Digital Camera Straps?

I am struck today by yet another ad for a “digital” device, This time, a grey card.

Here’s the online product description:

Let’s parse that, shall we? Read all the bullets and you see that they are either circular (it is for digital because it was “designed for digital”), or irrelevant. Or dumb (“susceptible to damage”: what, digital photographer damages cardboard more than film photography did?)

The only “advantage” that has anything to do with anything is “spectrally uniform”. Well, so are the old pieces of cardboard. There is really nothing in there that has anything to do with “digital”, so why they say “these will not work for film cameras” is beyond me.

Or rather, it is not beyond me.

It’s called “marketing”.

Companies want you to buy things, and re-labelling everything “digital” takes advantage of gullible innocents, who think they must buy new UV filters, grey cards; anything they can stick the word “Digital” in front of. Soon we will have digital camera straps!

So, my advice: when something you already own is re-marketed with the word “digital”, be very suspicious. It’s quite probably just a money grab.


Those of you who live in, or near, Brantford: I am holding a meetup Saturday, 10AM… read all about it here. There is still space.

The studio

A studio is all about convenience, I find. I can work without one, but in a studio I have everything set up and ready to go. This is my Brantford studio a day ago, before I had finished tidying:

Notice that a studio need not be tidy. It needs to be well organized, large, and it needs all the equipment ready to use. All the equipment being

  • Cameras and lenses
  • Backdrops,
  • Many small flashes, many strobes
  • One or two hotlights (for video)
  • A host of modifiers
  • Light stands
  • Reflectors
  • Gadgets, like brackets
  • …and so on.

In my studio, I have two stations set up permanently. One for traditional portraits like this:

(Standard Studio Setting: 100 ISO, 1/125 sec, f/8)

And one for edgy portraits like this, of my friend Adam pretending to be a pregnant woman:

(Standard Studio Setting: 100 ISO, 1/125 sec, f/8)

So do you need a permanent studio? Of course not. But it sure makes life easier and shoots faster to carry out. And it takes the guesswork out of photography.

My Brantford studio is now open for individual and class training, and portraiture. Just 20 minutes west of Hamilton, Brantford is centrally located, between the GTA, London, and Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph. Come see me if you need a portrait for LinkedIn, a family portrait, or any form of photography training.


Make it better.

Here’s a typical outside flash shot. (Taken by the über-talented photographer Lisa Mininni while I was teaching her flash tricks yesterday):

What did we do to make this?

[A] Take the shot:

This was a flash shot, of course. So outside in bright sunlight the settings are very, very simple.

  1. Pocketwizard on camera.
  2. Second Pocketwizard connected to the flash by means of a “Pocketwizard to hotshoe”–cable from Modify with a softbox or umbrella (the latter is smaller but will blow over more easily in the slightest breeze).
  3. Flash set to manual, half power. (Be ready to increase to full if you need to—but the flash may overheat, and recharge time between shots will be long).
  4. White balance to “Flash”.
  5. Camera manual, 100 ISO, 1/250 sec.
  6. Then, determine the aperture you need for a good background. Start at f/8—and then vary from there. On a day like yesterday, I needed f/11 to f/16.
  7. Once your background is right, look at the flash part. If the flash is too bright, reduce its power level or move it farther away from what it is lighting. If the flash is too dark, increase its power level or move it closer to what it is lighting. Or add a second flash, Worst case, use direct, unmodified flash.

[B] Finish the shot:

That finishing (not “editing”!) is just as important as taking the photo, and it consists of:

  1. Verify exposure and tweak if necessary. (If you have taken the shot properly, this should not be needed.) Pay attention also to “highlights” and “blacks”.
  2. Set white balance to “Flash”, if it wasn’t already. (Ditto).
  3. Correct lens and “architecture”–distortion.
  4. Crop and rotate if/as needed.
  5. Sharpen if/as needed.
  6. Perhaps add a very slight post-crop vignette.

Those steps are pretty much standard, and a typical picture takes me less than 30 seconds to finish.

[C] Options

I could of course add another flash, for the background. Set that to quarter power.

OK. How was this shot lit, then? Here’s how:

That’s right—always make a pullback shot, where you can see the lighting setup. You’ll forget. I used a third pocketwizard connected to the second flash via a second hotshoe cable.

Is this rocket science? No. But it is fun and it does open up untold creative possibilities.


Come to me for a private lesson and I will teach you how to do this, how to use modifiers, how to balance light sources, how to use gels, and much, much more,. You don’t need much, other than an SLR, a flash, and knowledge of the basics (“what is aperture and shutter speed and how do they work”)—but I can even teach you those if you like. See or give me a call on +1 416-875-8770 and never look back. I can teach you remotely, too, using Google hangouts, too, even if you are in, say, Australia.

Back to the future

The best computer UI (User Interface) that I have ever experienced is that of the Compaq Concerto I used to own. This computer, which was decades ahead of its time, was powered by Windows for Pen computing and by, as I just found out, Wacom pen and screen hardware. Hardware that today looks like this:

Not surprising. The intuitiveness was amazing. I regret that this disappeared: we lost 20 valuable years.

But we are back: back to the future. The Wacom tablet I mentioned the other day gets me back there. The pen feels the same, and the functions are even better now than in the Compaq days. Like the radial menu:

I assigned this to a pen button, so now by clicking that button I get this menu (where I can set functions for each of the pie segments)—and what’s more, it pops up where my pen is at that time. Ridiculously simple, and such a time saver. I grabbed that picture by selecting the “Capture Selection” segments. That’s one way to have me remember those combined buttons (try to remember Command-Shift-$). You can even assign hierarchal sub-menus.

And what’s even more: the pen and button functions can be set differently for each application. The tablet senses which app you are in, and you get the applicable settings for that particular app.

I think it is a good bet you will be hearing more about this particular piece of hardware here.


Workflow, again

Another note on workflow.

You need to rate your images, to separate the good from the less good. But this only works if the process is:

  1. Quick.
  2. Unequivocal, objective.

Lightroom helps in both cases. The “quick” is addressed by the following process. First, you rate all images to a standard, say 3 stars, namely the standard that most of your pictures will be; and now you only mark the exceptions. That takes half the work away. And to actually mark those exceptions, you simply use the number keys on your keyboard (“1″ for one star, “2″ for two stars, and so on) combined with right arrow (“next”) and left arrow (“previous”) in the negative strip.

This only works, as said, if your system is clear. A system that needs you to indicate “how much you like an image” will not work: it has to be more objective.

My system is as follows:

  • One star: this image is technically bad; too bad to fix in post-production editing. It is out of focus, or too under= or overexposed, say.
  • Two stars: this is technically OK, but it is not an inspiring image. A snapshot. Something you’d rather not use of you do not have to.
  • Three stars: this is an image that meets my standard; i.e. one that I would be willing to share with a customer. (That does not mean I will share it).
  • Four stars: this is one of the best shots in this shoot.
  • Five stars: this is a portfolio shot.

Note that the ratings indicate the end status; i.e. after editing, not the way it looks now.

Your system may be different, but be sure that like me, you design a system that is simple and objective in the sense that it is not open to interpretation.

As a result of the system described here, I can rate a shoot in a few minutes, even when I have hundreds of images.