A recent encounter with a photographer leads me to re-iterate my message here: technical prowess can help expand your available options.

One of those is the use of light. Getting creative can involve any kind of light. Not just “available”, not just “Flash”, not just any type.All types. Why restrict yourself?

Take a portrait in a sunflower field. a “natural light only” photographer can do this:


Nice. But I prefer for my subject to be the “bright pixels”, because 0f Willems’s dictum that:

Bright Pixels Are Sharp Pixels.

So I, an “everything” photographer, can do the above, but I can also do this:


Which one do you prefer? The point is not that one is better. The point is that with flash added, you have a wide range of opportunities.

The above shot was made with nothing more than my camera and my usual portable umbrella outfit:

20140807-MVWX8477 (1)

By the way: My Dutch Master Class® courses teach you how to do this; how to think about flash; you learn the Three Essential Recipes: you get everything you need to get your vision into your work.

Your Home Studio: A Full Portrait Kit

One of the things you need to do to be a serious photographer is get a home studio running. And the good news: you do not need much.


You can do it by using something like this—and this is a pretty well equipped speedlight portrait setup:

  1. Camera and lens(es). Pretty much any lens will do since you will be shooting at f/8. Use longer lenses for headshots. My favourite is my 70-200.
  2. Four cheap flashes. You can use any flash, any brand of flash whose power can be set manually and whose automatic time-out can be disabled. Like $85 Yongnuo manual (non-TTL) speedlites.
  3. Five Pocketwizards (or similar). The simplest, non-TTL types.
  4. Four Pocketwizard to hotshoe cables (from PW or from flashzebra.com).
  5. Four light stands.
  6. Two umbrella/flash mount brackets
  7. Two umbrellas.
  8. Two ball heads (for background light and hair light)
  9. 2 Speed straps, one Honl speedsnoot, one Honl photo 1/4″ grid.
  10. One set of Honl photo artistic gels.
  11. A backdrop stand with two or three crossbars (unless you have a grey wall).
  12. A roll of background paper. I suggest dark grey. But white and black are also useable.

We are talking a camera plus perhaps a couple of thousand dollars to be completely equipped for headshots, three-quarter shots, etc. (To make things easy, I recommend using a complete Honl photo kit, from www.honlphoto.com/?Click=2032 – use that link, and use discount word “Willems” at checkout to get an additional 10% off the kit price.)

That’s not much equipment. Yes, you can even do it in a simpler fashion (e.g. by using “SU-45” flash follower mode on three of the four flashes, and by using a reflector for your fill light), and you can do this in several phases rather than all at once, but the above setup gives you a reliable pro kit, and some redundancy as well.

If you want to learn how to do this, good news. It’s easy. Come to a custom personal class (see http://learning.photography) or join one of my Brantford meetups or buy my acclaimed e-book bundles from http://learning.photography/collections/e-books.

Flash tip

Quick tips are often the best. So this one is quick.

When you are using TTL flash, and you want to know if you have enough power to do the shot, do this:

Put your flash into MANUAL mode (Press MODE until TTL is replaced by M) and ensure you are set to full power (100% or 1/1). Then take the photo. You should see an overexposed flash photo.

  • If so, go back to TTL and carry on.
  • But if not, you have to increase your ISO or decrease your aperture number. Then repeat.

And that’s all. Just one of those quick tips that can make all the difference over the holiday season.
TIP: A GREAT Christmas present: my checklists book, the printed version. Shipped worldwide, and there’s time before Christmas. Act now: http://learning.photography.


A trick, revisited

With the holidays approaching, it is time for a refresher on an “event shooting” flash trick I have mentioned here before.

You all know how important it is to avoid, at least when the flash is on your camera, direct flash light reaching your subject. Both in order to avoid “flat” light, and especially to avoid those hard drop shadows, like this:

But you have also heard me talk (and those who come to my upcoming flash courses will learn hands-on) that you should “look for the virtual umbrella”. For most lighting, this means 45 degrees above, and in front of, the subject.

So when you are close to that subject, you aim your flash behind you to get to that point. Good.

But what when you are far, as when using a telephoto lens? In this situation, which happens at events, like receptions, the “virtual umbrella” may be in front of you. And aiming your flash straight, or even angled, forward is a no-no, since the subject will be lit in part by direct light, which will give you harsh shadows, and even worse, shadows from thesubject on the wall behind him or her.

A-ha. Unless you block the direct part of that light!

Like this:

As you see, I use a Honl Photo bounce card/gobo to block the direct light. Simple, affordable, and very effective. I use either the white bounce side, or the black flag side, depending on the ceiling and position.

Simple, effective – done!

And one more thing. Direct flash is not bad per sé. Not at all. As long as it is not coming from where your lens is, it can be very effective, like in this “funny face” shot of a student a couple pf years ago (you know who you are):

Lit by a direct, unmodified flash. And the hair light, the shampooey goodness? Yeah. The sun. Just saying.

So, you now have yet another trick in your basket. Go try it out!


Filters for correction

You can use some gels (colour filters) for correction, Here’s an example.

Take this: I am lit pretty much OK by my flash, and with the camera set to FLASH white balance,, but the background is a tungsten light, so it looks red. I happen to like that, but what if I want that background to look normal, white, the way it looks to me?

Well…  can I not just set the white balance to Tungsten?

No, because then, while the background would look good, the parts lit by the flash would look all blue, like this:

Part 1 of the solution: make the light on me come from a tungsten light source too, so we both look red. We do this by adding a CTO (colour Temperature Orange) to the flash.

Part 2 of the solution: Now you can set the white balance on your camera to “Tungsten”, and both I and the background will look neutral:

Done. Now we both look normal.

So, in summary:  when you are dealing with a colour-cast ambient light, gel your flash to that same colour cast, and then adjust your white balance setting to that colour cast.

You can learn all about this, and much, much more, from my e-books. Now available from http://learning.photography — the checklist book even as a printed manual now,