Picture more

Today, a simple tip for you all: take more pictures. Pictures document your life and the lives of those around you, and this is of course well worth doing.

Look at this link (click): people in old snapshots, and then in the same picture, shot the same way, many years later (compliments to the modern photographers for making their image quality as bad as in the originals, which is quite a feat). Talk about time. Meant to be funny, but in fact profoundly interesting, even moving. You owe it to yourself to document your life.

And not just the big things. Little things. Like the drive to work.

Or the drive into the city.

Or dinner.

Or even the sauce that is about to become dinner.

You will of course have noticed that all these are recent iPhone pictures. The best camera is, as the saying has it, the camera you have with you.

A few tips on iPhone photography:

  • You can focus where you like, by clicking on the screen in the desired area prior to taking the picture
  • When you do this, the iPhone also exposes for that area. So a normal snow pic will be too dark, but if you focus on your car’s dark dashboard, the picture will be well exposed.
  • You cannot zoom (except electronically, which ,means cropping – do that in Lightroom instead). So instead of zooming, do a lot of diagonal images to compose. That allows you to get close and get a lot in. Trust me, tilted images are OK.
  • An iPhone includes the GPS coordinates automatically with every picture.

So my advice: do carry your iPhone and do occasionally take pictures – and do look at those as a chronicle of your life.

Judge not, that ye, etc

Actually I especially like judging. I spent tonight judging photos for a contest at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business.

Invited to do so with three other photographers, I judged 200 images – we quickly narrowed it down to 20, and ranked those.

This job was remarkably easy, because so many people make very basic mistakes. If you want your photo to be good, at least make sure it makes it though that first sifting. To do that, do a few simple things.

Here’s the “baker’s dozen better-get this-rights”:

  1. Ensure that your photo is in focus.
  2. Straighten horizons.
  3. Keep the image simple
  4. Crop as needed.
  5. Expose well.
  6. Make sure there is light on the subject’s face, not back.
  7. Use the rule of thirds (or at least compose appropriately, and avoid centering).
  8. Avoid “tension points”, where you cut off just a small part of a hand, say.
  9. Avoid clichés (the CN tower has been photographed before).
  10. Avoid HDR unless it is really needed.
  11. Avoid badly dodging and burning – “halos” around a subject are a dead giveaway.
  12. Avoid obscuring important parts of the image. A beam across your subject’s eye means the picture is a loss, much as you otherwise like it.
  13. Do not oversaturate the photo.

So many otherwise great photos dropped out instantly becasue of those. And they are easy to get right.


I thank Lilly Erkoc for this pic, which she took during a course I taught last week. Shot using wireless TTL. One Canon speedlite through an umbrella; one Canon speedlight aimed at the black background with a Honl 1/4″ grid and a blue gel. And that’s it!

I love that image!


I am preparing for several courses, including the special version of my signature “Advanced Flash” workshop. which you may recall I teach in Henry’s School of Imaging location in Toronto on March 19 with Special Guest Star David Honl (Yes, the David Honl).

Dave is doing this in Canada for one day only – sign up now!).

I am also preparing more runs of my new signature course “Event Photography”, which I ran Sunday and will run at Henry’s School of Imaging as a featured course repeatedly, starting soon-  stay tuned.

And this brings me to “preparing”. One of the subjects I teach in all my courses is how to prepare. Preparation is half the work. Preparation takes time but it guarantees great results. Doing it on the fly is less successful and more stressful.

So today’s tip: create checklists per situation. Three of them:

  1. An event preparation checklist. This has names, addresses, parking details, shots you must get, etc.
  2. A gear checklist. This contains all the equipment you need for that event.
  3. A day-of-shoot checklist. This needs to contain names of people to shoot; moments to expect; shots you must not forget; camera settings for situations you expect; behavioural stuff; tech things to remember: everything you need to remember on the day. You carry this in duplicate – like everything else important.

Do you have those yet? If not, here’s your homework: go do it, make three checklists for a typical event you shoot. Questions welcome (and wait for my article on this in the June issue of Canada Photo Life magazine).


One light can be enough.

Look at this great image. How was it made?

The answer is: one flash. Yes, that is all.

In this case it was a strobe, fired through an umbrella. But it could have been a speedlight.

The difference between those two options:

  • On a strobe, I measure the light with a light meter, and set my settings on the light and on the camera accordingly. And they are set for the entire shoot. So whatever the subject, the settings are the same. Done!
  • If I am using speedlights, however, the camera meters every shot. And it meters it by measuring light reflected off the subject. So the subject matters. A dark subject will fool the camera into overexposing, so you need to use negative exposure compensation. A very bright subject, the opposite – you will need positive exposure compensation.

Those are very essential differences. Read the above until you understand it, or ask me if you do not.

They have consequences:

  • If the subject distance will be static, use strobes/manual. If, however, the distance changes, then you should use TTL.
  • If the subject brightness changes from shot to shot, use strobes/manual. If, however, the subject brightness is the same between shots, TTL may be useable.

Confused yet? It is really very simple, once you know it. But then, the same applies to brain surgery.