Sic transit gloria mundi

Thus passes worldly glory… we are here for a limited time. Hence, make the most of it while you can. And especially, make photos. Or better, have them made, by someone who does it for a living.

This kid’s mom is a very good photographer, and I shot her boy with her yesterday:

(As usual, I used an off camera flash, and the speed was the usual “outdoors starting point” of 1/250 sec at 100 ISO; the aperture needed to match this was f/4.5, which also gave me the blurred background I wanted.)

I often hear “photography is dead”, “from here on, we are all just doing iPhone snapshots”, and so on. But looking at these, do you believe that?

I am sure that there will always be a market for great photos, photos that this young man will treasure when he is my age. An iPhone cannot give you blurred backgrounds, sharp images, lens choices, or the use of flash.

For this image we want a dark background to get saturated colour. That is the 1/250 sec at 100 ISO and f/4.5.

Then for the subject we want a flash: after all, “bright pixels are sharp pixels”.

To be bright enough, the flash was set to half power shooting through an umbrella, so:

A single speedlight is enough in this kind of light. If we had been in the bright sun, the speedlight would have to be very close and/or unmodified.

In any case: please have images like this made, or learn how to make them. After all, you can never travel back in time to do it over again.

Tomorrow, a special technique you can use when you have to shoot a subject in the bright sun.

Canon 1Dx note.

A note for fellow owners of the Canon 1Dx — but in general, for all others too: it always pays to learn your camera inside out.

You use your camera by looking through the viewfinder only, as you are shooting. That is the way to do it quickly and, if you will, professionally. Never take your eye off.

The problem is that you can change aperture and shutter and instantly see the meter move, without taking your eye from the viewfinder. But ISO? You need to find a button, and while you adjust the ISO value, the meter display goes away. So finding the right exposure by adjusting ISO is an iterative process: trial and error. Takes time. Not professional.

Until you know the camera!

The solution:

  1. Go to the Quick menu (“Q”)
  2. In that, navigate to the bottom right option, “Custom Controls“.
  3. In that screen, go to the SET Button.
  4. Adjust it to Set ISO Speed (hold btn, turn wheel).

Now to set ISO while looking through the viewfinder, you simply press the SET button and turn the front wheel. ISO adjusts and the meter still displays throughout the process. Problem solved!

Owners of a 5D MkIII: is it the same? Other cameras: same?


Solve your Xmas shopping needs right now, this minute: buy a gift certificate and/or the e-books. Scroll down to yesterday’s post.

Learning Options

More and more, I think of how to best convey my knowledge. Everyone can learn photography, and preserving moments in one’s life is so important that everyone should. My mission is to help you learn. And if you are a working pro, my mission is to fill gaps and to teach you modern techniques like flash, video on your DSLR, studio lighting, and so on.

I do this blog, and its daily posts, for you for free, so perhaps you will forgive me for once for going all commercial on you. After all, it is to help you by facilitating learning.


First, there are the e-books, of course ( I am proud of them: they condense 10 years of teaching into five books (book 6 is on its way, and it is the largest one yet).

These are, if I say so, very well thought out, well written and well illustrated, long (all over 100 pages, some much more), and easy to use (simple PDFs which you can put on all your devices without hindrance, or even print: a license for that is included).

But learning is best done by adding personal training. You can do that at Vistek, where I am due to teach some more courses next month, and at Sheridan College, where I teach regular evening courses. But best of all, you can do it as private or semi-private courses. See — and those are starting points; in fact if you come to me we will fine-tune the course to your exact needs. From one two-hour session to a full multi-0week course with assignments and review.

So here’s a few suggestions:

  • Before the festive season, learn to do it properly. Reserve your photography courses now: there is limited space and prices will increase before November. If you book now, you will get the old price, regardless of when you take the course.
  • Better still: reserve your course before November, and receive an e-book of your choice free of charge.

Also, think of others around you who want to learn photography:

  • Buy a Gift Certificate for one or more courses. These are NOW available! They look good, and again, if you buy the certificate now you can take the course any time in the future. Click here to see/order your certificate.

  • Gift the e-books. Nothing better to go with camera gifts than e-books that explain how they work and how best to use them. Books are available as a download link on a certificate, or on a DVD for immediate reading.


So as you see, there’s plenty of options for you and your loves ones to learn.

Have needs that are not met by the above? Then call me (+1 416-875-8770), email me ( or contact me any other way you like, and let’s discuss.


Beginners Tip: Backups

I just encountered someone who had a Canon 5D Mk3 and who did not know that this camera can write images to two cards at once. This lack of knowledge of basics is surprisingly common: it’s not as thought he manuals are clear, and if you are not technical, there’s many things you will never find out. (That is why you take training: if you come to me for a private session, I will go through all your camera settings with you).

But this one is important. Because every picture needs to be in two places, from the start.

I say that because all media are temporary. All memory cards break, all hard disks break, all computers break, all CDs and DVDs and Blu-Ray disks develop “read errors”. Even if that did not happen, things fall (ask my cats); things get stolen; homes catch fire. You need to count on this. And if you count on this, you will have backups from the start.

When I shoot something important like a wedding, therefore…

  1. I use my 1Dx, because it can write to two cards at once. I send RAW images to one, and write large fine JPG files to the other as a backup. JPGs will do for the backup: if I do have a card disaster, I will live with them, and my work is good “SOOC”.
  2. As soon as I have the images on the computer, I verify them and I make a backup to a second disk.
  3. It is only then that I format the memory cards (yes, format every time).
  4. I regularly make a backup onto a third disk, which is stored off premises. Just in case (fires, remember?)
  5. And finally… I make prints. Large prints. Files can disappear; prints, good prints, will last for hundreds of years.

Have no backups? Please make them today. I have seen to many disasters. Real disasters, like the woman who lost all the pictures she had of her deceased son. Irretrievably lost. Yes, that happens: sometimes recovery services can get important files back, but often, lost really is lost.

And backup disks are not expensive:

And this ad is older, they are even cheaper today. So please—back up your files today. You’ll sleep better.


Manual or TTL?

When making flash pictures, your camera will be on manual mode—I hope so, anyway. It’s the way to go. This means you set ISO, aperture and shutter yourself.

But your flash does not need to be on manual. That is to say, flash power can still be metered and be adjusted by the camera, automatically. We call this “TTL” (Through The Lens metering). And TTL can work even when the camera itself is on manual.

When your flash is in TTL mode, the back looks something like this:

You see TTL, ETTL, TTL-BL, i.e. something containing the letters TTL. This means the flash power is adjusted automatically by the camera. If you are close to something, the flash will fire at low power; if you are far away, a high power flash will be emitted. Magic!

The alternative is that you set the flash power. Manual flash, in other words. Press the MODE button on the back of the flash and set it to Manual:

In the photo above, the flash is set to half power (1/2). It could also be set to full power (100%, or 1/1), or to quarter power (1/4), or one eight power (1/8), one sixteenth (1/16), and so on; or to some level in between.

Try this now. Set your camera to manual mode, 1/40 second, 400 ISO, f/4. Now turn on your flash and set it to manual, and set it to 1/64 power. Using the viewfinder, take a photo. Check the photo: You will probably be hard pressed to see the flash, especially if your subject is far away.

Now set it to full power (1/1, or 100%). Do the same again. Whew, probably a grossly overexposed picture!

But you probably noticed something else. You did not see the flash through the viewfinder. “Did it work?”, you may well have asked. That is because when the flash is on manual, it fires just once, at the power level you set. You do not get the metering pre-flash that it uses when set to TTL mode (a flash at 1/32 power that is used to determine the needed power level). And that preflash is the one you can see through the viewfinder. The actual flash you cannot see!

Now, an exercise.

  1. Find an object to photograph. With the camera set as before, and the flash on MANUAL, find the correct power level for a good picture. Aim the flash straight ahead for this exercise.
  2. Now move 40% farther from the object. E.g. if your original distance was one metre, make it 1.4 metres. Or if you were 4 feet away, make it 5 feet 7 inches (that is 40% farther than 4 feet).
  3. Now find the correct power level for this picture. How much more power did you need? And (an advanced question for mathematicians): why? (Hint: it’s actually 41.4% farther).

Have fun.