I'm freaking motivated! :: Drew Gardner DVD Review


Well I’m freaking motivated now. Meg and I just watched London based photographer Drew Gardner’s DVD entitled “Location Lighting with Drew Gardner.” I picked it up from Midewst Photo Exchange for $24.95. That is a grand theft video right there and it is an introductory offer. I think it is going to sell normally for $34.95 or $40. For UK readers you can purchase it from the Flash Centre for 20 pounds.

Synopsis of this DVD :: You follow Drew on two big location shoots. He walks you through the location, the lighting, the thought process, and finishes each section with a quick look at the post production. The reason the post production is a “quick look” is because he does as much as he can at the time of shooting instead of relying on Photoshop. Granted, these images “require” some compositing. I mean, where are you going to find five perfectly trained badgers? The following images are the final images from these two shoots…



These are big production shoots with a station wagon full of gear. Drew uses a Phase One medium format back, Elinchrom Ranger lights, the beautiful and remarkable Red Wing boom (I really want one of these), grids, Chimera softboxes, a smoke machine, and assistants to help him get all of this together. Here is the thing though… Do not think that you HAVE to have this gear to get something out of this video. I don’t have any where near the type of gear he uses for this and I’m completely inspired to get off my arse and step up my game.

So what does that mean? That means I pick this information apart and retrofit the techniques Drew uses with the gear I currently own. That means I shoot 35mm based digital instead of medium format digital. It means I use my Alien Bees with a Vagabond battery in addition to my used Nikon flashes. The Rangers are incredibly wonderful and powerful lights but I can’t yet justify the cost of them and chances are you can’t either. It basically means I step up my skill set with whatever gear I have. I work within my limitations and that is going to make me a better photographer.

Another thing I think about is I can rent bigger lights if needed! I can rent a Ranger and a head for $55 a day here in Atlanta. Plan your shoots well and you can sometimes pick up rental gear on a Friday afternoon, return it on Monday and only pay for one day of rental. That gives you 2 1/2 days to shoot.

Some of you may be saying, “But I’m a wedding / portrait photographer. Why would I go to these lengths for my shoots?”

Because you could absolutely separate yourself from the pack of competition if you slowed down and thought through sessions with the detail Drew goes into. When you show up with something completely different than the standard you attract a client base looking for something different. You also attract better rates for your services because you put more into it than the new kid on the block with the camera from Best Buy.

Slowing down is something I have to be doing these days. I’m the kind of photographer who feels he must shoot, shoot, shoot and get this angle and that angle and the other angle. A lot of times this is great and keeps me on my toes but I know that I’m not getting exactly what I want because I feel some sort of internal pressure to move on to the next scenario BEFORE I get the best I can get from what is in front of me. I’m really attracted to tethered medium format digital right now because it makes you slow down and really think through the shot in front of you.

Seriously, exchange the girl on the water buffalo with a bride and you have a John Michael Cooper meets Drew Gardner kind of thing. :)

This DVD is NOT a down and dirty, nuts and bolts technical video. If you are new to lighting and photography in general then this one is going to go a bit over your head. This is best suited for those of you who are comfortable with lighting or at least you have the knowledge and understanding of f-stops and shutter speeds. If you are new to lighting then check out the OneLight DVD and/or the Strobist DVD for the foundations of lighting and gear.

It is currently being offered at MPEX in the US for $25 and that’s a steal. I suggest picking one up before the introductory price is up.

Find out more about Drew on his blog at www.TheDarkArt.com. And here is a quick trailer for the DVD…

Cheers, Zack

PS – Yes… I taught with Drew in Dubai. NO… I’m not getting any kind of commission / kickback for posting this review! I really do love this DVD as does Meg. Yep! Even Meg got excited about photography after watching this and she isn’t a photographer! :)


  • Ilan said on April 20, 2009

    The photos absolutely stunning… Insane work.
    Thanks for DVD link! Awesome!

  • Sherri said on April 20, 2009

    bride on the buffalo – love the imagery.

    slowing down may just give you time to reassess your creative angle, not just the physical angles in front of you!
    magic in angles. i knew i liked geometry for a reason 😉

  • zack said on April 20, 2009

    @sherri – Amen!

  • Wills said on April 20, 2009

    I met up with Drew in Glasgow where he was holding a seminar on his work, to sum up his dedication and skill in one word would be “AWESOME” not many spend as much time in the planning and execution. Big thumbs up from me.

  • Jivan said on April 20, 2009

    Note to self. Next shoot don’t forget to bring the badgers.

  • Ben said on April 20, 2009

    I’ve read an article about this dvd in the Apri 2009 issue of “Digital SLR photography” (fantastic magazine by the way…). Thanks for the UK link, Zack!

  • Heidi Fazio said on April 20, 2009

    great post!! now I’M freaking motivated. Thanks!!

  • Matthew McMullen Smith said on April 20, 2009

    Hey Zach,
    Thanks for this, finally a photography DVD I’m excited about!
    I highly recommend the Red Wing booms, they are heavy and expensive but they will make your life a thousand times better and they seem to be indestructible.
    Slowing down and thinking about the shot/shoot is essential, especially if you are in control of the subject. I still like to shoot medium format film because it makes me stop and think before I snap away, plus I can carefully compose my shot through the WL viewfinder unlike a DSLR. Since I’ve started spending more time planning before the shoot I’ve wound up with more quality shots and more room to experiment during the shoot than before.

  • Jason said on April 20, 2009

    I am now motivated to buy a DVD. 😉

  • william lee said on April 20, 2009

    i just watched it last night and thought the same thing. i spend too much time shooting everything instead of not enough time focusing on one thing. this dvd is almost as inspiring as my onelight dvd (smile). but for real it is a must get for any photographer trying to take it to another level in their work.

  • ar_chee_v2 said on April 20, 2009

    Hi Zack

    I totally agree with you that as a professional photog,we have to separate ourselves from the crown.

    Keep doing Zack.

  • prudence said on April 20, 2009

    Hey Zack…I am a newbie photog here in Atlanta. It would be great to “try” out equipment before I commit to buying. Where do you go for rentals?

    I saw borrowlenses.com online but they are based in CA and the prices are so low w/o deposit….I’m a little scared???? Ever heard anything about them?

  • zack said on April 20, 2009

    @Prudence – I rent locally from PPR…


    I hear borrowlenses.com is a good company. Never used them myself though. PPR always has what I need.


  • Rick Wenner said on April 20, 2009

    @Prudence – Check out LensRentals.com I’ve rented from them before and had no problems at all. Good prices too!


  • Squeeker said on April 20, 2009

    Wow. That really is inspiring! =) Thanks for sharing!

  • Matt S. said on April 20, 2009

    Very cool. I’ll have to check this out. I think concept photography is a genre that could use a david hobby or zack arias to share the secrets. I’m fascinated by it, but have no idea where to start on a smaller scale.

  • Mark Weaver said on April 20, 2009

    ordered, now i have to wait for shipping….talk about learning to slow down lol

  • Lisa B said on April 20, 2009


  • Dennis Murray said on April 20, 2009

    Even if most of your photography falls into other categories – using lights in some form can create great progression in your everyday shooting.

    I regularly shoot sports – a year and a half ago, picked up a couple of Alien Bees. I’ve added a couple of modifiers since.

    I also regularly study photographers’ work with lights through a variety of sources.

    The effect in my every day work has really improved my production. Understanding light direction, fall off, and contrast between lit and unlit areas means that in situations where you don’t fully control the light, you understand how to work with it to your best outcome.

    Thanks for the recommendation – I’ll have to check it out.

  • greg said on April 20, 2009

    Along with the “think through your shots more” advice, I’ll add “don’t be afraid to try again.”

    I’ve been doing some concept shots lately and you can learn a lot with your first attempts, and then go back and do it better.

  • David Burke said on April 21, 2009

    Zac(K), thanks for the tip and making me spend more $$. I know it will be worth it.

    Another great place to rent lenses is http://www.lensrentals.com/ They are GREAT to work with and in Tennessee so us east coasters can receive them quickly and less expensively.

  • Sissel Byington said on April 21, 2009

    Thanks for the heads up. ALWAYS looking for affordable education. You forgot to mention where I might rent a water buffalo. (wink)

    Thanks Zack for keeping us all motivated and in the game.

  • Rob said on April 21, 2009

    Zack, thanks so much for bringing this to all of our attention. I just ordered mine, can’t wait to learn more about location lighting, as I’m pretty new to that.

    It looks awesome.

  • Thomas Lester said on April 21, 2009

    Hey Zack (or any other photog that wants to answer) –

    Here’s my question. How do you make money with a shot like this? I know some people do this for a personal thing, but surely he’s not doing all that for nothing. How does one get paid for these genius, elaborate images?



  • Tim Rogan said on April 21, 2009

    “It is currently being offered at MPEX in the US for $25 and that’s a steal.” Does that mean your DVDs will be coming down in price soon? :)

    I’ve been sitting on the fence on this package because I’ve heard mixed reviews. After watching your video blog on Kelby if you say they inspired you then that is good enough for me. I have my order in.

  • RichardP said on April 21, 2009

    I think these images are quite interesting, but I wonder is it going a little too far?

    When does still photography become cinematography? With money- a production crew and a large format camera- you can pretty much shoot anything you want. If your budget allows- heck- hire Drew Gardner to shoot it with you!

    Isnt this what making a movie is all about? If you want to study this kind of lighting- pop your favorite DVD, may I suggest an old Mario Bava film, in your computer and grab stills that interest you. Its amazing the mood and role the light plays in film.

    Maybe its me- but I consider myself a photographer- not a director. Now if Drew used a couple of sb800’s and some reflectors, and shot it with a D300- I would say these images were spectacular!

  • zack said on April 21, 2009

    @Richard – I’m heading to bed at the moment but I would like to address your comment. Will do so in the am. You make an interesting point.


  • zack said on April 22, 2009

    @Richard – I’m going to respectfully disagree with your thoughts on big production photography. YES we can learn a lot from cinema but you can’t pop in a movie and watch the director, the DP, or the lighting director tell you how they lit the shot. You have to reverse engineer the whole thing with mixed results. You also don’t get a play by play behind the thought process and philosophy of what went into the final image.

    Also, saying that you would be more impressed with these images Drew created if he had done it with some hot shoe flashes and a prosumer camera is akin to saying you would be more impressed if Michaelangelo used crayons or Spielberg using Sony handicams.

    Photography becomes cinematography when the images start moving. You can shoot anything you want no matter what gear or crew you use. If you are careful with your budget you can create large production shoots like the ones Drew walks you through for very little money. In fact, I bet you could rent the gear Drew uses and shoot for a weekend for less than the cost of two new Nikon or Canon flashes. Would you own the gear? No. Would you own the images you create? Yes.


  • RichardP said on April 22, 2009

    @zach- I didnt think my comments were ment to be right or wrong, agree or disagree. It just seems to me that big production shots like these often yield photographic results where the parts are greater than the sum.

    Try this- grab a Herb Ritts or Annie Leibowitz book (which often contain big production shots) and ask your friends what they think are great photos. Notice they will often select the pics with the celebrities that they like better- regardless of the actual photo!

    I do think that there is a universal truth in all art- and that is learning to see and do more with your craft by looking at other forms of art.

    For me- with my photography, the biggest compliment I can recieve isnt thats a great picture or spectacular lighting- but- the viewer stating- “I wish I was there”!


  • Kristy B said on April 22, 2009

    Hey Zack
    Any chance of bringing a few of these over to Australia for the workshops? Happy to pay for it now!

  • Darien Chin said on April 24, 2009

    Thanks for the heads up. I freakin love Drew’s work and he’s a big inspiration to me. Copped my video super quick once I read this.

  • erin said on April 26, 2009

    Reminds me of Geoffrey Crewdson…very cool.

  • erin said on April 26, 2009

    Eh…I meant Gregory Crewdson. Whoops.

  • jim lyle said on April 29, 2009

    drew uses a manfrotto tripod with a horizontal double-end arm that holds camera head and computer tray- i can’t find this accessory anywhere- does anybody have a link that shows this piece of equipment?

  • hank said on May 1, 2009

    I’m not buying this because I don’t like his weird dark style.

  • Justin said on June 18, 2009

    Zack! Stumbled on your new blog.

    It’s funny you got this from Midwest Photo Exchange, of all places. That was one of my favorite photo stores back home in Columbus, and I remember picking up and ALMOST buying this EXACT DVD.

    Now I’m starting to regret not doing it hah… At least now I know I can order it online :)

  • Beth said on July 16, 2009

    oh wow! I need that!

  • Miklós said on September 13, 2009

    HI Zack!

    Your flash-using with low budget is motivating me very much. I have nikon speedlights but I would like to step forward from the CLS system. What is your recommendation for me to buy a large flash (for outdoor shoots) and radio transmitter? I’m in Europe where ABs are not known…

    Thanx in advance,

  • susan patrick harris said on April 29, 2010

    just ordered this! thanks for the recommend!

  • demonoid said on May 28, 2010

    where to buy this dvd

  • zack said on May 28, 2010


  • Bogdan said on December 9, 2010

    Bought, watched it… feelings a bit mixed. I would love to be have the time to go at such depth, however the wedding guy such as myself has to think fast and act quickly…
    I have mixed feelings about the DVD just because the results feel a bit empty and definitely cold. They are stunning visually, no question about it, the method and effort are indeed inspiring. The results… I don’t know… maybe a bit underwhelming?
    Just a few thoughts, nothing more…



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