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 http://learning.photography); 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!


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 http://www.tolivetolove.com and http://learning.photography 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 (www.michaelwillems.ca)

Michael Willems (www.michaelwillems.ca)

Michael Willems (www.michaelwillems.ca)

Michael Willems (www.michaelwillems.ca)

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.