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 (http://learning.photography), 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 http://learning.photography/collections/training-300-advanced/products/flash. 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: michael@mvwphoto.com. You can book on http://learning.photography.


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.


Lightroom 6

Lightroom 6 is the latest and greatest in the version history of Lightroom, the best thing since sliced bread. Asset management, editing, and production all rolled into one.

LR 6 is a worthwhile upgrade; as I mentioned in an earlier post, it has lots of new stuff. For me, the main features for me are:

  1. Face recognition. You can now recognize faces, so that all photos that feature uncle Bob can be quickly found. Remarkably accurate
  2. Panoramas. Stick together 2, 3, 4, or more overlapping photos that you have shot.
  3. HDR. Stake one normal shot, and one more more darker and one or more lighter, and pull them together to get either artistic “paint” effects, or just more dynamic range (i..e. the detail in the dark areas will be visible, as well as detail in the light areas).
  4. Brush in filters: you can now use a graduated filter and remove it (or add it) in specific, brushed areas:

(The graduated filter here has the new BRUSH activated in ERASE mode, so I can delete part of the filter)

There’s more, especially the Mobile functions and the reputed speed increase, but I cannot comment on that since I have not observed or used them.

So, how to go about upgrading?

First, make sure that you have backups. And I mean good, verified backups. You never know. Don’t ever lose all your work… make backups and store them off site. Backups of both the photo originals and the work you have done on the (the catalog file, named <something>.LRCAT).

Then, the upgrade. Under “Help” select “check for upgrades”. Make sure that if you have the app, you keep getting the app, and not the “creative cloud”. Adobe really, really wants you to get the Cloud version, which works out much more expensive even in year one if all you use is Lightroom; and after year one the price will go up.  You will have to search the Adobe site; look for “All products”, and look for the price of around $80 for the upgrade. Not the $3-10 per month Cloud price. (Think about it: if the next upgrade is two years away, and I only use Lightroom, I pay $80 for those two years. Cloud users would pay significantly more: 24 times something is something big.)

Before you start, you will need to log in to Adobe, and under “My products”, find the serial numbers for previous versions. You will need the previous version’s serial number to qualify for the upgrade.

When, armed with the login and the serial number, you perform the upgrade, your catalog file will be converted. This takes time. On my catalog, with around 200,000 photos it took most of the overnight that I let it run.

At the end, when you can use Lightroom, you will have a new catalog. But your old catalog will also still exist. Just in case. I advise you keep that around for a little while. Just in case. You never know.

Also, make sure that when you want to use Lightroom you start the new app, not the old one. The new one is called “Adobe Lightroom” and lives in your app folder, inside a folder called Adobe Lightroom.

After the upgrade you will see that Lightroom works as it did before. But new functions have been added. Under “Photo” you can now, after selecting two or more photos, select Panorama or HDR (high dynamic range). Try!

And more importantly, in the grid view you see a new face symbol as one of the following views. Bottom right:

When you click that, you will see the faces Lightroom recognizes. Give them names. Over time, Lightroom gets better and better at naming faces. After you name them, you see:

Initially, of course, all faces are unnamed.

You can turn face recognition indexing off (paused) or on by clicking on the Lightroom Logo on the very top left of your screen. You see:

During this time, the application may be slow, not just when you are looking at the grid view, but also when exporting a picture, printing one, and so on. Allow plenty of time for the indexing to finish, and you can pause the indexing when you need speed. You can index per shoot, or per year, or all at once (though I would not recommend that when you have a large catalog, like mine).

I am still discovering new things, so there will be more blog posts about Lightroom 6. For now, though: recommended!


I also coach privately: bring me your laptop and I will not just teach you, but we will set up your own Lightroom installation in the optimal way. See http://learning.photography.