Here, from years ago, is an assignment for you:

Put your 50mm f/1.8 lens on your camera and, using just available light, go shoot twelve things in your living room that show its character. Or shoot lots, but pick the best twelve.

Then put these together in a 3×4 arrangement, like this (yes that was my living room at the time):

Living Room Miniatures

This assignment forces you to look properly. What is it that shows the character? What makes for a simple shot? It also forces you to use the right techniques for simplifying and filling the frame. And you get to practice low-light shooting, selective focus, and so on.

But most of all, you get to think about subjects. Initially you’ll struggle to find ten – then suddenly 100 pictures will suggest themselves.

Show me your results!


David Honl, whose modifiers as you know I use, and love, just posted a helpful post on his blog. I will show you Part of it right here, namely the corrections you need to make to your flash when using a gel:


Those are useful Numbers, these will save you a lot of effort when you’re using the gels yourself. Which as you know I’m a big advocate of. This  will save you a lot of effort when you’re using the gels yourself. Which as you know I’m a big advocate of.

There is one thing I want to point out in addition to this though. Namely:

To turn a background into colorful, it first has to be dark.

It does not matter if the background is in reality gray, light gray, white, or even black; what is important is that to the camera ot has to look almost black. Then, and only then, can you add your gelled flashes. Then, and only then, can you add your gelled flashes.

If you do not do this, and if the background is, say, white, then adding color will add nothing except perhaps a slight tint   LIgor is not like paint: you cannot cover a color by putting another color on top.

For many people this is the biggest revelation when they start using color gels… So now you know. I just saved you a bunch of time. As did Dave with his table.

To  buy,  click on the advertising link on the right, and when checking out use code word “Willems” for an additional 10% discount. You’re welcome. 


Five years ago; still current

And still this is current! A question I answered years ago here and on another forum bears a repeat here. The photographer asked:

I just had a client order an 8×10 of a picture but when I crop it in Photoshop, it goes beyond the picture. (like it only fits for a 4×6 or something) What do I do?!?

A common question. For some reason known only to the good Lord, cameras use a 3:2 aspect ratio, while prints, frames, camera stores, and so on usually use 8×10 (i.e. 4×5) or 5×7, which are entirely different aspect ratios.

This means when you print, you have to do one of only three possible options:

  1. Crop off part of the image;
  2. Leave white bands on the sides;
  3. As in 2, but fill those two white bands with fake picture (what Photoshop calls “content aware fill”).

For methods 1 and 2, you probably want to use Lightroom, not Photoshop: in Photoshop you get burdened with having to know the picture size (pixels, DPI/PPI) when all you want to do at this point is set the aspect ratio. In Lightroom, you can simply set the aspect ratio (like “8×10”) without yet having to worry about the size you will eventually want to print at.

For method 3, however, you do need to use Photoshop. You expand the canvas to the size you want, then fill the white areas using that “content aware fill”, and adjust as needed.

But why is this all necessary? I have many people asking me this with a certian degree of perplexity.

Simply because you cannot fit a square peg snugly into a round hole.

To help understand, imagine if the print the client wanted was square. Does your camera take square pictures? Probably not. So to print square you either need to crop, or have white edges (or fill the edges with fictitious material).

Last tips:

  • This has nothing to do with picture size, or with things like DPI/PPI. It is simply about the shape of the picture (square, rectangular, etc).
  • I typically crop to the aspect ratio I like – not to the one dictated by the frame makers of this world.
  • That said, it is often wise to shoot a little wide, then crop later – just in case of this kind of aspect ratio nonsense getting in the way.

Have fun shooting!


Some composition techniques

This morning, I ran an outdoors workshop in Toronto, for US-based Digital Photo Academy. And I took some snaps, although I was not there to shoot.  (I think I was there to melt: it was 30ºC and 95% Relative Humidity).

So anyway: let’s look at a few of the compositional principles I used.



What was it that struck me in the image above?? The perfect symmetry. Flat water, clear reflections. And white sky (and hence water). Learn to spot reflections–just in case. This is a case where you do put things in the middle, rather than using the Rule of Thirds.

Sightsseing in motion

Sightseeing in motion.

Above: Motion. I “panned” with the bus, i.e. I moved my lens with the bus, at 1/30 second. That way, the passengers are sharp, while the background is streaked in the direction I moved my lens (left-right).

Next, this photo of a certain well-known tower:

Coilour coordination

Colour coordination

…which is a good example of framing. I am using the buildings and the tree to frame the CN tower. So it’ll go to prison for a murder it didn’t commi…. oh never mind.

Next, some words.

Culture, and progressive values

Culture, and progressive values.

People in front of signs are interesting when the words mean something. Culture. And is that two men pushing the baby–stroller? Questions are good. rather than spoon-feeding your audience, make them work out what’s happening, You can spoon-feed babies, instead.

Now to bigger matters:

"Exit Stage Left"

“Exit Stage Left”. Waterfront

Great stage, especially when seen through a 16m lens (on a full frame camera). Sharpness, symmetry, and the Maple Leaf flag.

CN Tower

CN Tower.

In that picture, we see a blurred CN tower—but only blurred a little. The framing tree is sharp. And above all else, we see… simplicity. A golden rule of good photography:simplify, simplify, simplify, simplify, and simplify.

The same applies to this:

Master of its domain

Master of its domain!

And I presume you see the Rule of Thirds being applied there too. As well as in this picture:

Fun and joy

Fun and joy.

And that picture is, of course, all about the Right Moment. And about another rule: “If It Smiles, Shoot It”. 


People and their devices..

People and their devices.

A snap of a person wrapped up in her iPhone.

Short Final

Porter on (Very) Short Final.

An airplane photo. Because why not.

And then, back to progressiveness:

A progressive city

A progressive city, eh.

Toronto really is a very progressive city. (Though now, with a career politician at the helm, I wonder).

What I need not wonder about was today’s weather.  30ºC, and 95% Relative Humidity, interspersed with frequent heavy downpours, and air that looked like it was trying to start to rotate. Those clouds looked dangerous:

Dark skies

Dark Skies. Incipient Rotation.

What was I using there? Clear subject, simplicity, Rule of Thirds.

Do some of your own now. And think, consciously, about the principles and techniques you can use. Your pictures will be better for it. Take one of my courses if you need to learn. The good news, “it’s all just technique” and “it’s all simple to learn”.

Have fun!

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