Review: Kelby Training on Lighting


KelbyTrainingUpdate:  I have an updated review of Kelby Training.  Check it out!

In many ways, I think that Kelby Training is one of the best values available for training photographers. I’m specifically going to look at their training for lighting in this review, but there’s much more available on this subscription based service.

That subscription is the key here.  You have access to all of the training available on the site for the price of your subscription. Whether you pay $24.99 for a month or $199 for a year (discounts apply to NAPP members), you get everything – Photoshop, photography, Lightroom and other Adobe CS products, etc. Compare that to a DVD and you have a lot more resources at your disposal. However, those resources disappear when your subscription ends. To keep you hooked on the subscription, Kelby Training consistently develops new training and adds it to the available queue of courses.

The courses relating to Lighting fall under the Photography category. As such, they often are part of a larger subject. You can also find lighting information here provided by a number of instructors, including Joe McNally, David Ziser, and Scott Kelby. With different instructors, you also get some different teaching techniques. The courses on Kelby Training generally follow a segmented or chapter approach to lessons. You can follow in order or skip around.

Since this is a web service, you need connectivity to view the courses.  There is no option to download the training and watch it on-the-go. The online player works quite well, giving a large display and can enlarge to a full screen display. The basic controls allow you to play, pause, adjust volume and skip forward or reverse. There’s been some discussion online about providing iPad support, but that has’t been provided yet – likely due to a large development effort required to support the iPad without using Adobe Flash.

It’s Not a Foundation

Something I find to be a glaring omission is the lack of a foundation course. These courses assume that you have knowledge of the camera’s exposure triangle, and that you also understand flash power and flash to subject distance. The courses will touch on some of these aspects, but none of them give you a straight-forward, “this is where you begin” kind of foundation to lighting. With that in mind, what you get from the various Kelby Training courses on light is a series of tools to enhance your existing knowledge. It’s not equipped to help you really understand lighting from Step #1.

For those viewers who don’t have that foundation, it’s kind of like watching show & tell. You see some cool stuff, but you may not know how to replicate it with your own gear. For example, Joe McNally’s course, Light Shaping Tools, has a segment where he addresses the need to vary the exposure on the model, but he doesn’t want to change his aperture for depth of field issues. You see him lower the power on his Elinchrom Ranger until he gets to its lowest setting, and yet the exposure is still too bright. Does he change his aperture? Does he explain that moving the light back would reduce the output of light on the model?  No.  Instead, he shows you that switching the power port on the Ranger from A to B reduces the power and gives him more room to control his exposure.

That’s excellent advice if you have an Elinchrom Ranger. Doesn’t do a damn thing for the rest of us. He had good reason to keep his aperture steady because he liked the depth of field it provided. Closing down the aperture would have extended DOF and changed his image. He also had good reason for keeping the light in its position. As he explains in the lesson, the quality of light he gets by moving it closer to his subject is more desirable than if he moved it away. We see him working through a problem and we can see the results of the problem in the images he shows. Unfortunately, there is no real explanation about the relationship of these factors, and his solution was dependent upon a specific product that many viewers probably don’t have.  That’s why I refer to it as “show and tell.” I didn’t get information that I could replicate or the foundation to understand my other options to solve the problem.

Plenty of Insight

Perhaps the aspect I enjoy most about the various courses and instructors on Kelby Training is that you get insight to how they think. They have a logic and reason for their approach, based upon years of experience, and they explain that do you. David Ziser discusses why he likes to use sidelight on a bridal portrait to bring out the brocade on the dress. You see him examining his environment and looking for opportunities to provide an interesting background or bounce light. His purpose is to show how to create wedding portraits using off-camera flash. So light is an important part, but you need to keep in mind that he’s primarily discussing how to achieve a result, not training you in lighting theory or ratios. He’ll mention the results he gets from varying his shutter speed to lighten or darken the background, for example, but this once again drives the point that you need to understand that foundation of lighting to grasp all of the issues at play, and how they affect his ability to control. During one example, he raised his shutter speed to darken the background and also realized that he lost some of the ambient light that was creating a fill light on his subject.

I enjoy this aspect most when they run into problems and have to work out a solution. Joe McNally  gives some great insights in his training course about how to work-out problems. One of the best examples is his course titled “Corporate Photography.” He’s shooting subjects in their office with a nice view of the Tampa Bay outside. It’s a great backdrop, but comes with a list of problems to overcome:

  • Floor to ceiling windows
  • Reflection
  • Control of light

He has to deal with different levels of ambient light, inside and outside, and create a believable level of light on his subject while allowing the outside view to become part of his exposure and eliminate any reflections on the windows. He’s balancing outdoor daylight, an incandescent lamp on the desk, florescent ceiling lights and his flash. You can see how he deals with these problems by controlling the light – putting up black flocking paper on the walls to eliminate some reflection, or even putting a black case for his gear over his khaki pants to prevent them from reflecting on the window.

Application-Specific Lighting

By showing you how to deal with problems, Kelby Training is giving you insight to the nature of light and some tactics you can employ to change its direction, shape and quality. The courses are providing instruction above the foundation level. You get insight on lighting a diverse array of subjects in very different environments. Here’s a list of some of the instructors and courses involving lighting on Kelby Training (subject to change as more courses are added):

David Ziser – His primary realm is wedding photography, but he offers great lessons on posing, classical lighting, on and off-camera flash.

Frank Doorhof – A fashion photographer teaching about on-location shoots and lighting

James Schmelzer – His realm is senior portraits, covering lighting techniques, outdoor lighting, and production ideas

Jim DiVitale – A commercial shooter who delivers a rapid-fire, drink from the firehose course on lighting and color for product photography.

Joe McNally – Joe probably has the most courses on lighting of any instructor on Kelby Training.  He covers small flashes, big studio lights, light shaping tools and modifiers, how to use lighting for portraits in corporate, environmental or sports environments.

Scott Kelby – He provides three different versions of courses called “Light it, Shoot it, Re-touch it” where you get to see a portrait go from creation to completion, and understand how lighting affects the final image.

That’s not even a complete list of courses where lighting plays a role.  Joe Glyda’s course on Food Photography gives some insight, as does Moose Peterson’s course on Photographing Florida Birds (flash brings out the color of those feathers). The courses I’ve listed are the ones where I think you get the most insight to Lighting as a subject.

More Than Lighting

These courses provide a light more information than just lighting, which is probably why they’re listed under Photography as a category, rather than Lighting. The intent is to teach you how to achieve a resulting image, not to teach you specifically about lighting. In other words, all of the gear and knowledge they share is to help you to understand how to use lighting as a tool to achieve your desired result.  Toss in all of the other education related to photographers and it’s a great value.

However, I really do wish that there was a course on the basics of lighting to provide a foundation to better understand the rest of the information provided here. If you watch enough of these training sessions, you’ll see the man working behind Joe McNally or Scott Kelby who could provide that training.  Brad Moore is clearly the evil lighting genius who makes the instructors look good. He was formerly Joe’s assistant and now works as Scott Kelby’s assistant, Technical Editor on DTownTV, and is an all-around great guy. I think Brad would be a perfect instructor for a Lighting Foundation course on Kelby Training.


I’ve been a subscriber to for quite a while now and I’m very satisfied. They have excellent production values on all of the courses – no problems with sound, video or other aspects. Its clear they’ve thought about their topics and how to present them. You get access to a LOT of training and information for a low price. If you let your subscription end, then you lose that access.  That may or may not matter, depending upon whether you like to go back and reference the training material or not.

As I noted on the post this Monday, there were some problems with access lately. That isn’t an issue I’ve seen very often, and it also extended to the site for NAPP members. I sent a note to Larry Becker who quickly replied.  Apparently, it’s a hosting issue and they’re working to resolve it. That resolution may or may not involve moving to another host. I believe this is a short-term problem, based upon my experience using the service for the past year or two. I’ve generally never had to think about the quality of my connection.  Considering how much video they’re pumping out to subscribers, that’s kind of impressive to me.

Unlike my other reviews for Zack Arias’ OneLight Workshop DVD or David Hobby’s Strobist Lighting Seminar DVDs, there isn’t a segment of Kelby Training on YouTube for me to embed here. They do have some promos there, but I don’t want to show you a commercial. Fortunately, Kelby Training provides the first lesson of every course for free.  Just visit the site and you can get an idea about the quality of video and instruction you see to decide for yourself.

I’ve been a happy subscriber since February, 2008.  I don’t have any hesitation to recommend Kelby Training, but do so with the caveat that it (currently) lacks a Lighting Foundation course.


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  1. It’s like you picked my brain or something, because this is exactly what I think too. I love Kelby Training, but yeah, no beginner lighting course. Even jumping into Joe McNally’s small flashes course was pretty impossible because I didn’t understand half of what he was saying. But, I’ve learned a ton from KT on other topics.

    1. That’s kind of my thought. There’s a lot of valuable information there, but not for beginners. If you don’t have that foundation of how lighting works, it’s just show and tell time. Pretty interesting to watch, but difficult to use that knowledge to put in practice for your own projects.

  2. Well my new plan is to watch the OneLight DVD when I get in (in a few days), then jump back to KT and re-watch the Small Flashes workshop, and hopefully I’ll get it a bit more. Joe had some really cool techniques I want to try to replicate at some point (in one of his KT workshops, he does this cool multi-exposure karate thing 🙂

    1. One of the differences between Arias (and Strobist) vs. McNally is using Manual Mode vs. Aperture Priority/CLS. As you can tell, I think the Manual Mode lessons worked better. Once you have that knowledge, there’s a bit less “magic” to the semi-automated modes that Joe teaches. You just have to do some translation in your head. So when Joe says he’s raising by 1EV, you can translate that into 1 stop of light – meaning he doubled his flash power, or reduced his shutter speed (depending upon the example he’s giving at the moment).

  3. I agree on the need for the basics video. Recently since I bought my flash I went back and looked at the 3 Scott Kelby Digital Photography books and there is excellent lighting information here for speedlites and strobes. He also tells you which equipment he recommends.

    1. That’s good to know. I may have to go review some of those books, too.