Dutch Master Classes

The Dutch Masters of the 17th century created visual art the likes of which the world had never seen. In what you might call an explosion of creativity, they changed visual art, its accessibility, and its popularity forever.

It turns out that they had certain commonalities. In particular, they combined the following:


  • An amazing amount of technical knowledge.
  • Fortuitous timing: technology, education, trade, and societal wealth were all on their side.
  • A great degree of creativity.
  • A great emphasis on light.
  • A love of realism.
  • Clear picture storytelling (“narrative directness”).
  • A love of portraiture.
  • Great informal rapport with their subjects.
  • Master Classes, held by experts for their apprentices.
  • An inquisitive and exploratory nature. A number of Dutch Masters travelled to Italy to learn Light Theory.
  • The Masters carefully painted some nudes—as much as the times allowed.
  • They engaged in speculative art: for the first time, they created art without a sale, in the hope it would sell later.

It turns out that these are exactly the things that makes photographers great. Hence the Dutch Master Class theme: you can learn from history. The Dutch Masters would be delighted that their art, their learning, their creative insights are being used and taught today, almost 500 years later. In my Dutch Master classes, that is what I do: by continuing the tradition of many centuries, I set your creativity free.

I am therefore happy that this message is catching on. This blog is widely read; my workshops are popular (The October 16 Hands-On Flash workshop has just one spot left), and my non-DRM e-books are read worldwide.

These are great days for photographers, whatever doom and gloom messages you may hear. Sure, there will be change, but photography is not about to become less popular. Today, there is an easier-than-ever path from a vision in your head to a beautiful print on museum paper (or an image on your screen). Allow me to help you achieve that dream, the dream of being able to visualise your artistic vision and create lasting art.

And this blog will help, as will the other ways in which I teach. Stay tuned and see you on one of the seminars.

Flash, Hands On.

With the dark season ahead, but with plenty of sunshine yet, it may well be time to (re-?) familiarize yourself with flash. In which case you may be interested in an upcoming Sunday afternoon workshop, and a repeat of the same, both in my studio in Brantford, Ontario:

  • Oct 2, 2016, noon-5pm: HANDS-ON SESSION: Master On- and Off-Camera Flash, Manual & TTL. $199, limited to three students. Only two spots left. View details/reserve your spot
  • Oct 16, 2016, noon-5pm: a repeat of the same workshop. $199 if you book soon, limited to five students. Only four spots left. View details/reserve your spot.

The Workshop Program:

Prerequisites: You need basic camera knowledge and a DSLR camera. Bring that camera, and IF you have it, your flash. I supply all studio equipment, snacks and drinks. If you have a Sony camera, you may need a converter to standard flash hotshoe.

What we do: In five hours, in a combination of lecture and hands-on, I will free your creativity by showing and teaching you:

  1. The minimum required technical knowledge. This includes a quick review of camera basics and flash background knowledge.
  2. How to think about a flash photo. My unique method suddenly makes it simple!
  3. The four (and only four) types of background exposure.
  4. The Three Magic Recipes: “studio”, “event”, and “outdoor”.
  5. How to fire remote flashes using your camera’s system (Canon, Nikon).
  6. How to fire remote flashes using Pocketwizards.
  7. TTL or manual? How you decide.
  8. Strobes or speedlights? Pros and cons of both.
  9. Alternate radio triggers: Yongnuo.
  10. Bouncing a flash.
  11. Lighting a portrait.
  12. Using a flash meter.
  13. Using modifiers: Beauty dish, softbox, snoot, reflector, grid, and gel.
  14. Special techniques: ring flash, etc.

Bring a camera, and a flash if you have one, and the rest is provided. You will leave with knowledge and hands-on experience.

Lightroom Rocks, But Get The Right One

Lightroom is the core app around which my business revolves. I love it; it quadruples my productivity; the math they did to make it work is incredible, and frankly, if they charged $1,500 instead of $150 I would still buy it.

The caveat? I have said it before: I am not a fan of Adobe CC. “CC” stands for “Creative Cloud”, and it is a suite of products for a monthly fee. Great technology, wonderful, and worth a lot—but not that much.

First, even with upgrades over the years, that monthly fee works out much higher than the stand-alone product, if Lightroom is all you use, And most photographers do not need Photoshop. Illustrators do, but we’re not illustrators.

But that is not my main gripe. My main objection is: I buy a product that is completely essential to my company and hence to my income. And now when I have the CC version, Lightroom “calls home” at regular intervals to check whether I am allowed to use it. Didn’t pay bill? No Lightroom for you. Bank screwed up? No Lightroom for you. You’re in Africa when it’s time to call home, so no Internet connection can be made? No Lightroom for you. Database problems? No Lightroom for you. Account hacked? No Lightroom for you. And so on. And these things really happen—they are not mere theoretical possibilities.

I simply cannot allow mission-critical software that necessitates me asking politely for permission to please use it.

So I, and you too may want to, buy the stand alone version for $149 once only, instead of the CC version for the “introductory” (i.e. will-go-up) fee that starts at US$9.99 per month.

But how?

Good question! It takes me 15 minutes each time to find it. Eventually by listing all products, you get a screen like this:


And you see, at the bottom on the left, the tiny, tiny “Products” link?

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-16-57-19 screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-16-57-30

Yeah, that one. That takes you to this page:


..which contains:


That is, as far as I have been able to tell, the only way to get to the non-CC product. While it is still available. Which will not be forever.

The link above is for Canada, but there’s similar pages for others.

You may also be able to buy copies in a box, in stores like Henry’s. But that too is very hard to find.

Back to regular business. But if you have not checked out Lightroom: go get it. Free 30 day eval, after which you decide to buy it—or not.

And if you have bought it, do consider having me help you set it up properly, and fix any errors. Good news: anything you get wrong can be fixed later. Lightroom really is a fantastic app, but you do need to put some thought into how to organize your files. A few hours of private consulting and you too, like me, will dramatically increase your productivity. Drop me a line or give me a call to explore the options, and see http://learning.photography.



OK, so the Canadians among my readers may remember the kerfuffle when, a week or so ago, it turned out that a federal government minister had paid a photographer around $6,600 to cover her two-week attendance at a climate summit in Paris? “Scandalous!” “A waste of taxpayers’ money!”. For shame!

The minister of course promised to do it cheap, next time. And even His Holiness Prime Minister Trudeau (cue angel choir) weighed in. From the same article:

“We have seen over the course of the past months, have noticed many long-standing government policies that we are questioning and that’s certainly one that we are looking at as perhaps not the best use of public funds,” he said of the photography costs.

Of course we instantly get comments again like “Its [sic] not taking long for the liberals to be abusing tax payer money again.”

Yes, there are online lynch mobs galore: it seems that no-one is defending this bill. Even photographers called in to radio shows, saying this should cost hundreds, not thousands. And I have seen photographers call this “a ripoff”—and so on. No one dares question the decision to spend this kind of money on photography.

Except me.

I just shot a conference for three days, in Niagara Falls, for roughly the same amount of money per day that the Paris guy charged. And let me explain why this is a very good deal, not a scandalous waste at all: in fact I kind of take offence at hearing it put in those terms.


I shot a 3-day conference

First of all, it is important to cover these events, and to create a permanent historical record of them. In later years, the organization in question can tell the narrative using these permanent records. Visual storytelling is a very good way to do this: a picture really does tell 1,000 words, and then some. I am very proud of the storytelling I did in this event, and the Paris pro probably feels the same about his or her work. When I read about something that happened in Paris in 1880, I want to see the pictures, not just words. Imagine if every important conference in history had been photographed! I would want to see those Wannsee photos right this minute.

Second: if it worth doing, it is worth doing well. I can’t tell you the number of compliments I received already about the “amazing photos”. That does not mean I am amazing: it simply means this audience is unfamiliar with the work of a professional photographer. It really IS so, so much more than “point and shoot”. It takes 10,000 hours of study to become an expert at anything, it is often said, and this certainly applies to visual storytelling. A day fee of $1,000-$2,000 is entirely regular in most industries, including photography.

And then there’s the constant cost. I carried at least $30,000 worth of equipment. And spares. And lighting. And various lenses. Stuff that needs regular replacement. (A camera lasts maybe $250,000 clicks and then it’s done). Just like your doctor uses echocardiogram machines and x-ray machines that cost tens of thousands. News flash: professional gear costs money. Ask your doctor what he paid for his stethoscope, next time you see him. I’ll bet it’s many hundreds, even though I am sure you can buy a Chinese Learner Model for $9.95.

Is the stethoscope on the left therefore a “ripoff”?


Then there’s the artistic insight. When Picasso draws your portrait in five minutes, you pay him not for those five minutes, but for a lifetime of experience leading up to those minutes.

Then there’s reliability. As a pro, I deliver. Period. No excuses. I have spares, contacts, checklists: you’ll be able to leave it to me. Period.

And now that we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the work. I just press a few buttons, right?


Trust me, I work for a living. Every photo was an adventure in problem solving. For three days, my brain ran at high power to get the job done well.
That also involved time. Three days? No way, much more. Days of preparing and packing, and prior to that, quoting, talking, negotiating; and at the end, unpacking. And while there, I got up at 8am and worked until midnight every day, no interruptions. No time for lunch even. Not even a five minute break!

Instead of delivering photos after weeks, as a beginner would do, I delivered in real time. Four or five times a day, I would go to a room or office, or my hotel room, and finish the 200 pictures I had just taken. I did this while conference attendees had coffee breaks or lunch or post-day social bar visits. Instead of drinking, I edited. In fact on Sunday, I just finished, and uploaded, the last morning’s pictures to the client—and again, I am proud of the work.

So instead of an insane rip-off price, and trust me, even friends here used those terms, this client got a pro, and pro gear, and world-class work for three or four extremely hectic and active days.

And years from now, the story of that organization at this time will be able to be seen in a way that tells more than words. Oh, and since the organization gets an unlimited license, they can use the images forever, for basically any purpose they care to use them for. And all this for what I dare say is less than you’d pay a car mechanic or plumber, if you hired a car mechanic or plumber for the same amount of time.

It is easy to criticize large-looking bills, but you may want to learn why bills are what they are. You might be surprised: even government ministers can get value for money. And “value for money” does not mean “the cheapest”.

All sorts of everything.

I am shooting a three day event, a conference, at Niagara Falls, while my son house-sits back home. So I shoot lots of speakers and so on,

And I love this kind of shooting because if done well, it leads to so many “oh wow” reactions.

But only if done well, and it is complicated:

  • I am using a long lens (70-200) without flash, and on another camera, a wide angle lens (16-35mm on a full frame camera) with a flash, so all settings are totally different from shot to shot.
  • Many, many different environments. A large ballroom. Hallways. Smaller rooms. Restaurants (several). Easy bounce, Then, no bounce. Then, difficult bounce. Coloured walls. Every shot is an engineering challenge!
  • Speakers who will not stop talking, or stand still, or even turn the same way, for a millisecond.
  • Dead batteries all the time.
  • Heavy cameras, two of them. And the arthritis in my hands doesn’t make this any easier.
  • The need to minimize post-production work. Hundreds of times “just a moment or two” means many moments, and that means “hours and hours”..
  • Tough environments including “dark inside with bright outside also visible in the shot”, like this:


But it does not end there…

  • TTL does not always work well when there’s reflections, so I have to use Manual flash setting for a lot of the work. And that is sensitive to changing the distance to the flashed object (“inverse square law”).
  • Impossible white balance.
  • Bouncing means direction, and you need to think about that direction: “Where is the light coming from?”

So I really have to work for my pay. Fortunately, I love my work. And there are ways to make it easier: start with good starting points, like the Willems 400-40-4 rule (look it up) as your basis, and adjust from that basis. When you take my courses or buy my e-books, you will learn these starting points.

And then you can shoot quickly and get great colour, and with a modern camera this applies even at high ISO. Here, for example, is beauty:


No, I did not mean the girls. Well, yes, they are very beautiful, too, but I really meant the venue and the colours. This is why I love flash.

In the next few days, some more about this shoot. It is 1:15 AM and now, finally after a 16-hour non-stop day, I get a rest. But only until 7AM.

And then back to Black Betty, who is waiting patiently in the garage for me:


And then tomorrow evening, I run a photo booth, 80km away. No rest for the wicked!