Tell stories

Even in the smallest ways, you can tell stories, and even in snapshots there is thought, Like tonight, as I walked to class. I shot a little four-image story.

First, the all-important overview “establishing shot”:

Shows where we are going. Namely Sheridan College, where I teach several photography courses. I used the “Sunny Sixteen Rule” to set the camera without using the light meter. Partely overcast at 7pm, that is about 3 stops down from sunny at noon. So, 400 ISO, 1/400 sec, f/5.6 (5.6 being three stops down from “sunny” 16).

Then, let’s add some depth, some 3D, and at the same time let’s tell the viewer where we are:

Showing depth? That’s done by using “close-far”. A close-by object very close to you, with the background showing far away. That shows us there is depth in the photo; that it is not flat, in other words.

That being done, now let’s use a nice curve, a converging one at that, to imply that we are going in, by showing “the path”:

And now that we are there, let’s see the class, during a break:

Again, nice S-curves lead the viewer’s eye into the photo. Focused on the person closest to us. Using the Rule of Thirds.

The point? The point is that you can, and should, apply “high rules” to “low snaps”; and that this makes them better. Enjoy!


DOF preview

Your camera probably has a DOF preview button. Depth-of-field preview. A little button next to the lens, at the bottom somewhere. Cameras have had that button since mid way through the 20th century.

Normally, while you are preparing foe a photo, your aperture is wide open. This button allows you to momentarily close it to the set value while preparing for a photo. That way, you can see the depth of field you will get with your chosen aperture. The drawback is that the brightness also goes down during this preview, so it does not help you much.

And therefore, some of you can re-assign that button. To use it for something else. On my Canon 5D Mark 3(*) I can re-assign that button to do one of 12 different things like focus, stop focus, AE lock, various autofocus things, flash lock, and so on. Is that cool? Yes.

So on your camera, look for that button. Do you have it? If so, can you use it—or can you reassign it? If so, is there a useful function you can assign it to? If so, you have an even better camera than you thought.

That’s it for today, just a tiny tip. After shooting this all day, I am very tired:

Isn’t that a nice mom/son team? It’s so great to make beautiful photos of a mom who doesn’t have any, for herself or her son, to put on the wall. Now she does.

And I will never stop saying it: please, everyone, buy wall art rather than just having electronic files on a PC or Mac somewhere.  You will see your photos more; you will be showing them to your friends and relatives; and you won’t lose them after a crash. A win-win-win.


(*) NOTE: I shoot with a Canon 7D and a Canon 1Dx, but the latter developed a malfunction: after playing video it switches off—dead—and cannot be restarted. Canon wil take 2-3 weeks to fix it and charge me $300. So until that time? Because I shoot for a living, I had to buy a Canon 5D Mark 3 to tide me over. That’s the life of a pro: I have to have the latest and greatest, and renting one for a month is the came cost as buying and then reselling it.

Colour. Just because.

That is often my answer when someone asks “why did you use those gels in that picture?. “Because I could”., “Why not”.  And you start adding colour here, there and everywhere. Consider this:

(100 ISO, 1/20 sec, f/16, 24-105 f/4 lens).

Private student Tim made the picture yesterday. And I put the yellow gelled flash inside the car why, exactly? Because otherwise it would be dark. A little colour adds a lot: think matching, or opposite, colours. Deep blue skies go well with yellow: blue and yellow, like red and green, or green and purple, constitute one of nature’s favourite combos.

And it’s so simple, with a Honlphoto gel:

Just strap it onto the speed strap and bingo. (If you do the Honl photo modifiers thing, go and don’t forget code word “Willems” at the end to get another 10% off. Look at the kits: they rock, especially the last one).

I use gelled speedlights to:

  • Add opposites to relieve boredom
  • Warm up cold subjects (half CTO gel does wonders)
  • Get creative
  • Add a little red to skin in low key portraits
  • Correct colour when shooting in tungsten ambient light
  • Turn backgrounds blue

…and so on. Once you get into the habit, you’ll see how good your photography gets. Speedlights, and easy-to-use, sturdy gels, make all this not just possible. They make it convenient and affordable, too.

This site is called the speedlighter for a reason: speedlights unlock the potential. Just get another flash or two, get some gels and other modifiers, and get creative.



It always gives me enormous pleasure to see that this blog is being read. I mean really read, by real people, who put just about as much time into reading it as I put into writing it.

And so it was tonight, with a long-time reader, and new friend, Tim. So I used the opportunity to snap him:

That was “400-40-4″ (see ARTICLES above)  and an on-camera flash bounced on the ceiling on the left, slightly behind me.

But then I thought: let’s pull out the stops and shoot Tim with an off camera flash and the “studio settings” of 1/125 sec, 100/200 ISO, f/8, to make ambient light disappear:

A little post was done to darken the background more, because flash spilled onto it, but it’s essentially SOOC—”Straight Out Of Camera”.

But then I showed Tim what happens when you use a grid on the flash. No light spill everywhere, like in the previous shot. So now the black background is really black:

That’s why the grid is my favourite flash utility. I used a 1/4″ Honl photo  grid; I love the Honl accessories (and as you will recall, readers — and that means you — get an extra 10% off by using this link and discount code “Willems”).  And want to shoot like me? Then get the Speedlighter–approved Master Lighting Kit. It contains all the accessories I use daily in one convenient—and discounted—package.

And let’s finish with…


And now I am so tired I must sleep. Good night!


See spot run!

Your camera behaves in one of several possible ways when spot metering; and it behaves in one of several ways when using evaluative metering.

When spot metering (at the bottom in the graphic):

  • The camera only meters what is happening at the centre spot
  • OR the camera only meters what is happening at the focus spot you have selected.

It is easy to determine what it is on your camera. Shoot a scene with dark and light areas. Taking care not to move the camera at all between shots, shoot with the spot aimed at a light part of the shot; then shoot with the spot aimed at a dark part of the shot. If the exposure varies, your camera meters at the focus spot; if not, it meters at the centre spot.

When doing evaluative/matrix metering (a the top):

  • The camera evaluates the entire picture, and chooses the best exposure to suit the entire photo.
  • OR the camera evaluates the entire picture, and chooses the best exposure to suit the entire photo, biased to the selected focus point.

Again, it is easy enough to determine which one it is, using the same test.

My Canon 7D, for example, does the first option (centre point only) when spot metering, and the second option (bias to chosen AF point) when set to evaluative metering; while my 1Dx can be set to do either (using a custom function named “Spot meter. linked to AF pt”). The 7D, therefore, might seem to only do spot metering when it is not set to spot metering. Can you see how this can be confusing?

Did you know which it is, on your camera, before testing? If not, this will explain a lot of the “incorrect exposures” you have been seeing over the years. Yes, you need to know this stuff!

I remember a hardcover book. Pastel coloured pictures. “See Dick. See Jane. See Spot Run. Run Spot Run”. My memory is visual.