The Fundamentals of Photo-Illustration: Lighting, Shooting, & Photoshop

Explore the limitless possibilities of photo-illustration techniques in the studio, on location, and in the digital darkroom.

Lee Varis, the award winning Hollywood photographer responsible for the "Silence of the Lambs" movie poster, and numerous other photo-digital illustrations will guide you in an intense exploration of photo-illustration techniques in the studio, on location, and in the digital lab. You will work on photographing various illustrative projects from still life, to glamour, and fine art conceptual imagery—then assemble multiple elements into a cohesive whole that goes beyond the sum of its parts. You will learn special lighting techniques that leverage the idiosyncrasies of digital capture to create compelling other-worldly images, and master Hollywood style special effects. Lee will guide you step-by-step in the digital lab to create several fantastic projects using material shot in class. Topics include:

  • Studio lighting effects
  • Advanced "lighting in layers" technique
  • False color technique
  • Hollywood lighting effects
  • Creating drop shadows and shading in Photoshop
  • Figure shaping and retouching
  • Background replacement
  • Type and type effects
  • Learn advanced masking techniques for hair
  • Master blend modes and advanced Blending Options
  • Light beams, glows, halos, and fire effects in Photoshop


Lee Varis

© Lee VarisLee Varis is a photo-illustrator working in Hollywood. He has been involved in commercial photography for the last 30 years. He started working with computer imaging about 20 years ago and currently works with digital as well as conventional photography in conjunction with computer graphics to create images for use in print advertising. 

Lee’s work has been featured on movie posters, video box covers, CD covers, numerous brochures and catalogs. His creative imaging has been featured in National Geographic, Newsweek and Fortune magazines as well as trade journals like PDN, New Media, Micro Publishing News, Rangefinder and Photo Electronic Imaging. Most of Lee’s work starts off as photography that is manipulated in the computer using a wide variety of imaging software. Images are often recombined with digital painting and effects or with additional photo elements to create digital images that transcend the original source materials. 

Clients, art directors and fellow artists look for inspiration at Lee’s web site: There he displays recent imaging work and updates on his numerous classes and workshops, as well as links to his blog and book websites.

Lee has also been involved with consulting and training activities for numerous corporate clients. He did two series of imaging seminars for Apple Computers that took him around the country to most of the major metropolitan areas and is currently active in seminar programs with APA, PPA, ASMP, and Julia Dean Photographic Workshops as well as a touring Creative Production Photoshop roadshow with Mogomedia.

Lee’s first book was "Digital Photography for Creative Professionals" with Rockport Publishers 2003. This is an examination of professional applications of digital photography for commercial graphic artists and art directors concentrating on workflow issues and creative solutions for graphics workgroups. His best known book is the best seller: “Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies”, Wiley Publishing 2006 and a 2nd edition in 2010.  This book has become a must-have reference for every portrait and fashion photographer. His latest book is "Mastering Exposure and the Zone System for Digital Photographers, Cengage, 2010 - a detailed examination of calibrating and shooting for ideal quality in digital captures. He has written numerous articles for Design Graphics, PEI, PC Photo, Rangefinder and Digital Photo Pro.

As a fine artist, Lee has been working on a series of images based on the Tarot. Current progress on this project is on display at:

Lee's 40 years of experience in photography spans the transition from film to digital giving him an invaluable vantage point for teaching and inspiring future generations of artists.


More of Lee's recent work can be found here: