What’s in a name?

What IS in a name? Rather a lot, as it happens.

Take the company formerly known as Artisan State. They do great albums and other print-related items. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Except, that is, for their current name. It is now “Zno“, which every world citizen except an American pronounces as the monosyllabic Russian-sounding “zno”, Vaguely sounding like “snow”.

But the company thinks it should be pronounced as “Zeeno”. Because while the entire world calls the letter Z “zed”, since it is derived from the Greek zeta, Americans, and only Americans, call it “zee”.

And so, apparently, should we.

Except some of us—meaning me—feel rather strongly about language, and while I’ll gladly let Americans pronounce Z as “zee”, or “zoo”, or “za”, or “zeeblebrox”, or anything else they like, I just cannot get myself to do it. Z is zed, not zee.

But of course there is a bigger thing behind this. Namely American exceptionalism and ignorance of the world, and even, if you like, cultural imperialism. Much as I love my American friends, I think they should perhaps educate themselves just a little bit, and realise that the entire world is not America. And something as crucially important as a brand name… why on earth would you choose something that either puzzles or antagonizes the rest of the world? Unless, of course, you only want to sell in America.

So we have problems. Until I live in the USA, I do not want to start pronouncing Z as “zee”, even by stealth, and I do not want to buy from a company that is at the very least either ignorant or culturally insensitive at its senior levels. When I have pointed this out to the company’s support email, all I got was a “we think of it differently”, or some such non sequitur.

So just like I would find it difficult to respect a president who is a racist and a mysogenist (and I am not pointing at Mr Trump here: I suspect he is a lot more intelligent than we think), I also find it difficult to buy from a company that is either ignorant or is trying to push American culture down my throat.

So yes, there is a lot in a name. A name is culture and language, and people care about culture and language.

Am I making a big deal of this? Nah. No big deal. I can buy albums, even good albums, elsewhere. I can recommend other print companies to my students. No skin off my nose.

But I do wonder why a company chooses not to care about antagonizing a great proportion of their market. Are they ignorant, or do they want to push American culture down the world’s throat? I’d say both are equally likely.



This was me a week or two ago:

mvw-working-2 mvw-working

A fun photo booth. I love doing them: not much money but a great job technically, and a fun evening full of happy people.

A lot of work. Here’s the hallway before I pack the car:


You can see. it takes many hours to prepare, and then many hours to set up, pull down, re-pack… a lot of work, and that’s why it costs money. If you see it advertised for less, you get less – it’s as simple as that.

I look forward to the next ones!


Facebook Messenger

Today, a blog post that is only sideways about photography. It’s about more.

Facebook is where social media happens. There is no alternative: all our friends and relatives are on Facebook. It’s where the world communicates. Great stuff. Ping: Oh there’s Facebook!

Lately, FB has been trying to also take over the messaging world. First by creating their messenger app. Then by making its use (rather than doing it in the Facebook app) compulsory if you are using the FB app on a mobile device. Now, even when using a browser on a mobile device. They really want you to do all your messaging using their app.

But I do not want to roll over. No FB Messenger for me.

First, out of principle. I don’t like to be told what apps I must use. And I think social media and communication should be separate items. Facebook can cancel my account at any time without any reason or recourse. That should not then also kill my ability to communicate!

“But everyone can cancel your account”, people say. Not so. My willems.ca account is safe unless the willems.ca admin kills it. But since that is me, I am not afraid. Also, only FB can cancel your ability to communicate if you post something they don’t like on social media, or of someone makes something up about you (that happens, trust me).

“But all business is done on FB”, they say. Yes, that part is true, But to my mind, that is a good reason not to give FB more power, rather than the opposite.

Then, there’s also the practical side.

  • Another app means more memory, more processor cycles, more updates, and yet another UI to use.
  • More pings. When something pings or rings it could be one more thing…
  • It means even more things to check. Messages used to arrive via email. If someone said “I sent you that address last week”, you would check email.  Now, you check email, and you check SMS (phone text), and you check Facebook messages, and you check Facebook proper, and you check Skype, and you check Telegram, and you check Apple iMessage, and you check whatever other messaging methods you use – at least a few more for most of us. So this has made our lives much more complicated. Why add all these levels of complexity when it would be better, obviously, to have fewer rather than more?


It’s a free world: if you use and like Facebook Messenger, good for you. Enjoy. But it’s not for me. Please continue to use email as the main mechanism to contact me. Thanks!


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.