How quickly things change.

The thin veneer of civilization… I am sure it has been mentioned enough to be a cliché. But just like truisms, clichés are true – that’s why they are clichés. Civilization can change, turn bad, or disappear quickly. I reflect on this these days.

And change is what we are seeing now. My store is closed for the duration and I am at home. Fortunately, I can teach from here, interactively via the web.

So let’s see the silver linings. This is a good time to learn. (My ebooks, incidentally, are temporarily on sale for just $49 for the collection: go here and use checkout code “COVID” at the end to get a $30 discount.)

Another thing to do? Get creative. Take out your camera and a flash (or two), and make some documents of this time. We are documenting, and even making, history here.

As for me, I am going to do a portrait every day. Here are the first four:

Because I am a photographer, you can see the equipment. In the last photo, for example, that is two manual speedlights fired with Pocketwizards. The left one is fitted with a Honl Photo Aurora Borealis Green gel; the one on the right is equipped with a Traveller-12 softbox. (See them here). In the second image you can also see a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid in use as the hairlight. Yeah, let’s get creative in these terrible days. Learn flash!

Michael

PS: I’ll teach a flash course online live next week; contact me for details or for future dates.

Corporations

Now that we are on the subject of corporations… we live in interesting times. What I see around me is corporations making poor decisions, based mainly, from what I observe, on their need to report greater profits every quarter.

We have Adobe being predatory (see last article, below), and we now have Apple completely losing its direction. Apple updates used to be exciting. Now, they are just messy. Minor updates fort major money. And I have no idea what all the iPhone versions are. 7, 8, 10, XR, XL, XS, whatever. I can’t even remember them. And the equipment lasts a year, maybe two, before the battery dies. Inbuilt obsolescence. And the Mac, which used to be the mainstay of Apple, is now an afterthought.

This mess is there only to make profits: not to make sense, let alone to make our lives better. For all his obvious faults, Steve Jobs would have never allowed this.

Corporations forget that you should never disrespect your customers. Seeing customers as mere cash cows, as Apple and Adobe clearly do, opens the field for competition. There will be Lightroom competitors. And there will be Apple competitors (Huawei was coming on strong: perhaps that’s why Mr Trump is trying to kill them. But it will not work.)

And in our field, Canon is doing the same. The drive to “mirrorless”, a fashionable but not yet very useful phenomenon, is designed mainly, I think, to make us all buy thousands of dollars’ worth of new equipment. New cameras, while the “old” ones work perfectly well. New lenses, which are more expensive than the “old”lenses.  New accessories (as mentioned before, some of the new cameras have a non-standard flash hotshoe so you have to buy new flashes and can’t use standard radio triggers.

I was all ready to promote Canon in my new shop (www.michaelwillemsphoto.ca) but it seems that Canon want a large investment (think tens of thousands) before they will talk.

Well, corporations: we are paying attention. You are risking a Bastille day; a day when we all revolt and “en masse” jump ship to whatever competition there is. That’s how markets work: they are not all about extricating more cash from your customers every quarter. And it behooves you to remember it.

Meanwhile, my search for alternatives goes on. Interesting times.

Bright pixels.

You have heard me say it many times: “Bright pixels are sharp pixels”.

Nothing wrong with this:

But it does not make the subject stand out as the bright pixels. And it does not feel special. This one does, and is also much more dramatic:

And the subject i s now the Bright Pixels. Shot at 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, at f/11, using a 40mm lens on a full frame camera and lit with a battery-pack powered Bowens strobe fitted with a beauty dish. Slightly desaturated in Lightroom.

This was a picture I shot today in a class I taught at Sheridan College in Oakville.

Many more courses coming up, so stay tuned. I can teach you how to do this, quickly.

 

 

Fix your pics

A “product”: picture, like this iPhone shot of my watch, needs some TLC.

Let’s look at the “before” and “after”:

Look at that full sized, and you will see the healing brush spots!

And these small improvements make a big difference. An iPhone is fine given the right circumstances, but the TLC is not an option!

 

Who says?

…that you can’t get blurry backgrounds with an iPhone? And I don’t mean fake backgrounds, like with a newer iphone with two lenses, either. Here:

Just…

  • Get close!
  • Have plenty of light
  • Get close!

That’s all. Simple, really. Get close and your background is comparatively far, so it gets blurred.

 

Post work needed?

For most photography, I recommend keeping post work to a minimum. Quick crop, perhaps a small exposure adjustment: done. For some types of photography, like press photography, adjustments of any other type are forbidden.

But for some, they’re necessary. Even an iPhone product shot like this, of my Glycine watch, needed some TLC:

That’s one of my watches. Click on it to see the full version. And notice how perfect it looks. No dust at all, no smears or scratches, great contrast, and so on. All watches always look hyper-perfect in all ads.

And that’s because they’re hyper-edited. Things like focus stacking, and expensive editing.

In mine, above, I removed every speck of dust using the healing tool in Lightroom. Then I increased local clarity and decreased exposure on the watch face. I added a tad of sharpening and then noise reduction. And although small, the effects of these edits are important.

The good news: most of these edits are easily doable in Lightroom. For a commercial advert, you need Photoshop, but for everything else, Lightroom is fine.

 

Another family shoot

Here’s a few samples from another family shoot I just did, of a friend (an ex student) and his family:

Fall is a great time for these portraits—in spite of the cold.

A few notes on a shoot like this:

  • Lit by two Bowens studio flashes, powered by a big battery. No modifiers: it was windy and the umbrellas would have pulled the lights to the ground quickly.
  • I pointed the group away from the sun; else, they would have squinted.
  • I used the 85mm f/1.2 lens, set to f/8-11.
  • Avoid too much direct sunlioght on the subjects.
  • But do use that sunlight – as the “shampooey goodness” light (a.k.a. the hairlight).
  • You can do this without flash, of course. But I prefer the brighter subjects and the saturated colours. Matter of style!

To see what I mean: this is with flash:

…and this is without:

I encourage you all to have family portraits done. Because they last, and it’s the only time travel we do. You’ll be delighted later to have them, and the extra few hundred dollars are a small price compared to that.

 

 

Flash!

I taught a special flash workshop over the past two days, at Sheridan College. Seven students, great crowd.

Here, a few images:

Next, a one flash portrait. Yes, you can do some great stuff using just one flash. The flash was fitted with a Honl Photo grid – without that, it could not have worked. Fired by pocketwizards. This student looks like Queen Nefertiti, we decided:

Funny, aunt and niece, who, contrary to what you might think looking at this image, both have a great sense of humour:

And finally, me, by one of the students. A standard four light portrait:

About this portrait:

  • It uses a key light, a fill light two stops darker, a hair light, and a background light. Four flashes.
  • Key and fill were strobes; the others were speedlights.
  • They were all fired by pocketwizards.
  • The background was light grey. That makes it difficult, to add colour to it, so we used a considerable distance between me and the background. (The background needs to be dark before you can add colour to it).

And finally the easiest shot. Now I warn you, the sample below was shot from the back of my camera with my iPhone, and then further mangled by Facebook, so do not look at the quality. Look at the idea instead.

So simple. One flash, located behind the subject, aimed at the backround. And a part Harvey Weinstein lookalike in the foreground.

A family shoot

This, a couple of samples from a family shoot I just did, is why you probably want to hire a photographer for a family shoot rather than using an iPhone to just snap away:

Those are pretty much straight from the camera. So what does that take? Well, experience, insight, plus:

  1. A large battery-powered flash fired into an umbrella.
  2. A couple of pocketwizard radio triggers.
  3. Set your shutter to 1/250 sec, ISO to 100.
  4. Start at f/8 and be ready to change the aperture to set the background 1-2 stops below nominal (f/11 in this case).
  5. Turn the subjects away from the sun.
  6. Position them right.
  7. Shoot at just the right moment.

Simple once you know. And if you don’t know, I have two pieces of advice: One, learn (I teach, and I write books!) and two, start by hiring a pro.