“Opa en Oma Willems”

To emphasize what I wrote yesterday, look here. My grandparents, in 1928 in Tilburg, the Netherlands. In other words: just before they were to set sail to the Dutch East Indies, or “Ons Indië”, as they called it at the time: “Our India”.

They were headed to the city of Batavia, where they settled down, both teachers, and had a family, namely my father and his two younger sisters.

Batavia is now called Jakarta, and the entire family has long since passed away. None of them made it to a very old age, all dying in their 60s or early 70s, probably at least in part due to their experiences for a number of years in several of Batavia’s Japanese concentration camps, including the infamous Camp Tjideng “hell on earth”. The entire family survived, which was not all that common, but they were marked. They never talked about it much: the little I know, I heard from my father’s younger sister Chris.

Willems, G.B.H.7733643, 13, 11, 93853

In the photo, they were of course unaware of what was to transpire. The line above shows their record in concentration camp Tjideng in April 1944: mother and three children. (A couple of months later, at age 14, my father was transported alone to the “men’s camp”.)

After the war, they were held in the camp by the British for “security purposes” – my father always resented this, almost as much as he resented the Japanese and in particular Emperor Hirohito, in whose name all this was carried out. Not being one to listen to authority, he escaped and walked back to Tjideng–not a very safe thing to do at the time. Shortly after they were eventually released, they were all put on a ship to The Netherlands (which my father had never seen, of course) and handed 25 Dutch guilders and told, basically, to get lost.

In any case, the photo.

First, of course old photos are an invaluable way to travel back in time, and they should be valued as such. Priceless. And they should be preserved (the above version is my restored version of the original, where I fixed scratches, fading, sun discolouration, and so on. If you have old photos, have me restore them.

Second, the actual portrait. A fabulous professional work. Perfectly lit (the technical terms are “Rembrandt Lighting” and “Broad Lighting”. Great expressions. And they are not standing there posed military style, smiling at the camera. They are looking out, to we know not what—their future in the East, perhaps? Or are they looking back at the first half of their lives? She seems more apprehensive than he, pensive, perhaps a little sad, even. He is more “bring it on”, but is holding back somewhat at the same time.

This is what a great portrait should do. So while I understand the liking for “stand there and smile”, it is also a great idea to consider some more artistic portraits, that bring out the subject’s personality. Posterity will be very grateful.

See www.michaelwillemsphoto.com for information about the store/school/studio in Orléans, Ottawa. See you there!

Square circles

I frequently encounter people who want, say, a 4×6 file printed as an 8×10 – but without white edges or cropping (or indeed stretching).

So I thought that perhaps this picture may help why that is not possible.

You get to choose—but you have to choose. It’s one of the three. Either that, or you break the laws of logic and physics.

Two Stops

Taking flash photos of events, like family get-togethers, is easy. Here’s how.

Use a speedlight, i.e. a flash on top of the camera (not the pop-up). Put that flash on your camera. Aim it backwards, behind you, 45º up.

Now set your camera to manual mode, 400-40-4: 400 ISO, 1/40 sec, f/4.

(Adjust your exposure, if needed, until the meter shows about minus two stops. That way the ambient light is not too dark, not too light: just right. Goldilocks. Use aperture or ISO to achieve that (or, if it’s too bright, you can use shutter speed instead)).

Now the meter reads -2, And you are bouncing your flash against a wall or ceiling behind you. Then you get this:

Mission accomplished.

‘t Is The Season…

……for family pictures. The studio (www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) in Ottawa has been incredibly busy, as everyone wants a photo of their loved ones, if not always themselves. And a lot of these images are fun, as is taking them. A few samples, just of the last days:

This is all enormous fun. Pictures should go on walls, not just on Facebook walls.

Of course I still find time for watches:

…and for art:

Come to the studio to have yours done too, or to buy courses for a loved one, and I’ll teach them how to do all this!

Product Work

Product photography IS work.

Here’s another picture of my Hamilton Jazzmaster GMT:

The photo didn’t take long to make. But the post-production work, taking out the little specks of dust, would take all day – literally, all day – if I did it fully. The way watch adverts look. All I did was the minimum… which is this:

See the little circles, each of which represents an area where I took out a speck of dust?

The first, completed, picture isn’t bad, but it’s not completely done. It would not be good enough for an advertisement, for example. Click on the image above, and you will see many more imperfections that I would remove if this was an advert.

Just saying: Love a photo editor (and a photographer) today!

And yes, I did all this work in Adobe Lightroom. If you have Lightroom, try this. Edit a photo; select the Spot Removal tool, and click on “Visualize Spots” on the bottom left. Now you can see them clearly! That feature alone – among hundreds more – makes Lightroom actually (I hate to say!) worth the fee and the annoying licensing, where you pay monthly for the rest of your life. There’s no good alternative. Yet!


At least, “Warhol-like”. That’s what I like to call my Lightroom preset, that slightly enhances a picture taken by student Sebastién in yesterday’s Flash Photography class.

The image was lit with one single gridded off-camera speedlight, connected to the camera via non-TTL Pocketwizard triggers. Knowing flash is a good thing!

Glasses off?

I hear this question all the time. “My glasses must come off so there won’t be a reflection, right?”

And the answer is “Nope”. If you have your lights 45º above the subject, not 30 or 40º, you will be fine. As you can see in yesterday’s portrait:

Use them.

I am flattered that a charitable society in Timmins, Ont. decorated their event hall with some of my Black and White pictures–specifically, pictures of European scenes. Like this:

I am sharing this for two reasons. First–to show how impressive B/W photography can still be. Not everything needs to be in colour. Setting a mood can often be done better, I think, without it. Black and White photography reduces things to their essence.

Second, to encourage all of you to do the same with your pictures: print them, hang them, and look at them. Don’t just have them on your Facebook wall: put them also on your real wall.

Adobe Lightroom, incidentally, does a great job converting colour to B/W, with full control of all the shading. Give that a go.

The charity people have now asked whether they can keep the photos on the wall for a while longer–to which my answer, of course, is “sure thing. Enjoy”.

“What do I buy?”

The most common question I get. “What should I buy?”.

That’s a tough one to answer. It’s a little like asking “what car should I drive?”. It depends entirely on your needs, wants, budget, and many other factors.

“Wildlife” – of sorts

Someone just asked:

My wife is wanting to get into wildlife photography.

What would be a camera to start her out with? Thanks!

So without knowing anything, I would at least say this.

Get a camera that is not too heavy for you, but that does have a traditional viewfinder – an SLR. A Canon DigitalRebel (like a T5i or similar) would do just fine. Or a 7D Mark 2 if you have the budget. (Weatherproofing, dust-proofing: if these are important, spend a little more.) If you want “full frame”, a Canon 6D Mark 2 would be great.

Then the most important thing: the lens. A long lens. But it does depend on the kind of wildlife. Small bugs? A Macro lens. Deer? A 70-200 mm lens should do. Birds? Something longer – or a 200mm lens with a 2x tele-extender (that makes it into a 400m lens). In any case: the “faster” the lens (meaning, the lower the minimum “f-number” that lens can go to), the better. That way you can get fast shutter speeds without high ISO values, and blurry backgrounds, and you can use a tele-extender and still have useful aperture left.

Then do carry multiple memory cards and a spare battery or two; a flash just in case; and maybe also a tripod, depending on, again, your wife’s circumstances. And finally, a hood loupe. And have fun!

I teach photography. Take my courses in Ottawa/Orléans to learn all about this: cameras, lenses—and what you do with them, and how. See www.michaelwillemsphoto.com and kick start your photography today!

Don’t forget Black and White

I see a lot of photography every day, and every day I am reminded of the way Black and White, or B&W, can work so very effectively—and of the fact that this seems almost a forgotten art. Even in landscapes:

Azores, 2019

…or in storytelling Wall Art:

Say What?
Guitars, Vegas
Bicycle, Schoonhoven

..or in so much else. Everywhere where colour is distracting. Where colour isn’t the story. Or where colour tells the wrong story.

So how do you do it? Well – set your picture style to B&W but shoot RAW. That way you can see a rough preview in B&W but do the actual conversion in post (Lightroom comes to mind as an excellent tool).

However you do it: When you shoot, try some B&W and see how powerful it can be.