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

Summer. Not quite yet.

…but enough sun to shoot outdoors. So here was the outside today, in an Ontario that is still devoid of leaves:

Exposed for the background, that is 100 ISO, 1/250 sec, f/7.1.

Uh uh: obviously that does not work. What is the solution?

There are at least two solutions I could choose.

First I could brighten it all. There are many photographers who only do this and it is not a bad solution. It leads to images like:

That is not bad, but what if I wanted to see the background darker? I like to make my subjects the bright pixels. Bright pixels is where it’s crisp and clear.

So the other solution, and you knew it: use a flash. If I shoot into an umbrella, I can get the flash close enough at half power to achieve this:

And that is how I do it.

Notes for this: I used an umbrella to shoot into. Using pocketwizards, I fired a 580EX flash at half to full power (I usually avoid going over half). I used a sandbag on the light stand, but even then it can blow over.

Later, I had to go direct. In this field:

100 ISO, 1/250 sec, f/8.

Why did I go direct? Because in an open field, an umbrella would be blown over even with a sandbag on the light stand. Sometimes it is that simple!

And as said here before: direct, unmodified flash is fine, as long as it is nowhere near the camera!

 

About exposing to the right

If you look at the ARTICLES above, you will see one about “exposing to the right”. Read it. And perhaps remember this as a “take-home” outcome:

Provided you do not actually overexpose any of the channels (Red, Green Blue), you can always reduce brightness in all or part of the image in “post”, and as a result of doing this increase the quality compared to shooting it darker in the first place.

That is why we expose to the right. I am not advocating doing this all the time, mind you: it would mean post-production work all the time, and we are photographers, not graphic artists. But sometimes you simply do not have the time to put up lights.

Like here:

When I shot that, I knew I would want the ambient light darker. But that would have meant getting out the softbox, boom, pocketwizards, and so on; and that simply was not practical at the time. So I shot like in the pic above, knowing that I could reduce—not increase— exposure in part of the image later by way of masking or vignetting.

With a little work, and I mean a little (perhaps a minute or two), that gives me something like this as an end result:

Now again, of course it is much better to actually shoot this way. But when you do not have a choicer, expose as highly as you can without overexposing either of the three primary channels; then, reduce locally later to taste.

 

 

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Learning tip

Here’s a learning tip.

When you take a course or read a book (such as my e-books), you get all sorts of ideas. Great ideas that make you think “I must do that, next time I shoot”. Especially when travelling, the ideas can be very useful. Ideas like the use of negative space:

Or of using a close-by object (“close-far”) to introduce depth:

Great ideas. But you forget them, right?

So here’s the idea. Re-read your notes, or the book, and write down the 20 most important learnings. Make a list, whittle it down to about that number. Then write those 20 things down in shorthand, i.e. in simple form, on a piece of paper not much bigger than the size of a credit card. Have that laminated with plastic so it  lasts. Then carry it on you and before you shoot, look at the card for 20 seconds. Just 20 seconds. More is impractical: you’ll never do it. But 20 seconds is doable. That way, you refresh your mind when it matters. Namely, when you are about to shoot.

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I made the first shot above in January at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California, using my Canon 1Dx camera and my 16-35mm lens set to 35mm. I was at 200 ISO, 1/400th second, f/11.

The second shot was the same except for the focal length (here, 16mm) and the shutter speed (here, 1/100th sec).

 

 

Shake it up

As you know, I was talking recently about shaking it up. And I constantly do:  From “drama” to “flash plus lots of ambient and large apertures”, as in this recent picture of the make-up artist and hair stylist at a shoot:

And you need to keep changing styles, or you ossify. I was recently told by a young person that people of my generation (i.e. people older than 30) could not possibly know anything about art. We like that boring grandmother stuff, like sharp subjects and blurred background. Today’s artists produce actual art, meaning edgy, shaky, unsharp, under- or over-exposed, real, imperfect pictures.

I refuse to believe that.

But I do believe that every generation brings in new ideas, and that if you do not shake things up, you will lose out. So while I am not asking you to expect unsharp pictures from me,I do think you will continue to see development.

As you should bring development into your own photography. Force yourself, if you must. Your comfort zone is a, well, comfortable place to be; but it is not where you should aim to spend all your time.

So here is your assignment  for next week: what is the technique, equipment or light you like least? Use that exclusively.