You don’t need flash.

A photographer told me that the other day. “You don’t Need Flash. If it’s not night, you do not need flash”.

And here’s why he is so very misguided; even plain wrong.

You don’t always need flash, sure. But sometimes you do, if you want creative options. Like yesterday, during a sunflower field with model shoot. I could have shot the models the traditional no flash way, i.e. a small enough aperture, or high enough ISO, or slow enough shutter, to get:

But instead I preferred this:

For that, I exposed the background to about –2 stops (meter displays –2, or if in an auto mode, you use exposure compensation to –2). (In fact I was in manual mode: 1/250th sec, 400 ISO, f/8. That showed as –2 stops on the meter.) Then I used an off camera flash with an umbrella to light the subject. I got the image above. Look at the model’s face: she is the “bright pixels”, and she is lit from where I want.

A couple more examples of photos from yesterday, also done with flash:

And all this was only possible because of flash. I set up the single flash as follows, firing through an umbrella:



I shot some photos at a block party yesterday. A block BBQ, to be precise. And I would like to share a few of those here, in order to convey a few points you may find useful.

First, the colours. As you see, they are vivid. Did I pop them up in “post”? No. I used a flash. Using a flash allowed me to slightly decrease background exposure, which makes colours saturated. The foreground is lit by my flash. If you go two stops darker, or more, for the background, you really ought to use off camera flash. But up to about a stop and a half you can get away with on camera flash. (Manual mode, 1/250 sec, f/8, 250 ISO; TTL Flash). Yes, all 8 of these images involve flash.

It is for this reason that I am sad when I hear “I am a natural light photographer”, as I so often do. Many photographers say that—some, famous and experienced. In my view, at worst, saying this means “I do not understand flash”. And it always means “I am deliberately and knowingly depriving myself of half the creative options out there”. I can do available light or flash light. An “available light only” photographer can only use, well, available light on;y. That seems a shame, to deprive yourself of creative techniques you may in fact want, or even need, to use on occasion.

A few more examples:

You see the same here. All pictures in this post involved the flash.

You also see also that I made it easy on myself by using a fairly wide angle lens (mainly the 16-35, but on a 7D, so that means 24-50 in “real” numbers).

You will also notice that as much as possible, I shot with late afternoon sun (the “golden hour”). Not always possible, but when it is available, use it.

And above all, you will start to notice that the best shot are moments. Moments where something specific happens. Not just dead-looking poses.

The next time you shoot an event, try to use these techniques. You may not like them; you may say “that is so not my style”. Fine—but you do need to know them.  You owe it to your family, customers, whoever you are photographing.


Let me photograph you; your kids; your family. See and for samples, prices, and more. Special offer this week for headshots: but with or without special offers, go for it and have your family captured forever in beautiful photos. Please do it… it is the only time travel you will ever do.


Point Of View

A portrait is simple, right? Look at the camera and smile.

Not so much. Apart from the “smile” thing, there’s also angle. And the same person can look very different if shot from different angles.

Like me, a couple of days ago:

Michael Willems (

Michael Willems (

Michael Willems (

Michael Willems (

Can you see how they are all different, and yet the same person? Some work better than others. So when you do portraits, try all sorts of angles, and then analyze which ones work. Model the face (avoid even lighting, for interest). Watch for shadows and ensure you get good catch lights.

And note that all of these work better in B&W than they would in colour.

So…. try some B&W portraits from various angles, lit by softboxes.


Lighting a face: a small detail

The title says it. Detail, and attention to it, are what makes you a pro.

Look at this image, from last Friday. The lovely and talented Vanessa Scott, whom I photographed in Timmins, Ontario:

(ISO100, 1/60 sec, f/5. Lit with two flashes, direct, no umbrella. Left flash gridded 1/4 power, right flash unmodified 1/2 power.)

Not bad. But look closely at Vanessa’s face. Closer!

See the two little bright areas next to her mouth? My right-side flash was as little too low, so the shadows are not quite right.

Let’s start up Lightroom and make it better with the Develop module’s healing tool. Two little clicks and I fill those light areas:

Proper Rembrandt lighting. So the whole image now looks like this:

A subtle change, but much better.

And as said, that’s what makes you a good photographer. Attention to detail. When you hire a pro, like me, this is the kind of thinking he or she will engage in to get you the best possible images.


I have amazing deals for portraits this month. From corporate headshots to family photos: give me a call or send me an email to hear the options.

A New Modifier!

You know how I like the Honlphoto range of small flash modifiers, and I use them all the time. Small, light, sturdy and affordable is a great combination of properties for travelling photographers. Right now David is just outside Mosul in Iraq. This brings back memories: I was in Mosul in 1982 (see me next to Nineveh’s City Gates), and I stayed at the Railway Hotel. Small world.

(Full disclosure: David is a friend of mine: but that is not why I recommend his stuff. The reverse, rather: I like his flash stuff so much that I contacted him and we became friends.)

Broadly speaking, there are three types of small flash modifier:

  • Modifiers that change a flash’s direction, like snoots, grids, gobos.;
  • Modifiers that change the flash’s colour (gels, coloured reflectors);
  • Modifiers that change the nature of the light, usually by softening, such as softboxes, reflectors, and bounce cards.

So you modify where the light goes, in what colour it goes there, and how it goes there. And now there is a new modifier in the latter category.

To place this new modifier, let’s start with the existing ones.

First, we have “no modifier”: aimed straight at the subject from atop the camera. When I use that, I get cold, harsh light. Look at this object in front of a wall:

Then I bounce the flash behind me, up at 45 degrees, to get a much better result:

Much better, but I cannot always do this. The ceiling is sometimes too high, or it is a bright colour, or there are objects in the way that stop the light from my flash from reflecting back; or there simply is no ceiling.

In those cases, I can use a reflector on the back of the flash. The Honl Speedsnoot doubles very nicely as a reflector. While this is not perfect, the shadows are a lot less hard than they would be from direct flash, and the light comes from a higher position.

This solution is not always easy: the reflector takes a little manual dexterity to tie to the speedstrap on the flash, and it can flop down all too easily.

I can also put a hard reflector card (bounce card/gobo) behind the flash. This is hard when there is no bounce at all, but it works very well when combined with ceiling flash:

Next: a great modifier is the softbox. In the next photo, I used a Honlphoto 8″ Traveller8 portable softbox off camera. The shadow is under my control: bring the flash closer and it softens, and the flash’s position determines where the shadow goes. Now that nasty shadow becomes a creative tool under your control.

Another great option is the ring flash. Rather than buying one, you can go with the Orbis ring flash attachment for your speedlights. I will talk more extensively about this in a next post, but for now, just look at the light with its distinctive halo, a halo that shouts “Ring Flash!”:

And if I take it off camera it’s still great:



There is an all new small flash modifier to add. Dave just sent me one, a hands-on mini review of which I am hereby delighted to bring to you as a Speedlighter Exclusive… the Honl Photo Light Paddle.

When you take it out of the package, the light paddle is a flat modifier, and in fact the package says “store flat when not in use”:

But attach its Velcro to a speedlight’s Speedstrap, and it becomes a convenient paddle that grabs the light, and nothing more or less, from the f;lash and bounces it forward.:

The Light Paddle is like the reflector, but having used both, I find that the Light Paddle has some big advantages over that and other modifiers.

  • It takes the right shape immediately. No guessing, adjusting, re-adjusting: it is the perfect shape each time.
  • It reflects the optimum amount of light from the flash, i.e. it catches the light, no more and no less, so it takes that worry off my hands.
  • It is sturdy: unlike a “free form” reflector, it holds its shape. I only used this sample for a few days but it looks and feels just as sturdy as the other Honl Photo flash accessories. And as said, light, sturdy and small, when combined with affordable, is a great combination for flash aficionados like me.
  • It has not one, but three bounce surfaces. As you see in the image below: peel off the reflective surface. which is initially CTO (Colour Temperature Orange, i.e. tungsten/warmer light), and you get white; reverse it and you get a lighter slightly warm orange.

Here’s what it looks like with its three bounce surfaces:

I found the Light Paddle to be directional where you would want it to be.

You can use the Light Paddle on an on-camera flash or on an off–camera flash. In either case, I found that it provided a surprising amount of directional control and consistency. Here it is again, and as you see it reflects the flash fully, and makes its surface much larger and higher:

The Light Paddle in Practice

Let’s look at the Light Paddle in practice. Here is a usual operating mode:

First, straight flash, in a situation where there’s no bouncing (and thank you, kind July Intern Daniel H., for your volunteering):

Now in the same no-bounce situation, the Light Paddle:

But it is outside that this really shines. Another before and after:

Another outdoors example, once more with the CTO (warming) side reflector: again, straight flash, then flash with Light Paddle. The difference is very clear.

Based on all this,. the Light Paddle is certainly going to be a staple part of my flash bag for events and creative use. It is not the only flash accessory, but it fills in the gap between bounce card, reflector, and softbox ever so nicely. Thanks, Dave.

If you want one, go  to Honl Photo for orders as soon as it will be available—I am sure that will be soon, both there and at your favourite local retailer.