In yesterday’s shoot with Vanessa Scott in Timmins, Ontario, I used gels to recreate the sunlight that was fast fading below the hills. All shot with Canon’s amazing 85mm f/1.2 len.

(1/200th, f/4, ISO100)

Vanessa looks like she is in that light, because I put a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gel by Honlphoto on the main flash, like so:

You will see also that I am using a second flash, fitted with a grid, for the hair light. Two flashes driven by Pocketwizards—that’s all.

One more from this amazingly versatile young woman:

1/60, f/5, ISO100 — I had to adjust for fading light

Again, the flash allows me to offset the subject against the background, which I keep dark. Without the flash, I would lose the nice colour and I would have to make everything, including that background, very bright.

And that’s how the cookie crumbles.


Reflecting a mood

Today’s shoot was themed “Sad”. I have a student, Evelyn, who is a talented photographer herself, who asked for some help to learn how to shoot a sad portrait/self portrait.

So before she arrived, I quickly shot one of myself. It ended up like this:

The shot took just a few minutes to produce, and I will share the history of how I made it.

First, I decided to not use the studio, but the couch. The studio is too clinical for the subject to get into a sad mood. Sad mood makes me think things like:

  • hard light
  • lots of darkness
  • b/w or desaturated
  • extra contrast and presence and sharpness
  • no eye contact
  • eyes cast downward
  • using hands, arms, etc

So I used one flash, off camera. The camera was on a tripod. I used pocketwizards. Here’s the obligatory “pullback shot”:

The camera was set to 100 ISO, 1/125th second, and f/8, standard studio settings, with the flash set to Manual mode, 1/4 power. Experience tells me that those settings will work at that distance.

When I use that setup and those settings with a bare flash, I get this, straight out of the camera (“SOOC”):

One of the elements of a sad picture is darkness. Lots of darkness—a metaphor for a dark mood. So I want a chiaroscuro picture. Hence, I do not want the wall lit up. The solution: a Honl Photo 1/8″ grid fitted to the flash does what I need. Here, also SOOC:


With the lens set to “M” (manual focus) I used the lens scale to manually set the focus distance to the distance between the camera and where I would be. That’s why you have that lens distance scale:

I checked by zooming in to 100%. After one slight adjustments, my pictures were razor sharp. I used the timer shutter release.

After I took the image, I desaturated it using my standard “Desat” develop preset, and I cropped the picture vertical:

I decided to go B&W for most. Here again is the winner:

Having that, I awaited my client and after she arrived, we shot some similar ones of her. All using the 85mm prime lens. Of you have a crop sensor camera, a 50mm lens would do great for these shots.

In the above image, the sadness is produced almost entirely by the person’s expression and body language. But sometimes the background is not absent, but instead is an essential active part of the mood-setting. That was shot two, made outdoors with a Bowens studio strobe powered by the Travel Kit.

I used my 85mm lens for the previous shots, but I used a 24mm prime lens for this shot. A wide angle, so the subject will be small in the image (else I get distortion). An environmental portrait.

Here it is, also desaturated, but otherwise SOOC:

And finally, one in B&W:

What do you think? Sad enough?


Want to learn this? Do a custom training session like this, designed for your unique individual requirements. Check out and contact me to find out more. Whatever your level of knowledge, you will kick your photography into overdrive by filling in knowledge gaps and refreshing creative ideas. In person or via the Internet. Do it!



I never use others’ materials, or criticize others, but this video is interesting and this person is 100% right in his criticism of Ken Rockwell:

Watch the eleven minute segment segment that starts at 39 minutes. A segment that makes me feel roughly like this:

Canon 1Dx with 85mm f/1.2 lens; 1/125 sec, 100 ISO, f/8, Off Camera Flash at 1/4 power; Pocketwizards, HonlPhoto 1/8" grid.


Why am I sharing this? Because the presenter in this video is absolutely right, and if you believe Mr Rockwell, you will be setting yourself up for failure. Take it from me: Shoot RAW. Do not use auto ISO. Use good lenses. Doing anything else is recipe for disaster.

There is opinion, and there is silly opinion, and not all opinion is valid. You are welcome here for your daily dose of valid opinion. :-)

Thanks to Steve Jones for forwarding this segment.

Oh Canada

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Now that that is out of the way: remember my film shoot recently? Here’s a few scanned images from that first roll. Black’s photo prints, but also scans for an extra few dollars. So here’s 400 ASA Fuji colour film and what it can do when you use proper lighting and exposure.

At Vistek, just before starting a course:

Outdoors, the car: doesn’t look like 400 ASA.

A teen shoot, using flashes. I used my digital camera as a polaroid, to ensure proper exposure; consequently, all images great on film also. Pocketwizards. 400 ASA, 1/125th sec, f6.3:

My son, handheld outdoors, centre weighted metering:

Selfie… mirrored:

Scarlett Jane:

A rainy day:

And two more from the kid shoot:

All these are as good as digital images, for a mere $150 for the camera and $25 for film developing, printing and scanning. Of course, more care and attention is needed when shooting film: you cannot just shoot to see what happens. You have to be right before you shoot. But that makes you a better, more careful photographer. So.. go buy a film camera.






I shot a Sikh religious event today: Sagan ceremony and Akhand path. Fun, colourful people and decorations, and very nice people.

Picture 1: Can you tell it was a Sikh event?

I had two cameras: one with the 16-35mm lens, i.e. wide angle, and one with the 70-200mm lens, i.e. a telephoto lens. The challenge was that I shot in at least four different light environments: a marquee, outdoors, indoors in one room, and indoors in another room. And shooting in Manual exposure mode means a quick changing of all the variables every time you move from one environment to the next.

Indoors, the Willems 400-40-4 rule works great. Bounce the flash behind you and 400 ISO, 1/40 sec, and f/4 should give you minus 1 to minus 2 ambient light; the flash then does the rest. When using TTL, use flash compensation to adjust to taste.

In an event like this, moments are important; as is detail:

Tilting is OK if it helps you get more in, or for creative effect:

I used the wide lens as above with bounced (behind me) flash. But I used the long lens without flash. That needed 100-200 ISO outdoors, and up to 1000 ISO indoors at f/2.8—everything at f/2.8.

In practice, in a given situation, you choose values that are going to be close enough, then watch the meter and when you move, quickly yank aperture or shutter up or down to get a reading appropriate to the situation. Basically, it is a matter of getting close enough and then fine-tuning.

“Getting close” means 400/40/4 rule inside, “sunny sixteen” values outside, and whatever works (and remember the values) in other lighting situations.

In the marquee: 1/40, f/8, 800 ISO:

Storytelling images for me often involve a close-by sharp object with the story blurred in the background:

Outdoors, I used values like 1/160 sec, 100 ISO, f/8, with fill flash. Outdoors, that flash is aimed straight ahead, not bounced:

When you shoot a lot, these sorts of values will be simple. And then you can concentrate on the fun, the people, the compositions.

Event shooting is fun: learn to shoot an event like this and you can do a lot of great work. And remember: tell stories.

And: enjoy the experience, as I always do.