News About Small Modifiers

If, like me, you like David Honl’s range of small flash modifiers, including the Traveller 8 softbox, gels, the speedsnoot, the grids, and many more, you will be happy to read the following: you can order directly from David Honl. Simply follow the link here (or click on the ad on the right, below), and order the special kits and modifiers.

Better still, if you are one of my students, you get 10% off. To hear the code that gets you this discount, just email or call, and ask me. To qualify, all you need is to have been one of my students. Enjoy!


400-40-4: When To Vary

Regular readers all know my “400-40-4″ setting for inside flash. The “party setting”, as I also call it.

  • 400 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4.
  • Flash bounced.
  • And white balance set to “Flash”.

Easy to remember; fits only one way. And it makes nice photos: well lit subject and warm background. Like this:

But remember that this is a starting point. And starting point implies that changes are necessary now and then. Or perhaps frequently.

So when do you need to change?

First and foremost, when you have insufficient flash power. When the ceiling is high, or the wall you are bouncing off is dark, or you need a very bright flash portion of your image with lots of flash compensation, or the room’s ambient light is very low, then you will will need to change the settings. In this case you can lower the f-number or, more usually, increase the ISO.  Set it to 800 or 1600 and try again. This is rather common.

TIP: One way to know quickly if this is the case in the room you are in: set your flash to manual mode, full power (1/1). If it is still too dark, you have insufficient power. Depending on how dark, select 800, 1600, or 3200 ISO, and try again. Once you have an overexposed picture you can go back to TTL mode.

Note that when you increase the ISO, the background gets brighter. If the reason for changing to a higher ISO was a dark room, this is fine. But otherwise, you may need to also select a faster shutter speed to fight this. Watch your ambient light meter: you are aiming for roughly –2 stops. If, say, you go from 400 to 1600 ISO, you need to change the shutter to 1/160 second to keep ambient exposure the same.

You may also need to change aperture when you need more, or less, depth of field. In that case, set it as needed. You can then change ISO to counteract the exposure change you made: e.g. if you go to f/8 to get more depth of field, go to 1600 ISO to get the same ambient exposure.

So, summarising:

  • Start at 400-40-4. Be ready to go to 800-40-4 or 1600-40-4.
  • If the reason was “low ambient light in this room”, that is all you need to do.
  • But if the reason was “low flash light”, be ready to select a faster shutter speed to keep the background the same brightness.
  • If you vary the aperture, the same applies: you may need to vary the ISO to counteract the aperture change and keep exposure the same. ISO Affects

Is all this complicated? Not really. Just remember your exposure triangle, and be analytical (as in “WHY am I changing this variable or that variable”). And remember: practice, practice, practice.


Don’t forget to get the flash book from http://learning.photgraphy. And if you want real, in-person teaching, then a short private training session with me, in the same room or via Google Hangouts wherever you are in the world, is just what the doctor ordered. Contact me via email or phone +1 416 875-8770 to hear more!


The Prime Requirement…

…of a photo is that it should be simple. That is:

Anything that is in the photo is in the photo because it needs to be in the photo; else, it should not be in the photo.

Take, for example, this shot of Shiva:

Mmm. It has potential, but it’s not straight, another big no-no, and it could be cropped tighter. That way, we get more emphasis on Shiva and we simplify: we lose the doorpost on the right, the door panel elements on the left, and various other “stuff that doesn’t belong”. And every non-needed element that you take out of a photo makes it better! So we get:

Much better. But the first thing my eye is drawn to is that white piece of paper on the mat. Can you see it? It is almost all that I see. So… healing brush, remove! The same for the black piece of dirt in the foreground.

Then, it’s a little dark, so let’s brighten it. That has the additional effect of removing much of the garbage bag.

And now we have the final shot:

When you compare that to the original first shot you see that simple changes made this image a gazillion times better. And that is the official term for it.

Cropping is a major element of my changes here, and cropping/rotating is, as far as I am concerned, allowed.


Learn all this and more in my e-book collection. In six e-books, you learn pretty much everything I know. See for more information, tips and tricks. See you there!


A student told me today that she had issues with shooting in manual mode. Especially, she says, in difficult circumstances.

Well, here is my answer. Yes, it is tough. “Less than ideal circumstances” is as much of a problem for me and everyone else as it is for my student. That is why we buy expensive lenses (low F-numbers let in more light; expensive cameras allow very high ISO values, and so on). Perhaps my student found it tough because it is impossible with her equipment.

But the principle of exposing right in manual mode is still simple. If it is too dark in your photo, you can do exactly three things (apart, of course, from turning on more lights). Same for my student as it is for you and for me.

1. Increase the ISO
Drawback: more grainy pictures
Limit: your camera only goes so high
What the pros do: buy an expensive camera that works well at high values

2. Lower the F-number
Drawback: you get less depth of field, which sometimes you want.
Limit: your lens only goes so low.
What the pros do: spend lots of lenses with low f-numbers

3. Slow down the shutter
Drawback: you get motion blur in your photos.
Limit: anything slower than, say, 1/60 sec will give you motion blur.
What the pros do: not go too slow. Or use a tripod..

So if your picture is too dark, you just have not gone high enough (iso) or you just have not gone low enough (f-number) or you just have not gone slow enough (shutter). Not difficult.
And you can use a trick! Let’s start with that trick.

  1. Go to PROGRAM Mode (P)
  2. Press the shutter slightly so you see the chosen aperture, shutter speed, and ISO
  3. Write those down.
  4. Go to MANUAL mode (M)
  5. Enter those values for ISO, aperture, and shutter.
  6. Now start varying from there. See what happens when you vary each of the parameters.

It really is as simple as that to get a good starting point. And you can also get good starting points for the variables. Like ISO: 200 outdoors, 400 indoors, 800 in tough light. Or shutter: keep above 1/60. Or aperture: open up indoors (low “F”), and stop down outdoors (high “F”).