Chuck Arlund's Sketchy Lighting Lessons

by Jessica Gordon

Chuck Arlund

January 09, 2013

Kansas City-based photographer Chuck Arlund is known for his expertly-lit portraits of seniors, brides and musicians in the Nashville scene. But as a teacher and WPPI lecturer, he often focuses on how to demystify the lighting process and show that it’s not as complicated as light-phobes may think. Visual by nature (as most photographers are), Arlund found the easiest way to break down his process was to take to his stylus and computer, and sketch out the details of his shoots’ lighting setups. 

“I did a Christmas card of a three-year-old girl in 2009; it was a studio setup that I thought was interesting,” Arlund says. “I decided do a blog post about how I set it up, so I just hand-drew little stick people and thought it was funny but informative [see it here]. The next thing I knew, I had people asking me about it! I hadn’t planned on doing the sketch, but I got a lot of positive feedback and started doing it for other lighting setups.”

Given the ongoing interest in Arlund’s process, we asked him to share some of his favorite images and their instructional sketches, which use single-flash and multi-flash setups. 

During the past five years, Arlund continued his sketches as teaching tools, and finally amassed so many that someone suggested he do a book. “I did 20 diagrams in a MagCloud [self] publication in late August 2012, and put it on my blog,” Arlund explains. “I had my wife draw a crafty-looking checklist page that I could use for each image. I could draw my diagrams, put camera setting information and write a little about what I had done to create the image. It doesn’t read like a book, it’s more like a sketchbook. I just thought that was more fun and more me. It’s created by doing a lot of blending in Photoshop, and using various brushes, like old tape and coffee stains.”

Arlund had planned to do four books of 20 diagrams over the course of a year, and then bind them into one large text with a total of 80 sketches. Recently, he’s even spoken with a photo book publisher who’s interested in publishing the group of 80 sketches as a guidebook for photographers. 

“[Most] lighting and diagram books are very specific and technical,” Arlund says. “I’m not trying to get other photographers to recreate what I’m doing, I’m using the sketches as a guideline for them to go out and shoot.” 

He goes on to say, “When I was learning how to do this, I bought every lighting book you can imagine and tried to recreate what was there, and I always failed—it always looked flat. You have to do your own thing because every subject and location is different; there’s no formula. But here’s a guideline to help you get started with light placement and distance. I’m just trying to not make it generic.”

Visit for more information, or download his MagCloud publication, including his first 20 sketch tutorials, at

Jessica Gordon is associate editor for Rangefinder magazine, based in New York City. Reach her at

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