Why I…

…don’t live in Europe anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. Europe is great. History, culture, art; pragmatic politics; liberal philosophy; well-educated people; intellectual discourse on TV rather than clips for 11-year olds. All good.

But then this, at my local 24-hour supermarket:

23198938856_3315d50d25_o Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 19.27.23

A typical Reuben sandwich. Has half a cow on it.

And in Europe, the Europe I remember, this would have one slice of meat. One. Not two.

Imagine a lunch table in The Netherlands, or an Autobahn restaurant on Germany, or any hotel with a “continental breakfast” pretty much anywhere in Northern Europe. One slice. If you take two, you are a waster, a bad person. One is plenty for a good person; two is for bad people. A 24-hour supermarket or two in every small town in Europe? Yeah. ten centuries after hell freezes over. Wasteful “American nonsense”. And it is “unnecessary”.

Like drive-through ATM machines (why park and waste time lining up?); drive-in cinemas; easy Internet banking; cheap commoditized goods; lower taxes; and much of what makes North America great. After all, we are here for a few decades and then we are gone. Why deny ourselves everything that makes life easy? We should try to make things easy. In Europe, it is my impression that the intention is to make life as difficult as possible. Here we say “Yes, unless”. There, they say “NO, unless you can show why it should be allowed”. NO, unless you can show why it is “necessary”.

Another example. Here, to get a personalized car number plate (mine are “MVW1” and “CAMERAS” (!) ), you look up the available names online, pay the government a couple of hundred bucks, and you’re done; your plates arrive in a few weeks. In Europe it is impossible to, because GOD FORBID that we make life more fun or easy for people. No, we can’t allow such :”American Nonsense”.

I wonder what those Europeans would make of a sandwich with about 40 slices. Heart attack, probably.

And photography has many parallels. Until not many years ago, photography was a “protected” (i.e. regulated) profession in much of Europe. Here: do what you like. Which is how it should be, however difficult it is for establish photographers. Let the chips fall where they may.

And who wins, in all these circumstances? The consumer!




A student asks.

Here’s me, teaching a Sheridan College class just the other day:


My student asks:

How did you know you were ready/good enough to charge for your service?

You are ready when people think it worth paying you. Period. Of course yes, you should have the standard technical skills: know about exposure, focus, colour, metering, all those basics. And the basic composition rules. But that is not indicative of a successful photographer; those are merely “hygiene factors”. Like saying an author needs to own a pen, and paper, and know the alphabet. Well, yeah, d’oh! If you are not 100% sure you have all those skills, get my camera books from www.michaelwillems.ca/BOOKS.html

But as said: you are good enough when you manage to make people part with their money. In other words, when people want to pay for your work, your work is good enough to be paid for. A truism, but a true one. :-)

Would you say there is a specific set of equipment you need to be able to charge for, say, a wedding shoot?

Yes. redundant equipment.

Lots of lenses, several cameras, lots of flash gear: all that is good but not necessary. Depending on your style and your clients’ wishes, you COULD shoot a wedding with just one wide angle prime, for instance. Or a 35 or 50mm prime. The equipment expands your possible styles, that’s all.

But redundant (spare) equipment and at least some form of flash is necessary. It is irresponsible to shoot a wedding if you do not have backups for everything. Because anything that can fail, eventually will. Count on it. And it will be during the ceremony, in the middle of the most important part.

…Or for a portrait shoot?

No. A digital Rebel with a 50mm prime lens is enough if you will. Sure, the more the better, but by no means is that necessary. Sure. Headshots: nice to own a 70-200. Environmental portraits? a 16-35. Available light? a prime. But all those are just means to an end. If you do one type, have one style, then you need only one lens. And an affordable prime is enough. For studio, even a kit lens is fine.

Then you do need a range of flash gear and modifiers. See my flash book, and my portrait book, from www.michaelwillems.ca/BOOKS.html



A recent encounter with a photographer leads me to re-iterate my message here: technical prowess can help expand your available options.

One of those is the use of light. Getting creative can involve any kind of light. Not just “available”, not just “Flash”, not just any type.All types. Why restrict yourself?

Take a portrait in a sunflower field. a “natural light only” photographer can do this:


Nice. But I prefer for my subject to be the “bright pixels”, because 0f Willems’s dictum that:

Bright Pixels Are Sharp Pixels.

So I, an “everything” photographer, can do the above, but I can also do this:


Which one do you prefer? The point is not that one is better. The point is that with flash added, you have a wide range of opportunities.

The above shot was made with nothing more than my camera and my usual portable umbrella outfit:

20140807-MVWX8477 (1)

By the way: My Dutch Master Class® courses teach you how to do this; how to think about flash; you learn the Three Essential Recipes: you get everything you need to get your vision into your work.

Your Home Studio: A Full Portrait Kit

One of the things you need to do to be a serious photographer is get a home studio running. And the good news: you do not need much.


You can do it by using something like this—and this is a pretty well equipped speedlight portrait setup:

  1. Camera and lens(es). Pretty much any lens will do since you will be shooting at f/8. Use longer lenses for headshots. My favourite is my 70-200.
  2. Four cheap flashes. You can use any flash, any brand of flash whose power can be set manually and whose automatic time-out can be disabled. Like $85 Yongnuo manual (non-TTL) speedlites.
  3. Five Pocketwizards (or similar). The simplest, non-TTL types.
  4. Four Pocketwizard to hotshoe cables (from PW or from flashzebra.com).
  5. Four light stands.
  6. Two umbrella/flash mount brackets
  7. Two umbrellas.
  8. Two ball heads (for background light and hair light)
  9. 2 Speed straps, one Honl speedsnoot, one Honl photo 1/4″ grid.
  10. One set of Honl photo artistic gels.
  11. A backdrop stand with two or three crossbars (unless you have a grey wall).
  12. A roll of background paper. I suggest dark grey. But white and black are also useable.

We are talking a camera plus perhaps a couple of thousand dollars to be completely equipped for headshots, three-quarter shots, etc. (To make things easy, I recommend using a complete Honl photo kit, from www.honlphoto.com/?Click=2032 – use that link, and use discount word “Willems” at checkout to get an additional 10% off the kit price.)

That’s not much equipment. Yes, you can even do it in a simpler fashion (e.g. by using “SU-45” flash follower mode on three of the four flashes, and by using a reflector for your fill light), and you can do this in several phases rather than all at once, but the above setup gives you a reliable pro kit, and some redundancy as well.

If you want to learn how to do this, good news. It’s easy. Come to a custom personal class (see http://learning.photography) or join one of my Brantford meetups or buy my acclaimed e-book bundles from http://learning.photography/collections/e-books.