Hood good

Always use a lens hood (the optional removable flange that sticks out on the front of your lens). Indoors, outdoors; day, night: always.

The obvious reason is to decrease the kind of flare you see here, on the right:

Tara the Tire-Iron Terror

But the hood also provides:

  • More subtle contrast enhancement
  • Damage prevention
  • Prevention of dirty lenses

That’s why you always use one, and it is why expensive lenses come with one.

Make sure you use the right hood for your lens. And if a lens has a hood, use it. It can cast a circular shadow when you are using your pop-up flash, but you should not be using that flash anyway.

I wish you all a very happy New Year tomorrow, full of joy – including the joy brought by increasing photography skills. And note that tomorrow’s post may be late: I intend to sleep in!


After yesterday’s long post, a few short ones. You will, I hope, bear with me and forgive. And – simple is good, since I am sure you are all preparing for New Year’s Eve.

Simple is good – and in that vein, this one is to emphasize once more the importance of simplifying your pictures.

Shooter shooting shooter

You do this to make your pictures look better – much better – and you do it by:

  • Zooming in.
  • Repositioning yourself: up-down, left-right, and around.
  • Tilting!
  • Blurring the background.
  • Cropping.
  • ..even moving things or your subject.

This is the most important lesson for many amateurs, because it is the most sinned against and the easiest to fix.

Go check what you did on your last 100 images: could you have simplified?

TTL: 10 Problems, 20 Strategies

I shot an event yesterday that prompts me to give you some TTL management strategies. This is a long post – one that you may want to bookmark or even print and carry in your bag.

TTL Management Strategies? Huh?

Yup. TTL (Through The Lens) flash metering is great, but it can have its challenges. Unpredictability, or perhaps better variability, being the main one.

So why use TTL at all? Well, for all its issues, it is the way to do it since you are shooting in different light for every shot, and you have no time for metering. Metering and setting things manually (or keeping distances identical) in an “event”-environment, especially when bouncing flash, is usually impossible. So TTL (automatic flash metering by the camera and flash, using a quick pre-flash) it is.

Cheers! (a Michael Willems signature shot)

Yesterday’s event was in a restaurant that had been closed to the public for the night. Challenges for me were:

  1. Light. It was dark. Very dark, meaning achieving focus was tough and settings needed to be wide open and slow.
  2. Consistency. The venue was unevenly lit: parts were light, parts even more dark. Meaning that achieving “one setting” is difficult.
  3. Space. Space was limited: hardly enough space in a small venue to walk around, let alone to compose shots.
  4. Bounceability. Walls were all sorts of colour, mainly dark brown, making bouncing a challenge.
  5. Colour. This also created coloured shots. Orange wall = orange shot.
  6. Predictability. Long lens? Very wide? Fast lens? Every shot seems to need another lens – which is impractical.
  7. Reflections. There is a good change reflections of glass or jewellery will upset your shots, causing them to become underexposed.
  8. Motion. People kept moving (uh yes, especially when the chair dances started).
  9. Technology. Batteries run out. Flashes stop working. Cards get corrupted. Nightmare scenarios we all know.
  10. Time. People were not there for me – it was of course the other way around. So my ability to ask people to pose and to move was limited. They are there for a party, not for the photographer.

So then you shoot and you notice that shots are too dark. or too bright. Or faces are too bright while backgrounds are too dark. But this is all in a day’s work for The Speedlighter… that is what I do for a living!

Mazel Tov!

I am sure everyone who has ever shot events is familiar with these issues. To solve them and come up with solutions, I have developed a number of strategies. So let me share some of them with you here.

(Click to continue and read the solutions…)

Continue reading

Prime primer

Why do I shoot events with a prime lens?

My favourite lens is the 35mm f/1.4 lens on my full-frame camera.

Party figurine at f/1.4

I like primes because they:

  1. Are often smaller and lighter than zoom lenses.
  2. Are generally sharper as well.
  3. Are faster (meaning they have a lower f-number/bigger aperture) so that (a)  I can shoot in darker surroundings.
  4. Are faster (meaning they have a lower f-number/bigger aperture) so that (b) I can blur backgrounds more dramatically.
  5. Force me to use one view angle, meaning that (a) both my pictures and settings are more consistent.
  6. Force me to use one view angle, meaning that (b) I need to tilt and move more rather than zoom to achieve the right composition.

I love the 35 because it is also the perfect length for “grip and grin” party pictures.

For beginners, there is an additional huge benefit: by not zooming but using the same focal length, you get much more quickly to a deeper understanding of the relationship between aperture, focal length and depth of field.

Happy Xmas figurines

There is a lot of benefit there. So I shot two events in the last two nights, and you can be sure my 1Ds camera was my main camera, and it was fitted with the 35mm prime lens.

(As I have pointed our here before, if you have a crop camera, like a D90, Rebel, or 60D, you will want a 24mm lens instead, since 24 x 1.5 = 36).

Of colour and curves

A few words, to reiterate a few useful concepts. Illustrated by a few snaps I took last night during a short walk (shot because it was bitterly cold).

First, sunsets. As you also saw in yesterday’s evening picture, colours get nice at sunset:

25th Sideroad Sunset

To get these colours you need to make sure you do two things:

  1. Expose right. That means underexposing a little. You can start with exposure compensation set to -1 stop, but you may want to go even lower. The less light, the more saturated the colours get.
  2. White balance right. Do not use “auto”, but use “daylight” instead. “Auto” tries to neutralize colour casts. Not what you want!

Then, frames. Consider using them when you can.

Cold Cattle

Love the curve.

If I had had more time I would have gotten down lower into the snow to rearrange the tree.

As for colour: these winter scenes can also look good in black and white.

Cold Cattle in B/W

And finally: sometimes, action is good, to relieve the stillness. Like this snowmobile whizzing past:

Action in the snow

Go take some snaps if you are lucky enough to have snow where you live!