About Michael Willems

Michael is a professional photographer and photography teacher and private coach. Based in Ontario, he teaches and shoots worldwide. See more at www.michaelwillems.ca and www.speedlighter.ca

Light and dark

Ciaoscuro is all about the play between dark and light.

Take this student at Vistek, the other day. Lit from where the camera is, you get this:

Fine, I suppose… competently lit, just barely.. but is that creative? Not really.

Now, lit from the side, with a simple flash with a grid on it, no other modifier, we get this, instead:

I think you will agree that’s a lot better, and for several reasons. One is that there is less stuff. Only what’s important is lit: the rest is simply not lit at all. Second is that the face is now shaped (modeled) by the light. Third is that what is important is lit; what isn’t is simply not lit. Light direction as well as distribution and quantity are now totally under your control.

(Note that the grid is essential: without it, the flash light would spill onto the walls and ceiling and floor and from there to the rest of the room: no black room)

What I used? A 5Diii with a 600EX flash on the camera set to be master (but not to fire itself); and a 430EXii slave flash on our left. that’s all. “Studio setting” (1/125, 200 ISO, f/8) ensures that the ambient light is black.

___

Only one spot left on my Mastering Flash course this Saturday, 1—4:30pm in Oakville. Let me know soon if you want it. http://learning.photography/collections/training-300-advanced/products/flash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wishful thinking

A quick note on learning.

The other day, I met a photographer, a nice person, who shoots things for pay all the time. He knew nothing about his camera. I mean nothing. Auto mode, auto focus, auto everything all the time. He did not know how to set aperture or shutter, or what these were. Or how to focus. Or what ISO was. And so on.

That is fine, but it will seriously limit your options. Seriously.

And I just saw an ad flash in front of me on Facebook that contained this risible claim:

No. No. No, and no. This is wishful thinking. The reason photography costs money is that it is a serious skill that takes some time to learn. Yes, you can learn it. But not in 10 minutes. Please—learn properly, and while properly does not have to mean a three year degree course, 10 minutes is obviously not enough. I mean… really.

My courses and books may help (http://learning.photography), as may be my Sheridan College courses and my Vistek Toronto workshops. As will this blog, as will the entire Internet. All this combined with lots of exercises. Trying different things. Testing. Running into problems and then solving those. All this will get you there.

But not in ten minutes.

 

 

Workflow and Lightroom

I talk about Lightroom a lot, as you will have noticed. The reason is that Adobe Lightroom is hands down the best workflow tool I know. Workflow meaning “what happens between arriving home with the camera to the finished product”.

Lightroom 6, as you will have seen, is a step forward. It has its issues—for now, the speed of the face detection module is way below par—but you can work around those, and they will be fixed.

But you do need to learn how to use it. Thank God it’s not Photoshop: it takes days to learn, not years. But it does take days.

Enter some help.

On May 30, I teach a workshop at Vistek: Lightroom and Workflow”. In it, you will learn backup strategies, computer strategies, Lightroom workflow and editing, and much more. Seating is limited, so sign up soon.

The same is true of the Flash workshop this Saturday in Oakville.If you missed the Vistek workshop, come on Saturday: 1pm, see http://learning.photography/collections/training-300-advanced/products/flash. Seating limited, so be quick if you want in.

Now, a (repeat of) a little flash tip.

If your flash looks too dark in the photo, why is it? It could have two very different reasons:

  1. Metering is wrong; the TTL circuitry decided on too low a level.
  2. With the current ISO and aperture, you simply do not have enough power (eg the ceiling you are bouncing off is too high).

To know which one: set your flash to manual mode, full power (1/1). Shoot. If the picture is overexposed, you had reason 1; if not, you had reason 2.

To solve the issue: For reason 1, go back to TTL and use flash compensation. For reason 2, go back to TTL and lower the f-number and/or increase the ISO.

That’s all – pretty simple, but often overlooked.

 

 

Setup for outdoors flash pics.

A student just asked me:

When you were at the London Camera Club, you had your usual stand/flash holder/umbrella combo on display. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to ask about it. Would you mind mentioning what brands the components are – I would like to have a similar set up for my Speedlight.

I use the following setup:

So that is:

  1. A Light stand. Any brand is OK if it is sturdy enough.
  2. A mount that sits on top of the light stand and swivels. The flash sits on top of this mount. My mount is a Manfrotto,
  3. A pocketwizard receiver. I use the simple Pocketwizard PlusX: $180 for two of them.
  4. A cable between the Pocketwizard and the flash hotshoe. This cable sits on top of the mount, and the flash on top of it.
  5. An umbrella that goes through the mount (you can see the hole in the photo). This should be an umbrella with a removable cover, so you can shoot into the umbrella as well as through the umbrella.

Because this is non-TTL, the flash can be any flash. Any make, and type, as long as it has a manual power level setting and you can disable any timeouts (otherwise it turns off every minute or two).

To a large extent, these are commodity items. There are many brands. Nikon has a kit of mount plus stand plus umbrella for just over $100, for instance, but anything that looks sturdy enough will do fine.

As for radio triggers, I use Pocketwizards because they are the industry standard and rugged, and they use AA batteries; but any other non-TTL trigger will work just as well.

The setup above serves me well: it is what I use for up to 90% of my outside pictures.

Like this scene, the way it looks to my eyes:

And here comes rescue, a.k.a. me and my umbrella:

…which results in:

And the lovely Vanessa from Timmins has a sense of humour:

The good news: this type of dramatic lighting is simple, once you know how!

___

Want to learn how to do this? I have a couple of spots open on my “Mastering Flash” workshop in Oakville this Sat 23 May, 1pm—4:30pm. This is a very small workshop: 3-6 people maximum. If you are interested, email me: michael@mvwphoto.com. You can book on http://learning.photography.

 

Add a splash.

There are many distinct ways to use gels. They include:

  1. Colour correction in mixed light
  2. Background Colour shifting
  3. Adding backgrounds
  4. General creative use
  5. Adding warmth

Type 5 is easy. Like here:

Nelson, NV, 2010

Indeed the sun was setting, so we have beautiful “Golden Hour” light.  But Yasmeen is in the shadow of a mountain, so she is not lit by this great light. She is on fact hardly lit at all.

Solution: I use a flash. On camera. Now she is lit. But I gel that flash with a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gel. Now it looks as though she, too, is lit by that setting sun light we like so much. And because I use the ultra convenient Honl photo gels, sdlapping on that gel takes less than a second.

The solution: a cool shot, where otherwise there would be no shot at all.