I never say “posing”—instead, I say “positioning”. Instead of :”I am going to pose you differently”, it’s “I am going to position you differently”.

But we do pose. Models pose for a living, and they are good at it. My main model manages to position herself differently for every shot, even after we have done eight years of shooting together, and made tens of thousands of images.

Images like this, yesterday in an abandoned parking lot in Brantford:

(125 ISO, 1/250 sec, f/5.6; 24-70 lens; full-frame Canon 1Dx)

A good model turns toward the light (unless otherwise instructed by the photographer), and changes pose after every click. He or she seldom smiles (smiling causes laugh lines, a.k.a. “wrinkles”.

See the Rembrandt Lighting in the image above? One off-camera umbrella on our right, 45 degrees to the side of her face and 45 degrees up from her face.

Another note: as you see I am using deliberate flare in the image above. By shooting into the sun, basically. When you do this, you should probably remove any filters that you have on your lenses. If you can use a small aperture (e.g. f/16) you will get a starburst effect.

One of my favourites:

That soft shadow: beautiful. And the dark exposure beautifully shows the blue sky. And all I used is:

  • Camera,
  • A 24-70 f/2.8 lens,
  • Two Pocketwizard radio triggers,
  • A light stand,
  • A bracket on the light stand for the umbrella,
  • An umbrella,
  • A cable “from Pocketwizard to hotshoe”.

Easy to handhold and walk miles with. But I drove (remember: car parking lot?).

Flash outdoors rock, in case you have not picked that up yet from my writings.


Happy Happier.

So yesterday was a lifestyle shoot. That means…





It also needs careful lighting: yesterday for me was about composition and light. Two speedlights, one in an umbrella, that’s all I used. Everything in manual; flashes operated by pocketwizards. And careful balancing of foreground and background light. And saturated colours as a result.

A shoot like that also needs design, storyboarding, props, models, and timing. Everything is designed. And a photographer who knows what is required. I can shoot in any style required, and for this style, colour is the big requirement: colour and happiness and interaction, communication, “party”. It’s great when everything comes together, and yesterday’s shoot, for a mobile spa, was one of those.



Make it better.

Here’s a typical outside flash shot. (Taken by the über-talented photographer Lisa Mininni while I was teaching her flash tricks yesterday):

What did we do to make this?

[A] Take the shot:

This was a flash shot, of course. So outside in bright sunlight the settings are very, very simple.

  1. Pocketwizard on camera.
  2. Second Pocketwizard connected to the flash by means of a “Pocketwizard to hotshoe”–cable from www.flashzebra.com. Modify with a softbox or umbrella (the latter is smaller but will blow over more easily in the slightest breeze).
  3. Flash set to manual, half power. (Be ready to increase to full if you need to—but the flash may overheat, and recharge time between shots will be long).
  4. White balance to “Flash”.
  5. Camera manual, 100 ISO, 1/250 sec.
  6. Then, determine the aperture you need for a good background. Start at f/8—and then vary from there. On a day like yesterday, I needed f/11 to f/16.
  7. Once your background is right, look at the flash part. If the flash is too bright, reduce its power level or move it farther away from what it is lighting. If the flash is too dark, increase its power level or move it closer to what it is lighting. Or add a second flash, Worst case, use direct, unmodified flash.

[B] Finish the shot:

That finishing (not “editing”!) is just as important as taking the photo, and it consists of:

  1. Verify exposure and tweak if necessary. (If you have taken the shot properly, this should not be needed.) Pay attention also to “highlights” and “blacks”.
  2. Set white balance to “Flash”, if it wasn’t already. (Ditto).
  3. Correct lens and “architecture”–distortion.
  4. Crop and rotate if/as needed.
  5. Sharpen if/as needed.
  6. Perhaps add a very slight post-crop vignette.

Those steps are pretty much standard, and a typical picture takes me less than 30 seconds to finish.

[C] Options

I could of course add another flash, for the background. Set that to quarter power.

OK. How was this shot lit, then? Here’s how:

That’s right—always make a pullback shot, where you can see the lighting setup. You’ll forget. I used a third pocketwizard connected to the second flash via a second hotshoe cable.

Is this rocket science? No. But it is fun and it does open up untold creative possibilities.


Come to me for a private lesson and I will teach you how to do this, how to use modifiers, how to balance light sources, how to use gels, and much, much more,. You don’t need much, other than an SLR, a flash, and knowledge of the basics (“what is aperture and shutter speed and how do they work”)—but I can even teach you those if you like. See http://learning.photography or give me a call on +1 416-875-8770 and never look back. I can teach you remotely, too, using Google hangouts, too, even if you are in, say, Australia.


An October 2009 post that is still valid…:

A reminder to all flash photographers: you need your shutter speed to be below the camera’s flash synch speed.

What does this mean? Let me explain.

The flash fires for the briefest period, of course. Like 1/2000th of a second. That is why we call it a flash.

So when it fires, if the light is to reach the entire film or sensor, the shutter needs to be totally open at that point.

That much is obvious. But what is not obvious is that there is an engineering limitation in your shutter. Beyond a certain shutter speed, the camera’s synch speed, the shutter never totally opens. Instead, a small (increasingly narrow) slit travels across the shutter to give each pixel a brief exposure time.That’s cool – the shutter does not have to be super-fast and expensive and you get a fast shutter speed.

But this gets in the way when you are using flash. When you fire during those short exposure times (on most modern cameras, faster than about 1/200th second), the light does not reach the entire sensor. Look at this example I shot to illustrate this, at speeds from 1/200th to 1/1000th sec:


You can see that as I exceed the sync speed, the light only reaches part of the shutter.

You should also note that especially when using external flashes with Pocketwizards or similar, flash takes time to set up. My 1Ds MKIII has a synch speed f 1/25oth second but as you see, at that speed it is already beginning to cut off. Best stay a bit below your synch speed (I typically set my shutter, when I am using studio flash, to 1/125th second).

(There is a way to overcome that: fast flash, which some high end flash units offer. This continuously, all the time that the shutter travels, pulses the flash at a very rapid rate, so that the slit, as it travels across the sensor, has light coming in throughout its travel time. It works great – do use it when taking flash images outside – but it uses a lot of energy, and hence decreases the range of your flash.)

(Advanced tip: I know of at least one photographer who uses this effect to introduce an electronic version of a neutral density filter or a barn door: he sets his camera to 1/320th second while using flash, and turns the camera upside down. That makes the top part of the image dark, at least as far as the flash part of the light is concerned!)

Indispensable tool!

My new product of the month, just received from Hong Kong, is going to be indispensable to me, I can see that now.

Here it is:

A “3-in-1 hotshoe mount flash bracket”, made by www.selens-online.com (link fixed). This bracket allows up to three flashes to point into one centre-mounted umbrella, as follows:

Better still, it allows ONE connection from your radio trigger (in my case, a pocketwizard) to all three flashes at once. You need just one simple 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable (i.e. the connector is the same as on the pocketwizard itself). And that saves both radio triggers and hotshoe cables. That, for me, is the killer feature. Up to today, I had to always connect three pocketwizards and three cables.

So here’s a few photos. The last one is a “pull back shot”, where you can see the lighting setup.

As for these photos: the day was like this (a snapshot):

That is fine, but I prefer my subject to stand out more, and I want the sky to be more saturated.

So here’s the recipe. For daytime outside flash pictures, you go to 1/250 second (or whatever fastest sync speed your shutter allows) at 100 ISO and then use f/4—f/16 depending on how bright it is. Start at f/8 and vary from there.

This is f/16:

A little dark and dramatic for this particular portrait, so f/11 is more like it:

But the point is that f/16 is even possible, with three speedlights (580EX and 600EX) into one umbrella. Normally, I would have to use a studio light for this.

This was with all three flashes at full power. Normally, I would shoot at a maximum of half power if at all possible. That way, the recharge time is shorter and the flashes do not overheat.

Ordering from user mkstudio-us, via ebay, was simple. I paid under $20 for each of the three brackets I ordered. Shipping from Hong Kong was free, but it did take several months (“slow boat from China”—literally). If you are in a hurry, order elsewhere, but if time does not matter, order from these guys in Hong Kong. Excellent value.

An excellent tool that will allow you to fire three flashes with one Pocketwizard, easily and conveniently. This will be in my flash bag forever, and my firm prediction is that I will make use of it all the time.


Postscript: a few people asked “:why not just use a strobe”. Well, a strobe is big and heavy, and its battery even heavier (lead-acid contains… yeah, lead). The fact that I can do it all with speedlights is amazing… and yes, you do need this much light pretty much every time in bright sunlight. The flash manual, and the tables in the checklist manual, explain and help. (See http://learning.photography)