Respect the click

I am old enough to remember the film days. And while the digital era is better in almost every way, there were a few things that did work better in the film era. And those things were to do with what I would call “respect for the click”.

My film camera—a Nikon FE

Today, it is no longer necessary to respect the click. So instead of making a portrait, for instance, we take 100 photos and scan through them hoping to find a good one. And instead of setting white balance, we just leave it on “whatever” and sort it out later, on the computer. Instead of getting exposure right, we shoot, adjust after looking at the screen, then shoot again, and repeat until exposure is OK. In the film days, we could not do these things: each click cost a dollar, and after each click we had to wait several days to see the results.

In the broadest sense, this means that today we do not think about the photo. And that is a shame. This prevents us from becoming a better photographer, and it gives us more work to do at the other end, after shooting. It also devalues the photo.

Fortunately, there are several ways to get the old discipline back.

One way is to turn off the automatic display at the back. That way you have to click on playback specifically to see an image. If you do not, you do not see a preview. And try not to look after every photo. Finally, try to have the self-discipline to not “just” try things. By all means correct if you have to, but give it a couple of seconds of thought to get as close as you can, before you actually shoot.

Cookies – 16mm, full frame

One great way to do that: shoot the odd roll of film. If you want to be a really good photographer, you should buy an old film camera—a good one like the one above should cost you between $100—$150. And then shoot a roll of film every month. You will be surprised how much more respect you will have for every photo.

And that is a good thing, because lack of respect for the click results in snapshots.


Wishful thinking

A quick note on learning.

The other day, I met a photographer, a nice person, who shoots things for pay all the time. He knew nothing about his camera. I mean nothing. Auto mode, auto focus, auto everything all the time. He did not know how to set aperture or shutter, or what these were. Or how to focus. Or what ISO was. And so on.

That is fine, but it will seriously limit your options. Seriously.

And I just saw an ad flash in front of me on Facebook that contained this risible claim:

No. No. No, and no. This is wishful thinking. The reason photography costs money is that it is a serious skill that takes some time to learn. Yes, you can learn it. But not in 10 minutes. Please—learn properly, and while properly does not have to mean a three year degree course, 10 minutes is obviously not enough. I mean… really.

My courses and books may help (, as may be my Sheridan College courses and my Vistek Toronto workshops. As will this blog, as will the entire Internet. All this combined with lots of exercises. Trying different things. Testing. Running into problems and then solving those. All this will get you there.

But not in ten minutes.



Workflow and Lightroom

I talk about Lightroom a lot, as you will have noticed. The reason is that Adobe Lightroom is hands down the best workflow tool I know. Workflow meaning “what happens between arriving home with the camera to the finished product”.

Lightroom 6, as you will have seen, is a step forward. It has its issues—for now, the speed of the face detection module is way below par—but you can work around those, and they will be fixed.

But you do need to learn how to use it. Thank God it’s not Photoshop: it takes days to learn, not years. But it does take days.

Enter some help.

On May 30, I teach a workshop at Vistek: Lightroom and Workflow”. In it, you will learn backup strategies, computer strategies, Lightroom workflow and editing, and much more. Seating is limited, so sign up soon.

The same is true of the Flash workshop this Saturday in Oakville.If you missed the Vistek workshop, come on Saturday: 1pm, see Seating limited, so be quick if you want in.

Now, a (repeat of) a little flash tip.

If your flash looks too dark in the photo, why is it? It could have two very different reasons:

  1. Metering is wrong; the TTL circuitry decided on too low a level.
  2. With the current ISO and aperture, you simply do not have enough power (eg the ceiling you are bouncing off is too high).

To know which one: set your flash to manual mode, full power (1/1). Shoot. If the picture is overexposed, you had reason 1; if not, you had reason 2.

To solve the issue: For reason 1, go back to TTL and use flash compensation. For reason 2, go back to TTL and lower the f-number and/or increase the ISO.

That’s all – pretty simple, but often overlooked.



Setup for outdoors flash pics.

A student just asked me:

When you were at the London Camera Club, you had your usual stand/flash holder/umbrella combo on display. Unfortunately, time didn’t permit me to ask about it. Would you mind mentioning what brands the components are – I would like to have a similar set up for my Speedlight.

I use the following setup:

So that is:

  1. A Light stand. Any brand is OK if it is sturdy enough.
  2. A mount that sits on top of the light stand and swivels. The flash sits on top of this mount. My mount is a Manfrotto,
  3. A pocketwizard receiver. I use the simple Pocketwizard PlusX: $180 for two of them.
  4. A cable between the Pocketwizard and the flash hotshoe. This cable sits on top of the mount, and the flash on top of it.
  5. An umbrella that goes through the mount (you can see the hole in the photo). This should be an umbrella with a removable cover, so you can shoot into the umbrella as well as through the umbrella.

Because this is non-TTL, the flash can be any flash. Any make, and type, as long as it has a manual power level setting and you can disable any timeouts (otherwise it turns off every minute or two).

To a large extent, these are commodity items. There are many brands. Nikon has a kit of mount plus stand plus umbrella for just over $100, for instance, but anything that looks sturdy enough will do fine.

As for radio triggers, I use Pocketwizards because they are the industry standard and rugged, and they use AA batteries; but any other non-TTL trigger will work just as well.

The setup above serves me well: it is what I use for up to 90% of my outside pictures.

Like this scene, the way it looks to my eyes:

And here comes rescue, a.k.a. me and my umbrella:

…which results in:

And the lovely Vanessa from Timmins has a sense of humour:

The good news: this type of dramatic lighting is simple, once you know how!


Want to learn how to do this? I have a couple of spots open on my “Mastering Flash” workshop in Oakville this Sat 23 May, 1pm—4:30pm. This is a very small workshop: 3-6 people maximum. If you are interested, email me: You can book on


Newsflash: Flash News—Vistek Toronto, Saturday

Flash newsflash: I am teaching a flash workshop at Vistek in Toronto on Saturday, May 16, at 10AM. This is a workshop that covers everything from first principles to creative techniques, so expect an intensive three hours.

Book here:

There is space but seating is strictly limited, so if you plan to attend, book soon. And bring your (SLR or similar) camera and especially, your flash.