Sure you can do good photos with just one flash. Look at some examples from last night’s Sheridan College class.

One flash, fitted with a Honl photo 1/4″ grid:

One flash, fitted with a small Honl photo 12″ softbox:

And one flash, fitted with a shoot-through umbrella:

As you see, all these are acceptable or good. The umbrella is a little softer, but it throws light all over the room. The softbox is probably the best option here.

I used the standard “studio settings”: 1/125 sec, f/8, at 200 ISO in order to keep the ambient light out.



Why do I decide on certain camera settings?

Look at an example shot (the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, where if you weigh over 350lbs you eat for free).

I used my 50mm f/1.2 lens that night: I wanted small size, good quality, and the ability to open the aperture if needed.

That’s 1600 ISO, f/5.6, and 1/30th sec (in that order).

And here, the menu:

That’s 1600 ISO, 1/60th, f/4. Yum, a septuple bypass burger!

OK, so why those settings?

At night I decided 1600 ISO would be a good starting point. (experience told me this).

Next, I wanted f/5.6 to get depth of field with my 50mm lens (ditto, experience told me that also). I also wanted f/5.6 to be able to decrease that number quickly, all the way to f/1.2 if needed, in case of lower light.

That f/5.6 gave me 1/30th sec with this kind of lighting, which also I knew I could do handheld (I am quite steady). If it had given me a slower speed I would have increased the ISO to 3200, say.

If I had wanted more depth of field, ditto: this was f/8 at 3200 ISO (one stop smaller aperture = one stop higher ISO).

That’s the thinking process. Can you see how it works? With a bit of experience and application of the basic rules of aperture, shutter and ISO, you get there. That’s really all you need.

Note that all three pictures are similar in exposure value, since all three are artificially lit objects that are not far apart on brightness.

My 12-week course at Sheridan College started yesterday night – 20 students who will know all this within weeks. Do learn! And do consider my e-books to help in that. And come back with great pics.

Magic Recipes

We all want simple starting points, Right? So here’s five of my simple flash “recipes” – great starting points. This post you may want to print!

The following are four great, simple to remember, starting points. They are no substitute for proper learning, but they are very good in the context of that learning. And you can try them today. Now. These recipes all have you using one or more small flashes (speedlights). Adjust them as needed!

I .Indoors Flash, Warm Backgrounds:

For this, you use the Willems 400-40-40 recipe as your starting point:

  • 400 ISO
  • 1/40th second
  • F/4
  • Flash aimed behind you upward at 45 degrees, bounced off a wall/ceiling
  • Increase ISO when needed!

II. Studio Style Flash (big flash):

  • 100 ISO
  • 1/125th second
  • f/8

III. Studio Style Flash (small flash/modified):

  • 200 ISO
  • 1/125th second
  • f/5.6

IV. Outdoors, Sunny Day, Dramatic Portrait:

  • 100 ISO
  • 1/250th second
  • f/11 – f/18
  • You may need to use a close-by. direct (unmodified) flash.

V. Outdoors, Sunny Day, Blurry Background:

  • 100 ISO
  • 1/2000th sec
  • f/4
  • High-Speed Flash / Auto FP flash enabled!
  • You will have to be close to your subject; if modified with a softbox, extremely close.


TAKE IT FURTHER: These are some quick start points. get into depth by having me teach you. And buy my “recipe book”: 52 recipes with tips and tricks. Click here.


You can do this too.

Here’s a quick portrait of Ivan, the manager of Mississauga’s Vistek store.

Took about… oh, all of one minute.

Here’s how.

  1. Set camera to manual exposure.
  2. Select values for Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed that will make the room go dark. Here, that was 1/160th sec, f/8 at 100 ISO.
  3. Put a flash on the camera in MASTER mode (a Canon 600EX here, set to using light, not radio, as a master). (You can use the popup flash on a Nikon or on modern Canons like the 7D, 60D, etc.)
  4. Make sure that this master flash will not fire during the shot – it fires only commands (“morse code”) to slave flashes, prior to the shot. Set this on your flash or camera.
  5. Hold a slave flash (in my case a 430EX in slave mode) in your left hand.
  6. Ensure that this flash in in TTL slave mode on the same channel as your master flash.
  7. If the room is very small, put a grid (eg a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid) on the slave flash.
  8. Aim that flash directly at the subject (really).
  9. Focus, recompose
  10. Shoot!

It really was as quick as that. When you learn good technique, you too can be quick with creative shots like this.


Illegal! Illegal? Really…?

Let me start a little discussion here today.

Brought on by a shoot cancelled because of “privacy reasons”, I had a discussion yesterday on an Internet pro photographer forum about photographing children. In short, this is frowned upon even when allowed (in a public place) – in my view, a worrying development for photographers and for anyone who likes freedom.

Apart from my cancelled shoot, this is in no way a personal argument – I do not go around photographing kids – but I am concerned that the general opinion in this discussion was that photographing children should be illegal, even in a public setting, and that this opinion seemed to be based not on fact, but on emotion.

Now don’t get me wrong: I know there are bad people in the world, and I am very sensitive to the need to protect children, and to parents’ wish to do just that. Goes without reason and should not even need saying.

But I had a problem with the majority opinion and the lack of nuance in translating the need to protect to the desired policy to achieve that. If I – hopefully correctly – paraphrase that majority opinion, it was:

  1. That photographing kids is dangerous to them.
  2. That whether it was legal or not, it was objectionable and should lead to police persecution, if not prosecution.
  3. That the law is irrelevant: kids matter, the law does not.
  4. That the wishes of the individual (e.g. a parent) overrule those of the photographer.

As happens regularly, in this case I was in the minority – a minority of one, in disagreeing with this.

Alas, the thread was deleted by the moderator (who was arguing against me – I have to think perhaps the deletion happened because he thought he was losing the argument? :-) ). So I will try to recap my thoughts – this subject is important enough to be discussed extensively.

I disagree strongly with the position that photographing children should be de facto illegal. For the following reasons:

  1. I believe that there is no evidence to suggest that photography, or identifying children, does any significant harm. Child abuse is done in the vast majority of cases (over 98% I believe?) by people who know the child, not by weird stalking strangers. If there is any evidence to suggest that photography has caused any child abduction or abuse cases, I do not know of it. I have kids and want them to be safe – but let’s be evidence-based, not emotion-based. Evidence may well show that we should outlaw uncles, soccer coaches, and relatives, but not photography.
  2. The argument that people who photograph a child “obviously” do this for sexual reasons (“let them go away to masturbate”, was the phrase used”) is entirely unsupported by factual evidence.
  3. The argument, also made, that one must not be allowed to offend anyone or hurt their feelings is also a very weak one. Whatever we do, we will hurt someone’s feelings. Imagine if we allowed religious feelings to dictate policy – the sum total of all religions is against, and hence is offended, I am sure, by everything. Everything we do offends someone.
  4. A phrase similar to “photography of children should not be protected by the law” was used. (Forgive me if I do not recall the exact phrase: the thread, as said, was deleted). This shows a worrying lack of understanding of law. Unlike people who live in dictatorships (and I have worked in them), we do not live in a society where everything is forbidden except what is specifically allowed. Rather, the reverse, and I think we should keep it that way.
  5. With few exceptions, our law allows photographers on public property to photograph anyone on public property.
  6. The phrase “I do not care what the law says, it must not be allowed” (again, paraphrased) is also a worrying one. The whole point of having laws is that it does matter. If something is bad, prove it and make a law against it, and then it is no longer allowed. We do not regulate ourselves by random sentiments or opinions: the law ensures that all this clear, evidence-based, discussed openly, and agreed upon by a majority. History has shown amply that freedom restrictions by popular emotion are always a bad idea.
  7. Imagine if we outlawed photographing children. There are many issues with this seemingly simple law. Like “what about crowds?”. “What if they are your own”. “What if you are their uncle?”. “What about public events?”. “What if it is news?”. “What if the thing you are shooting is newsworthy but the criminal brings a child to avoid photography”. And so on. A simple idea, when thought through, would end up as many complex pages of law. Lawyers would be happy I imagine, but would we?
  8. There are already plenty of good laws against criminals. Stalking is already illegal – no need to make the act of photography itself illegal.

Meanwhile, often aided by our authorities, the general population increasingly thinks that photography is already illegal. And when photographers support this, rather than pushing back and insisting on evidence and law, we live in sad times. Again and again, it is easy to manipulate the vox populi.

So before you take a quick position, I recommend you think things through and try to be fact-based.

Sure we should be sensitive, but if photographers everywhere stopped shooting whenever anyone objects, or worse, did not start because someone might, we would end up doing little photography. Lawmakers and governments always want to increase their power by restricting our rights; since the magna charta, we have pushed back against this.

Remember: Photons are just photons and have no magic evil-powers when captured by a sensor instead of a retina.

But there is one good thing here: I am glad that people apparently feel that a photo can be powerful.

(You can comment by clicking below. Feel free! The first comment by any reader has to be approved, which I will do quickly – then you’re good from then on).