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.

 

Flow, or moment?

As every photographer knows, you use shutter speed to either blur, or freeze, motion. That is what the shutter is for, creatively speaking.

A slow shutter speed, like 1/10 second, gives you blurred motion, as in this photo I took at a country music event the other day:

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While a fast shutter speed, like 1/800 second, freezes motion:

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See the difference?

Incidentally:

Q: If picture 2 was taken at 1/800 sec, why is it not darker than the first picture, which was taken at 1/10 sec? Over six stops darker?

A: Because at the same time as selecting a faster shutter speed, I selected a larger aperture: f/1.4 for the second picture, as opposed to the f/22 I used for picture 1.

Anyway. Here’s the core question I get quite often from students:

What drives the decision “do we blur or freeze?”

First, a flow looks better blurred, while something that happens as a moment in time looks better frozen. So generally speaking, for a fountain like this I would use a slow shutter speed.

What constitutes “slow”? See this excerpt from my Book 7, Pro Photography Checklists: 100 checklists, summaries, and Best Practices.

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What is slow, and what is fast? 

So, OK, slow or fast determines motion: blur or freeze. But there are other considerations. Like “do I want a blurred background” (which would mean a low f-number, which in turn would mean a fast shutter)? And like aesthetic considerations: the frozen fountain looks kind of cool, in this particular case.

And so it is with many photography decisions: you have a rule of thumb, a starting point; but then you interpret that creatively. That goes from everything from motion to colour to the rule of thirds. You are the creative driver, not the book or the camera or social pressure.

So if you have a reason to not use some established rule or starting point, then by all means do what you want. (In the absence of such a reason, though, go with the recommended Best Practice or Rule of Thumb.)

 

Some composition techniques

This morning, I ran an outdoors workshop in Toronto, for US-based Digital Photo Academy. And I took some snaps, although I was not there to shoot.  (I think I was there to melt: it was 30ºC and 95% Relative Humidity).

So anyway: let’s look at a few of the compositional principles I used.

Reflections

Reflections…

What was it that struck me in the image above?? The perfect symmetry. Flat water, clear reflections. And white sky (and hence water). Learn to spot reflections–just in case. This is a case where you do put things in the middle, rather than using the Rule of Thirds.

Sightsseing in motion

Sightseeing in motion.

Above: Motion. I “panned” with the bus, i.e. I moved my lens with the bus, at 1/30 second. That way, the passengers are sharp, while the background is streaked in the direction I moved my lens (left-right).

Next, this photo of a certain well-known tower:

Coilour coordination

Colour coordination

…which is a good example of framing. I am using the buildings and the tree to frame the CN tower. So it’ll go to prison for a murder it didn’t commi…. oh never mind.

Next, some words.

Culture, and progressive values

Culture, and progressive values.

People in front of signs are interesting when the words mean something. Culture. And is that two men pushing the baby–stroller? Questions are good. rather than spoon-feeding your audience, make them work out what’s happening, You can spoon-feed babies, instead.

Now to bigger matters:

"Exit Stage Left"

“Exit Stage Left”. Waterfront

Great stage, especially when seen through a 16m lens (on a full frame camera). Sharpness, symmetry, and the Maple Leaf flag.

CN Tower

CN Tower.

In that picture, we see a blurred CN tower—but only blurred a little. The framing tree is sharp. And above all else, we see… simplicity. A golden rule of good photography:simplify, simplify, simplify, simplify, and simplify.

The same applies to this:

Master of its domain

Master of its domain!

And I presume you see the Rule of Thirds being applied there too. As well as in this picture:

Fun and joy

Fun and joy.

And that picture is, of course, all about the Right Moment. And about another rule: “If It Smiles, Shoot It”. 

 

People and their devices..

People and their devices.

A snap of a person wrapped up in her iPhone.

Short Final

Porter on (Very) Short Final.

An airplane photo. Because why not.

And then, back to progressiveness:

A progressive city

A progressive city, eh.

Toronto really is a very progressive city. (Though now, with a career politician at the helm, I wonder).

What I need not wonder about was today’s weather.  30ºC, and 95% Relative Humidity, interspersed with frequent heavy downpours, and air that looked like it was trying to start to rotate. Those clouds looked dangerous:

Dark skies

Dark Skies. Incipient Rotation.

What was I using there? Clear subject, simplicity, Rule of Thirds.

Do some of your own now. And think, consciously, about the principles and techniques you can use. Your pictures will be better for it. Take one of my courses if you need to learn. The good news, “it’s all just technique” and “it’s all simple to learn”.

Have fun!


Take a look at my e-books:

Another Booth!

I did a few more booths yesterday. Fun as before.

But not simple! This one took 45 minutes to set up, in a restaurant. Setup includes things like computer, printers, USB hubs, connected camera, backdrop, props, pro flashes, and much more:

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Here’s the picture I produced and printed on the spot for everyone, except of course this sample is with my pictures, not my clients’:

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Additional to that, my clients get the electronic files, as well. And a web site to look at them on. And I brought an assistant, who is a talented photographer himself.

Why this note? Because I realize how this is now an entirely new photography market. It’s got critical mass now. And it’s fun.

But before you take it on yourself, remember that it’s a) a lot of work, and I mean a lot, and b) complicated technically, and that c) it needs real photography- and especially people-skills. Maybe easier just to hire me: I am available for booths!