My must-have. My preciousssss….

I actually have many “preciousssses”. But this one is among the most precious. My lightstand/bracket/umbrella combo. This here:

This kit, which is just about glued to me, consists of:

  • A light stand.
  • On it, a bracket for mounting flash and umbrella.
  • A pocketwizard. (Plus one on the camera).
  • Cable from pocketwizard to flash (from Pocketwizard or from
  • A small flash, e.g. a 430EX/SB710, or any other flash. Any brand will do if I use “manual”. As long as you cam disable the timeout and set the power level manually.
  • Umbrella. Shoot through as well as shoot into (i.e. removable cover).

It folds into a very small package, and often, it’s all I need. Since I know how to mix ambient and flash, that umbrella allows me to do so much. Including this:

Oh, and a student spotted me and took this photo, of the exact flash stand used for that shot:



Want to learn? I do remote training over the Internet, using Google Hangouts, so you can now do my courses wherever you are in the world. Better still, for a limited time, it’s cheaper than here, in person. See to order now.


Dragging the shutter

You have seen me talk about this many, many times. Flash pictures start with the background, And to get light into the background, often you will want to use slower shutter speeds. These affect ONLY the background, not the flash part of the photo. Look here; an example from the course I taught today at Vistek:

Like here. f/8, 200 ISO, 35mm prime lens, flash on manual on 1/4 power, fired through an umbrella. The only thing I will change is the shutter speed.

1/125 sec:

1/30 sec:

1/15 sec:

You see? The background gets brighter, the women in the front, who are lit primarily by the flash, do not change. Analyze that carefully.

  • The woman on the left: lit by flash, so does not change.
  • The store in the background: lit by ambient, so changes with every shutter speed change.

And that is how the cookie crumbles.

Why did I use manual flash power setting? Because it is consistent. The same for every shot. No variation. Once I have it right, it’s right for every shot.


See for my collection of e-books. These contain my collected knowledge, both of photography and of how to teach it. They are all 100-200 pages long and are simply PDFs, so you can put them on all your computers and tables and large-screen phones, for convenient reading and reference. Enjoy!


Aperture (the “f-number”) controls several things in a photo. One is light (the lower the “f-number”, the more light), and the other is depth of field (“DOF”). Low f-numbers mean shallow DOF.

But DOF is also determined by proximity (the closer you are, the shallower); and lens focal length (the longer the lens, the shallower).

So this is f/1.4:

I was walking to my class last week at Sheridan College Oakville.

f/1.4 and sharp? Huh??

Well… read above. I am not close. I am using a 35mm lens. I am printing a small image, not a large image where every detail is visible. So while I have a low f-number, I am doing everything else to get enough DOF.

So yes, you can get enough DOF even at a large aperture (low f-number). Which I wanted to avoid high ISOs.  This was 1600 ISO at 1/60 sec. Handheld.



I remember as a child I made drawings with red and yellow flames: red, surrounded by a yellow aura, and I was impressed by how much that looked like flames.

So tonight in the studio, remembering that, I decided to add yellow hair to a red background, like so:

…and I am happy to see that it works just as well as it did when I was a child.

A beauty dish lit the face; a softbox on the right provided a little fill; the background was lit with a speedlight with a red gel; and then the yellow was from a gridded speedlight with an egg yolk yellow gel. 100 ISO, 1/125 sec, f/8. I used Bowens studio strobes, and speedlights with Honl photo modifiers (gels, grids). I set off the lights with Pocketwizards (and the light cell, in the case of one of the studio flashes).

The moral of the story: you should play. Children know how to do that; adults forget. To get new ideas, to be creative, it is important that you play. Try new stuff. Try odd combinations of things. That helps you create: in big ways, but also in little ways like in today’s shoot.

Now, back to authoring my new e-book, “Powerful Portrait Photography”. ISBN 978-0-9918636-5-5. Almost done: watch this space and



I taught two studio/portrait courses at Vistek Toronto today. Great students, lot of fun. The take-home message: it’s not as complicated as it seems; in fact, it’s easy. Especially with the right equipment, I used a mix of studio strobes (two Elinchrom monolights) and speedlights (my Canon 430 EXII and 600EX speedlights, set manually, i.e. used as studio lights).

Here’s a couple of “standard” four light portraits (key light, fill light, edge light, background light), slightly desaturated in post:

That’s the standard. But you can do with less. Like here:

I happen to like that kind of drama in portraits a lot; it shows character and mood— and that’s just one studio light with an umbrella. Really? One light can do a character portrait? Yup. It can. F/5.6, 1/125 sec, 100 ISO)

And here’s a one-flash bounced portrait, shot at f/1.2 to get a blurred background. Yes, f/1.2! and you can call me courageous or mad, whichever you prefer.

(f/1.2 at 1/160 sec at ISO 100)

Bounced off the ceiling behind me, and using TTL (i.e. automatic flash) with an on camera flash. Simpler isn’t possible, and yet you can do great portraits.

The message: make lots of portraits. Set yourself challenges, and one challenge should be: show mood and character. See how many flashes you need. Note the techniques that work best. Often, as one student today noted, “less is more”.

And on that subject, I finish this quick inspirational post with one more picture taken with jkust one flash; this time again of my granddaughter, just a few hours old:

(1/125, f/3.5 at ISO 1000).

That’s a storytelling photo. And a character photo, I suppose: Addison is showing character at only a few hours old.  Also one bounced-behind-me flash.