Boko Not Haram

The Nigerian terrorists known as “Boko Haram” are well known. Loosely translated, this means “Books are bad”.

I would say “Boko Halal”. Books are good. And not just for Muslims.  Books are good for everyone. You all know about my e-books I hope: head on over to http://www.michaelwillems.ca/e-Books.html to read all about them and to order them. They are not DRM-addled (i.e. you can put them on all your iPads, tablets, phones, computers, anything that can read PDFs) and there is a README that gives you permission to print a copy for personal use—this README is not a formality, because without it, you cannot have Staples or any other office supply store make a printout for you.

So, books are good I am very proud of my books; they reflect years of teaching experience, combined with my photographic skills.

But while books are good, I think you need more than just books. Books are invaluable combined with practice and interaction. Practice: we learn by doing. The books are useful because they tell you what to do (“before the practice”) and they explain the background (“after the practice”). They thus put it all into context and shorten your learning time. Third advantage of books is that they are your permanent memory.

To give you a taste, let me share a couple of images from my books: here’s how a flash exposure works:

In other words, a flash exposure has ambient light as well as flash light. And these are affected differently by the camera settings. Which is a good thing, because it enables you to balance the two.

Here’s a clearer look at how:

…and this is what I teach you in my books, my courses, and my various forms of online training. That is why books are good: when you do one of my courses, you do not need to spend the bulk of the time making notes.

 

Myth-busters!

(To the tune of “Ghostbusters”).

Often, my posts point out common myths and misconceptions. Of which there are many… many. On the Internet, no-one knows that you’re a dog, and no-one knows that you are wrong.

So, two oft-heard “truths”:

  1. You cannot shoot with TTL if you are a pro.
  2. You cannot use just one light for a serious portrait.

So. TTL was used in this portrait of students and friend Diana; remote TTL in fact (light flashes from on camera flash drives off camera flash); and the light was one flash through an umbrella. The on camera flash was disabled, except for those light flashes.

1/125 sec, f/8, ISO100.

The curtain was chosen as a classy background, but the umbrella was close to the subject so the curtain would get little light. TTL handles this fine; if the subject had been too light or too dark, a touch of flash compensation would have sorted that out.

The one light-with-umbrella gives us enough light for a portrait with Rembrandt lighting. Fairly dramatic chiaroscuro-type lighting, but not so dramatic that it becomes unflattering. On the contrary, this is nice light.

The blonde hair stands out nicely against the dark background; dark hair would have needed more light.

So there, a real portrait with “studio settings”, i.e. just one light, and using TTL. I could do that all night.

 

Blur

I asked a photographer about studio the other day. She said we needed 1/200th sec, to freeze motion. After all, you cannot shoot moving things at, say, 1/40 second. Right?

Wrong. And right.

That is: if you use only flash (i.e. your settings make ambient light go away) then you effective shutter speed is the speed of the flash—which is 1/1000 sec or faster.

So this shot was taken at 1/40 sec while the subject waved her hand quickly:

What you see is:

  1. The hand is substantially sharp: that is the flash part of the exposure.
  2. There is some “ghosting”: that is the ambient part.

If we had gone to a smaller aperture, say f/11, that part (2), the ghosting, would have disappeared. Even if I had shot at 1/10 second.

This is ONE reason that flash gfives you sharp images: it “freezes” everything.

 

Post

I did a photo walk yesterday, in Mississauga. And after that, a group shot of the people I did the walk for. Arrange the group nicely and I get:

Not bad, and it’s what a competent photographer might well do.

But wait. There’s more. I want modelling; less flatness. Saturated background light. And I want my subjects to be the bright pixels. So that they stand out.

Meaning I need light and control over that light. Meaning:

  • A flash for key light. I used one studio flash (a Bowens 400 Ws flash)
  • For power, a Bowens battery pack).
  • A modifier (umbrella, here).
  • A sand bag to stop the light from falling.
  • Camera settings that make my background go darker (ideally, –1 to –2 stops below ambient).
  • And do not forget,  shutter speed less than my camera’s fastest flash sync speed (1/250 sec for me).

All that looks like this:

So the resulting picture is:

(Canon 1Dx, 24-70 lens, 1/125 sec at f/6,3, 100 ISO)

Compare that final shot with the one at the very top and see if you can see, and appreciate, the differences. Then, you are on your way to lighting professionally.

 

Tip!

Tip for flash users.

When you use a flash off camera, like here, you often use Pocketwizards. Which means the flashes are on MANUAL mode. Like here, wedding organizer Jane Dayus-Hinch, whom I photographed at the Wedding Show today:

Off Camera Flash 1/8 power. Canon 1Dx, 1/80 sec at f/4.5, 1000 ISO

Those camera settings let in enough ambient to act as fill light.

So anyway… if you use an off camera flash, there is one problem. Every 60 seconds or so, the flash goes to sleep and turns off. Meaning you get a shot like this… fill light only:

The solution: You have to set a custom function on the flash to disable the timeout. C.Fn 01 on Canon (set to “1″); menu driven on the Nikon flashes.

Done!