Off to Niagara Falls

I am off to shoot a three day event. Which prompts me to talk about business for the pros among you.

A kind colleague forwarded the opportunity. I called the client, got the details, and quoted for this shoot, and it looked like it was accepted. It was exactly what I do well. Meeting of the minds.

But then, out of the blue, I received a “Nephew Letter”. An “our CEO has a son who has a camera…” type letter. Meaning, instead of paying a pro, a kid would do it, because as we all know, having a camera equals being a pro.

So I could have been angry at being rejected after all that work (making a quote takes time), or at best neutral. I could have been depressed at losing a slice of income.



But why bother? This wasn’t personal. It wasn’t malice. So instead, I told the client “No worries! Enjoy the event! And just in case anything happens, I will try to hold these days open.”

The client was duly grateful, and I moved on.

Until a few days ago I got an email asking me if I was still available. Which I was, because I had kept the days open. And guess what? The nephew, or whatever he was, flaked out and let them down.

So I am about to pack my car to go shoot for three days.

Michael Willems, Photographer

Jumping For Joy

The moral is twofold.

  • First, for pros: be nice to your clients. It’s just business, it’s not personal. In the long run, this will pay off.
  • And for clients: shooting a a tough job, not a “I have a camera so I can do it” thing, and also, quoting for an event takes real time.

I suppose the underlying moral is: “if we all work together, the world can be a better place”. Namaste.

Pic of the day: Travellers. ravellers


I always carry a camera. Doesn’t this pic shout “Travellers”? No comfortable seating; he is on his smartphone; she is looking at her fingernails; aircraft operations go on slowly in the background. A big but not too busy airport (Las Vegas? No. So where? I cannot remember). Where are they going? Where is their carry-on luggage? Questions.

Shutter speed isn’t all there is to shutter speed.

“Shutter speed” isn’t all there is to shutter speed.

Uh oh. Michael is The Oracle. What on earth does he mean by that confusing statement?

Well, let’s have a look. Let’s set up a couple of gelled and gridded speedlights (using Honlphoto grids and gels) and get a talented life model. Which is exactly what I did in August 2012 at Brock University, during the 5-day flash course I was teaching for the Niagara School of Imaging.

But wait. Because I want to show you the setup, let’s allow in some ambient light. To achieve this we use a really slow shutter speed, of 0.6 sec. More than half a second, in other words. That lets in some ambient. Not a lot, but enough to see the classroom, some of the equipment, and so on.

The picture, showing the setup with the two flashes, below. Look at the two little gelled speedlights, can you spot them? Purple gel on the left and yellow gel on the right:


OK. Great. Blurry as heck, of course: 0.6 seconds is ridiculously slow. Impossible to hold still. Right?

But wait. Lots of blur, yes, all over the picture, but look carefully. Click on the image to see it full size, and now look carefully at the model. What do you see?

She is sharp. No blur on her: she is tack sharp. There’s blur all over, but not much on the actual subject. A little “ghosting”, but she is substantially sharp.

But that’s impossible: the shutter speed was 0.6 seconds. So she must be blurry! Right?

So that’s where I say “‘Shutter speed’ isn’t all there is to shutter speed”. The shutter speed may be 0.6 seconds, but the model is lit primarily (almost exclusively) by the flashes. And the flashes flash at 1/1000 second or faster. At 1/4 power, they flash for just 1/4000 second. So while the shutter speed may be 0.6 seconds, as long as the subject is lit only by the flashes, our effective shutter speed is 1/4000 second!

And that is why you see a sharp model: there is very little ambient light on her, so the effective shutter speed is determined almost exclusively by the flash speed. Which is very rapid.

So now let’s do a normal shutter speed, of 1/125 sec, so the ambient light is cut out. And here is the finished product:


So anyway. This is a studio shot. So I want no ambient light: the second picture, in other words.  But when I shoot an event, like a wedding reception, I want to let in some ambient light to avoid those cold, black backgrounds. Instead, I want a nice warm background. To achieve that, I am happy to shoot with shutter speed as slow as 1/15 or 1/30 second. And now you know why I can get away with that.


Yaay! Natural!

You have all heard about the grassroots campaign against dihydrogen monoxide?

This chemical, which if ingested in large quantities can be deadly, is present in most manufactured foods. It is even in our water supply.

Which is not strange, considering the fact that “dihydrogen monoxide” is just another way of saying “H2O”, i.e. water.

The reason this joke works is that people have been conditioned to like “natural”, eat “natural”, and to resist anything artificial. As though Ebola, disease-carrying mosquitos and bone cancer aren’t “natural”!

And we see the same in photography. Oh so often do I hear people proudly proclaim that they use “natural light”.

That is fine, nothing against that. I use available light quite often. But to be proud of it? To me, that’s like proudly saying “I am walking to Rome!”. Personally, I’d rather be carried there on a luxury yacht, or in a Saudi royal’s personal 747 with golden faucets. And similarly in photography I use the tools that suit my needs. Whether they are “natural” or not. I am as happy using flashes as I am using sunlight. Except flashes give me more options in more conditions.

So I’d say, use what works for you. Whether it is “natural” or not. And learn all types so you have the option when needed.