Lightroom Rocks, But Get The Right One

Lightroom is the core app around which my business revolves. I love it; it quadruples my productivity; the math they did to make it work is incredible, and frankly, if they charged $1,500 instead of $150 I would still buy it.

The caveat? I have said it before: I am not a fan of Adobe CC. “CC” stands for “Creative Cloud”, and it is a suite of products for a monthly fee. Great technology, wonderful, and worth a lot—but not that much.

First, even with upgrades over the years, that monthly fee works out much higher than the stand-alone product, if Lightroom is all you use, And most photographers do not need Photoshop. Illustrators do, but we’re not illustrators.

But that is not my main gripe. My main objection is: I buy a product that is completely essential to my company and hence to my income. And now when I have the CC version, Lightroom “calls home” at regular intervals to check whether I am allowed to use it. Didn’t pay bill? No Lightroom for you. Bank screwed up? No Lightroom for you. You’re in Africa when it’s time to call home, so no Internet connection can be made? No Lightroom for you. Database problems? No Lightroom for you. Account hacked? No Lightroom for you. And so on. And these things really happen—they are not mere theoretical possibilities.

I simply cannot allow mission-critical software that necessitates me asking politely for permission to please use it.

So I, and you too may want to, buy the stand alone version for $149 once only, instead of the CC version for the “introductory” (i.e. will-go-up) fee that starts at US$9.99 per month.

But how?

Good question! It takes me 15 minutes each time to find it. Eventually by listing all products, you get a screen like this:


And you see, at the bottom on the left, the tiny, tiny “Products” link?

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-16-57-19 screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-16-57-30

Yeah, that one. That takes you to this page:


..which contains:


That is, as far as I have been able to tell, the only way to get to the non-CC product. While it is still available. Which will not be forever.

The link above is for Canada, but there’s similar pages for others.

You may also be able to buy copies in a box, in stores like Henry’s. But that too is very hard to find.

Back to regular business. But if you have not checked out Lightroom: go get it. Free 30 day eval, after which you decide to buy it—or not.

And if you have bought it, do consider having me help you set it up properly, and fix any errors. Good news: anything you get wrong can be fixed later. Lightroom really is a fantastic app, but you do need to put some thought into how to organize your files. A few hours of private consulting and you too, like me, will dramatically increase your productivity. Drop me a line or give me a call to explore the options, and see


In Real Life

..In real life, you only have so much time when shooting an event. So you need to be quick, and you need to really master a bunch of little things.

Take this picture, taken with a wide angle 16-35mm lens at 800 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4, with bounce flash aimed behind me. . Attentive readers may recognize the Willems 400/40/4 formula in that, modified slightly (800 ISO instead of 400) because it was so non-reflective.


Nice, but why are the verticals tilted inwards toward each other at the top?

Because the photographer was aiming the camera upward! That results in this tilt.

If the camera had been pointing downward, you would have seen this instead:


And it is only if the photographer aims the camera straight ahead, parallel to the horizon, that we get the proper picture:


And now a little secret: that one, the third, was in fact the actual photo taken by the photographer, Because the photographer, and that was me, knows to hold the camera parallel to the horizon. Check the verticals before you click!

So how did I create the other versions? Simple, by using TRANSFORM in Lightroom. And just like I can make a good picture bad, I can make a bad picture good.

So why not just shoot as you like and fix them all later? Mainly because this takes that most valuable of all commodities, time.

So. Last question. Flash you say. Really? How do I know this isn’t just ambient light?

Well, let’s take one with the flash OFF. Here we go:


Now, we could have used ambient like this but just increase the exposure by three stops. That is true (higher ISO, lower f-number, and/or slower shutter). But then two things would happen: a) you would notice the drawbacks of those actions (e.g. more motion blur, less depth of field, more grain), and b) the picture would lose its magic. You would get this:


Well, de gustibus non est disputandum, but I prefer mine:


Isn’t this “creative” stuff fun?

Want to learn from me in person? 5 hours in Brantford, Ontario, on Sunday Oct 2. With a maximum of 5 students. Sign up tonight and save big: 

HANDS-ON SESSION: Master On- and Off-Camera Flash, Manual & TTL

Sunday, Oct 2, 2016, 12:00 PM

Michael Willems Studio
48, Wilkes Street Brantford, ON

2 Emerging Photographers Attending

UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVITY, LIKE THE DUTCH MASTERS, AND BECOME A FLASH PRO!This unique small and intensive hands-on workshop, held in my fully equipped studio, will be both practice, for those who know a thing or two about flash, and a revelation, for those who do not.I took this picture  two days ago, on Friday. In a dark Niagara Falls restaurant …

Check out this Meetup →


Wonderful Willems Warhol

I am surprised at the willingness of people to buy Lightroom “presets”. There’s people who sell these sets of edit presets for good money—I see them hyped on Facebook daily, and then I see friends “liking” them and “forwarding” them—and there’s a lot of buyers who think they are buying something really valuable.

And they are. But it is value they could have just as easily (and more quickly, and a lot more cheaply) created themselves. They are just settings of the controls.

But all right. If you really have too much money, I will gladly sell you the “Wonderful Willems Warhol” preset. An amazing value at $19.99, it turns this recent “OK” portrait of my friend Rob McNaught…:


Into this Utterly Amazing Andy Warhol-like creative creation:


Wow, eh. But there’s even better news; for you, my good friends, it’s only $4.99 if you order today! Yes, that’s right: I will sell you the Wonderful Willems Warhol Special Art Effect for just $4.99! And you can use it as often as you like: no restrictions, and no license fee! So you are really buying an infinitude of artworks for just a few bucks. Have you ever seen better value?

Oh wait. No, that’s wrong. No.

No, I will not sell it for $4.99. Instead, I’ll sell it to you for $0.00.

For nothing. Naught. McNaught. Yes, really.

Why? Because if I charged you any money for this, I would feel bad. For two reasons. First, these presets are easy to make. Twiddle your settings, and hit the little “+” button on the left, give the new preset a name and you are done. $5 for that is asking too much. And second, by paying some guy $5 for a couple of settings, you are getting that guy to do your creative work for you. A picture created with that preset will be as much mine at it would be yours.

But if you want that one, here you go. Go to Lightroom’s DEVELOP module, and apply the following changes to an image:

[1] In GENERAL, change Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Clarity and Vibrance as follows:


[2] Change the Tone Curve as follows:


[3] And finally, change Detail settings as follows:


Now on the left, above the Presets section, hit “+” and give it a name, like “Warhol”. You will now see it added to your User Presets:


And you are done!

That preset took a minute to work out, and I did it all myself. Is that worth paying lots of money for? Lightroom’s functionality is worth every penny, but should you pay that much for someone telling you how to set that functionality? If you think the answer is “yes”, then my three-hour Lightroom course has just gone up to $3,000. Personally, I think it’s like selling someone an iTunes preset called “Loud” that turns up the volume.

My advice: work out what changes you want, and then figure out how to achieve them in Lightroom, i.e. “what control do you need to increase or decrease to get the desired effect?”. That way, you have done the work, and you’ve saved some money. And you have gained extra insight into the wonders of editing in Lightroom. And you get to play, and discover new stuff.

Enjoy! (And sorry, Gavin, Coles, and the many others who sell presets. But don’t you think we should teach our students how to edit, rather than sell them ready-made edits?)


OK, so the Canadians among my readers may remember the kerfuffle when, a week or so ago, it turned out that a federal government minister had paid a photographer around $6,600 to cover her two-week attendance at a climate summit in Paris? “Scandalous!” “A waste of taxpayers’ money!”. For shame!

The minister of course promised to do it cheap, next time. And even His Holiness Prime Minister Trudeau (cue angel choir) weighed in. From the same article:

“We have seen over the course of the past months, have noticed many long-standing government policies that we are questioning and that’s certainly one that we are looking at as perhaps not the best use of public funds,” he said of the photography costs.

Of course we instantly get comments again like “Its [sic] not taking long for the liberals to be abusing tax payer money again.”

Yes, there are online lynch mobs galore: it seems that no-one is defending this bill. Even photographers called in to radio shows, saying this should cost hundreds, not thousands. And I have seen photographers call this “a ripoff”—and so on. No one dares question the decision to spend this kind of money on photography.

Except me.

I just shot a conference for three days, in Niagara Falls, for roughly the same amount of money per day that the Paris guy charged. And let me explain why this is a very good deal, not a scandalous waste at all: in fact I kind of take offence at hearing it put in those terms.


I shot a 3-day conference

First of all, it is important to cover these events, and to create a permanent historical record of them. In later years, the organization in question can tell the narrative using these permanent records. Visual storytelling is a very good way to do this: a picture really does tell 1,000 words, and then some. I am very proud of the storytelling I did in this event, and the Paris pro probably feels the same about his or her work. When I read about something that happened in Paris in 1880, I want to see the pictures, not just words. Imagine if every important conference in history had been photographed! I would want to see those Wannsee photos right this minute.

Second: if it worth doing, it is worth doing well. I can’t tell you the number of compliments I received already about the “amazing photos”. That does not mean I am amazing: it simply means this audience is unfamiliar with the work of a professional photographer. It really IS so, so much more than “point and shoot”. It takes 10,000 hours of study to become an expert at anything, it is often said, and this certainly applies to visual storytelling. A day fee of $1,000-$2,000 is entirely regular in most industries, including photography.

And then there’s the constant cost. I carried at least $30,000 worth of equipment. And spares. And lighting. And various lenses. Stuff that needs regular replacement. (A camera lasts maybe $250,000 clicks and then it’s done). Just like your doctor uses echocardiogram machines and x-ray machines that cost tens of thousands. News flash: professional gear costs money. Ask your doctor what he paid for his stethoscope, next time you see him. I’ll bet it’s many hundreds, even though I am sure you can buy a Chinese Learner Model for $9.95.

Is the stethoscope on the left therefore a “ripoff”?


Then there’s the artistic insight. When Picasso draws your portrait in five minutes, you pay him not for those five minutes, but for a lifetime of experience leading up to those minutes.

Then there’s reliability. As a pro, I deliver. Period. No excuses. I have spares, contacts, checklists: you’ll be able to leave it to me. Period.

And now that we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the work. I just press a few buttons, right?


Trust me, I work for a living. Every photo was an adventure in problem solving. For three days, my brain ran at high power to get the job done well.
That also involved time. Three days? No way, much more. Days of preparing and packing, and prior to that, quoting, talking, negotiating; and at the end, unpacking. And while there, I got up at 8am and worked until midnight every day, no interruptions. No time for lunch even. Not even a five minute break!

Instead of delivering photos after weeks, as a beginner would do, I delivered in real time. Four or five times a day, I would go to a room or office, or my hotel room, and finish the 200 pictures I had just taken. I did this while conference attendees had coffee breaks or lunch or post-day social bar visits. Instead of drinking, I edited. In fact on Sunday, I just finished, and uploaded, the last morning’s pictures to the client—and again, I am proud of the work.

So instead of an insane rip-off price, and trust me, even friends here used those terms, this client got a pro, and pro gear, and world-class work for three or four extremely hectic and active days.

And years from now, the story of that organization at this time will be able to be seen in a way that tells more than words. Oh, and since the organization gets an unlimited license, they can use the images forever, for basically any purpose they care to use them for. And all this for what I dare say is less than you’d pay a car mechanic or plumber, if you hired a car mechanic or plumber for the same amount of time.

It is easy to criticize large-looking bills, but you may want to learn why bills are what they are. You might be surprised: even government ministers can get value for money. And “value for money” does not mean “the cheapest”.

All sorts of everything.

I am shooting a three day event, a conference, at Niagara Falls, while my son house-sits back home. So I shoot lots of speakers and so on,

And I love this kind of shooting because if done well, it leads to so many “oh wow” reactions.

But only if done well, and it is complicated:

  • I am using a long lens (70-200) without flash, and on another camera, a wide angle lens (16-35mm on a full frame camera) with a flash, so all settings are totally different from shot to shot.
  • Many, many different environments. A large ballroom. Hallways. Smaller rooms. Restaurants (several). Easy bounce, Then, no bounce. Then, difficult bounce. Coloured walls. Every shot is an engineering challenge!
  • Speakers who will not stop talking, or stand still, or even turn the same way, for a millisecond.
  • Dead batteries all the time.
  • Heavy cameras, two of them. And the arthritis in my hands doesn’t make this any easier.
  • The need to minimize post-production work. Hundreds of times “just a moment or two” means many moments, and that means “hours and hours”..
  • Tough environments including “dark inside with bright outside also visible in the shot”, like this:


But it does not end there…

  • TTL does not always work well when there’s reflections, so I have to use Manual flash setting for a lot of the work. And that is sensitive to changing the distance to the flashed object (“inverse square law”).
  • Impossible white balance.
  • Bouncing means direction, and you need to think about that direction: “Where is the light coming from?”

So I really have to work for my pay. Fortunately, I love my work. And there are ways to make it easier: start with good starting points, like the Willems 400-40-4 rule (look it up) as your basis, and adjust from that basis. When you take my courses or buy my e-books, you will learn these starting points.

And then you can shoot quickly and get great colour, and with a modern camera this applies even at high ISO. Here, for example, is beauty:


No, I did not mean the girls. Well, yes, they are very beautiful, too, but I really meant the venue and the colours. This is why I love flash.

In the next few days, some more about this shoot. It is 1:15 AM and now, finally after a 16-hour non-stop day, I get a rest. But only until 7AM.

And then back to Black Betty, who is waiting patiently in the garage for me:


And then tomorrow evening, I run a photo booth, 80km away. No rest for the wicked!