If you like sharp and crisp…

…then use flash. And if you use flash, then use it off camera.

Flash is crisp and sharp. Or rather, using flash leads to crisp photos because:

  • Contrast is perceived as crisp sharpness.
  • Flash lasts 1/1000 sec or less, and that means your effective shutter speed is 1/1000 sec or less.

Like this:




Maybe better: close to the ground to get a ‘cat’s eye view’:


1/30 sec at f/11, 400 ISO. Meaning, the ambient light basically disappears. The photo is crisp because although the shutter is slow, ambient light does basically nothing and the flash speed (1/16,000 sec, because the flash is set to 1/16 power) is the effective shutter speed.

…all of which is made like this:


The flashes are on the right: three flashes fired by one pocket wizard.  Note that in this last image, I used a very slow shutter speed (several seconds, if I recall correctly) in order to show some of the ambient scene.

Anyway: can you see how much more lively and “real” these images look than a simple “even lighting” image, such as a “natural light” image that some photographers proudly boast is their only source of light?

One more thing to note: I am using three flashes connected via a three-flash mount (see yesterday’s post). With no softening modifier such as an umbrella or a softbox. The take-away lesson from this: When using off-camera flash, a softening modifier is not always needed.  

Fun with Colours: flashes, gels, mirrors.

The things some people do in their bedrooms in private! In preparation for tomorrow’s hands-on flash course I outfitted some flashes with coloured gels tonight. 

I used Honlphoto gels, seen bottom right here in a double wrap:


I had three flashes mounted on a stand that uses one radio trigger (like a Pocketwizard) to fire all three flashes (thus saving two radio triggers). I have discussed this three-way mount here before. I also used grids (also Honlphoto) to get three separate light circles.

As said, where all three flashes mix, you get white. After you get the ratios right, that is: the gels take light (also discussed here in a recent post) and you may need to turn one or two of them up to compensate.

Once you are done, you get white. You see it here in the centre:


And here:


TIP: To get the ratio right, you look at the RGB histogram. The peaks for red, blue and green need to be at the same distance from the edges.

Looking at the flashes you see the three colours I chose:


Red, Green and Blue. Surprise, surprise!

You see, when these colours mix, that once you get the ratios right, you get white overall. But when only two of them mix you get “in between” colours, which include cyan, yellow, and magenta:


So now you know why you see RGB and CYMK (where “K” means “Black”) as two alternate ways to mix several basic colours!

I also had unrelated flash fun, of course. f/32:


And my spinning top:


On a concave mirror, that is:


The moral of this post?

You should have fun with your photography, and explore, and try out different things. How many of you have gels, and how many of you have used these to mix light in different ways? That’s how you learn about light. So for those of you not coming to tomorrow’s course: go have fun, And sign up for the one after the next one: tomorrow and next week are full up, but 6 November still has a few spots open.

Any way you do it: learn about light, and have fun.

PS for Honl modifiers, which I strongly recommend, go to this link and use discount code “Willems” at checkout to get an additional 10% off.

Taking A Cat Snap

As seen in the previous post: Mau, just now:


So what are the salient technical points of this photo?

  1. I have two flashes aiming toward the camera and toward Mau Mau from the back, providing back- and rim lighting.
  2. Back- and rim lighting provide “3-D” modelling and drama, and light the whiskers well.
  3. But the white bedsheets (and I!) reflect enough back so there is some forward lighting also.
  4. Camera: manual mode, 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, and f/22:
  5. So that is the “darkest” possible ISO, the “darkest” possible shutter speed (“sync speed”), and the “darkest” possible aperture this lens offers; alll this to completely kill the bright ambient light (and at this close distance the flashes are super bright, so that’s not a problem).
  6. I used a Yongnuo YN622C-TX wireless controller on the camera, and a YN622C connected to each one of the flashes.
  7. These flashes have to be 430EX MkII or 580EX or 600EX, or equivalent: the old 430EX with the switch does not work here. Much as I like the switch, this is a situation where electronically setting the wireless mode is a must have.
  8. Although this setup supports TTL, I used manual power setting for the flashes, 1/16 power worked fine in this case (trial and error). Manual power setting is the way to go, if you have any control over the environment.
  9. You should lose any filters you may have on the lens: they will often increase flare to an unacceptable level. They certainly will not make the picture better.
  10. The lit eye is in sharp focus; of course at f/22 there is quite a lot in focus. Eye and whiskers are essential.

As you see, beyond the obvious, rather a lot of thinking can go into a simple picture. And few of these are “the only way to do it”. That is why photography is such a cool artistic endeavour.

So if few of those are “must do this way” points, why list them?

Because it is more important that you think about all these things than what you think about them. In other words, an analytical approach to photography helps you create repeatable art, where a photo works a certain way because you want it to, rather than “by accident”.


Lightroom Bug with Sierra

If you have upgraded your Mac to Sierra, the new OS, Lightroom may show a bit of a bug in the Import module.

When trying to import, you see this dialog:


A few things are missing there, aren’t they? “File Renaming” and in particular, the essential “Destination” dialog is missing.

The solution? For now, until the bug is fixed, just right-click on one of the two that do show, File Handling or Apply During Import:


…and then click on the two missing dialogs, “File Renaming” and “Destination” to activate them, so a tick mark appears next to them too.

You now see all four again, and you can set your destination as always:


So although this little bug is annoying, it is easy to bypass.

Now to celebrate, here is Mau Mau, surrounded by (and lit by) two flashes:


Taken at 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, and f/22, with the flashes set to 1/16 power, using a Yongnuo YN622C-TX on the camera and a YN622C connected to each one of the the flashes.


High Key Flare

Since a student today asked me about “High Key”, I thought perhaps I would share a repeat of a 2014 post. As well as pointing out the “search” field in www.speedlighter.ca, a rather useful resource. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the 2014 post:

I did a portrait session yesterday, of another photographer, the talented and beautiful Tanya Cimera Brown.

Tanya wanted a high key portrait with blown out background and flare. A portrait that looks like it was taken in front of a bright window.

Flare, eh? Like this?

Yes, like that.

So how did I get that?

Flare is basically “lens imperfections with strong incoming light”. Like bright back light. It gets worse with some lenses (like the 70-200) and conditions (like filters). But instead, I used my 85mm lens. Not much flare there.

So I did it like this:

Five flashes: Softbox, umbrella, hair (strobes); then background, flare (speedlights). Flare? Yes, see that speedlight hanging down? Hardly visible? That is because it is shining toward me. And that with the bright background (speedlight left) gives me what I want, if my lens is in its light.

Done. A bit of logic always works. Logic rocks! Here’s one more.