Mission: impossible

Sometimes you are faced with a situation that would be easy to solve with a flash.

Like this church, in which I co-shot a wedding on Saturday:

You can see why the situation needs flash. Without it, I am stuck: I expose for the church, and the stained glass pretty much disappears, as you see above.

Or I expose for the glass:

Yeah, the glass is back. But now I lose the church.

OK, flash then. Simple! (If you have done my courses and bought my books.)

But Wait.

It is a Roman Catholic church, and that church is used to an authoritarian top-down command structure, and in this particular case that works against us. Because the photography rules (and there’s a full page of them) say:

“No Flash”.

Now I am stuck. As my colleague George quite rightly says: “we are here for the people” (and you can imagine him shrug). Right he is.

But hang on. There are still tricks we can use.

One: use the built-in HDR mode in your camera, if it has is. Some high-end cameras do, and my 5D Mk3 is one of those.

Select it and press. The camera now takes three pictures (my choice), two stops apart from each other (my choice), and crunches a few seconds, while it combines them into a JPG file:

Now, the bright and dark areas are no longer 12 stops apart.

And that was the problem: the difference between bright and dark was simply too great for a camera to handle in one image.  Select HDR (which you all know stands for “High Dynamic Range”—right?) and hold the shutter down until it has done three shots (or more, if you prefer).

And then you can work the image a little more in Lightroom, if you like. Problem solved. There’s always a solution.


I have moved to Brantford, Ontario. The new studio and classroom welcome you: call 416-875-8770 or5 email michael@mvwphoto.com.


About to re-start.

The teaching blog is about to restart. My office is being installed.

My first note: a quick tip.

Make backups. Make backups. Make backups.

  • I like to make backups at a time of MY liking – not automatically. That way I only back up good files, not errors.
  • You need multiple backups. At least 2. Disks are failuires waiting to happen. All of them.
  • Of your backups, at least one should be off site.
  • Print your photos, too. Good pigment prints on natural fibre paper last.

If I had not moved the disks myself, what could have happened makes me shudder. Do not become part of the “I lost everything” crowd.



You’ve done this yet?

Zoom in or out (as said before, it does not matter which) while shooting. Slow shutter speed, 1/15 sec.

The centre will be relatively clear; the outside more and more blurred. Wide angle lens works best, of course.

And in general, learn what slow shutter speeds do. If you want to be a good photographer, that’s how you learn: by doing, trying, experimenting.

What are you doing reading this? You should be shooting!

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!