Pics of the day

Time for a few pictures of the last few days, and a simple discussion of each. Miscellaneous Thursday!

One flash, off-camera, is needed for this (thanks for the tilted composition, Adnan: well done):

Expose for a dark background and use the flash, direct if you want. Another take of the same session:

Michael Willems, Photographer

Both of those have been altered a little in Lightroom: less saturation, more presence. A fashionable technique for post work on dramatic images. But the alteration does not make a material difference: the original looks the same in terms of dark background and dramatically lit subject. It looked more like this: a bright sunny day:

The the evening. 12,800 ISO and the tilt-shift lens while I watch TV gives this effect (unchanged, no noise cancellation done):

As you see, it is clean…  and the shoe as well as the TV with “fringe” are both in focus: the focal plane has shifted. And as you also see, 12,800 ISO is fine with this camera. And yes, I carry my camera all the time.

Even when having a hot chocolate on Toronto’s Distillery district:

Degas-like cropping. And no trickery: I simply focused on the window with the room name.

One last Image of the Day: the Kodiak Gallery in Toronto, where some of my work is exhibited and for sale. To wit, three photos are on permanent display, all visible in this image:

Why show this? Because it struck me that I am getting back to the old film skills: the tilt-shift ;lens needs me to focus manually as well as exposing manually – and when I am tilting or shifting, the light meter cannot give an accurate reading. Ao I have to do it by experience. And I usually get it right or nearly so.

And so should you. To be good, you need to know roughly what kind of aperture/shutter/ISO combination will work, just like you need to know roughly how much your supermarket bill will be without using a calculator. So today, shoot everything manually and observe.


NOTE: just one spot left on The Art of Shooting Nudes on Saturday. There is time, if you do it now!



Tip of the day: separate your subject from the background.

Like in a portrait like this, of my friend and student, talented photographer Adnan, (using one off-camera speedlight). I suppose it is “OK”, but no more than that.

…but there is no separation between the subject’s head and the background.

Better, use either a hairlight or simply a better background:

We still have the dramatic look, but now we see where Adnan ends and the background starts. And now I could make it black and white:

Simple portrait rules like this make all the difference!


Bon appétit

Since I am hungry, I think a quick Food Photography recipe is in order. Here’s food, from the other day:

My way of shooting food:

  1. I shoot from a 40 degree angle, roughly.
  2. I use selective focus
  3. I use one soft light, and a back light. This can be natural light, or flash.
  4. I crop tightly.
  5. I like to make it look natural – with cutlery, etc.
  6. I arrange things as carefully as I can, and clean plates etc. after arranging.

If you use flash, here’s what you need: a table, the food, a flash with an umbrella above the food, and a flash behind the food aiming at you, possibly with some kind of modifier too, to provide what in portraits I would call “shampooy goodness”, and in food “yummy goodness”. That is all (well – that and the camera).

That’s what it looked like the other day, when I helped a student do some food shots.

And the shots looked like the one above, and like this:

Student Rhonda was kind enough to leave me the fruit cakes, and I ate them. Yum.




I shall now repeat a flash trick I have mentioned here before years ago. Time for a refresher.

You all know how important it is to avoid, at least when the flash is on your camera, direct flash light reaching your subject. Both in order to avoid “flat” light, and especially to avoid those nasty drop shadows, like this (don’t do this at home, kids):

But you have also heard me talk (and those who come to my upcoming flash courses will learn hands-on) that you should “look for the virtual umbrella”. For most lighting, this means 45 degrees above, and in front of, the subject.

So when you are close to that subject, you aim your flash behind you to get to that point. Good.

But what when you are far, as when using a telephoto lens? Then the “virtual umbrella” may be in front of you. And aiming your flash forward is a no-no, since the subject will be lit in part by direct light.

A-ha. Unless you block the direct part of that light!

Like this:

As you see, I use a Honl Photo bounce card/gobo to block the direct light. Simple, affordable, and very effective. I use either the white bounce side, or the black flag side, depending on the ceiling and position.

Simple, effective – done!

And one more thing. Direct flash is not bad per sé. Not at all. As long as it is not coming from where your lens is, it can be very effective, like in this “funny face” shot of a recent student (you know who you are):

Lit by a direct, unmodified flash. And the hairlight, the shampooy goodness? Yeah. The sun. Just saying.

(And yes, that too is something I will teach those of you who sign up for one of my upcoming flash courses.)


A bottle is a bottle is a bottle?

I don’t think so.  Look at this bottle:

Now look at this bottle:

Now look at this bottle:

They are of course the same bottle, same  time, same camera, same lens: but lit very differently. Number one, back lit with visible background. Number two, lit from its front by soft umbrella light, with a simple reflector/scrim background. Number three, back lit with soft light, bounced against the reflector; also with that same simple background.

The point is: hardness/softness of light and direction of light will make major differences to the image. When you make a photo, ask: what if the light was on the other side?  What if it was hard and direct instead of soft? Wat if I had several light sources, not one? And then, try these things. Use flash, of course, not just available light – try both, or a combination. What will happen is that you will get a good appreciation of what’s possible – and these skills will take you far.

One thing you need is flash skills: learn them from me. All new dates on – sign up now, if you want to take part in a great learning experience.