Exceed Your Limits!

That sounds like something on an inspirational poster in your company’s HR office, doesn’t it? But I mean it. You can exceed your limits. Your shutter’s limits, that is.

One of my cameras has a flash sync speed of 1/200 sec. That means, see the post from two days ago, that I cannot go faster than that without this happening:

See that black bar? That’s what happens. Flash does not reach that part of the photo; the shutter curtain is too slow and gets in the way.

But sometimes, especially in bright sunlight, I want to shoot at 1/250 second, or even at 1/300 second.

And you know what? Sometimes I do.

In that picture, taken at 1/250th second on a camera that only goes up to 1/200, is the black area at the bottom really annoying? No. It is not obvious (there is also ambient light) and in any case, I want to vignette a little anyway.

Remember, it is only the bottom (or if I turn the camera to portrait orientation, the right) that will lack flash. So I can use a faster-than-allowed shutter speed while using a flash, IF any of the following four apply:

  • the subject of my photo is just in the centre; or
  • there is a lot of ambient light; or
  • I can crop off the black area; or
  • I want a strong vignette anyway.

There. Another trick on your flash bag of tricks!


Come hither?

A few opportunities to meet, if you are nmear Toronto:

On July 19, I am doing a small workshop in Oakville. You, your computer, workflow and backup Best Practices, and Lightroom. Click here to learn more.  And be quick: 5 students max, and gone is gone.

And earlier still, this coming Sunday July 12, you can meet me during the official opening/”meet the artist” of my exhibit in Bronte, Oakville:

Sign up here (click) and come and see me, and buy one of the works for sale. There’ll be unframed work too, in a tray which I will bring. See you Sunday!

A new toy

You have probably all heard the name Yongnuo: a Chinese maker of photo equipment that is not only very affordable, but also good. Flashes that compete with those made by Nikon and Canon, but also other equipment, like lenses.

And like the Yongnuo Extender EF 2x III (i.e. the Canon version of a 2x lens extender) that I just bought for around US$190—compared with the Canon version, which today costs $525 at B&H. A huge price delta, so is there a quality difference too? Read on to find out.

A lens extender is a device that is mounted in between the camera and the lens, and by being there, makes telephoto lenses longer. So with this 2x extender, my 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens becomes a 140-400mm lens. When I use this lens/extender combination on my crop camera, the Canon 7D, I get an effective (and astonishing) 640mm!

Effective 640mm

An extender is an active device: unlike extension rings, which simply make the distance between lens and camera greater in order to achieve macro functionality, an extender has lenses inside (9 lenses in this case, in 5 groups), so quality is important: cheap glass will cause quality to deteriorate quickly.

Upon visual inspection, this extender comes across as a quality device. A carrying pouch is provided, and the extender itself is good: the mounts are metal, lenses are coated, and workmanship is excellent.

Here’s the lens side. As you see, an element sticks out, which is why you can only use this extender on certain, mainly long, lenses:

And here’s the camera side:

So by using this extender between my camera and my telephoto lens, I get a longer telephoto lens. Great stuff! But is it a free lunch?

Of course not: free lunches do not exist. When considering an extender, keep in mind the three possible drawback areas:

  1. First, there are the theoretical drawbacks. There is no way of overcoming these. The main price you pay for the extra focal length is a decrease in maximum aperture. A 2x extender will cost you 2 stops of aperture. My f/2.8 lens now becomes an f/5.6 lens.
  2. Then, there could be functionality drawbacks. An extender will only work on certain lenses, namely the longer lenses. You need to check the list of lenses that will work with the extender: see below. Also, some lenses will lose functionality, such as metering or autofocus functionality. I am fortunate: the 70-200 f/2.8 IS lens works great with this extender: autofocus works, as does metering (but more about this later). This extender works with my 45mm T/S lens as well, but I am doubtful as to whether that is actually useful in real life.
  3. Finally, there may be quality drawbacks. Cheap glass, for instance, will destroy the quality of your picture. The Yongnuo scores very well here.

Lenses you can use with this extender:

I used the Yongnuo 2x extender for Canon on my 1Dx and on my 5D cameras. And the results, I must say, are excellent. I saw none of the loss of quality that I would expect in the corners. No doubt it is there—after all, no piece of glass inserted between you and the object you are looking at will improve the picture—but if it is imperceptible, that’s an amazing feat. For less than half the price of the Canon version that it imitates.

With any lens, you expect vignetting, i.e. a little darkening in the corners. In this extender, I see very little. And you can fix it in post-production. First, the original; second, the version I fixed in Lightroom:

Can you see that the first one has a tiny bit of vignetting?

Talking about distortion, do not use the “Enable Profile Corrections” feature in the Lens Corrections section in Adobe Lightroom. If you do, you will see significant extra distortion, instead of a lessening.

Chromatic aberration was minimal, and the “Remove Chromatic Aberration” function in Lightroom’s Lens Corrections panel took care of it completely.

Autofocus appears to work just fine. I saw no discernible decrease in AF speed or accuracy.

Extender in action: a 400mm shot

Metering seems two stops off. In testing, I needed to set the meter to somewhere between –1 and –2 stops to get a correctly exposed photo. This was the case whether I used spot metering or evaluative metering. I used the centre spot, in case metering is biased to the selected focus spot. If this is indeed systematic rather than me doing something wrong, I do not care: it is easy enough to aim at –2 instead of 0.


The Yongnuo is an excellent clone of the Canon extender. While perhaps there are quality differences, they are so small that I was unable to detect them. And for one third of the Canon extender, this is a very good deal. It is this price that may get many of ytou rushing to the store to get one.

In that case I have a tip for you: you will get a special price if you mention discount code “Speedlighter” to Tim Payne at Yongnuo USA: http://yongnuousa.net/contact. And please note that I have not been compensated in any way for this mention or this review: I paid for my own extender.


Treasure Trove (reblog)

A re-blog of a post from 2 years ago:

Your old photos are a treasure trove.

I reminded myself of this again last night: searching for some images for a client, I came across many great images that I had overlooked before. Like this, of Miss Halton 2009, Evangeline Mackell:

Some images are great because they remind you of the times you shot them in. Others, because they show friends you may have almost forgotten, or places that seemed humdrum at the time, but carry meaning in retrospect. Or perhaps they show people who have since become famous. Yet others, because they are artistically good. Some, because you simply overlooked them, and that is more common than you may think. Always revisit your images multiple times.

Also, over time, you get new insights into how to finish images. The image above is desaturated – my flavour of the moment. In this image, it makes it good.

One thing to do with your images is to:

  1. Date them in the filename.
  2. Organize your images in folders by date.

TIP: When images are imported into Lightroom, you have options, and here are two of the most useful ones to apply automatically when you import any image:

  • File renaming. My images automatically get renamed upon import to “year+month+day+original filename:, so that an image named “MVWS0318″ becomes “20100114-MVWS0318″. That way whenever I find this image on my hard drive in the future, I can quickly go to folder “/photos/2010/2010014-Toronto” to find the other pictures from this shoot.
  • I set the camera calibration Profile to “Camera Standard”, not “Adobe Standard”. That way the images look more like the way they look on the back LCD after I shoot them.

More images:

As you see, even the waitress can make for a nice shot. Or people with nice backgrounds thrown out of focus:

Or people like my friend, animal lover and incredibly talented photographer Baz Kanda, who came to the Willems Studio Residence (i.e. here) to accompany me to a Flash course I taught a while ago. Here he is at Storey Wilkins’s residence and at a church, in January 2009:

Dallas Hansen at Lovegety Station – only the Japanese can come up with a word like “Lovegety”…:

And those are just a few random picks from a few random days a few years ago. Can you see the potential of revisiting old photos? They take you back.


The times they are a-changing.

Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, said the other day that “photos used to be about preserving memories, but now they are about communicating”.

And while I am not sure I agree with that entirely, he is right that things are changing. The trends are clear:

  • Everyone has a cellphone camera.
  • These are getting better. While they will never equal a DSLR, they are good enough for sharing on the web.
  • And that is what happens: iPhones and instant sharing apps have changed the way photos are seen.

That means a few things. First, it does mean that at least initially, photos are about the “now” rather than about the past. Utilitarian photos. You send your spouse a photo of the three types of olive oil on the supermarket shelf so she can tell you which one.

It also means the quality goes down. It’s not about technical perfection if you are just asking a question, making a point, or choosing olive oil. It’s not art, it’s just talking.

And yet. People do still appreciate beautiful photos. And after the talking and “living in the now” is over, you remember the past. It’s not an “either/or”; it’s an “and-and”.

Not art, but a driveway crack

Take me. I make iPhone pictures all day. They are utilitarian, for the moment, communicating. Like the one above, to show a crack in my driveway asphalt caused by leaking car fluids. But I also do this:

(16-35mm f/2,8 lens, at 16mm). So the need for a good camera still exists. You need a “real” camera when you:

  • Need a blurry background.
  • Need a wide angle lens.
  • Need a telephoto lens.
  • Need quality prints.
  • Need large prints.
  • Want to shoot in the dark.
  • Need to capture motion.
  • Need repeated (“continuous drive”) photos.
  • Want to use flash (whether “creative” or “technical”).

…and so on. The list is long: many reasons to own not just a cell phone, but a quality DSLR as well.

Photography is changing, but it is a good thing, in this case. Nothing is being taken away; we are adding. Snapshots for the “now”, using your cell phone, and reserving memories with the DSLR. A win for everyone concerned.

So take lots pf pictures and enjoy. And do not forget to bring your cell phone and use it. Here, let me start. What I am looking at (or would be if I turned upside down):

..and what I see next to me (Awww…):

Quick and easy. Snap, upload.

But remember, the same basic rules apply in both cases, so learn composition, learn how to change the photo’s exposure on the iPhone, learn the effect of distance, and so on.

(Quick test question: what change did I need to make before the final ‘click’ to the exposure of the above photo: up or down, and why?)