A small, important detail

The catch light in someone’s eyes are essential: no catch lights, no portrait. And that catch light needs to be not in the centre, as when you use a pop-up flash (can you spell “deer in the headlights”?), but in the upper left corner, or the upper right corner, of the eye (in the “10 o’clock position” or in the “2 o’clock position”). Like here:

If you do not have a catch light showing in at least one eye, the subject lacks that little “sparkle of life”, and looks strangely lifeless.

Your catch light usually comes from your main light source, whatever it is. And “whatever it is” is important, because it affects the picture.

Take, for instance, a beauty dish, which like an umbrella gives you a circular catch light (albeit with a slight dot in the middle):

A reflected umbrella would be a white circle with a big black blob in the centre (the flash). That looks odd, which is why I prefer to shoot through an umbrella.Whatevery you do, make sure

Or take a softbox, which, like a window when you use available light, results in a square catch light:

The moral is: in portraits, ensure that there is a catch light, that it looks good, and that it is somewhere in the upper half of the eye. Preferably, if you can., in both eyes.

Portraits are fun, and yes, there is a lot to be learned.

 


TIP: Have you thought of a training gift certificate for a private custom lesson with me as a gift for this coming season? A gift which is not only fun, but leads to your loved one making better family photos. And you’re done with shopping immediately. So everyone’s a winner. Go to http://learning.photography to order your gift certificate now.

 

Light note

As far as available light goes, you can have dramatic, contrasty light, or dull, even light.

The latter, dull/even cloudy day light here at McDonalds the other day:

But then that dull light turned into dramatic light with a shaft of sunlight:

You want the dramatic light for this kind of scene, I think you will agree!

But for the next example, a photo I just took for a realtor, you need the earlier, even light. You do not want to emphasize a part of the house, you want to light it evenly; in fact you want it expressly without any drama:

The same goes for the child:

He was in the sun, which is bad not just because he squints, but majorly because sunlight is dramatic and has excessive contrast and dark shadows. Just like on the house, you want to avoid that; so we had to use the shoot-through umbrella as as scrim, holding it right in between him and the sun, as well as as a flash umbrella (neat trick, eh?)

So there is no right or wrong about light. it’s not “what is good/bad”; it’s “what suits this photo in question”.

 

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?

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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.

So—how?

First, there are the e-books, of course (http://learning.photography/collections/books). 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 http://learning.photography/collections/training — 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 (michael@michaelwillems.ca) or contact me any other way you like, and let’s discuss.