Get Cool

Today, I was reminded of how I should not let you all down – the many people who read this blog. Like one reader, Dr Jason Polak, who kindly dropped by in the studio today to have a chat.

(Hint: anyone near Ottawa, feel free to come say hi. The store is open 9:30AM–9pm weekdays, and slightly shorter hours at weekends). So anyway… I promise I’ll write more. Starting today.

One thing to write about is portraits. And how I love doing them. And how I like doing not just the “stand there and smile” pictures, but also slightly more creative pictures. You do not need to look at the camera smiling, not in every picture!

So here’s one I took this weekend—one of a series:

A simple shot; I used two speedlights with Honlphoto grids, driven by Pocketwizards; and one strobe in a softbox, also driven by a Pocketwizard. Took two minutes to set up.

If you need to learn how to do this, it is remarkably simple. You might buy my books or attend my courses, for example. It’s worth the effort!

Here, another one, again showing action:

And that same day, a photo of a dog who was nearing the end of its life: it was sick, and was about to see its suffering ended. A sad event, but good to create a lasting memory:

The message is simple: shoot some portraits that are not just “stare at the camera and ‘smile'”. Worth the effort and you will be happy with your results.

One more, then:

And finally: a new course for those of you near Ottawa: “Take Better Photos Of your Kids”. Sign up soon, because as usual, classes are limited to four people.

Ajax and Karsh

I just spoke as one of the keynote speakers at an Ajax Photography Club event called “Discovering Karsh”. All about Armenian Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh, whom The Economist, after his death, described as “the best portrait photographer in the world for the past fifty years”. 

Karsh can teach photographers today a thing or two, and that was the subject of my presentation. He was a master at light, mainly in moody low key portraits (think of the grumpy Churchill portrait, where Karsh had respectfully pulled the cigar from Churchill’s mouth), for one. Google it—for copyright reasons I cannot reproduce it here.

He was also a real people person, and that was his super power. He studied his subjects before a shoot. He talked to them. At length, often, if given the opportunity. Instead of taking 100 pictures and choosing one, he took one or two when the moment was right. He was a master at choosing the moment. And his subjects trusted him and his ability to make them look good.

Google “Karsh” and see the iconic portraits that defined the 20th century. Sure, Karsh is not everyone’s taste—his portraits are low-key and often moody—but they are certainly masterful. And they defined the people that he photographed as well as reflected them. As a portrait photographer, if you can do that, you have made it.

 

 

Today’s workshop…

…was all about light.

Look how differences, some small, in light can make any picture very different from the others. Our lovely model Bryna, in a few snaps I snuck in while teaching:

And that’s why knowing flash is a skill that will serve you well. After all, with flash, you are in charge. Stand by for more, much more, in the way of workshops and other teaching and training.

 

 

Sunny? Sixteen!

You have heard me talk about the “Sunny Sixteen” rule before. This is a very useful rule of thumb that allows you to shoot without using your camera’s light meter. The rule is:

If your shutter speed is set to 1/ISO (e.g. 125 ISO at 1/125th sec, 200 ISO at 1/200 sec, or 400 ISO at 1/400 sec, etc), then on a fully sunny day at noon, f/16 will give you the right exposure.

Like this, at f/16:

And if it is not sunny?

f/16 Sunny Distinct
f/11 Slight Overcast Soft around edges
f/8 Overcast Barely visible
f/5.6 Heavy Overcast No shadows
f/4 Open Shade/Sunset No shadows

(Source: Wikipedia)

This rule is a rule of thumb, so feel free to vary – I often expose two thirds of a stop higher – but since the sun is always the same brightness, it holds well. And it is nice to be able to expose without light meters, if only in order to be able to check your camera.

Bonus question: how do you expose the moon?

Answer: f/16. The moon at noon (there, so any time here, including night) is as bright as the earth at noon- they are the same distance from the sun!

 

 

Yesterday’s workshop

It is minus 28 degrees Celsius. Yesterday, I taught a Creative Flash Photography workshop in Timmins, Ontario. Here’s a sample!

High key:

Some creative gel use:

A snapshot showing the setup for the next shot:

And here’s the shot!

…which also works in B/W:

A simple one flash grid portrait:

And two together:

Fun was had. Flying me out to anywhere for a workshop like this is worth your time: hands-on learning so beats only reading a book or watching a video!

 

Portraits… plus ça change.

A repeat post from 2015, showing that things do not change much…


I very often hear people who are a little ahead of themselves. They do paid portrait shoots before learning how to focus, that sort of thing. They do not want to learn formally, for instance from a course, or books, or seminars; and yet they expect the knowledge to come to them for free, somehow.

Wishful thinking, and you know it. So let me grab a few of these things by the horns. Starting with portraits. You are doing a studio portrait; you have a backdrop; but the rest is mystery. So your images end up:

  • Badly lit.
  • Under- or overexposed.
  • With a background that is sharp instead of blurred.
  • With the subject not separated from that background.
  • Out of focus.
  • With the background white, not coloured even though you use gels.

That is because you never learned the basics. But there is good news: studio portraits are simple. All you need to learn is:

  • Lighting. A main light, 45 degrees away from subject. A fill light, same on other side. Hair light, opposite main light. See diagram, from my new book:

  • Exposure. Set your camera to manual mode, 1/125 sec, f/8, 100 ISO.
  • Turn the flashes to half way (obviously  the flashes are on MANUAL too).
  • Now meter the main flash. Adjust main light until it reads f/8.
  • Same for hair light.
  • Fill light: meter this to f/4 (i.e. adjust this light until meter reads f/4 when it flashes).
  • Background light: same as main light, again.
  • White balance to “Flash”.
  • Focus using one focus spot. Focus on the eye using that one spot.
  • Use a lens longer than 50mm. I prefer my 70-200 or my 85mm prime.
  • Move subject from background as much as you can. Then you can gel the background light. If, whoever, much of the normal light falls on the background, you cannot gel. Test this by turning OFF the background light: the background should be dark.
  • Turn subject toward main light, then head slightly to you.

Like this:

That really is all. Click., You have a competent portrait.

What you must not do is pretend that no learning is necessary. Go find a course, go buy my e-books; read this free resource www.speedlighter.ca; take private training; sign up at Sheridan College; : whatever you can do, do it now.

It really is simple. But not as simple as “I just bought a camera and next week I am shooting a wedding”—and believe me, I have heard that very statement more than once.

 

Christmas. Balls.

I love teaching. And I feel generous—read this post until the end and see why, and see how you can benefit!

First, though, here’s a few snaps from Sunday’s Get Out And Shoot. Starting with a Christmas ball…:

This walk was in downtown Oakville:

So why am I happy?

One of my Sheridan College students just sent me an unsolicited student testimonial:

“Thank you for your wonderful teaching style. I have learned a lot from you as a photographer and have taught me many things and you have always responded to every question I had with knowledge. You make the class like Christmas day.”

I am honoured by this; it is exactly why I teach.

Incidentally, I also teach privately or in small groups. And for all my students, there’s now a 30% discount for any orders (for training or anything else) paid by Dec 31, 2018. To benefit from this, all you need to do is to use discount code Student2018 on http://learning.photography. Happy festive season!

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.

 

 

A workshop

Here’s a proper version of that last shot, and a few more from this weekend’s Flash Photography workshop:

And an unsolicited student reference:

There you go! When there’s another workshop, I’ll let you know here, and I’ll give you the link here when I do the next Sheridan Flash Workshop!

(You know my books also, right? See here for information. I see the store is having temporary issues, so email me if you are interested: michael@mvwphoto.com – or check out Amazon).

 

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.