Shopping Recommendations

A few Shopping Recommendations here for you today. Read on, because some of them can be advantageous to you.

First: someone asked me for a good framer in the region. I forget who it was who asked, but here you go: Don Corby, of Corby Framing in Freelton (, 905-689-1976). Tell him I sent you. He does a great job with custom frames and affordably. Please print and frame your photos. Please!

Then, printing. As I have said many times here: please, please, please print your work. You will avoid losing it. It will look better, and you will feel much better about your skills and your art. Made into wall art your work will be much more valuable. For prints up to 13×19″ use a Canon Picma Pro or 9500 Mark II. For larger prints, use Fotobox in Etobicoke. These guys and what they do are amazing. Al my large metallic prints are theirs. Top work for a very affordable price. Again, tell them I sent you.

Then, shopping! I recommend you buy here: Henry’s in Oakville (ask for Rob, manager) or Vistek, in Mississauga or Toronto. Go to these guys every time over the big box stores, and tell them I sent you. They will take care of you with great selections, the latest stuff, and excellent product and market knowledge. They will sell you only what you need, not what gives them most commission. They’re like me: they want customers, not sales.

Finally, flash modifiers. Honl, honl, and Honl again. I have waxed lyrical over these small flash modifiers forever: not because David Honl is a friend of mine, but because his modifiers are small, light, sturdy and affordable, and that is an unbeatable combination for a photojournalist and for anyone else except masochists who like to carry more and pay more. Dave has joined me in teaching flash in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Toronto, and he has agreed to put together special kits and to give you a 10% discount on any order if you, as a reader of and/or one of my students, order direct from him by using this link (click here) (or simply click on the Honl Photo ad on this page), and use discount code willems. 10% off on gear that is already affordable and that is the key to unlocking small flash success: what’s not to like? I strongly recommend this. There’s the grid, pictured here; the gels; the unique gell rollups; the speed snoot, the reflectors, the small softboxes: with these tools, small flashes effortlessly and quickly become flexible creative tools. I have a carrying case full of them, and you’ve seen my work: need I say more? Even in my studio I often use small flashes now, rather than strobes. The hair light is always a small flash with a speed snoot, for instance.

End note: I only make recommendations I strongly believe in; “for these, I would put my hand into the fire”, as the Dutch would say. The vendors and tools I recommend will help you become a better photographer, or will help you get more out of your work. Promise.



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.


A New Modifier!

You know how I like the Honlphoto range of small flash modifiers, and I use them all the time. Small, light, sturdy and affordable is a great combination of properties for travelling photographers. Right now David is just outside Mosul in Iraq. This brings back memories: I was in Mosul in 1982 (see me next to Nineveh’s City Gates), and I stayed at the Railway Hotel. Small world.

(Full disclosure: David is a friend of mine: but that is not why I recommend his stuff. The reverse, rather: I like his flash stuff so much that I contacted him and we became friends.)

Broadly speaking, there are three types of small flash modifier:

  • Modifiers that change a flash’s direction, like snoots, grids, gobos.;
  • Modifiers that change the flash’s colour (gels, coloured reflectors);
  • Modifiers that change the nature of the light, usually by softening, such as softboxes, reflectors, and bounce cards.

So you modify where the light goes, in what colour it goes there, and how it goes there. And now there is a new modifier in the latter category.

To place this new modifier, let’s start with the existing ones.

First, we have “no modifier”: aimed straight at the subject from atop the camera. When I use that, I get cold, harsh light. Look at this object in front of a wall:

Then I bounce the flash behind me, up at 45 degrees, to get a much better result:

Much better, but I cannot always do this. The ceiling is sometimes too high, or it is a bright colour, or there are objects in the way that stop the light from my flash from reflecting back; or there simply is no ceiling.

In those cases, I can use a reflector on the back of the flash. The Honl Speedsnoot doubles very nicely as a reflector. While this is not perfect, the shadows are a lot less hard than they would be from direct flash, and the light comes from a higher position.

This solution is not always easy: the reflector takes a little manual dexterity to tie to the speedstrap on the flash, and it can flop down all too easily.

I can also put a hard reflector card (bounce card/gobo) behind the flash. This is hard when there is no bounce at all, but it works very well when combined with ceiling flash:

Next: a great modifier is the softbox. In the next photo, I used a Honlphoto 8″ Traveller8 portable softbox off camera. The shadow is under my control: bring the flash closer and it softens, and the flash’s position determines where the shadow goes. Now that nasty shadow becomes a creative tool under your control.

Another great option is the ring flash. Rather than buying one, you can go with the Orbis ring flash attachment for your speedlights. I will talk more extensively about this in a next post, but for now, just look at the light with its distinctive halo, a halo that shouts “Ring Flash!”:

And if I take it off camera it’s still great:



There is an all new small flash modifier to add. Dave just sent me one, a hands-on mini review of which I am hereby delighted to bring to you as a Speedlighter Exclusive… the Honl Photo Light Paddle.

When you take it out of the package, the light paddle is a flat modifier, and in fact the package says “store flat when not in use”:

But attach its Velcro to a speedlight’s Speedstrap, and it becomes a convenient paddle that grabs the light, and nothing more or less, from the f;lash and bounces it forward.:

The Light Paddle is like the reflector, but having used both, I find that the Light Paddle has some big advantages over that and other modifiers.

  • It takes the right shape immediately. No guessing, adjusting, re-adjusting: it is the perfect shape each time.
  • It reflects the optimum amount of light from the flash, i.e. it catches the light, no more and no less, so it takes that worry off my hands.
  • It is sturdy: unlike a “free form” reflector, it holds its shape. I only used this sample for a few days but it looks and feels just as sturdy as the other Honl Photo flash accessories. And as said, light, sturdy and small, when combined with affordable, is a great combination for flash aficionados like me.
  • It has not one, but three bounce surfaces. As you see in the image below: peel off the reflective surface. which is initially CTO (Colour Temperature Orange, i.e. tungsten/warmer light), and you get white; reverse it and you get a lighter slightly warm orange.

Here’s what it looks like with its three bounce surfaces:

I found the Light Paddle to be directional where you would want it to be.

You can use the Light Paddle on an on-camera flash or on an off–camera flash. In either case, I found that it provided a surprising amount of directional control and consistency. Here it is again, and as you see it reflects the flash fully, and makes its surface much larger and higher:

The Light Paddle in Practice

Let’s look at the Light Paddle in practice. Here is a usual operating mode:

First, straight flash, in a situation where there’s no bouncing (and thank you, kind July Intern Daniel H., for your volunteering):

Now in the same no-bounce situation, the Light Paddle:

But it is outside that this really shines. Another before and after:

Another outdoors example, once more with the CTO (warming) side reflector: again, straight flash, then flash with Light Paddle. The difference is very clear.

Based on all this,. the Light Paddle is certainly going to be a staple part of my flash bag for events and creative use. It is not the only flash accessory, but it fills in the gap between bounce card, reflector, and softbox ever so nicely. Thanks, Dave.

If you want one, go  to Honl Photo for orders as soon as it will be available—I am sure that will be soon, both there and at your favourite local retailer.


Anatomy of a portrait

My younger son, who is a rapper, told me tonight, on his birthday, that he needed  a new portrait for publicity for his new album. So I obliged, before cooking dinner and while simultaneously doing laundry. Here he is:

That image took maybe twenty minutes, half an hour tops – but a lot of experience and thinking and equipment goes into a portrait like that.

First, what is required? We discussed, and he clearly wanted a serious, dramatic, look. In a grungy setting. The T-shirt text and the bling should be clearly legible and visible, respectively.  So OK – the briefing being clear, I used the basement studio, and freed just enough space to do a half body portrait.

Then the light. Speed was of the essence: I was about to make dinner. So I used speedlights. First, I set up a light stand with a 430EX flash set to manual, 1/4 power, and driven by a pocketwizard. I equipped it with a Honl photo 8″ softbox. I feathered the softbox to get the right amount of drama in the light, and to get Loop Lighting, almost Rembrandt Lighting, on his face.

The camera was a 1Dx with a 50mm f/1.2 lens, set to 1/125th sec, f/11, 100 ISO. I knew the 50 was perfect for a half body portrait in a small space.

I tried, and the photos were OK:

Not too bad, but we wanted a little more emphasis on the writing. And more texture of the shirt. And clearly visible bling. So I added a second speedlight, this time with a 1/8″ grid, for a tight line of light, and aimed that at the shirt. Also equipped with a pocketwizard, and set to lower power (1/16th). Not having had time to prepare, I took my time finding things like cables and a bracket that fit the flash – all part of the fun.

I set the lights to the camera’s desired settings of, if you recall, 1/125th sec, 100 ISO, f/11. I used a light meter to verify that.

And there you have it. A few pictures – I took a total of 30, and we chose his preferred one, the one at the top. I could have done the light thing, the vignetting, in post, but call me crazy: I call that cheating if I could have done it in camera.

As a result, almost nothing needed to be done in post, but that still takes time: selecting, removing the odd bit of dust, any perspective correction, and so on.

Total time taken, as said, less than half an hour including getting things ready, setting up lights, moving stuff, and the entire discussion and post work. But that’s only because I have done this before. Experience is important. The good news: you can gain experience too and it costs very little.



If you want to learn, and you live near Oakville, Ontario: evening Flash course on 3 Oct, and 5-evening course with a weekly evening lesson starting  2 Oct. – both these small courses have open places still.



From Hopper to Leibovitz, hotel rooms have always been a fascinating setting for art portraits.

I portrayed myself in a hotel in Timmins, Ontario, Wednesday morning, evoking feelings of these prior artists, but especially, creating with light. Straight out of the camera.

If I say so: my best self portrait. Ever.

Click to see larger:

I did this in my suite in the Timmins Day’s Inn. I was alone and I used:

  • Camera perched on an upturned Ottoman
  • Main light is a 580EX flash with a Honlphoto Traveller 8 softbox, clamped to a desk chair.
  • Additional flash is a 430EX speedlight with a Honlphoto Rust coloured gel, for some nice warm light.
  • Camera at 100 ISO, f/5.6, 1/60th second.
  • Flashes fired with Pocketwizards.

Camera prefocused and using its self timer. This took me only a couple of attempts to get right.

The main light: a flash connected with a Flashzebra cable and mounted with a ball head onto a clamp, clamped to a chair. Note the second flash sitting in the background.

And no, the name “selfie” doesn’t do it justice, does it?