Tip for flash users.

When you use a flash off camera, like here, you often use Pocketwizards. Which means the flashes are on MANUAL mode. Like here, wedding organizer Jane Dayus-Hinch, whom I photographed at the Wedding Show today:

Off Camera Flash 1/8 power. Canon 1Dx, 1/80 sec at f/4.5, 1000 ISO

Those camera settings let in enough ambient to act as fill light.

So anyway… if you use an off camera flash, there is one problem. Every 60 seconds or so, the flash goes to sleep and turns off. Meaning you get a shot like this… fill light only:

The solution: You have to set a custom function on the flash to disable the timeout. C.Fn 01 on Canon (set to “1″); menu driven on the Nikon flashes.







High Noon

Just let me dispel that persistent myth that you cannot shoot at high noon. In bright sunlight. Well, you can shoot, but you will get awful pictures.


Here. Look at this. Talented photographer Tanya Cimera Brown, yesterday, at noon, on what must be the brightest day this year so far. So this is in bright, harsh, horrible, colour-saturation-destroying, full-on sunshine. Straight out of the camera:

The sky is nice, the red-blue-green theme woks, the model is great, the sun provides a nice “shampooey goodness” hair light: what more can we ask for? And that is with a camera that can only sync at 1/160 second. With my 1/250 sec 1Dx I could do even better. With the old 1D I used to have, even better, at 1/300 second.

OK. That’s using a strobe. Can you do it with speedlights? Sure. You may need to go unmodified, to have enough light; and that means off camera. Here: two speedlights, aimed direct at the subject from off camera positions, do this:

And this: two of me, by Tanya, using the same techniques:

All those were also SOOC (Straight out of Camera).

So learn flash already!

For best results, do my Flash in the Plan program: take my course and get the book (for both, go to http://learning.photography); then follow with a hands-on session, and you will know how to do this. It’s not rocket science, but you need to learn the background, understand the constraints, and learn the artistic tips. Then, you can do this too (provided you have a model as beautiful as Tanya, of course):

Because yes, you CAN do great work at high noon. All you need is flashes and skills. And a camera, of course. Show the world what you can do!


Develop yourself

Today’s post is about style in photography.

There are many, many styles. And they are all very different.

For example, photojournalism (as I plan to be doing in Israel, see here) is very simple: no edits. Colour or, often. black and white. Flash is allowed, but other than that, it should look as it looked to the eye.

IV - Intravenous, by Michael Willems

Photojournalism: from "IV - Intravenous", by Michael Willems, on 180mag.ca

Or there’s this; I would call this “Annie Leibowitz’s style”:

Then there’s the “amateur aesthetic”, made popular by Terry Richardson. Harsh light with a direct flash, overexposed a little:

Or business “annual report style”:

Reflection, photo by Michael Willems


Or the natural soft light style we use with babies:

Or “desat”, very popular today:

Or my own “dramatic portrait lighting” style, which is an adaptation of earlier Dramatic Portrait techniques:

I could go on. There are almost as many techniques as there are photographers. Almost, not quite. And as a photographer you should be able to master any and all of them. “It’s just technique”, as a friend once said to me.

But it’s when we get beyond that that some of us are lucky enough to develop our own styles. My style is unique to me. And the last picture is a little more my style than the others are.

So the photographer who recently told me that my work was “wrong” and “it looks like your models are photoshopped in:” and “you must open the shutter for longer” is just plan incorrect. It’s my style, and it’s recognizable as my style, and you don’t need to like it. But if you do, great. Your style is yours. If others like it, good for you. If not, it can still be just fine, as long as you like it.


Need Help: Scroll to yesterday to see my Israel project proposal and go here to support it.. every bit helps.



Event shooting is difficult, because things are not under your control. In addition, there is never enough light; bouncing may be tough; there is not ebnough time.

But it can be done, and it can be done well. Especially if you remember you are a storyteller.

You start with an establishing shot. This sets the scene for “where”.

Then you proceed to the ”what”…

Then the “why”, “when”, and “how”.


As you see, plenty of detail, plenty of the event, plenty of “background” (the “B-roll” you hear me talking about so often).

In all of this, remember to be roughly chronological; and remember above all to make the viewer work it out. The ideal photo is a photo that makes the viewer take several seconds to tell the story in his or her mind.

The photojournalism story above is already quite good, in just 8 pictures, at working out what is happening. The full shoot consisted of 314 photos. You can imagine that this tells more of the nuance, more of the detail: but in essence, these 8 pictures tell it all (yes, I know, I chose a different person for the post-baptism shot here).


Blurry Backgrounds

Those blurred backgrounds we love? That’s why we have an SLR camera in the first place, right. A beginner’s note on this subject today.

As you know by now, a lower f-number (= a larger aperture) means a blurrier background. So a photo made at f/1.2, for instance, will have a blurrier background than one taken at f/32.

Photo made at f/1.2: blurry background.

Photo made at f/32: sharp background.

But the f-number is not the only thing that affects the depth of field (= how blurry the background is). The other two factors are:

  1. Proximity to subject. The closer you get to your sharp subject, the blurrier the background gets.
  2. Lens focal length. The longer the lens, the blurrier the background gets.

Take these two recent photos, both taken at f/5.6:

Photo taken at f/5.6: SHARP background

Photo taken at f/5.6: BLURRY background

Photo taken at f/5.6: BLURRY background

What is the difference?

The top picture was taken with a 16mm lens. The bottom pictures were taken with an 85mm lens. The 85mm lens is longer than the 16mm lens, so it gives us a narrower depth of field(= a blurrier background).

So you can only say: a lower f-number means a blurrier background, all other things remaining equal. In other words, you cannot necessarily say “f/4 will result in a blurry background”, or “f/16 will give you a sharp background”.

This is why using a prime lens is a good idea: you remove one variable, thus making it easier to get predictable results.

If this is not all clear to you, then do the following: with the camera in aperture mode or manual mode, go take pictures around the house, until you do get it. Try to alter only one variable at a time (i.e. do not alter zoom, distance and aperture all at the same time: you will have trouble seeing how it all works.