ISO guideline

FROM SEVEN YEARS AGO: What ISO setting to use? High is good for shooting without blur or shooting in the dark but gives you noise (“grain”). What is optimal?

The following may help.

If you do not use AUTO ISO, my rule of thumb for starting points is:

  • Outdoors, or when you are using a tripod: 200 ISO
  • Indoors: 400 ISO (whether or not you are using flash)
  • Problem light, such as museums or hockey arenas: 800 ISO

You can vary from there of course, but you will not be far off.

Here’s an 800 ISO handheld image (200mm, non-stabilized lens). It won me a media award:

TODAY: so what has changed? Only that you can now shoot, on a modern camera, at higher ISOs before you start no notice grainy noise. What worked then works now—but you can now go higher, sometimes much higher,  without noticeable noise. Life is good.

There we go again.

On the BBC news front page recently:image

You will notice the flash warning. Lobbying in England by an epilepsy group has resulted in this warning being displayed in all media whenever there is flash.

Because a few people react to flash. Only a few, and only when they do not take their meds, and only if the flashing is repeated at a rate of around 25 Hz, of course; but that’s beside the point, apparently.

It is a shame that there is no regard for reasonableness in these knee-jerk reactions. I can see the day that flash is illegal anywhere in a British public space… preposterous. Now if they said “we prohibit repeated strong stroboscopic flash at a rate of 25 Hz, deliberately aimed at large audiences”, it would perhaps be a different matter. Perhaps.

But superstition rules. Flash in news. Cell phones at gas stations. WiFi and Peanut butter in schools. Vaccinations. All of these  represent either some danger or some possible but unproven danger or no danger, just superstition. But when there is danger, the question is “how much? ” And it is there that policy makers fail. Obviously we accept danger in life, otherwise we would all live in tents in open fields, ride bicycles limited to 2 km/h, and wear helmets 24/7, and have police officers assigned to every family 24/7. We would not have airplanes either, or electricity or cars. Clearly, that is nonsensical: we accept risk. And the risk involved in flash photography is extremely minimal. So carry on flashing, speedlighters: no fear.





A reader asks

A reader asks:

I need your device on buying a secondary speed light . I currently have the canon 430 Ex 3 RT  speedlite. I wish to purchase a second speedlite.  Should  I purchase the Canon flagship or should I buy a secondary 430 ? Are the 430’s more than enough for off camera work? Does it make sense to purchase a speedlite with more power? Any advice would be helpful ?

Well. “It depends”.

If your camera cannot use its pop-up flash to drive other flashes, then buy a 580/600, the flash that can be a “master”. The 430 can only be a “slave”.

Also, the 580/600 are more powerful. And they can rotate a full 360º, which is important when bouncing.

Or… you could do it all in manual mode with all remote flashes. using radio triggers like Pocketwizards. In that case, buy cheap flashes, like 430s or the even cheaper Yongnuo clones.

The choice is yours.


The Pro Flash Manual gives you more information: see

Workshop and then some

So tonight I did a great workshop in North Toronto. Great because the six participants were very enthusiastic and they really, really got it.  That’s how it goes when you:

  1. Hear it a second or third time
  2. Practice it yourself rather than just listen.

And that is what tonight was about.

You can have a lot of fun with one flash. In this case, one flash with a grid. Off-camera and fired with Pocketwizards.


Two flashes, one with an umbrella on me, and one with a chocolate Honlphoto gel on the background, gives us yours sincerely:20160505-1DX_8145-1024

You like that? Then learn some flash techniques from me, any time. It’s all just technique, as Peter West once told me. True say!


Truth—a beginner’s tip

Theories are best tested. Like the theory of exposure. Which, as it turns out, actually works. Let me show you.

Think: You are filling a bucket. Your aperture is like a faucet. Your shutter speed is “how long do you told the bucket under the tap”. Together, the time and the stream of water fill the bucket.

So here’s f/22 at 1/4 second. A triple of water, so filling the bucket is a slow process:


That should be equivalent to:

  • f/16 at 1/8. We open the faucet, but reduce the time.
  • f/11 at 1/15. We open the faucet more, but reduce the time more as well.
  • f/8 at 1/30… and so on:
  • f/5.6 at 1/60
  • f/4 at 1/125
  • f/2.8 at 1/250
  • f/2 at 1/500
  • f/1.4 at 1/1000

And indeed it is. Here’s f/1.4 at 1/1000:


You should be trying this stuff, not just reading this. We lean by doing. Muscle memory!

Bonus points:

How do I know the first one is f/22? Look at the star from the lamp top right. Star means small aperture (high f-number).

Why is the other lamp green in the fast shutter picture? Because it is a fluorescent light. It goes on and off, and changes colour, 60 times a second or more. A fast shutter speed will catch that. Your shots are all going to be a different colour/brightness.


Tip: Get my books at Amazing books which will have you actually understanding your camera and what to do with it, in record time.