Photographer: Dean Collins
Specialty: Commercial/Editorial Photography
Favored Camera/Lens Brand: Sinar, Hasselblad, Nikon
Other Products Used: Broncolor Lighting, P42 panels, scrims, Minolta Meters, Kodak films
Dean Collins, who unfortunately died of cancer in 2005, is one of the greatest lighting teachers and commercial photographers in history.
Dean’s real genius was in displaying how basic photographic concepts like 18% grey, the inverse square law, and the surface efficiency impact our images out in the real world.
Watching Dean’s amazing videos, you know a genius-level mind is at work, yet if you have a basic understanding of photography (aperture/flash power relationships), you instantly understand what he’s talking about.
As a commercial photographer shooting a wide variety of subject matter (everything from Toyota prototypes to professional athletes like Joe Montana to swimsuits), Dean used a wide variety of gear.
His main camera was a large-format Sinar P2 outfitted with either a 4×5″ or 8×10″ back, and a variety of lenses including a Schneider 90mm Super Angulon. For portraits and fashion work, Dean sometime used a Hasselblad medium-format camera with multiple lenses, including 100mm, 150mm, and 250mm lenses. And for 35mm work, Dean used a Nikon system, mostly with telephoto lenses like a 300mm f/2.8.
For strobe lighting, Dean was a big Broncolor fan, though he also used 400 w/s Lumedynes for location work. Dean was also quite adept at using hotshoe flashes Strobist-style.
As far as modifiers go, Dean did use Chimera softboxes at times, but he is mostly known for using scrims made of translucent ripstop nylon to create large banks of soft light. In fact, in the 1980’s, he manufactured and sold these lighting panels, including the P42, so named because it was 42 square feet (6×7 feet). Dean preferred these panels because they were infinitely more flexible than softboxes because you could vary the distance between the strobe head and the panel.
One great modern alternative to the home-made style scrims (you can use diffusion material and PVC pipe to make them) is this Fotodiox 5-in-1 48″ x 72″ reflector, which can be used as a scrim. It’s only $44 — WAY cheaper than any equivalent softbox.
However, if you want a straight-ahead softbox, you simply can’t do better than the $170 Westcott 50″ Apollo, which uses an umbrella mount and thus DOES NOT NEED A SPEEDRING!!! That means you can use it with ANY studio flash or hotshoe strobe. (it’s also a favorite of Zack Arias, who refers to it as ‘Big Mama’)
For films, Dean typically used Kodak Ektachrome for color and T-Max (and perhaps others) for black & white. For meters, he was a Minolta guy.
But from the bigger picture, if you really want to learn to light in a professional way, I would recommend that you head straight to Dean’s educational DVD’s.
First, there is The Best of Dean Collins on Lighting 4-DVD set. This is probably the best lighting video ever made, though be warned, the videos were shot in the 1980’s, which means mullets, porn-staches, Mom jeans, and lots of hair spray.
It contains a full 8 hours of instruction where Dean will teach you how to light everything from a model to a Porsche to a box of chocolates to a Nike sneaker. And on the 4th disc (which is actually the basics one, which you should watch first), Dean goes Strobist-style (remember, this was the 1980’s) with a single hotshoe flash, which he does some really crazy stuff with, including one shoot where he hotshoe flash as a main light, fill light, hair light, AND background light.
And best of all, Dean’s tips and tricks don’t require expensive equipment (unless you want to shoot large-format film, of course). I can’t recommend this Dean Collins set enough – if you want to become a lighting expert, the basics Dean Collins teaches you DESTROYS the gear-focused stuff from guys like (name expunged) and Joe McNally. This is doubly true if you are interested in commercial photography.
Incidentally, the second best lighting video ever made is Dean Collins on Lighting – Live at Brooks Institute of Photography: 1991. There’s no description on Amazon, so let me give you one. It’s two hours of Deans showing his catalog, fashion, automotive, still-life, and editorial portrait images, and then showing how they’re done. Again, Dean does an amazing job of breaking down lighting principles in plain English. But what’s really great about this video set is that it’s absolutely hilarious. Dean cracks a ton of jokes and tells some really hilarious stories, including watching Jay Maisel shoot 90 rolls of Kodachrome in 5 minutes, and the time he mailed his Minolta meter back to the factory in a jar of water.