All sorts of everything.

I am shooting a three day event, a conference, at Niagara Falls, while my son house-sits back home. So I shoot lots of speakers and so on,
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And I love this kind of shooting because if done well, it leads to so many “oh wow” reactions.

But only if done well, and it is complicated:

  • I am using a long lens (70-200) without flash, and on another camera, a wide angle lens (16-35mm on a full frame camera) with a flash, so all settings are totally different from shot to shot.
  • Many, many different environments. A large ballroom. Hallways. Smaller rooms. Restaurants (several). Easy bounce, Then, no bounce. Then, difficult bounce. Coloured walls. Every shot is an engineering challenge!
  • Speakers who will not stop talking, or stand still, or even turn the same way, for a millisecond.
  • Dead batteries all the time.
  • Heavy cameras, two of them. And the arthritis in my hands doesn’t make this any easier.
  • The need to minimize post-production work. Hundreds of times “just a moment or two” means many moments, and that means “hours and hours”..
  • Tough environments including “dark inside with bright outside also visible in the shot”, like this:

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But it does not end there…

  • TTL does not always work well when there’s reflections, so I have to use Manual flash setting for a lot of the work. And that is sensitive to changing the distance to the flashed object (“inverse square law”).
  • Impossible white balance.
  • Bouncing means direction, and you need to think about that direction: “Where is the light coming from?”

So I really have to work for my pay. Fortunately, I love my work. And there are ways to make it easier: start with good starting points, like the Willems 400-40-4 rule (look it up) as your basis, and adjust from that basis. When you take my courses or buy my e-books, you will learn these starting points.

And then you can shoot quickly and get great colour, and with a modern camera this applies even at high ISO. Here, for example, is beauty:

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No, I did not mean the girls. Well, yes, they are very beautiful, too, but I really meant the venue and the colours. This is why I love flash.

In the next few days, some more about this shoot. It is 1:15 AM and now, finally after a 16-hour non-stop day, I get a rest. But only until 7AM.

And then back to Black Betty, who is waiting patiently in the garage for me:

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And then tomorrow evening, I run a photo booth, 80km away. No rest for the wicked!

 

Shutter speed isn’t all there is to shutter speed.

“Shutter speed” isn’t all there is to shutter speed.

Uh oh. Michael is The Oracle. What on earth does he mean by that confusing statement?

Well, let’s have a look. Let’s set up a couple of gelled and gridded speedlights (using Honlphoto grids and gels) and get a talented life model. Which is exactly what I did in August 2012 at Brock University, during the 5-day flash course I was teaching for the Niagara School of Imaging.

But wait. Because I want to show you the setup, let’s allow in some ambient light. To achieve this we use a really slow shutter speed, of 0.6 sec. More than half a second, in other words. That lets in some ambient. Not a lot, but enough to see the classroom, some of the equipment, and so on.

The picture, showing the setup with the two flashes, below. Look at the two little gelled speedlights, can you spot them? Purple gel on the left and yellow gel on the right:

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OK. Great. Blurry as heck, of course: 0.6 seconds is ridiculously slow. Impossible to hold still. Right?

But wait. Lots of blur, yes, all over the picture, but look carefully. Click on the image to see it full size, and now look carefully at the model. What do you see?

She is sharp. No blur on her: she is tack sharp. There’s blur all over, but not much on the actual subject. A little “ghosting”, but she is substantially sharp.

But that’s impossible: the shutter speed was 0.6 seconds. So she must be blurry! Right?

So that’s where I say “‘Shutter speed’ isn’t all there is to shutter speed”. The shutter speed may be 0.6 seconds, but the model is lit primarily (almost exclusively) by the flashes. And the flashes flash at 1/1000 second or faster. At 1/4 power, they flash for just 1/4000 second. So while the shutter speed may be 0.6 seconds, as long as the subject is lit only by the flashes, our effective shutter speed is 1/4000 second!

And that is why you see a sharp model: there is very little ambient light on her, so the effective shutter speed is determined almost exclusively by the flash speed. Which is very rapid.

So now let’s do a normal shutter speed, of 1/125 sec, so the ambient light is cut out. And here is the finished product:

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So anyway. This is a studio shot. So I want no ambient light: the second picture, in other words.  But when I shoot an event, like a wedding reception, I want to let in some ambient light to avoid those cold, black backgrounds. Instead, I want a nice warm background. To achieve that, I am happy to shoot with shutter speed as slow as 1/15 or 1/30 second. And now you know why I can get away with that.

 

Yaay! Natural!

You have all heard about the grassroots campaign against dihydrogen monoxide?

This chemical, which if ingested in large quantities can be deadly, is present in most manufactured foods. It is even in our water supply.

Which is not strange, considering the fact that “dihydrogen monoxide” is just another way of saying “H2O”, i.e. water.

The reason this joke works is that people have been conditioned to like “natural”, eat “natural”, and to resist anything artificial. As though Ebola, disease-carrying mosquitos and bone cancer aren’t “natural”!

And we see the same in photography. Oh so often do I hear people proudly proclaim that they use “natural light”.

That is fine, nothing against that. I use available light quite often. But to be proud of it? To me, that’s like proudly saying “I am walking to Rome!”. Personally, I’d rather be carried there on a luxury yacht, or in a Saudi royal’s personal 747 with golden faucets. And similarly in photography I use the tools that suit my needs. Whether they are “natural” or not. I am as happy using flashes as I am using sunlight. Except flashes give me more options in more conditions.

So I’d say, use what works for you. Whether it is “natural” or not. And learn all types so you have the option when needed.

 

Flow, or moment?

As every photographer knows, you use shutter speed to either blur, or freeze, motion. That is what the shutter is for, creatively speaking.

A slow shutter speed, like 1/10 second, gives you blurred motion, as in this photo I took at a country music event the other day:

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While a fast shutter speed, like 1/800 second, freezes motion:

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See the difference?

Incidentally:

Q: If picture 2 was taken at 1/800 sec, why is it not darker than the first picture, which was taken at 1/10 sec? Over six stops darker?

A: Because at the same time as selecting a faster shutter speed, I selected a larger aperture: f/1.4 for the second picture, as opposed to the f/22 I used for picture 1.

Anyway. Here’s the core question I get quite often from students:

What drives the decision “do we blur or freeze?”

First, a flow looks better blurred, while something that happens as a moment in time looks better frozen. So generally speaking, for a fountain like this I would use a slow shutter speed.

What constitutes “slow”? See this excerpt from my Book 7, Pro Photography Checklists: 100 checklists, summaries, and Best Practices.

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What is slow, and what is fast? 

So, OK, slow or fast determines motion: blur or freeze. But there are other considerations. Like “do I want a blurred background” (which would mean a low f-number, which in turn would mean a fast shutter)? And like aesthetic considerations: the frozen fountain looks kind of cool, in this particular case.

And so it is with many photography decisions: you have a rule of thumb, a starting point; but then you interpret that creatively. That goes from everything from motion to colour to the rule of thirds. You are the creative driver, not the book or the camera or social pressure.

So if you have a reason to not use some established rule or starting point, then by all means do what you want. (In the absence of such a reason, though, go with the recommended Best Practice or Rule of Thumb.)

 

Assignment

Here, from years ago, is an assignment for you:

Put your 50mm f/1.8 lens on your camera and, using just available light, go shoot twelve things in your living room that show its character. Or shoot lots, but pick the best twelve.

Then put these together in a 3×4 arrangement, like this (yes that was my living room at the time):

Living Room Miniatures

This assignment forces you to look properly. What is it that shows the character? What makes for a simple shot? It also forces you to use the right techniques for simplifying and filling the frame. And you get to practice low-light shooting, selective focus, and so on.

But most of all, you get to think about subjects. Initially you’ll struggle to find ten – then suddenly 100 pictures will suggest themselves.

Show me your results!