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

Indispensable tool!

My new product of the month, just received from Hong Kong, is going to be indispensable to me, I can see that now.

Here it is:

A “3-in-1 hotshoe mount flash bracket”, made by www.selens-online.com (link fixed). This bracket allows up to three flashes to point into one centre-mounted umbrella, as follows:

Better still, it allows ONE connection from your radio trigger (in my case, a pocketwizard) to all three flashes at once. You need just one simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (i.e. the connector is the same as on the pocketwizard itself). And that saves both radio triggers and hotshoe cables. That, for me, is the killer feature. Up to today, I had to always connect three pocketwizards and three cables.

So here’s a few photos. The last one is a “pull back shot”, where you can see the lighting setup.

As for these photos: the day was like this (a snapshot):

That is fine, but I prefer my subject to stand out more, and I want the sky to be more saturated.

So here’s the recipe. For daytime outside flash pictures, you go to 1/250 second (or whatever fastest sync speed your shutter allows) at 100 ISO and then use f/4—f/16 depending on how bright it is. Start at f/8 and vary from there.

This is f/16:

A little dark and dramatic for this particular portrait, so f/11 is more like it:

But the point is that f/16 is even possible, with three speedlights (580EX and 600EX) into one umbrella. Normally, I would have to use a studio light for this.

This was with all three flashes at full power. Normally, I would shoot at a maximum of half power if at all possible. That way, the recharge time is shorter and the flashes do not overheat.

Ordering from user mkstudio-us, via ebay, was simple. I paid under $20 for each of the three brackets I ordered. Shipping from Hong Kong was free, but it did take several months (“slow boat from China”—literally). If you are in a hurry, order elsewhere, but if time does not matter, order from these guys in Hong Kong. Excellent value.

An excellent tool that will allow you to fire three flashes with one Pocketwizard, easily and conveniently. This will be in my flash bag forever, and my firm prediction is that I will make use of it all the time.


Postscript: a few people asked “:why not just use a strobe”. Well, a strobe is big and heavy, and its battery even heavier (lead-acid contains… yeah, lead). The fact that I can do it all with speedlights is amazing… and yes, you do need this much light pretty much every time in bright sunlight. The flash manual, and the tables in the checklist manual, explain and help. (See http://learning.photography)

A new toy

You have probably all heard the name Yongnuo: a Chinese maker of photo equipment that is not only very affordable, but also good. Flashes that compete with those made by Nikon and Canon, but also other equipment, like lenses.

And like the Yongnuo Extender EF 2x III (i.e. the Canon version of a 2x lens extender) that I just bought for around US$190—compared with the Canon version, which today costs $525 at B&H. A huge price delta, so is there a quality difference too? Read on to find out.

A lens extender is a device that is mounted in between the camera and the lens, and by being there, makes telephoto lenses longer. So with this 2x extender, my 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens becomes a 140-400mm lens. When I use this lens/extender combination on my crop camera, the Canon 7D, I get an effective (and astonishing) 640mm!

Effective 640mm

An extender is an active device: unlike extension rings, which simply make the distance between lens and camera greater in order to achieve macro functionality, an extender has lenses inside (9 lenses in this case, in 5 groups), so quality is important: cheap glass will cause quality to deteriorate quickly.

Upon visual inspection, this extender comes across as a quality device. A carrying pouch is provided, and the extender itself is good: the mounts are metal, lenses are coated, and workmanship is excellent.

Here’s the lens side. As you see, an element sticks out, which is why you can only use this extender on certain, mainly long, lenses:

And here’s the camera side:

So by using this extender between my camera and my telephoto lens, I get a longer telephoto lens. Great stuff! But is it a free lunch?

Of course not: free lunches do not exist. When considering an extender, keep in mind the three possible drawback areas:

  1. First, there are the theoretical drawbacks. There is no way of overcoming these. The main price you pay for the extra focal length is a decrease in maximum aperture. A 2x extender will cost you 2 stops of aperture. My f/2.8 lens now becomes an f/5.6 lens.
  2. Then, there could be functionality drawbacks. An extender will only work on certain lenses, namely the longer lenses. You need to check the list of lenses that will work with the extender: see below. Also, some lenses will lose functionality, such as metering or autofocus functionality. I am fortunate: the 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens works great with this extender: autofocus works, as does metering (but more about this later). This extender works with my 45mm T/S lens as well, but I am doubtful as to whether that is actually useful in real life.
  3. Finally, there may be quality drawbacks. Cheap glass, for instance, will destroy the quality of your picture. The Yongnuo scores very well here.

Lenses you can use with this extender:

I used the Yongnuo 2x extender for Canon on my 1Dx and on my 5D cameras. And the results, I must say, are excellent. I saw none of the loss of quality that I would expect in the corners. No doubt it is there—after all, no piece of glass inserted between you and the object you are looking at will improve the picture—but if it is imperceptible, that’s an amazing feat. For less than half the price of the Canon version that it imitates.

With any lens, you expect vignetting, i.e. a little darkening in the corners. In this extender, I see very little. And you can fix it in post-production. First, the original; second, the version I fixed in Lightroom:

Can you see that the first one has a tiny bit of vignetting?

Talking about distortion, do not use the “Enable Profile Corrections” feature in the Lens Corrections section in Adobe Lightroom. If you do, you will see significant extra distortion, instead of a lessening.

Chromatic aberration was minimal, and the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” function in Lightroom’s Lens Corrections panel took care of it completely.

Autofocus appears to work just fine. I saw no discernible decrease in AF speed or accuracy.

Extender in action: a 400mm shot

Metering seems two stops off. In testing, I needed to set the meter to somewhere between –1 and –2 stops to get a correctly exposed photo. This was the case whether I used spot metering or evaluative metering. I used the centre spot, in case metering is biased to the selected focus spot. If this is indeed systematic rather than me doing something wrong, I do not care: it is easy enough to aim at –2 instead of 0.


The Yongnuo is an excellent clone of the Canon extender. While perhaps there are quality differences, they are so small that I was unable to detect them. And for one third of the Canon extender, this is a very good deal. It is this price that may get many of ytou rushing to the store to get one.

In that case I have a tip for you: you will get a special price if you mention discount code “Speedlighter” to Tim Payne at Yongnuo USA: http://yongnuousa.net/contact. And please note that I have not been compensated in any way for this mention or this review: I paid for my own extender.


Treasure Trove (reblog)

A re-blog of a post from 2 years ago:

Your old photos are a treasure trove.

I reminded myself of this again last night: searching for some images for a client, I came across many great images that I had overlooked before. Like this, of Miss Halton 2009, Evangeline Mackell:

Some images are great because they remind you of the times you shot them in. Others, because they show friends you may have almost forgotten, or places that seemed humdrum at the time, but carry meaning in retrospect. Or perhaps they show people who have since become famous. Yet others, because they are artistically good. Some, because you simply overlooked them, and that is more common than you may think. Always revisit your images multiple times.

Also, over time, you get new insights into how to finish images. The image above is desaturated – my flavour of the moment. In this image, it makes it good.

One thing to do with your images is to:

  1. Date them in the filename.
  2. Organize your images in folders by date.

TIP: When images are imported into Lightroom, you have options, and here are two of the most useful ones to apply automatically when you import any image:

  • File renaming. My images automatically get renamed upon import to “year+month+day+original filename:, so that an image named “MVWS0318″ becomes “20100114-MVWS0318″. That way whenever I find this image on my hard drive in the future, I can quickly go to folder “/photos/2010/2010014-Toronto” to find the other pictures from this shoot.
  • I set the camera calibration Profile to “Camera Standard”, not “Adobe Standard”. That way the images look more like the way they look on the back LCD after I shoot them.

More images:

As you see, even the waitress can make for a nice shot. Or people with nice backgrounds thrown out of focus:

Or people like my friend, animal lover and incredibly talented photographer Baz Kanda, who came to the Willems Studio Residence (i.e. here) to accompany me to a Flash course I taught a while ago. Here he is at Storey Wilkins’s residence and at a church, in January 2009:

Dallas Hansen at Lovegety Station – only the Japanese can come up with a word like “Lovegety”…:

And those are just a few random picks from a few random days a few years ago. Can you see the potential of revisiting old photos? They take you back.


Pictures of the day

With some minor post, a 16mm (on full frame) wide angle photo becomes this, namely one of my cars in the process of receiving new spark plug wires, the other day:

And without post, this, which was shared in a tweet by Canon Canada as part of yesterday’s #MondayMotivation:

No post work, but five speedlites (two 580EX’s and three 430EXs)!



Sure you can do good photos with just one flash. Look at some examples from last night’s Sheridan College class.

One flash, fitted with a Honl photo 1/4″ grid:

One flash, fitted with a small Honl photo 12″ softbox:

And one flash, fitted with a shoot-through umbrella:

As you see, all these are acceptable or good. The umbrella is a little softer, but it throws light all over the room. The softbox is probably the best option here.

I used the standard “studio settings”: 1/125 sec, f/8, at 200 ISO in order to keep the ambient light out.