Photos Graphein

Writing/drawing with light. That’s what photography means. And sometimes that means just waiting. Look at Reykjavik, the Hallgrímskirkja, two photos I took today. One in the morning, one just now, late afternoon:

Need I say more?

I don’t think so, for once. Except perhaps “look for that golden hour light, especially on dark, dramatic cloudy days”.

Yeah and Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland.



(To the tune of “Ghostbusters”).

Often, my posts point out common myths and misconceptions. Of which there are many… many. On the Internet, no-one knows that you’re a dog, and no-one knows that you are wrong.

So, two oft-heard “truths”:

  1. You cannot shoot with TTL if you are a pro.
  2. You cannot use just one light for a serious portrait.

So. TTL was used in this portrait of students and friend Diana; remote TTL in fact (light flashes from on camera flash drives off camera flash); and the light was one flash through an umbrella. The on camera flash was disabled, except for those light flashes.

1/125 sec, f/8, ISO100.

The curtain was chosen as a classy background, but the umbrella was close to the subject so the curtain would get little light. TTL handles this fine; if the subject had been too light or too dark, a touch of flash compensation would have sorted that out.

The one light-with-umbrella gives us enough light for a portrait with Rembrandt lighting. Fairly dramatic chiaroscuro-type lighting, but not so dramatic that it becomes unflattering. On the contrary, this is nice light.

The blonde hair stands out nicely against the dark background; dark hair would have needed more light.

So there, a real portrait with “studio settings”, i.e. just one light, and using TTL. I could do that all night.


The method

More and more, I am honing my flash teaching into a well-defined method. It comprises theory and practice, including:

  1. Basic theory
  2. Tech: Tools
  3. Tech: Modifiers
  4. The Epiphany…Turn Your Thinking Around: Balance
  5. The Four Flash Lighting Types
  6. The Three Starting Points: outdoors, indoors/party and studio
  7. Learning Bouncing
  8. Flash or strobes?
  9. Off-camera flash
  10. Learning The Limitations
  11. Getting Creative, Post-work, and minimizing the latter
  12. Troubleshooting

The emphasis is on obtaining a Quick Start.

Today, a quick tip.

Namely: Conceptually and in practice, split your photo into background/ambient and flash: two different shots, and treat them as such!

Here’s background: a very talented photographer I had the honour of teaching a few days ago. or rather.. the background behind her.

Aim for minus 2 stops (—2 on the meter).

Now add flash,. so we get background plus Flash:

There you go. And that is direct flash, hand-held, but off camera.

This is how it works. Not complicated, and in my courses and books (see you get the practical start points (f-this, ISO-that, etc) that allow you to get this right off the bat 90% of the time. Learn this stuff: it is such a nice experience to be able to light things predictably, and well!

Back to writing the “Portraits” book.



I did a photo walk yesterday, in Mississauga. And after that, a group shot of the people I did the walk for. Arrange the group nicely and I get:

Not bad, and it’s what a competent photographer might well do.

But wait. There’s more. I want modelling; less flatness. Saturated background light. And I want my subjects to be the bright pixels. So that they stand out.

Meaning I need light and control over that light. Meaning:

  • A flash for key light. I used one studio flash (a Bowens 400 Ws flash)
  • For power, a Bowens battery pack).
  • A modifier (umbrella, here).
  • A sand bag to stop the light from falling.
  • Camera settings that make my background go darker (ideally, –1 to –2 stops below ambient).
  • And do not forget,  shutter speed less than my camera’s fastest flash sync speed (1/250 sec for me).

All that looks like this:

So the resulting picture is:

(Canon 1Dx, 24-70 lens, 1/125 sec at f/6,3, 100 ISO)

Compare that final shot with the one at the very top and see if you can see, and appreciate, the differences. Then, you are on your way to lighting professionally.


High Noon

Just let me dispel that persistent myth that you cannot shoot at high noon. In bright sunlight. Well, you can shoot, but you will get awful pictures.


Here. Look at this. Talented photographer Tanya Cimera Brown, yesterday, at noon, on what must be the brightest day this year so far. So this is in bright, harsh, horrible, colour-saturation-destroying, full-on sunshine. Straight out of the camera:

The sky is nice, the red-blue-green theme woks, the model is great, the sun provides a nice “shampooey goodness” hair light: what more can we ask for? And that is with a camera that can only sync at 1/160 second. With my 1/250 sec 1Dx I could do even better. With the old 1D I used to have, even better, at 1/300 second.

OK. That’s using a strobe. Can you do it with speedlights? Sure. You may need to go unmodified, to have enough light; and that means off camera. Here: two speedlights, aimed direct at the subject from off camera positions, do this:

And this: two of me, by Tanya, using the same techniques:

All those were also SOOC (Straight out of Camera).

So learn flash already!

For best results, do my Flash in the Plan program: take my course and get the book (for both, go to; then follow with a hands-on session, and you will know how to do this. It’s not rocket science, but you need to learn the background, understand the constraints, and learn the artistic tips. Then, you can do this too (provided you have a model as beautiful as Tanya, of course):

Because yes, you CAN do great work at high noon. All you need is flashes and skills. And a camera, of course. Show the world what you can do!