I spent Sunday night shooting pictures at a wedding—photo booth pictures, to be precise. And while some photographers think of this as a low-end endeavour, I love it, and I recommend it to all.

“Photo booth” means photos of people using props and funny poser, and printing images on site.

This needs a computer and special software:


And a tethered camera with a studio-type lighting setup:


And, ofcorse, props…:


And finally, technical knowledge as well as people skills.


The printouts people are handed look like this:


Look, by the way, at that last picture. How do you fit around 15 people in front of a backdrop meant for two? Here’s how!


And that’s why I love booths: all my varied photography knowledge comes together for this single purpose.

The result: as the bride told me: “They will remember this wedding because of the booth photos”. If that isn’t the best compliment ever, I don’t know what is.





Nothing changes?

Well, not in 8 years. Here’s a technical note in the form of a post from October 2009 that is still valid…:

A reminder to all flash photographers: you need your shutter speed to be below the camera’s flash synch speed.

What does this mean? Let me explain.

The flash fires for the briefest period, of course. Like 1/2000th of a second. That is why we call it a flash.

So when it fires, if the light is to reach the entire film or sensor, the shutter needs to be totally open at that point.

That much is obvious. But what is not obvious is that there is an engineering limitation in your shutter. Beyond a certain shutter speed, the camera’s synch speed, the shutter never totally opens. Instead, a small (increasingly narrow) slit travels across the shutter to give each pixel a brief exposure time.That’s cool – the shutter does not have to be super-fast and expensive and you get a fast shutter speed.

But this gets in the way when you are using flash. When you fire during those short exposure times (on most modern cameras, faster than about 1/200th second), the light does not reach the entire sensor. Look at this example I shot to illustrate this, at speeds from 1/200th to 1/1000th sec:


You can see that as I exceed the sync speed, the light only reaches part of the shutter.

You should also note that especially when using external flashes with Pocketwizards or similar, flash takes time to set up. My 1Ds MKIII has a synch speed f 1/25oth second but as you see, at that speed it is already beginning to cut off. Best stay a bit below your synch speed (I typically set my shutter, when I am using studio flash, to 1/125th second).

(There is a way to overcome that: fast flash, which some high end flash units offer. This continuously, all the time that the shutter travels, pulses the flash at a very rapid rate, so that the slit, as it travels across the sensor, has light coming in throughout its travel time. It works great – do use it when taking flash images outside – but it uses a lot of energy, and hence decreases the range of your flash.)

(Advanced tip: I know of at least one photographer who uses this effect to introduce an electronic version of a neutral density filter or a barn door: he sets his camera to 1/320th second while using flash, and turns the camera upside down. That makes the top part of the image dark, at least as far as the flash part of the light is concerned!)

Why RAW or JPG?

Shoot RAW? Or JPG? Or both?

I would generally say: “Shoot only RAW”. Why not? It’s just another format.

But why could you do RAW+JPG, or just JPG? What would be valid reasons?

Here are a few.

  1. You want to be sure that you have the shot – a pic could be corrupt, but if you have two you may be OK.
  2. You may need to print a copy, like on a printer, straight from the card
  3. You have to upload loads of pictures quickly, like for a newspaper shoot of a sports match
  4. You want backups as in the first example, but you have two memory cards and can write to both at the same time. Every time I shoot, I save RAW to card 1, and JPG to card 2 – that way card 2 can be a 32GB while card 1 is a 64 GB.
  5. You want to compare the camera’s treatment of the raw data with your computer’s.

So a you see, there’s quite a few valid reasons. When you see super simple solutions on the Internet, like “Authority Figure X says ‘shoot RAW only” – well, the world may not in fact be that simple. Be wary of simplicity, while you chase it at the same time, because “less is more”.

Don’t Give Up.

A student recently sent me this picture, saying that unfortunately, she could not use it as homework because of the low quality:


It was a small (700 pixels height) picture. Blurred, low contrast, and inaccurate colour. So she has a point: not great, though an excellent moment.

But wait. If I put that picture into Lightroom (just drag it onto a grid view), I can use the “Develop” module to fix exposure, white balance, sharpness, highlights, blacks, contrast, and not to forget clarity (presence). Would that help?

It certainly would:


Much better, and now suddenly it is a useable picture.

I suppose the take-away is this. First, of course, that Lightroom is easy to use and powerful. Second, that even “bad” pictures can often be fixed later, especially when small sized, like for use on the web. We often inspect too closely: usually, even a bad picture today can easily beat any picture made from a negative in 1980.

From all this, a few things follow. Namely:

  • Do not delete bad pictures: you may find a use with them anyway, if not now, then maybe tomorrow, with new digital processing techniques.
  • If a picture is bad, try making it smaller. Imperfections are less noticeable in smaller size photos.
  • Try alternates. Black and white, for instance. Or shift colours. And so on: often, these things can bring out the quality in a photo.
  • Use parts. Crop off the bad part, or selectively sharpen the important parts.
  • Learn to use Lightroom (see yesterday’s post).
  • Above all: do not give up on a picture too soon.

The improvements I made to the above picture were from a small picture. Imagine what I could have done with the original sized picture: I am sure it would have been even better.

A bad picture of a great moment may still be worth it. But often, you can make that bad picture into at least an acceptable picture.

A fun exercise is this: go  through your old photos, those of five years ago, and see what the processing techniques since then can do with them. You will often be surprised.

Do consider coming to my Lightroom seminars in a few weeks. See the post immediately below this one.


Come Learn Lightroom—once and for all!

One of the most spectacular changes in photography over the past decade has been the emergence of Adobe Lightroom (officially called “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom”) as the tool for photo asset management, editing and production for everyone from beginners to pros.

Lightroom was conceived as an additional utility that would make “managing your photos” easier.  But it has become much more: rather than just a utility, it is now the centre of a professional workflow that can save 80% of the time you used to take before for the same job. A wedding that took me 8 days to finish in Photoshop now takes a day.

So what does Lightroom do more, or better, than Photoshop?

The question is a little misleading. They are different beasts, aimed at different tasks. Photoshop is for illustrators that need to spend an hour on one photo; Lightroom is for photographers who need to do 100 photos an hour. Nevertheless, they both overlap to some extent: both offer some asset management (using Bridge, in Photoshop’s case), editing, and some production.

Where Lightroom shines is in its practicality. Lightroom offers:

  • Non destructive editing. Your original photo is never touched.
  • The RAW conversion does not happen until the very end, when you export or print an image, so you can change your mind about any setting at all times.
  • Lightroom offers really, really solid asset management. Even if like me you manage a quarter of a million images, you can rank, rate, search, organize, sort, rename, and a gazillion other things to your hearts content.
  • Practicality. A typical shortcut in Lightroom is, let’s say, “D” for “Develop”. Not, as in most apps, “Ctrl-Alt-Shift-D”, or some such hard to remember combination.
  • Great editing tools for photographers. True, you cannot move a head from one torso to the next, but I consider those functions “illustrator functions”. For what photographers do it is excellent. Especially if you know “the tricks”.
  • It works your way – unlike most apps, where you have to work the app’s way.
  • Everything you do can be undone, or redone differently, so you never have to be afraid that you are setting things up incorrectly, for instance. You can always re-do it a different way.
  • Lightroom is an excellent production tool. Exporting, printing (straight from Lightroom to your paper profile; not via some intermediate file), making web sites: it’s all included, and it has the functions you need.

By now, with Lightroom 6, it is mature and works the way it should.

But you do need to learn it. And like with so much software, it’s the little “A-ha” things; the tips and tricks; the “I had no idea this worked that way” things that makes you a star.

Well, good news. I am teaching Lightroom on 26 February and March 4. In Brantford, Ontario (just 20 minutes west of Hamilton). Morning on both days is “File organization”; afternoon is “Editing”.  So you can take one or two, on either day. Limited to four students each time (plus myself =5).

You can book on at (get a free account, join the group, and book); or you can contact me separately and book in person. But do it soon: as said, space is limited.

Also, stay tuned for other courses in Brantford and in Toronto in the next few months. Unshackle yourself and unleash your creativity!