Black is black….

….except when it isn’t.

When doing post-production, make sure that the areas of your image that should be totally black are in fact totally black.

Take this image.

The photographer is black. But is he?As you know, a RAW image has much colour space, so are you sure? Go to the histogram in Lightroom’s Develop module, and click on (or hover over) the little arrow on the top left.

Now you see what is really dark:

Blue areas are lacking detail, i.e. pure black. And not all of the person is blue.. so uh oh, there’s still detail lurking in the image.

Well, then drag “Blacks” to the left in the BASIC pane:

…until you see something like this:

And now finally the blacks are black, and no amount of increasing exposure will bring back detail. (OK – this is not really true: Lightroom is very conservative and preserves some detail even when blue shows. But to all intents and purposes, you’re good, and that detail will not be seen.)


Allow me to once again point out these few additional learning opportunities:

All workshops will be announced via email and press release shortly, but you, my readers here, still have first option!



More about simplifying to make pictures better. A recurrent theme here on speedlighter.

Consider this image, of Jane Dayus Hinch the other day:

It started like this:

I would argue that the above crop and the straightening (“disciplining”) of the verticals makes this a much better image.

Straightforward (forgive the pun) simplifying changes can have major effects. Every time you have an image, ask yourself:

  1. Does everything in it belong in it?
  2. Can I remove anything? Anything at all?

Do that, and you get more professional photos.



Work to be done.

As you know, I believe that as a photographer, you should, as much as possible, make your photos in the camera, not in post-production (like Photoshop or Lightroom).

But there is always some work to be done in post. This is one reason that photographers cost money – time is money.

Yesterday, I shot celebrity wedding planner Jane Dayus-Hinch of “Wedding SOS”, at the National Bridal Show in Toronto:

But at an event, circumstances are never ideal and as the photographer, I try to be quick. That means there is work.

Take this shot, of Jane in front of her booth:

Fine, but this was at a busy show. So we had to clear space and shoot with what we had (a Canon 1Dx and an off-camera flash in an umbrella). That gave me this:

So what kind of “Post” work did that need?

  • Cropping, probably the most important step.
  • Rotating, to make horizons horizontal.
  • Perspective correction – parallel lines should be parallel, not converging.
  • Lens corrections to remove barrel or pincushion distortion, common with zoom lenses.
  • White balance and exposure fine tuning
  • Removal of “stuff”, like exit signs and columns in the background.

Only after these steps is it a professional photo. And those steps take time. And there’s 100 photos to be looked at this way.

So when you hire a pro, or when you are the pro, count on a lot of extra work to finish the product. Fortunately, Lightroom (and Aperture of you are so inclined) are lifesavers – they have cut 80% off my previous “post-time”.



Inverse Square

You have heard, perhaps, of the Inverse Square Law. I hope you have. Because it is rather important in photography.

The Inverse Square Law says that the intensity of light shining on an object from a light source decreases with the square of the distance of the light source to that object.

You can see what this means for us in practice: dark backgrounds if we aim a light forward from where we are (say, a pop-up flash). If the background is ten times farther away than your subject, it gets 100 times less light. Solution: do not have the light where your camera is. Or bounce. Or use several flashes. Or use ambient light also (“dragging the shutter”).

Important note: It is important to realize that this applies to the distance between light emitter and subject. Not the distance between you and the subject!  (If you find this hard to visualize, consider this: when you back away while looking at a Caucasian, he or she becomes a smaller Caucasian to you, not an African-American).

Other than dark backgrounds, what else does the inverse square law mean to you in practice? This, for instance:

  • If you move a studio light twice as far from a subject, you lose two stops of light (2 squared = 4, and two stops equals a factor of four).
  • If you move it 41% farther, you lose just one stop, since 1.41 is the square root of 2.
  • To get one stop more light, move the light closer by 30%, to 70% of its previous distance, since 0.707 is the square root of 0.5).

So knowing a little math, geometry and physics comes in handy. I speak not as an engineer, but as a photographer. I can move a studio light into the right position to get a  stop more, or a stop less, light without metering.

And now, so can you. You are welcome.