In Real Life

..In real life, you only have so much time when shooting an event. So you need to be quick, and you need to really master a bunch of little things.

Take this picture, taken with a wide angle 16-35mm lens at 800 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4, with bounce flash aimed behind me. . Attentive readers may recognize the Willems 400/40/4 formula in that, modified slightly (800 ISO instead of 400) because it was so non-reflective.


Nice, but why are the verticals tilted inwards toward each other at the top?

Because the photographer was aiming the camera upward! That results in this tilt.

If the camera had been pointing downward, you would have seen this instead:


And it is only if the photographer aims the camera straight ahead, parallel to the horizon, that we get the proper picture:


And now a little secret: that one, the third, was in fact the actual photo taken by the photographer, Because the photographer, and that was me, knows to hold the camera parallel to the horizon. Check the verticals before you click!

So how did I create the other versions? Simple, by using TRANSFORM in Lightroom. And just like I can make a good picture bad, I can make a bad picture good.

So why not just shoot as you like and fix them all later? Mainly because this takes that most valuable of all commodities, time.

So. Last question. Flash you say. Really? How do I know this isn’t just ambient light?

Well, let’s take one with the flash OFF. Here we go:


Now, we could have used ambient like this but just increase the exposure by three stops. That is true (higher ISO, lower f-number, and/or slower shutter). But then two things would happen: a) you would notice the drawbacks of those actions (e.g. more motion blur, less depth of field, more grain), and b) the picture would lose its magic. You would get this:


Well, de gustibus non est disputandum, but I prefer mine:


Isn’t this “creative” stuff fun?

Want to learn from me in person? 5 hours in Brantford, Ontario, on Sunday Oct 2. With a maximum of 5 students. Sign up tonight and save big: 

HANDS-ON SESSION: Master On- and Off-Camera Flash, Manual & TTL

Sunday, Oct 2, 2016, 12:00 PM

Michael Willems Studio
48, Wilkes Street Brantford, ON

2 Emerging Photographers Attending

UNLEASH YOUR CREATIVITY, LIKE THE DUTCH MASTERS, AND BECOME A FLASH PRO!This unique small and intensive hands-on workshop, held in my fully equipped studio, will be both practice, for those who know a thing or two about flash, and a revelation, for those who do not.I took this picture  two days ago, on Friday. In a dark Niagara Falls restaurant …

Check out this Meetup →


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.



David Honl, whose modifiers as you know I use, and love, just posted a helpful post on his blog. I will show you Part of it right here, namely the corrections you need to make to your flash when using a gel:


Those are useful Numbers, these will save you a lot of effort when you’re using the gels yourself. Which as you know I’m a big advocate of. This  will save you a lot of effort when you’re using the gels yourself. Which as you know I’m a big advocate of.

There is one thing I want to point out in addition to this though. Namely:

To turn a background into colorful, it first has to be dark.

It does not matter if the background is in reality gray, light gray, white, or even black; what is important is that to the camera ot has to look almost black. Then, and only then, can you add your gelled flashes. Then, and only then, can you add your gelled flashes.

If you do not do this, and if the background is, say, white, then adding color will add nothing except perhaps a slight tint   LIgor is not like paint: you cannot cover a color by putting another color on top.

For many people this is the biggest revelation when they start using color gels… So now you know. I just saved you a bunch of time. As did Dave with his table.

To  buy,  click on the advertising link on the right, and when checking out use code word “Willems” for an additional 10% discount. You’re welcome. 



On a bright cloudy day today, I looked like this:


Wait. A bright day?

Yes, and that is the point of dramatic flash photos. I taught a workshop today, a hands on workshop, on the three basic modes of flash: “party”, “studio” and “outdoors”. This takes time, and “doing it” is the only way to learn. Today’s two students really learned.

Yes, in a few hours you can master flash. You still, of course, have to practice and refine, but you will do that yourself after the course. Contact me if you are interested in a private “Dutch Masters” course. A few hours and you are master: see for more details.

In the mean time: one tip to my readers. If you want to be extra dramatic as in the image above, and it is bright, you need a lot of flash to “nuke the sun”. To achieve that, remove the modifiers (e.g. the softbox or umbrella) and use direct flash.

Just one of  the things you learn from me, my books, and my courses.


Just now in Ajax.

So I just taught part three of a flash course in Ajax, Ontario.

In an excellent day, Ajax Photography Club creative Director Ron Pereux had arranged five of these:


Yup, brides!

And with very simple equipment we did some fun, creative shots using gels, snoots, softboxes (the excellent Honlphoto gear – use checkout code “Willems” for 10% off), umbrellas, and grids.

Some of the work needs some post-finishing when conditions are not right. Look at the backdrop:


And look at the finished product. Yup, a slightly more traditional photo:


And a more edgy photo, the type young brides are more likely to love, full of feeling:


Or even edgier:


Shooting brides is fun, and today I was able to help the Ajax club with a lot of very practical easy to put into practice tips and techniques. Flash photography is so easy once you know it, and so rewarding once you know how to do it well. Take a course – if not from me (, then from someone else who knows his or her business!