In yesterday’s shoot with Vanessa Scott in Timmins, Ontario, I used gels to recreate the sunlight that was fast fading below the hills. All shot with Canon’s amazing 85mm f/1.2 len.

(1/200th, f/4, ISO100)

Vanessa looks like she is in that light, because I put a CTO (Colour Temperature Orange) gel by Honlphoto on the main flash, like so:

You will see also that I am using a second flash, fitted with a grid, for the hair light. Two flashes driven by Pocketwizards—that’s all.

One more from this amazingly versatile young woman:

1/60, f/5, ISO100 — I had to adjust for fading light

Again, the flash allows me to offset the subject against the background, which I keep dark. Without the flash, I would lose the nice colour and I would have to make everything, including that background, very bright.

And that’s how the cookie crumbles.


Today, a QUIZ!

Test your knowledge of the basics: a quiz for you today. Select the best answer. Tomorrow, the answers.


1. You are shooting a hockey game. Your autofocus should probably be:

❏  In AI Servo/AF-C focus mode

❏  On manual focus

❏  In One Shot/AF-S focus mode

❏  Out of focus


2. At f/5.6, your picture is too dark. You can try going to:

❏  f/8

❏  f/4

❏  f/11

❏  1/60 second


3. If I move a light three times farther away from the subject it is lighting up, the subject now gets:

❏  Twice as much light

❏  Half as much light

❏  One third as much light

❏  One ninth as much light


4. For a blurrier background, you can go to a lower f-number. You can also:

❏  Step closer to your foreground object

❏  Use a longer lens

❏  Zoom in on your foreground object

❏  All of the above


5. For a “panning” picture of, say, a bicycle, you could try the following as a starting shutter speed:

❏  1/100 sec

❏  1/1000 sec

❏  2 seconds

❏  1/15 sec


6. A 50mm lens is normally called a “standard” lens on a film camera. On a crop camera with a crop factor of 1.5 or 1.6 you could use this for the same effect:

❏  a 50mm lens

❏  a 135mm lens

❏  a zoom lens

❏  a 35mm lens


7. The “rule of thirds” says that an object would look good if it were:

❏  Exactly in the centre

❏  One third from the top or bottom, and one third from either side

❏  Anywhere

❏  The square root of 2 away from the centre


8. Going from f/2.8 to f/11 gives you:

❏  Three stops more light

❏  8.2 stops less light

❏  Four stops less light

❏  One stop more light


9. The larger the f-number, the…

❏  …larger the opening in the lens

❏  …sharper the picture

❏  …smaller the opening in the lens

❏  …more the colour goes toward red


10. In exposure terms, 1/500th second and f/4 is equivalent to 1/30th second and:

❏  f/1.2

❏  f/1.6

❏  f/4.85

❏  f/16


11. Going from f/2.8 to f/11 gives you:

❏  Three stops more light

❏  8.2 stops less light

❏  Four stops less light

❏  One stop more light


12. Going from 1/30 sec to 1/250 sec gives:

❏  Three stops more light

❏  Three stops less light

❏  Four stops less light

❏  220 times less light


13. For a high-key photo, I want my light meter to indicate:

❏  In the middle (“0”)

❏  On the minus (“–“) side

❏  On the plus (“+”) side

❏  Alternating between plus and minus


Autofocus point

An important point about autofocus (and forgive the pun).

You have a number of AF points. One in the middle, and then 2 more, or 8 more, or 40 more: whatever. Lots, on my 1Dx:

These “points” are sensors that look for focus by looking at lines and sharpening them. But did you know that some points are sensitive only to horizontal or vertical lines? That’s why, when you select one AF point, sometimes you cannot focus even though you are pointing the AF point at a nice lined surface.

The centre AF point is always sensitive to both horizontal and vertical lines. But many other AF points are sensitive to only horizontal, or only vertical lines.

What’s more, this even depends on:

  • The mode you are in
  • Auto or manual AF point selection
  • The minimum f-number of your lens. Some points are points (sensitive to both) when used with an f/2.8 lens,. but horizontal only, or vertical only, when used with an f/5.6 lens.

So, my strong advice: Read up on how your camera does it. And if in doubt, use the centre AF point, since it is likely more sensitive and a cross-type sensor.



Low key or High Key

Definition time:

A low key photo is simply a photo that is “overall dark”. Like this one, of Serenity, made yesterday:

(Black backdrop, 200 ISO, 1/125 sec, f/8, softbox on left as main light, softbox on right as fill light, snoot behind right as hairlight, gridded gelled speedlight on left for red accent).

The nice thing is that the subject stands out because she is the only light thing; in particular, her eyes are.

A high key photo, you guessed it, is a photo whose overall brightness is high. Like this, of intern Daniel, also made yesterday:

There you have it.

Which histogram belongs to which photo?

Answer tomorrow!



OK, so you have a flash that does not work on your camera. Bad contact.


  1. This flash works on every other camera. Ergo, it is the camera.
  2. This camera work with every other flash. Ergo it is the flash.

Huh? Which one is it?

That is what a client came to me with. And never to shy away from a challenge, I took a look and figured it out. And since this could affect you too, if you own a camera and flash, I asm sharing.

Solution: it is both.

With any flash problem, you start by resetting camera and flash and cleaning contacts on both sides, camera and flash. Most “real” flash problems are caused by a bad contact.

This camera, a Rebel, has rather a large vertical distance between the hot shoe and the actual contacts; i.e. the contacts on this camera are “recessed” a little more than usual, as this photo shows:

Next, the flash. Here are the flash contacts. This is a Canon 580EX II flash:

Clean, and functional.

But then I noticed something. My own 58u0EX II flash, i.e. an identical flash, is in fact not identical. It is newer, and its contacts look like this

Can you see the difference? Instead of round, they are pointy, and they extend farther.

So Canon did a rolling upgrade in mid-production, and changed the pins. Obviously, my friend is not the only person who had problems with the flash contacts.

So this was the problem: a camera with slightly more space to bridge, and an older flash that has slightly less ability to bridge space. That’s why it was the combination that did not work.

And 580EX II owners, take note. Do you have the older pins, or the newer pointed pins?