June 17, 2023

“Go to the bathroom,” My mentor told me – After 15 years, I saw it. These free online photography courses are game-changing.

Shadow Hackers LIVE

With Gavin Seim. 

Wed July 6th | 11AM CST (UTC-6)

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Sign up $69 Free


Excellent workshop. Thank you Gavin!


This free online photography course is LIVE and teaches you the critical things every photo course ignores.

I’ve taught classroom and online photography courses for 15 years But none compare to Shadow Hackers. This is my free online photography course that will ignite your photography in one day.

I’m Gavin Seim. I’ve been a photographer for over 20 years. You may be thinking. “Ugh, another crappy online photo webinar about things I already know!” — It’s not I guarantee you.

Platinum portrait from Shadow hackers  online photography course

You’re about to see everything in your photos!

And nothing will be the same once you do. I’ve been building the Shadow hacking method for a decade and no one else is teaching what I’m about to show you. In one hour I’m going to challenge everything you know.

Have you ever taken a great photo but not know why it worked so well? Or took a shot and expected a great photo, only to be disappointed? I’ll show you why.

I’m Gavin Seim, a Master photographer, YouTuber, and host of the Pro Photography Podcast.

It was the early 2000s when digital blew up. I realized that to survive in photography, I had to stand out. I traveled. I paid for classes. I studied with the top photographers. I wanted to become a Master of Photography and when I finally did in 2017, I realized that was just the start.

Street Photography Mexico - Shadow Hack free online photography courses

Photo schools and conferences won’t teach you this stuff…

This may sound dramatic, but it was a dramatic change for me! You may be where I was 15 years ago. You may be newer, or advanced. But you’re here because you want to be BETTER! It took me so many years of advanced photography study to discover what I’m showing you in these free online photography courses. 

A glimpse of what I’m going to teach you!

  • Cameras don’t tell you the “right exposure”.  Here’s how you do it!
  • The secret to dramatic photos is NOT actually light and this is why!
  • Easily combine art and science to instantly improve your photography!

The actually free online photography course will transform your photography fast.

The reason is that most photo teachers don’t know this. These secrets are not common and have been lost over the years since digital.

Have you ever felt like you’re missing a link to something important, but you’re so close so you keep looking? Finding the information was not as easy in those days and it’s surprisingly hard even with the internet.

When I started grasping bits of this I was blown away. I called my friend who was a long-time rep for a major camera brand and said… why did no one tell me this It felt so strange because I would never see light and shadow the same again.

That was the year I started documenting and trying to make it simple. The next year I started filming the award-winning Exposed workshops. But the process was not complete. Over a decade later, I made this free online photography course to make it easier to start out.

Shadow Hackers free online photography courses for those who want to step ahead of the pack.

I remember discovering something early one early on, standing in the window of my studio. I asked my friend

“Why did no one tell me this about photography?”

He laughed and said… “They don’t teach that stuff anymore!

I needed to understand the secrets of the masters that they never complied into one course. When I finally discovered these I knew I had to make free online photography courses to share it. Techniques to get great photos every day, not just when things go well. No tool or software makes you a great photographer. Knowing this does!

I started shooting large-format films. I was understanding tones, the truth about light meters, and finally the truth about SHADOW. It changed everything and pushed me to become a PPA Master Photographer and create my HotOne award-winning Exposed workshop. But it was not enough.

Now it’s 2022 and photographers are still not being taught this. We’re going to change that together. I’ve compressed this into a LIVE workshop that makes the 3 secrets of shadow hacking simple and challenges everything you know. And once you know. You will spread it.

HDR Seattle - Seims free online photography courses

I came back to my mentor, the legendary Whitmore, and said. 

“This changes everything. I don’t know if I can see normally again”

Ken laughed because to him it was normal. The man that had given me only the film holders for a 4×5 camera then told me to go sit in the bathroom. He didn’t think about it like this because it was normal.

A LIVE online photography course, not another marketing replay!

When I started with film in the ’90s. There was no redo button. If you listen. This will change your photography faster than you ever thought possible. I’m going to show you, for free. 

This is a real LIVE class, not an automated webinar. There will never be another just like it. The class will be 70-80 minutes and there no replay. So set your calendar and don’t miss this opportunity.

Sign up above and I can’t wait to see you there. Gavin Seim

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June 16, 2023

As of 2023, this is the absolute best way to get dramatic black and white I have discovered. Plus I just did a big update to my Blackroom actions (login here if you own Blackroom)

But today’s video will fill you with black and white-ness, even if you don’t use my actions.

I’ll show you the best way to create black and white in Photoshop and why it;’s better than doing it only in Lightroom as we edit a landscape and a portrait. Go fullscreen and watch this one in 4k.

You can get BlackRoom here and if you’ve bought it, login and download your update.

Improving your Dramatic black and white is about nuance.

New photographers often make the mistake of thinking that dramatic black and white is more about adding contrast. Something the opposite is true. It’s actually about using shadow correctly.

That’s why you see me in the video referencing to the Zones and thinking about where I want the tone to be placed. You control all of that.

Speaking on shadow, If you’ve never been to one of my free Shadow Hackers LIVE workshops don’t miss the next one.

This lovely portrait edited fine in Lightroom. But in Blackroom it refined much more.

Lightroom, C1, or Photoshop for Dramatic black and white?

Both work great as you’ll see in today’s hands-on video. If you have a good editing plan they bother convert beautifully. But I’ll show you in today’s video why you will always get a bit more if you finish in Photoshop, even if you started out in Lightroom or Capture One (which is what I do).

In the end, you can do all of this manually, create your own tools, presets, actions etc if you are really experienced, or use tools like my Silver presets and Blackroom actions.

The main thing is to try the methods I showed you today and your dramatic black and white photos will touch the sky sell more and win competitions. Really.

That is the power of the dramatic black and white. Let me know what you think.

Gavin Seim

Using a gradient map and layers in PS I had more control in this photo from Yosemite National Park
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April 15, 2023

When you see a photo in 2023, do you believe it? I’ve just been watching the past few months and today am speaking because I think they missed the bigger part of what AI is doing to photography.

All the top photo channels have been talking about Ai.

But they are not talking about BELIEF! Don’t just watch today. Follow along with my demonstration by grabbing my free film presets and doping this yourself. This kind of photography can’t be ignored and has a big part in what’s coming.

Ai is not Photography.

Today I’m going to tell you what I realized about Ai in Photography, how it’s a repeat of the 2000’s and what you need to be doing to stay ahead and make your photos more real. Yes AI generation tools la Dall e and Stable diffusion will get better. But even when they do feel, real, they won’t be!

Here’s a few more examples. Look at one of my photos of El Trampolin Tamasopo Mexico. When I asked Dall e to make it, the scene actually feels like the right place. It just look very ,much like painting. Stable Diffusion made a scene that has nothing to do with the region. It’s just a river.

Misty river at sunrise in El Trampolin Tamasopo Mexico
My photo of the river at sunrise in El Trampolin Tamasopo Mexico

Don’t be like photographers from the 2000’s

I have some more examples in the video. But what it shows is that while Ai is nothing like the real thing, denial won’t save photography. So don’t ignore what I’m saying today. We have to adapt and make real photo that people value. Those will be the heart of photography future.

Ai will change the demand for many images and perhaps the world will become even more fake. But people will know it’s fake and that is where photography is still so important.

Life, death, , history cultures and people are real, not Ai. So NOT using ai will mean you have something unique in the coming world of Ai imagery.

IS photography going to die because of Ai?

Photography has to stand on it’s own. What Ai will take a giant piece of is over edited photos that are not real. The suspension of disbelief is going to het harder just like it did with Photoshop in the 2000’s. So more over the top things wi9ll soon just be seen al fake Ai things.

This leaves the value in photography in that it’s real. There’s nothing wrong with creating illustrated art. It beautiful. But it’s not photography. I remember this debate many time at international photo conferences and comps like PPA…. If there’s nothing of a photo left, it’s a painting people said.

Now that gets tripled. Now everyone will know the amazing thing they are looking at that seems to amazing to be true, IS NOT. It’s an image without belief and that leaves room for us to adapt with real honest photography that represents the world, the people and the cultures around us.

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August 12, 2022

Should you use Capture One or Lightroom for your black and white edits? PLUS where does Photoshop for black and white fit in?

We’re going to test that in today’s video with direct comparisons. Taking the sale filed and editing them in each to see what gives us the best black and white in the least time. I’ll give you tips for all of them along the way.

Also, see my Lightroom vs Capture on 2022 video here for a general overview of these two great apps. For now, let’s watch today’s video and do some black and white tests.

Since I started digital photography 20 years I’ve seen just about every technique for Black and White in digital Some needless complex. some are just ugly. Simplifying that process led me to bypass plugins and create tools Like Silver 4 presets and Blackroom BW Actions.

Pure Capture One. While there are fewer BW sliders, you can make up for it with the more advanced color tools and get a stunning result.

Honestly we B&W lovers occasionally get a little snobby, so this question can be complex. But since we no longer have the chemicals we used to use in the darkroom the traditional color filters do not have the same effect. Today to take the same principle and make it work digital.

The best black and white conversions usually start for a color photo because with those color channels we can convert and extract the colors, much like we did with filters in the film days but with more detail. Darkroom like green filter, lighter reds, etc. If you bake black and white in camera, you lose all that power. That’s not to say your BW photos are wrong. Just that they are not as flexible.

So I usually convert on the raw file. In LR or C1. I use my SIlver 4 presets if Filmist. But whether you use creative presets to go further, or all manual. You don’t want to supply desaturate. Use those channels and the power of your RAW.

Watch today’s video above, because we’re looking at Lightroom VS Capture ON in a side-by-side level. Does one give you a better black and white conversion than the other and what are the advantages between Lightroom and C1.

After that, you can go deeper into your black and white edits..

If I’m going to edit my best work. I go beyond RAW. I’ll restore the color channels before going into Photoshop, leaving my other edits in place. Then I can go deeper with my black and white edits. But they are also more complex in Photoshop.

Sometimes it’s not even clear how you can make a better black and white in Photoshop. I use Blackroom to convert to a more complex BW because it always helps me find a way to improve the edit without stumbling around. That’s what it was built for.

More about how I do those more advanced edits in this video and on the Blackroom page.

Lightroom is a little more user-friendly compares to Capture One. But with Styles or presets, you can get your look fast in both.

In conclusion. Which is best? LR, C1 or PS

When it comes to Lightroom VS Capture One for black and white. I think Lightroom has the edge for ease of use and results that just work. Capture One with its other available tools can perhaps give you more options but with more work. Both are going to work great if you save presets or styles or Have a pack like Silver 4 or Filmsist on hand.

In the end, both are good and the results will be good.

But comparing both to Photoshop. Photoshop offers more options, but with a lot more time spent. Even if you use Photoshop actions to vastly speed up these more advanced edits, Photoshop should probably not be where you start.

Edit normally in Lightroom or in Capture one or another RAW-type editor. Then take the very best images you want to showcase to Photoshop to give them that edge that makes them win.

Lastly, plugins for black and white are heavily hyped. I used them when I all this starting out but native tools have improved a LOT since those days. As I mentioned in the video, a plugin adds another step and takes away control.

Yes, using presets and styles and actions help a lot because they make hard tasks fast. But they use the native app tools in Lightroom, Capture One, and Photoshop. So instead of a new file or a flat image. You just highly refined sliders, adjustable layers, and a totally transparent process. To be that’s a huger win.

Let me know if the comments what you think is the best black and white tool.

Gavin Seim

The detail in Photoshop is almost impossible to beat. Layers and details equal more refinement. So I still take by best photos here in the end after using a RAW style editor.
Don’t be afraid to edit your black and white a little more. Whatever app you use. In the end, it’s all about shadow and contrast.
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July 25, 2020

Shot notes: On all 3 of these I used Silver Skin process from my Silver 3 presets collection for C1 and Lr on all three. I did some burn burn and dodge cleanup in Photoshop also. I used a Fuji XT3 with a 90mm f2.

Environmental portraits were a bit part of my training and my late mentor who was one of the finest portraitists in the past 100 years; he crafted environmental images for walls for an entire career.

So  I asked myself as I looked at these. Why do I need to remove set elements for this shot. Which tells a better story? I picked 3 poses but my favorite was the environmental scene and it looks great large. I decided to test it on the world of Facebook photo groups. By the way you can comment below or discuss this here on the Facebook post.

There was no grand plan here. Maybe that’s WHY I like it. The internet is full of confident critics who have no idea what they are talking about. I’ll never forget standing around the image salon at competition with Ken Whitmire and others and having strong opinions to this or that. Ken usually had a more objective view to offer. I guess what make me blog about this shot is that I realized I did’t care if they thought it was “wrong”, I knew it would probably not go loan in competition and that did not matter. I like the image and realized that that was good enough and that we often worry to much about what others say.

This caused some controversy.

More people liked my image that hated it. But I found it interesting that a lot of “experts” came to call and they decided that I sucked and if I would not heed their advice,  I should be disbarred from photography! I didn’t actually post the image asking for critique but I always consider critiques because mentally accepting or rejecting what people say about your image is useful.

I learned it’s fine to post your behind the scenes photo so people can peek on smartphones, but to post that image as art another matter. Digital has made us prone do doing whatever software tells us, small screens have taught us planning for print is less important than cropping for a four inch screen and social media has taught us to argue everything and insist we are right. It makes me feel we should go back and study the painters a bit more because often what’s being said by self proclaimed “experts” flies in the face of art history.

When I started entering international level PPA competitions in 2009 on the road to get my masters, I learned I was NOT as good as I thought. It was very humbling and I’ve been learning it ever since. I teach and study photography and I have for 20 years. So despite being called arrogant at times, I don’t just take every comment from  someone online with no portfolio or reputation and obey; neither should you!

Online, everyone is the smartest instructor in a class where only YOU are the student

Is there a rule that says we can’t have the lighting visible in a portrait? No, not if leads to the subject. So that’s what I told people, but some said they ONLY  see my strobe in this first image, or that the going  back and forth which disqualified this as a proper photo. They said my story was not clear and that I was arrogant for calling this a good shot and not admitting my mistake. Of course I have more traditional closeups also, the wide shot was made for fun and I ended up liking it!

A counterbalance like we see here forces the eye to go back and forth, it’s a powerful tool of composition that we study deeply Photo Perfect master class. Now that’s not to say you always have to have a strong counterbalance, only that it does work. The light value is about equal to the models face. Is there a rule that says it must be less. Of course not! The car is a bit odd, but we’re telling a story of a photo shoot out in the countryside. The car shows that we drove somewhere. The eye goes around, to the model to the light and repeats. To me it’s not that easy to leave this frame and I don’t care what object you see first because I know they will lead you to my subject.

The moral here to is  is not that this image is the award winning environmental shot of the season. There’s things to nitpick and I admit this wider shot was not the specific intent of the shoot. I picked it because it resonated to me. To you maybe  not and that’s OK. Here’s the bottom line.

The internet is not the final word!

In my experience most feedback on photo groups often comes from people with little experience. People that want to sound like experts because they are insecure. Listen for honest well intentioned feedback, but don’t let the insecurity of others be your own.
Sometimes an image sparking discussion is proof to me that I did something right. If someone trashes  it, the first thing I do is look to see if they have a portfolio  and how much actual experience they are speaking from.  I learn more from the accountability of real world competitions and qualified instructors than from ego driven comments where everyone dreams of being smartest instructor in a class where only I am the student. We should always be students, but not everyone is our instructor.

Photographers can be ego driven jerks and we can’t let that define us.

I have the experience and confidence to say this works. Of course, you can disagree and you can like the others better, or hate them all. I can even change my mind next week. But that’s not my point. The legendary Ken Whitmire. Ken taught me to use space and to print it unashamed as we fill-walls with the story we want to tell.

The main “crop” in image #1 is not it’s visual edge. The stops are the shadows and the objects to lead the eyes where I wanted. Sometimes these environmental shots get picked apart on small screens, while in wall prints their majesty shines and and people are amazed. Many “experts” in photo groups have never printed a wall print.  We we need to have enough vision to see the goal as well as hear the noise around us. Some images are meant to be seen larger and that’s a good thing. Light itself is rarely our subject, it’s merely our paint! Consider Arnold Newman’s iconic 1949 portrait of Danny Kaye, cluttered with elements of the set and glaring light yet so balanced.

Do you choose wide, thoughtful, safe; or trash them all?

#1 is a useful example of leading tones and counter balance.

The other images are nice portraits and perhaps more logical to some. But I would print the environmental, because it tells a story that I want to know more about rather than just showing a pretty model. Think about it.
If your objects. light and lines hold the eye in the frame and lead it back to the subject, there is no escape from the viewer seeing what you want them too see. I like this because it says something more and your eye gets to roam. It’s both the beauty and the challenge of an environmental portrait and I think most shoots should include one if nothing else for perspective and practice.

#2 feels thoughtful.

It’s not the safest but the pensive look and the hand lead me to the eyes. The pose is not the most sensual or classic, but I can’t stop coming back to those eyes.

#3 feels safe.

It’s got decent lighting, a nice smile and a pretty fair pose with good mends in fingers elbows and a wrist that’s maybe a tad too straight. It’s a nice client portrait and you will probably forget it soon.
People believe their eyes have a choice. In most cases, I don’t believe that’s true. When we use counter balances with tone and line, we can force the viewers eye go where we intend. Not everyone needs to know the story for the story to exist. The use here of the set environment gives us the chance to show a glimpse of the story that most never see and leave them asking questions.

The more experience I get, the less absolute I become about whether a photo is WRONG!!

I can always spot a ego driven feedback because its’ from people who think they know everything and the rule they read about once applies to your image 100% and if you don’t honor it, you are a bad photographer. I can always critique an image, and while there are “rules”  (guidelines) like lines, lighting or an image needing a main subject,I’be found the more I learn the less know.

If you reject feedback because you know all your images are amazing you will hurt myself. But If you filter feedback because it seems ego driven, some someone with something to prove, someone with little demonstrated credibility or experience, that just means you have enough confidence and experience to also critique yourself. Just be careful with confidence because it’s a sharp sword!

A perfectly lit portrait that has no soul, no question in it’s eyes, it’s photo of the light, not a portrait of a person. I think sometimes we need to be reminded of that.  — Gav
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