Hazy? Solution here!

I have asked this before… what do you do when it is hazy? Like in this shot of Hong Kong?

Hong Kong (Photo: Michael Willems)

No-one will be impressed.

So you can take the image into Lightroom, and drag “blacks” to the left and “exposure” to the right. Or do a “Levels” adjustment in Photoshop.

True. But as said before, you can make the drawback into a benefit. Male lemonade out of the lemons. And I thought I would show you another “improved” example. Here:

Hong Kong (Photo: Michael Willems)

So you find a sharp object to put in front. Simple – now the haze becomes a benefit. Making lemonade out of lemons.


OS X Lion: Apple’s Vista? No – worse.

I’m an Apple user, and I have been for a while – happily so far.

But the more I see OS X Lion, Apple’s new OS, the less I like it. No – the more I hate it. It is a dumb downgrade, designed to make your powerful computer into a dumb iPad.

Apart from the many cosmetics, the silly seven-finger (or whatever – after three I stop counting) swiping gestures, the “Full screen nonsense”, the “Launch pad”, the “App store”  – in general, the drive to use a computer as an iPad, not as a powerful work computer – there are many big issues that stop me from switching.

The lack of a “save as” function, and the fact that Apple in its app now always saves multiple versions of files unasked, is a show-stopper for me. The lack of a scroll bar, the unnatural scroll direction, and in general the dumbing down and the emphasis of scroll pads and de-emphasis of anything mouse-related are big factors too.

It seems to me that Lion was made for people with an IQ of 85 – unfortunately, those of us who know things are now reduced to the same level. It’s like you make a Boeing 747 that is able to be flown by Granny – that unfortunately means that a real pilot is going to be severely restricted in what he can do.

And to top it off, now I was told by Apple that iCloud will be unavailable if you do not use Lion or iOS 5. This is a cynical abuse of power – upgrade or lose your email address and any calendar synching, and so on. So Apple does not want people to use Lion because they like it – they will instead force you to use Lion if you want synching (which is 100% central to my life in the case of synching Calendar events). For no reason other than bullying, Apple now says “switch to Lion or use that ability”.

I didn’t think I would ever say this, but this may very well drive me back to Windows or Linux. The “save as” function is deeply ingrained in my workflow – it has been a staple function since early computers – and iWeb runs all my web sites.

When I was just telling Apple advisor “Yashika” this on Live Chat, she abruptly cut the connection. It seems that Apple staff, like scientologists, do not like to have anyone interfere with their reality distortion field.

So either I live with a severe dumbing down and a permanent impoverishment of my computing, or I switch to Windows, which has some pretty severe drawbacks of its own. Or to Linux, which lacks the apps.

Don’t take my word for it. Many pundits agree with me. Here’s a few:





Well – I have until June 2012 to decide on other options. What wil be my new operating environment? Ideas?



As I recently said here, you need to do what you need to do with whatever tools do it. And sometimes those are not the ideal tools.

And once again, let me say that the tool of last resort for me is the Gary Fong Lightsphere. I can be seen here using it at a recent shoot:

That is needed in an environment where it is hard to bounce. So then I get acceptable pictures by all acounts: not art but not bad either:

As you see. a shadow, but not a hideous one. This is light I can live with, and you will see me using this kind of light in events regularly – but only until I can find a place to bounce.


Hidden worlds

There is a hidden world in water’s surface tension. A world like this:

Water Drop (Photo: Michael Willems)

Is that difficult to photograph? Depends on how much patience you have.

Here’s how I just took this picture:

  • Camera on a tripod, equipped with a suitable lens – I used a 100mm macro lens but a 50mm or a telephoto lens may also do.
  • I set the camera to 320 ISO, f/11, 1/250th second.
  • A black background, lit up with a gelled flash – or just a coloured background.
  • A tray with water – also preferably black. I used a wok since I had nothing else, plus a wok is round, so you get circular waves.
  • A plastic bag with water. I hung it from my microwave. Poke a very small hole in it with a pin.
  • A for the background – I used a 430EX with a Pocketwizard driving it. The flash set to manual 1/4 power and equipped with a Rust gel from Honlphoto.
  • Another flash aimed at the drops from the side. Also driven by a Pocketwizard, this flash was equipped with a Honl snoot. Also set to manual 1/4 power.

This looked like this:

Water Drop (Photo: Michael Willems)

See the ziplock stuck in my microwave door? And see the tripod on the right?

And given enough patience you will get pictures like the one above. Yes, patience is required – I just shot 500 pictures to get 10 great ones.

Gotchas to watch out for:

  • Too big a hole will give you streams of water – not flattering. You want slow-moving, large drops. Small pin hole achieves this (else, wait until the pressure lessens).
  • Like in any macro photo, you may need to clean up your picture to remove the dust you lit up with the flash.
  • You will also want to crop the image.
  • Watch for reflections of the waves in the bottom of the pan – shoot as horizontal as you can.
  • Watch for reflections elsewhere too – I got a reflection in the side of the pan; some of this I had to remove in post-production.
  • Focus manually; prefocus where the drops fall.
  • You want fast flashes – and since a flash’s power is set by its duration, this means not full power, so make sure the flashes are close.

A few more samples:

Water Drop (Photo: Michael Willems)

Water Drop (Photo: Michael Willems)

Water drops (Photo: Michael Willems)

Water drops (Photo: Michael Willems)



Productivity tools

Whether you are a pro (i.e. you do photography for a living) or an amateur (you do it for the love of it), there are always chores; things to be done. And how quickly you do them determines how quickly you get back to what you want to really be doing.

So here, in case it helps you, are a dozen of my main productivity tools:

  1. Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is software for photo asset management, editing and production. It has cut 75% off my post-production time. (If you have a Mac, like me, then Apple Aperture is also an option).
  2. Apple iPad. My iPad is my business tool, my portfolio, my email and web device. I could not live without it anymore.
  3. OmniFocus – a task manager/organizing/ To Do tool for Apple, iPhone and iPad. I have it for iPad and am loving it – the first task manager that actually works for me.
  4. Numbers. Apple’s spreadsheet tool for the iPad is, once you learn it, an amazing productivity tool. I run my business using this spreadsheet tool; a spreadsheet that uses the screen interface well.
  5. My Brother QL-570 Label Printer. No kidding. Mail always used to pile up; now I click and a label is produced , and I actually mail the envelope.
  6. USB memory sticks. Now that these can cost under $10, I send my customers their shoots on a USB stick nowadays. No more waiting for failed DVD writes.
  7. ConstantContact. To send emails with info and offers to prospects and clients.
  8. WordPress. My blog runs on WordPress. Simple, to the point, etc.
  9. iWeb. Apple’s simple web editing tool may not be important to Apple – it is essential to me. How else could I quickly write my sites, like www.michaelwillems.ca?
  10. 1and1.com – I host all my web sites there. ‘Nuff said.
  11. Google Apps – my emails all run on Google Apps – my own “personal Gmail”.
  12. The Mac. Since switching from PCs to Macs some years ago, my productivity has gone up immensely. With a Mac, you do not, like with a Windows PC, spend your time making it work well. You spend your time actually working. A lot of this is due to the fact it runs on UNIX – the real OS, the same OS that powers mainframes (and that has so successfully been made into Linux as well).

Your mileage will vary, but this gives you some idea of what I use to make my life more efficient. As far as my “a mile a minute” personality will allow, of course!