In Real Life

..In real life, you only have so much time when shooting an event. So you need to be quick, and you need to really master a bunch of little things.

Take this picture, taken with a wide angle 16-35mm lens at 800 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4, with bounce flash aimed behind me. . Attentive readers may recognize the Willems 400/40/4 formula in that, modified slightly (800 ISO instead of 400) because it was so non-reflective.

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Nice, but why are the verticals tilted inwards toward each other at the top?

Because the photographer was aiming the camera upward! That results in this tilt.

If the camera had been pointing downward, you would have seen this instead:

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And it is only if the photographer aims the camera straight ahead, parallel to the horizon, that we get the proper picture:

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And now a little secret: that one, the third, was in fact the actual photo taken by the photographer, Because the photographer, and that was me, knows to hold the camera parallel to the horizon. Check the verticals before you click!

So how did I create the other versions? Simple, by using TRANSFORM in Lightroom. And just like I can make a good picture bad, I can make a bad picture good.

So why not just shoot as you like and fix them all later? Mainly because this takes that most valuable of all commodities, time.

So. Last question. Flash you say. Really? How do I know this isn’t just ambient light?

Well, let’s take one with the flash OFF. Here we go:

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Now, we could have used ambient like this but just increase the exposure by three stops. That is true (higher ISO, lower f-number, and/or slower shutter). But then two things would happen: a) you would notice the drawbacks of those actions (e.g. more motion blur, less depth of field, more grain), and b) the picture would lose its magic. You would get this:

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Well, de gustibus non est disputandum, but I prefer mine:

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Isn’t this “creative” stuff fun?


Want to learn from me in person? 5 hours in Brantford, Ontario, on Sunday Oct 2. With a maximum of 5 students. Sign up tonight and save big: 

HANDS-ON SESSION: Master On- and Off-Camera Flash, Manual & TTL

Sunday, Oct 2, 2016, 12:00 PM

Michael Willems Studio
48, Wilkes Street Brantford, ON

2 Emerging Photographers Attending

UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVITY, LIKE THE DUTCH MASTERS, AND BECOME A FLASH PRO!This unique small and intensive hands-on workshop, held in my fully equipped studio, will be both practice, for those who know a thing or two about flash, and a revelation, for those who do not.I took this picture  two days ago, on Friday. In a dark Niagara Falls restaurant …

Check out this Meetup →

 

All sorts of everything.

I am shooting a three day event, a conference, at Niagara Falls, while my son house-sits back home. So I shoot lots of speakers and so on,
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And I love this kind of shooting because if done well, it leads to so many “oh wow” reactions.

But only if done well, and it is complicated:

  • I am using a long lens (70-200) without flash, and on another camera, a wide angle lens (16-35mm on a full frame camera) with a flash, so all settings are totally different from shot to shot.
  • Many, many different environments. A large ballroom. Hallways. Smaller rooms. Restaurants (several). Easy bounce, Then, no bounce. Then, difficult bounce. Coloured walls. Every shot is an engineering challenge!
  • Speakers who will not stop talking, or stand still, or even turn the same way, for a millisecond.
  • Dead batteries all the time.
  • Heavy cameras, two of them. And the arthritis in my hands doesn’t make this any easier.
  • The need to minimize post-production work. Hundreds of times “just a moment or two” means many moments, and that means “hours and hours”..
  • Tough environments including “dark inside with bright outside also visible in the shot”, like this:

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But it does not end there…

  • TTL does not always work well when there’s reflections, so I have to use Manual flash setting for a lot of the work. And that is sensitive to changing the distance to the flashed object (“inverse square law”).
  • Impossible white balance.
  • Bouncing means direction, and you need to think about that direction: “Where is the light coming from?”

So I really have to work for my pay. Fortunately, I love my work. And there are ways to make it easier: start with good starting points, like the Willems 400-40-4 rule (look it up) as your basis, and adjust from that basis. When you take my courses or buy my e-books, you will learn these starting points.

And then you can shoot quickly and get great colour, and with a modern camera this applies even at high ISO. Here, for example, is beauty:

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No, I did not mean the girls. Well, yes, they are very beautiful, too, but I really meant the venue and the colours. This is why I love flash.

In the next few days, some more about this shoot. It is 1:15 AM and now, finally after a 16-hour non-stop day, I get a rest. But only until 7AM.

And then back to Black Betty, who is waiting patiently in the garage for me:

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And then tomorrow evening, I run a photo booth, 80km away. No rest for the wicked!

 

Shutter speed isn’t all there is to shutter speed.

“Shutter speed” isn’t all there is to shutter speed.

Uh oh. Michael is The Oracle. What on earth does he mean by that confusing statement?

Well, let’s have a look. Let’s set up a couple of gelled and gridded speedlights (using Honlphoto grids and gels) and get a talented life model. Which is exactly what I did in August 2012 at Brock University, during the 5-day flash course I was teaching for the Niagara School of Imaging.

But wait. Because I want to show you the setup, let’s allow in some ambient light. To achieve this we use a really slow shutter speed, of 0.6 sec. More than half a second, in other words. That lets in some ambient. Not a lot, but enough to see the classroom, some of the equipment, and so on.

The picture, showing the setup with the two flashes, below. Look at the two little gelled speedlights, can you spot them? Purple gel on the left and yellow gel on the right:

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OK. Great. Blurry as heck, of course: 0.6 seconds is ridiculously slow. Impossible to hold still. Right?

But wait. Lots of blur, yes, all over the picture, but look carefully. Click on the image to see it full size, and now look carefully at the model. What do you see?

She is sharp. No blur on her: she is tack sharp. There’s blur all over, but not much on the actual subject. A little “ghosting”, but she is substantially sharp.

But that’s impossible: the shutter speed was 0.6 seconds. So she must be blurry! Right?

So that’s where I say “‘Shutter speed’ isn’t all there is to shutter speed”. The shutter speed may be 0.6 seconds, but the model is lit primarily (almost exclusively) by the flashes. And the flashes flash at 1/1000 second or faster. At 1/4 power, they flash for just 1/4000 second. So while the shutter speed may be 0.6 seconds, as long as the subject is lit only by the flashes, our effective shutter speed is 1/4000 second!

And that is why you see a sharp model: there is very little ambient light on her, so the effective shutter speed is determined almost exclusively by the flash speed. Which is very rapid.

So now let’s do a normal shutter speed, of 1/125 sec, so the ambient light is cut out. And here is the finished product:

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So anyway. This is a studio shot. So I want no ambient light: the second picture, in other words.  But when I shoot an event, like a wedding reception, I want to let in some ambient light to avoid those cold, black backgrounds. Instead, I want a nice warm background. To achieve that, I am happy to shoot with shutter speed as slow as 1/15 or 1/30 second. And now you know why I can get away with that.

 

Yaay! Natural!

You have all heard about the grassroots campaign against dihydrogen monoxide?

This chemical, which if ingested in large quantities can be deadly, is present in most manufactured foods. It is even in our water supply.

Which is not strange, considering the fact that “dihydrogen monoxide” is just another way of saying “H2O”, i.e. water.

The reason this joke works is that people have been conditioned to like “natural”, eat “natural”, and to resist anything artificial. As though Ebola, disease-carrying mosquitos and bone cancer aren’t “natural”!

And we see the same in photography. Oh so often do I hear people proudly proclaim that they use “natural light”.

That is fine, nothing against that. I use available light quite often. But to be proud of it? To me, that’s like proudly saying “I am walking to Rome!”. Personally, I’d rather be carried there on a luxury yacht, or in a Saudi royal’s personal 747 with golden faucets. And similarly in photography I use the tools that suit my needs. Whether they are “natural” or not. I am as happy using flashes as I am using sunlight. Except flashes give me more options in more conditions.

So I’d say, use what works for you. Whether it is “natural” or not. And learn all types so you have the option when needed.