate to in real life. The remainder  of this section glosses other basic lighting theory such as modifying light.

The second section of the book looks at 50 case examples of Begleiter's work. Each case example is consistently laid out with an explanation on the brief of the assignment, the visual objective, the choice of pose, a little contextual information to the photo, the camera, lens and settings used, and tips to take away from the case. There is a clear diagram of the overall lighting setup at the end of each case. The parallel to a recipe book sudden becomes even more apt. An example has been shown below - click here for a higher resolution version of the spread.

Each case is engaging in a different way and surprisingly there's an abundance of general tips alongside some lighting specific ones. These are well considered tips and I can see many being valuable for a photographer who wishes to pursue further knowledge, not just in lighting, but also in managing a model and a location. 


“50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers” succeeds in its primary objective to share experiences in the world of portrait photography. The book is easy to read with an almost conversational, concise style of writing. Begleiter's experience in this field of photography exudes from every page and there are many good learning points to take away from seeing and reading about his work. The diagrammatic illustrations depicting each lighting setup throughout the book are understandable.

The wardrobe choice in many of the images give away their age, but even through dated images one can still learn new things. I personally find this most impressive of all – Begleiter demonstrates the timeless power of effective lighting.

It's not a perfect book though; the biggest flaw is with the title. I find it misleading; this book does not cover 50 different “lighting setups”, but rather 50 case studies from the author's many years of experience. There are many overlaps in lighting arrangements used in the chosen case examples. But what is most disappointing is that Begleiter gives very few explanations of why he applied a particular lighting setup in the 50 case examples; Begleiter assumes the reader has the experience and understanding to fathom what has been done by looking at the diagrammatic illustration.

Which brings me onto the initial section on “Lighting Basics”; it is probably too concise for those who have little lighting experience, and is not the core material to this book. It merely acts as a supplement to the 50 case examples of Begleiter's wonderful work, and it is a showcase of this man's talents.

Given the content of this book, it is more suited to those who already have a basic understanding on artificial lighting and a good grasp of camera control. For those with a lesser understanding in lighting, this lacks the instruction and explanation on the use of lights, but remains a reasonable resource to appreciate how an experienced photographer has thought about his image.

This review was written by Cameralabs’ forum moderator Ed (Photoj). Ed juggles a career in Medicine with much of his free time spent with photography. At the time of writing, Ed is a member of the National Union of Journalists in the United Kingdom and occasionally undertakes journalism and reportage photography. His website is:


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  Summary   Book details  


Concisely written and clearly illustrated, “50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers” is a reasonable read for budding portrait photographers to appreciate some timeless tried and tested ways of utilising artificial light.

Suited more for enthusiasts looking to enhance their basic knowledge in lighting and to appreciate a peer's considered approach to portrait photographs.
50 Lighting Setups For Portrait Photographers

Author: Steven Begleiter

Publisher: Amherst Media, Inc

ISBN: 9781584282426

Pages: 128 (incl. cover etc.)

Format: paperback, no CD / DVD

Aimed at: Enthusiasts

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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