A tip today about something rather simple, which can be a lot of fun

A modern flash like a Canon 600EX or Nikon SB-900 can do “stroboscopic flash”.

To use it, simply:

  1. Set the flash’s mode to stroboscopic (“Multi” on my Canon flashes);
  2. On the flash, select frequency and duration and power level; see below for the settings I used yesterday;
  3. On the camera, which is probably on a tripod, select a shutter speed at least equal to the duration above;
  4. Make sure it is dark enough so that this shutter speed does not light up everything;
  5. Have a black background
  6. Move and shoot!

The flash:


In this case, 1/128 is the power level; — is the duration (so I set it to one second in my case); 1 Hz is the frequency (10 Hz in my case).

The result, set to the settings above:


The flash was set to:

  • Frequency 10 Hz
  • Duration 1 second
  • Power level 1/32 power.

Camera was set to 1 sec shutter speed. Because it took assistant Rob about a second to move his arm.

You will note that the higher the flash power level, and the shorter the time, the fewer flashes you can do. This is because the flash runs out of power after a few flashes: the higher the power level, the earlier that happens.

Go have some fun!


If you like sharp and crisp…

…then use flash. And if you use flash, then use it off camera.

Flash is crisp and sharp. Or rather, using flash leads to crisp photos because:

  • Contrast is perceived as crisp sharpness.
  • Flash lasts 1/1000 sec or less, and that means your effective shutter speed is 1/1000 sec or less.

Like this:




Maybe better: close to the ground to get a ‘cat’s eye view’:


1/30 sec at f/11, 400 ISO. Meaning, the ambient light basically disappears. The photo is crisp because although the shutter is slow, ambient light does basically nothing and the flash speed (1/16,000 sec, because the flash is set to 1/16 power) is the effective shutter speed.

…all of which is made like this:


The flashes are on the right: three flashes fired by one pocket wizard.  Note that in this last image, I used a very slow shutter speed (several seconds, if I recall correctly) in order to show some of the ambient scene.

Anyway: can you see how much more lively and “real” these images look than a simple “even lighting” image, such as a “natural light” image that some photographers proudly boast is their only source of light?

One more thing to note: I am using three flashes connected via a three-flash mount (see yesterday’s post). With no softening modifier such as an umbrella or a softbox. The take-away lesson from this: When using off-camera flash, a softening modifier is not always needed.  

Near London? Come see me 6 Oct 2016

Do you live west of Toronto? Anywhere near London, Ontario?

Then see www.londoncameraclub.ca – you can hear me talk about flash tomorrow night (or tonight, depending on when you read this), Thursday Oct 6, 2016. Come hear some advanced tips and tricks and come meet me. 7:30pm; $10 charge for non-members of the club.

Also keep in mind, 23 October, another small (5 people max, some spaces left) hands-on Flash workshop. See the meetup.com web site.

Now back to my presentation.No rest for the wicked. 

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,

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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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.