The simplest…

Sometimes, when you are immersed in a profession, you forget that not everyone is even familiar with the language used in that profession, let alone with some of its principles and practices. As an engineer who teaches, I try never to fall victim to that thinking. But sometimes even I do. So in the next series of blog posts, I will briefly define some of the basics. Just in case.

Starting, today, with flash modes.

Your small, camera mounted, flash has a “mode” button. That button gives you access to some of the following modes:

  • TTL (also, “E-TTL”, or “TTL-BL”, etc). This means “automatic flash power”. The camera and the flash together sort out how much power is needed for every photo. They do that with a mechanism that I explain in my courses, books, and workshops. That mechanism is called “TTL”. You do not have to worry about your subject’s brightness, at least in theory: the camera and flash sort it out.
  • MANUAL (Also called “M” or “MAN).  In that mode, you set the flash power. You can, for instance, set it to 1/1, or 100% power: the brightest power level. Or 1/2 (half power), 1/4 (one quarter of its top power), 1/8, and so on. On some cameras, you can go as low as 1/128 power, a very low flash level. So in this mode, if your flash is too bright, you would turn it down to a lower level (or move back from what you are lighting); if it is too dim, you would turn it up (or move closer).
  • Repeating flash, or stroboscopic flash. In this mode, the flash will flash not once, but a defined number of times, with a defined interval. You need to define the number of flashes, the interval, and the power level. (E.g. “5 flashes, at a frequency of 10 flashes per second, at 1/16 power”). That allows you to make photos of, say, a runner against a dark background, where you see not one, but ten images of that runner as she moves through your photo.

There may even be modes additional to this. Depending on the flash you use, there may also be a setting that tells the flash that it is a remote flash, and there may be a setting that allows the flash to be used at fast shutter speeds, but at a reduced power level (“High Speed Flash”, or “FP Flash”). There could be other settings as well, like a “dumb slave setting” (Nikon calls this the “SU-4” setting).

All those additional settings are not modes, but they are what I called them: additional settings. I know, that may be confusing to you (“what is a mode and what is an additional setting?”), but if so, don’t worry about it. It’s what the engineers decided to do. The reasons for not calling these settings “modes” are not important right now.

So there you have it. Some flash “basic basics”.

In my flash courses, I explain al this in detail, of course.

Want to learn more: buy the pro flash manual, and if you are in Toronto, sign up right now for the 25 March portrait and model lighting workshop.  See you there?

It’s coming. Be ready.

Hold on tight and be ready. Those are words that can instil fear. Something is about to happen, and you somehow need to understand it and be ready for it, “or else”. It happens to everyone in life, and it happens in every industry, but its effects are particularly dramatic in an industry where technology plays such a central role as in photography. Things change, and they change dramatically.

An example everyone knows is Kodak, which went from being the premier company in photography to essentially disappearing in the course of just a few years. Oh, they saw “digital” coming all right, that wasn’t the issue; they saw it coming like a thundering express train while they stood there right in the middle of the track, not moving, sheepishly staring at the disaster that was about to befall them. Paralyzed, they stood there until, well, until… splash.

The general consensus has it that the reason was that they really didn’t understand what industry they were in. They thought of themselves as a chemicals company. They employed lots of PhD chemists, and got chemistry prizes and awards and patents. Chemistry experts, that’s what they were. Except, of course, they were not. They were an imaging company, and if they had realized that they would’ve switched simply from chemicals-based imaging to transistor-based imaging. They would not have been hit by that train.

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Glass plate, celluloid, or phototransistors: who cares?

Today that pace of change is still happening in the photography field. The pace of change is enormous. You learned on an SLR with film; now you need to know how to use a digital SLR. You shot at 100 ISO; now you happily shoot at 6,400 ISO. Yes – but wait. Maybe we will switch to mirrorless cameras next year. Or to 3-D cameras. Or to cameras that allow you to focus after the fact. You are a photographer, but perhaps in ten years you will think of yourself as an image – based storyteller.  Or something entirely different. Maybe  instead of a photographer, you will consider yourself a computer image manipulation expert. Or maybe you’ll become a videographer.

The point is: be ready for constant change. If you have not experience the following changes yet, chances are that you will:

  • Photoshop to Lightroom.
  • Low ISO to High ISO.
  • Crop frame to Full Frame.
  • Mirror to Mirrorless.
  • PC to Mac (or, for that matter, Mac to PC).
  • Disk storage to hybrid storage.
  • Hybrid storage to solid state storage.
  • Local storage to cloud storage.
  • Stand-alone photography to photography integrated into web, social media, cloud, etc.
  • Stand-alone hardware to “the Internet of Things”.
  • No GPS to built-in GPS everywhere.
  • CF to SD; SD to Micro SD.
  • USB to USB 2 to USB 3 speeds.
  • USB connector to Mini USB to Micro USB.
  • Proprietary to universal formats (even Sony is stepping away from proprietary to industry standard, who could have imagined!)

Now, those are just a very few predictable changes—so you can get ready and prepare for those, and you should. Plenty of help available (I, um, know an experienced educator and photographer who, um, wrote a series of books and teaches, um, a whole lot of courses (more coming soon!). And there’s Internet resources, like this blog.

But there are also—and here, unusually, I will give Mr Donald Rumsfeld credit—such things as “unknown unknowns”. The changes above flow naturally out of known trends, but many changes do not; they are the result of unexpected events. Black Swans. No-one in Hammurabi’s Court could have predicted Quickbooks Accounting software. No-one in 1217 could have predicted electric drones (“Look! It’s a miracle! I see a buzzing angel”). No-one in 1736 could have predicted DNA-based crime analysis. And so on. These are the things that will make you feel old. And I know that you do not want to feel old.

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So my advice to you is this: take courses, do seminars. Join photo clubs. Read up on the Internet. Read books on photography. Read blogs, like this one. Listen to blogs, like TWIP (This Week in Photo). And see yourself as a maker of imagery in the broadest sense. It is silly to waste any brain-energy on questions like “Canon or Nikon?”—especially when perhaps 20 years from now you will all be using Apple i-See (or iSight) cameras. Do not fossilize.

Do not look from the tools to the end product, as Kodak did (“we know chemistry, so we will make chemical photography stuff”). Instead, look from the end product back to the tools (“we want to make beautiful images, so we will use whatever technology is most suited for that today”). That’s how you stay honest and fresh. 

 

Sunday 22 Jan: Learn Lightroom

This coming Sunday, January 22, I host two Lightroom courses at my home studio. Small size, only a few students (4-5 max).

Adobe Lightroom: optimize setup and file structure

Sunday, Jan 22, 2017, 11:00 AM

Michael Willems Studio
48, Wilkes Street Brantford, ON

1 Emerging Photographers Attending

Lightroom ROCKS. Forget Photoshop, Lightroom can doing all if you’re a photographer. But to get maximum benefit, set up your file structure, preferences, and presets properly! That’s not always done… I see many users with messy file structures and sub optimal settings and presets. The good news: everything in Lightroom can be changed, an…

Check out this Meetup →

… and part 2: https://www.meetup.com/Brantford-Photography-School-Meetupome-join/events/236919051/

Who is this for?

For you, if:

  • You have always wanted to use Lightroom effectively.
  • You are not sure how to set it up: where to store the files? How?
  • You are always losing files.
  • Importing is a big gamble: you always end up with things more confused than before you started.
  • You see question marks meaning “can’t find file”.
  • You wish you . could make your own presets.
  • You still use Photoshop for editing, but you wonder if it is doable in Lightroom.
  • You, too, would like to edit your shoots in one fifth of the time it took you in Photoshop.
  • You get the big picture but it’s the tips and tricks that elude you.
  • You know a lot of functions, but you’re not sure when to use them.
  • You want to learn an effective workflow

…and so on. Come join me; bring a camera and a laptop and, if you have it, an external drive, and I’ll set it all up for you.  Lightroom is the way to manage your files, and to edit them and to use them: in one day, learn how. 

Follow the links above, or contact me to reserve your spot. Only 4 students allowed, so hurry before it’s full .

Time and space

Sign up now: there’s time and space to learn all about flash. A model and make-up artist will be supplied for the workshop I am teaching on January 28 in Toronto. In this workshop, from knowing “nothing”, you will learn creative flash in half a day.

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Recent single flash shot. Studio settings; manual; off-camera; 1/8″ grid.

And this includes:

  • Setting up your camera for flash.
  • Why use flash when it’s bright outside?
  • TTL or manual flash: Why go manual, and when?
  • Speedlights or studio strobes?
  • What are the limits to using speedlights?
  • Modifiers: gels
  • Modifiers: grids and snoots
  • Modifiers: softboxes and umbrellas.
  • “Magic recipes”: shortcuts for outdoors, indoors, and studio flash.
  • Common mistakes – and avoiding them.
  • Off-camera flash: How? Why?
  • Using radio triggers (which ones?)
  • Secrets of creative lighting – examples with model and make-up artist.

You will leave with a few great portfolio shots, but also with an understanding of, and “quick start” recipes for, handling each flash situation that you will come across.

This course is intended for everyone from beginner to pro. What you have in common is that you have an SLR camera, you know little about flash, and you want to learn all about it. Bring your camera! If you have a flash, bring it; if not, no worries: everything is supplied.

There are spots left but space is limited, so sign up now.