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”).


Burn baby burn

…it’s a disco inferno!

OK, so my cheesy headline refers to a record by the Trammps that you may remember if you’re as old as me. Disco. Watch those dance steps and those flared trousers. Yeah baby!

But it also refers to the practice of burning discs. CDs or DVDs.

And discs are going the same way as disco. My MacBook does not contain a DVD drive, and soon, no devices at all will contain one. CDs and DVDs will be as obsolete as 3.5″ floppy disks, 5 1/4″ floppy disks, 8″ floppy disks, papertape, and core memory. Remember those?

Quick. Imagine that right now, this moment, that moment has come and you can no longer read CDs and DVDs. How many photos have you lost?

I hope the answer is “zero”, but I fear that the answer is “lots”. Many of you keep photo backups on disk.

Bad idea. They will become obsolete, but they will also decay and become unreadable.

And that is just one reason you should print your work. The others are in this article [click].

My recent art photo garage sale was a case in point: prints are beautiful. But they are also a way to preserve photos that would otherwise be lost. Your CDs are decaying and are becoming obsolete. Your hard disks will break: not “if” but “when”. But your prints will adorn your wall, and your photobooks will be on your bookshelf, for as long as you are there.

So please: if your photos only live on a medium that will soon be as current as clay tablets, save them to a new medium, and make prints today. That way your selfies and your works of art will all remain at your disposal.


ISO, continued

Let’s continue with the “High ISO” talk.

First, a photo mad4 with the Canon 7D at 3200 ISO. The 7D is a crop camera which is not very good at higher ISO values. And yet, 3200 ISO looks like this:

Fo comparison, here;s the Canon 1Dx, the top of the line camera, at the same setting of 3200 ISO:

Looks about the same, eh. Now let’s look at a small part of the photo at real pixel size (once you click and view it full size):

And the 1Dx at 3200 ISO:

Look at the meter and see the difference. Considerable.

But let’s look at a photo that is well lit instead of dark. First, using the 7D:

And the 1Dx:

And now the same small real pixel size (again, once you view at full size):

…and on the 1Dx:

As you see, a well lit picture does not show a lot of difference, or at least, not as clearly.

The moral: it’s not that big a deal: you can shoot at high ISO values and if the photo is well lit and you do not “pixel peep”, you’ll be just fine,. More so than you thought, I bet.


Macro tip

A repeat post, from a year ago: because it still matters.

Whenever you take a close-up photo – and it does not have to be one taken with a special macro lens – try to ensure that your object is clean. That saves so much work!

Take this image (taken for my fourth e-book):

That may look fine, but if you click and look closely, you will see there is a lot of dust, as well as some scratches, hair, etc.

To make it usable, here’s the dust I had to “remove” in Lightroom: this work image shows one circular marker per bit of dust, etc, that I removed:

..which leads to this resulting final image:

Looks the same? Not when you zoom in. When you zoom in, you see that this one is really very much better.

I hope you take two things away from this. First, the obvious “clean things, especially black things, before you shoot them”. But second: what you see is not always what there was. A professional image often has a lot of work done on it before it is a professional image. There’s no such thing as “click and shoot”.


Michael Willems writes blog posts. He also shoots, writes books, and teaches. Check him out on his web site, and check out the services and products on the online store, If you want to learn to shoot like a pro, or if you are already a pro, if you wish to shoot like a better pro, then you have come to the right place.