Broncolor Workshop: Shaping Light with Urs Recher

Recently I was invited to attend a workshop hosted by Broncolor with their head photographer and consultant, Urs Recher. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to attend the workshop and jumped at the chance to go. Dan Wang, Product Manager at Hasselblad Bron had reached out to me specifically to invite me to the workshop, put on by both Broncolor and Samy's Camera in LA at the Petersen Auto Museum.

It's that sort of customer service & customer relations (that I had no idea existed), that have now set their brand apart in my mind. It's great to know that your business is appreciated by a company (especially when you spend as much on them as these products cost!).

The workshop was conducted at the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles. Prominently on display in the lobby is a $2.6 million Bugatti Chiron.

The workshop was conducted at the Petersen Auto Museum in Los Angeles. Prominently on display in the lobby is a $2.6 million Bugatti Chiron.

If you're unfamiliar with Urs Recher, he has been the head photographer and a consultant from Broncolor for the past 19 years and has played a pivotal role in the company's imagery (all of the print collateral featuring Broncolor product images has been shot by Urs and his small team of photographers), as well as had a major role in product development over the years. Most will recognize him, though, from his educational videos from Broncolor, as well as his role in the how-to series put out by Broncolor & Karl Taylor.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

I showed up a little early to the workshop, so I could meet some Dan and some of the other attendees. I was shocked when I found out President and CEO of Hasselblad Bron, Michael Hejtmanek, in addition to their West Coast Sales Manager, Matt Frary were also present. It's awesome to see how involved the company is in all of its activities, all the way up to the highest levels of management.

The workshop was relatively small at around 20 attendees, which presented a serious learning opportunity for those in attendance. Urs made it apparent at the beginning of the workshop that this would not be a "normal" how-to lighting course and his setups would be unconventional, urging us to think about light in a different way. 

The workshop started with basic properties of light covering such topics as the inverse square law, and how flash power and distance-to-subject affect reflections and highlights in human subjects. The way Urs explained everything was easy to understand, and only briefly covered, as the workshop made the assumption that most have shot with and used flash before.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

He opened with light shaping for portraiture and headshots — The lighting setups he used were unconventional and were in line with the workshop's theme of "light shaping". They challenged attendees to think more of how light works in relation to the subject. He explained the relation of light and shadow areas, how light angle affects skin tones, and his thought process when lighting a photo or scene. These ended up being the takeaways for me — watching the build-up and process of him lighting his subject, along with a short discussion about lighting and reflection angles during the product photography portion.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

At the halfway point during the workshop, Dan brought out the new Hasselblad X1D 4116 edition with a prototype lens, which was awesome to see and only made me want one that much more. The industrial design of the X1D is just plan gorgeous — it's light and maneuverable, and the grip is super comfortable in the hand and inspires confidence. Unfortunately, I didn't get to take any sample shots to take home with me.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

In addition to unconventional lighting setups, another interesting to see were how simple the setups were without the need for big, fancy modifiers. They did bring along a Para 177 and a Para 88, but they didn't get touched at all during the workshop. He used a 60cm x 60cm, 60cm x 100cm, and standard reflectors and grids for the entirety of the course. As photographers, it's easy to get "GAS" (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) — that somehow, more gear will make our photos better — but the workshop brought it back to basics and demonstrated how little gear is required to achieve interesting and dynamic results by showing how the same basic modifiers can be used in different ways.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

The session concluded with some Q&A in which he briefly covered the use of Parabolic reflectors, which was particularly interesting to hear about. Before the workshop, Dan had described some of the fundamental differences between the small Paras (88 and 133) and the large Paras (177, 222, 330) — mostly with regard to the opening mechanisms, and fabric choices.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

It was during this discussion that I really noted how much consideration is put into the development of these products — The opening mechanism in the small Paras is unique and obviously what's responsible for their quick setup, but since the tension of the opening mechanism is set from the factory, a different type of fabric — one that would stay taut over its life span, had to be used. The fabric in the small Paras is more of a soft silver that is less specular than the fabric used in the large Paras — the soft silver fabric seems to be thicker and less prone to sagging. This is important because the tension kept on the rods in the smaller Paras isn't adjustable like it is on the crank-based large Paras, where more tension can be placed on the rods through the crank as the fabric stretches over the Para's lifetime. The shallower depth coupled with the softer, more light-diffusing fabric means that the "core" of the para does not get nearly as dark as it does on the larger paras with the more shiny silver fabric, so less of the wrapping ringlight effect occurs in the smaller ones.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

An interesting note that Urs mentioned is that he uses the larger paras in smaller spaces, and the smaller paras for larger spaces or larger groups, due to the wrapping effect the larger paras have, and the para's placement is a little less of a concern as a result.

 Photo by Bryan Gateb - www.bgateb.com | photos.bgateb.com | @bgateb

Overall, I felt like the workshop was a success and had something for everyone. The discussion on the concepts of light and different modifiers coupled with the demonstrations on results that can be achieved with basic gear were good for those new to flash photography, while being able to observe the creative and thought process of a professional at work was a treat for those who may already be familiar with lighting concepts.

Finally, I do want to make a note of the community-building approach Broncolor is taking with their customer service and relationship building -- many of the attendees were owners or users of Hasselblad & Broncolor products or other local influencers. Their awareness of the value created by inviting its users to a single place and the ability for them to meet other users creates a network of their customer base that goes beyond the typical organic channels for discussion like forums and social media. Again, I want to thank Broncolor  for inviting me to the workshop, and hope to be able to attend more in the future!