New Camera?

Did you receive a new camera for Christmas?

In that case, I suggest you now learn to use it. Learn, first and foremost, to operate it in manual exposure mode – this is the same on all cameras. Learn all the menus – this is camera-specific. Also learn all the extra functions that make your camera great.

It’s what I teach (for all cameras), and as the new year approaches, if you would like to try coaching, portfolio review, or any other type of private training, give me a call or drop me a line. I have special offers for the start of the year.

Learn also to avoid common misconceptions. Misconceptions like “flash pictures get warmer backgrounds if you use second (or ‘rear’) curtain sync”. This is nonsense.

Normally, a flash picture, with your camera in its default setting of First Curtain Sync, works like this:

  1. The shutter opens
  2. The flash immediately fires
  3. The shutter stays open for the set time
  4. The shutter closes

This is fine, but if your subject moves forward during a slow exposure, and that subject has light other then the flash this happens:

The subject appears to be moving backward!

If we select Second Curtain Sync (or Rear Curtain Sync), now the sequence becomes:

  1. The shutter opens
  2. The shutter stays open for the set time
  3. Just before the end of this time, the flash fires
  4. The shutter closes

Now we get this:

…which at least looks like the phone leaves a natural light trail.

Other than that, “front/rear curtain” has no effects on anything else. Myth dispelled, I hope.


Darkness…. can be good

Advice: don’t “correctly” expose all your photos!

Two examples here; first, “Beginnings and Continuity”, Port Dalhousie, ON:

Followed by “Continuity and The Now”, Brugge, Belgium:

Both these images use darkness as a device. The top one does this in order to saturate colours and to silhouette the pregnant couple. The bottom one, in order to emphasize the stone and the stark cold strength of buildings built to last many centuries, as well as to anonymize the people who come and go in the “now”, while the “continuous” lasts.

In all these cases:

  1. Look for strong back light, and a subject that is not lit by that (or any other strong) light.
  2. Expose for that back light (e.g. spot meter off the sky).
  3. Adjust to taste.
  4. Do any remaining work in post producrtion – but if you do this well, there is little or no such post work to be done.

And Bob’s your Uncle.

Try it now!


Lens Caps, Hoods, Filters, and Bags.

For all my new readers, here’s my quick take on those items:

  • Lens caps are not needed except when a lens is packed away. They are great picture-preventers. Amateur shooters always nervously replace their lens caps after every shot; pros never use them. ‘Nuff said?
  • Lens hoods: definitely, and always. Indoors, outdoors, day, night. The lens hood protects from damaga, sticky fingers, and flare. Do make sure it is the right hood for the lens you are using, and do make sure it is on fully, until the click (else, vignetted corners will result).
  • Filters: nope. Except when it is snowing, raining, etc. As you know if you are a frequent reader here, filters can give you more flare. They are only needed if the lens could otherwise get dirty, wet, etc.
  • Camera bag: Nope. A picture preventer also. A lens and accessory bag, sure, but the camera is better off not hidden in a bag.

So. All these are useful items to own, but you should use them judiciously. Which often means, “not now”.


Learn, then learn more.

As a photographer, I am always learning. Always: the moment I give up, I might as well retire. Won’t happen for many decades, I assure you!

Here’s a few ways we can learn; a few different methods for learning:

Learning from others. I read widely, as should you. Do be careful, though: up to 80% of what you read is ill-informed and simply wrong. Watch forums for that. That said: the other 20% is very useful. My advice: Find someone who knows their stuff and who shoots well – the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and then follow them and listen to them (like you are listening to me!)

Learning from myself – I am very analytical, as you might want to be.  So I constantly ask myself : “what am I doing in this situation to be successful”. And I then analyze and boil it down to the success factors. I also shoot new situations all the time, and shake up the equipment, the locations, and so on: taking me out of my “comfort zone” creates learning, too.

Learning from my subjects. I always try to learn from every subject I shoot. Whether it is a two year old, a family, Santa, or an experienced model. Here’s a new “non-nude nude” pose that the model came up with:


Either way, I always learn. Interact. Ask.

I teach. Teaching is a good way to learn. I teach at college, privately, and in international tours. Teaching forces you to get your thoughts straight: so try to teach your son, your daughter, your wide, your father, your husband: when you teach someone you’ll have to be very clear on what it is you are saying.

So my advice is:

  • Write down what you do and what you learn.
  • Check your images’ EXIF data.
  • Explain what you do to others.
  • Read magazines.
  • Join clubs.
  • And above all: shoot, shoot, and shoot; and analyze your results, and ask “how could I have done better?”, and “what could I have done differently and how would that have worked?”.

Do all these things and you will learn quickly.

Your assignment for the week: shoot all week with a prime lens. Like I shot the Santa month all with a prime lens also. And I am about to put a 35mm f/1.4 prime lens on my Canon 1Dx now for the next week. Remember, take yourself out of your comfort zone.




Doing A Studio Shoot?

Studio shooting? In that case, I have a few quick tips for you.

(Here’s and its owner:)

So here are my studio success tips:

  1. Always have music playing. I have an ipod with a Bose dock and it just sits there playing away.
  2. Supply some refreshments like drinks and snacks, and have them sitting on a table in the studio.
  3. Make sure you have some of your art on the walls; large prints are good.
  4. Set up your cameras prior to a shoot. 1/125th second, f/8, 100 ISO, and set your lights accordingly. Consider sharp primes.
  5. Use a tripod. Not for every shot, but use it when you can.
  6. Free as much space as you have. Try to create space so you can move back and use a longer lens. There’s never enough space!
  7. Have backdrops and stands – or better, a hanger, which takes less space.
  8. Display some extra light stands, etc, showing that it is a studio (even if it is a basement).
  9. Ensure that you have softboxes and umbrellas for your studio strobes.
  10. Ensure that you have modifiers like barn doors, strobes, gels and grids. I use my speedlights for those.

These simple tips will help you get started with successful studio shooting.

And going back to the image above: why am I using speedlights in that shoot? Because I can – and they are lighter and smaller than my strobes.