Miscellany Musings

Learning opportunity: Tomorrow AM and Friday PM, you can see me talk at the Coast To Coast arts convention at Toronto airport. Come learn about camera basics (tomorrow) or Landscapes (Friday).

Cat Opportunity: always be ready to shoot your cats with a wide open lens in available light. And I never waste an opportunity to post a cat picture:

Theft opportunity: that is what you are giving thieves by leaving gear in your car. A good friend last night had her multiple cameras, multiple expensive lenses, and laptop stolen from her parked car. So sad, a terrible loss. The lesson can benefit us all: DO not leave cameras in cars. Even if you do not have a license plate like mine (NB: link is not suitable for work!).

But there may be light at the end of the tunnel: your home insurance, and if you do not have this your car insurance, may well cover part or all of this loss. Immediately make a police report, and then immediately contact your insurance company. Meanwhile collect serial numbers. in the EXIF data of each photo, things like camera serial number and often lens serial number are present. You can use a free utility called EXIFTOOL (Google it) to see the full EXIF data, if need be.



I was interviewed this morning by “Frontaal Naakt”, a leading Dutch opinion blog. The editor, Peter Breedveld, will publish the interview in the next days. In the mean time, some of my work is used as illustrations to his other articles:

One of the questions in the interview was about societal acceptance of nudes. Which, as most of my readers know, are among the many things I shoot.

I told him that in North America there is serious resistance to nudity, and that we, um, kind of missed the 1960s here. Does that sound extreme? Not to me. The Netherlands had full frontal male and female nudity on prime time TV by the 1960s and 1970s. Here, this may perhaps happen eventually, but we certainly are not there yet.

That said, young people in North America are much less prone to having body or nudity hangups than older people. In The Netherlands, however, mr Breedveld tells me, it is the other way around. The pendulum swings everywhere, always. Right now, that is encouraging to me here, and discouraging there, because as a child of the 1960s I cannot understand what anyone would have against the human body; and I certainly cannot see how they would wish to impose those views on others. Those views to me seem Victorian—but to each his or her own.

The other subject was “subjects”. Are all my subjects pretty young women?

No. I shoot people of all shapes, walks of life, and ages—but I will only publish them with permission, obviously, so they are less available. But I do love photographing all manner of people: everyone is interesting. You’ll see a few there I expect. “Selfies”, too. Why not? If I say nudes are OK, why should I not want to shoot myself that way? I could not ask my models to do something I would not do myself.

Are nudes sexual? Not usually; not to me; but there is a continuum. From 0% sexual (medical illustrations) to 100% (porn). I like to think I am somewhere in the lower half of that continuum.

Am I an activist? In a way, yes. I would like society to ease up a little bit on the Victorian values, and start realizing that there is nothing wrong with human bodies. Once you realise that, there’s a lot of freedom, and we all like freedom. Right?

Anyway: anyone who likes my nudes can see them on tumblr (my blog name there is mvwphoto). I would say “NSFW”, but I personally believe this is perfectly suitable for work!


What do I need?

What, asks a reader, do I need for portraits?

First, read http://www.speedlighter.ca/tag/portraits/ — this will give you an idea of the technologies and other needs.

For a minimum portrait with off-camera flash, you need:

  1. A stool and a backdrop (can be improvised).
  2. A camera.
  3. A flash—nikon user, an SB710 or SB910 (or predecessors).
  4. Aim the flash behind you 45 degrees up. Make sure there is a, preferably white, ceiling/wall where the flash points. Shoot.

That will give you a one-light, bounced portrait:

For a minimum portrait with off-camera flash, you need:

  1. A camera with a pop-up flash that can drive other flashes (most Nikons, most recent Canons).
  2. A flash—nikon user, an SB710 or SB910 (or predecessors).
  3. Set up your camera’s flash option in the “pencil” menu to not do ordinary TTL, but to do Commander instead. Then, in the commander settings screen, turn off the flash on the camera (top option), and set the A and B group options to “TTL”. Note the channel.
  4. Ensure that your flash is set to the same channel.
  5. Optionally, use a modifier such as a small softbox or a

That will give you a one-light, camera flash portrait:

Finally, for a “real”, i.e. traditional headshot, you would have four lights. To see how these work, I will repeat here a post from the past:

When you make a portrait using standard “studio settings” (i.e. you have the ambient light do nothing; and to achieve this you use f/8 at 1/125th sec at 100 ISO), and you use one flash, modified with an umbrella or softbox, you get a portrait, but it is very dramatic: only what you light is lit.

As in this portrait of Henrys’ Deanna Flinn (a fellow photographer and teacher) at [a recent] excellent meeting of the Ajax Photography Club, where I held a Flash workshop:

Good exposure, and good catch lights at the 2 o’clock position. If that dramatic look is what you are aiming for, fine.

But usually, people look for a different, softer look. A standard portrait has a fill light on the opposite side of the main light. That fill light is two stops darker than the main light.

So, you need another flash. Yes, I suppose; but you can instead use a reflector. Cheaper and quicker! I asked one of the students to hold up a white sheet of paper to the left, and now we see this:

Nice, no?

Then if you have a second flash, you can put a snoot on it and use it as a hair light:

Even better! Yes, a good portrait really is that simple.

Of course you can now aim another flash at the background and light it up – or move it back and colour it with a gel. Or use a grid on a single flash and have fun:

So we have:

  1. Camera
  2. Two flashes (main and fill) each with a modifier like a softbox or an umbrella. Fill can be replaced by a reflector or white wall.
  3. A flash used as a hairlight (fitted with a snoot).
  4. A flash used as a background light (optional; and perhaps with a gel)

You can do this with small flashes (SB-710, 430EX; SB910, 600EX) or studio lights (“strobes”). If you use studio strobes, set your power levels by hand and use Pocketwizards to fire the flashes. If you use TTL from the pop-up, you can use the pop-up flash to fire the other flashes (each set to “remote”).

More in later posts, but I hope this helps get you started.




Today was a Desi shoot: a shoot with an Indian subcontinent theme. Henna artist Sadaf Ahmed and make-up artists Aisha and Falak got together with me and six models to shoot what they’re all capable of.

Here’s a sample:

What is special about this sample is that it is straight out of the camera. No skin smoothing, no adjustments of any kind except the removal of one tiny temporary blemish, which will be gone by tomorrow anyhow.

And we achieved this by having a great model, Kim G, and a great set of make-up and henna artists, and great light.

That light looked as follows:

Backdrop with a grey paper roll. A camera on manual, at 420 ISO, f/8, 1/125th second, with a 70-200 f/2.8L lens. Fitted with a Pocketwizard transmitter. And lights as follows:

  • Strobe: Main light, softbox on our left
  • Strobe: Fill, umbrella on our right
  • Speedlight: Background light on the left behind, aimed at background
  • Speedlight:Hair light with snoot on our right behind, aimed forward at subject
  • Speedlight: on boom, with small Honl photo Traveler Eight 8″ softbox. This gives the face more brightness.

All lights fired via Pocketwizard radio transceivers (the simple ones, that need manual flash operation). Connected to speedlights via Flashzebra cables.

This gives me pictures I can use straight away with no further modifications. Good, eh?


Want to learn? Hands-on course in Oakville this Saturday, “Learning TTL Flash”. 10AM, contact me (michael@michaelwillems.ca) to hear more and to book, now.