There we go again.

On the BBC news front page recently:image

You will notice the flash warning. Lobbying in England by an epilepsy group has resulted in this warning being displayed in all media whenever there is flash.

Because a few people react to flash. Only a few, and only when they do not take their meds, and only if the flashing is repeated at a rate of around 25 Hz, of course; but that’s beside the point, apparently.

It is a shame that there is no regard for reasonableness in these knee-jerk reactions. I can see the day that flash is illegal anywhere in a British public space… preposterous. Now if they said “we prohibit repeated strong stroboscopic flash at a rate of 25 Hz, deliberately aimed at large audiences”, it would perhaps be a different matter. Perhaps.

But superstition rules. Flash in news. Cell phones at gas stations. WiFi and Peanut butter in schools. Vaccinations. All of these  represent either some danger or some possible but unproven danger or no danger, just superstition. But when there is danger, the question is “how much? ” And it is there that policy makers fail. Obviously we accept danger in life, otherwise we would all live in tents in open fields, ride bicycles limited to 2 km/h, and wear helmets 24/7, and have police officers assigned to every family 24/7. We would not have airplanes either, or electricity or cars. Clearly, that is nonsensical: we accept risk. And the risk involved in flash photography is extremely minimal. So carry on flashing, speedlighters: no fear.





“No RAW Please, We’re Reuters”

No RAW for Reuters freelancers anymore, we saw yesterday:

The Verge gets it right in this article. The policy, while somewhat understandable, is shortsighted, because:

  • A JPG can also be manipulated, so mandating “JPG” is no guarantee of an unedited image.
  • Some cameras, like my 1Dx, even allow editing of RAW pictures in camera to produce an edited JPG.
  • Now journalists have to get exposure and white balance right in camera, when shooting. As well as colour space, sharpening, contrast, saturation. These are in fact all set in camera prior to the JPG being made, so every JPG is a “manipulated RAW”. Why does it make a difference whether you do this manipulation in camera or in Lightroom? If you have to do it all in camera, you waste valuable shooting time.
  • [edit:]Now, journalists cannot “expose to the right”: a technique designed to limit noise and hence to obtain maximum quality.
  • Size. Often, news editors have requirements like “a 1MB file”. You have control over this in Lightroom, but not in camera.

A much better policy would be: do whatever you like, but if the JPG you send us was edited in Lightroom, make sure you include all the EXIF data (i.e. do not restrict that when making an export).


World Naked Bike Ride photographers: RAW, or In The Raw?

As for the ethics angle: sure. It is sensible to set limits to what you can do, namely:

  • Exposure, colour, colour space, and white balance adjustments are fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Saturation, clarity, and vibrance adjustments are fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Cropping is fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Rotating is fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Lens corrections (e.g. architectural corrections) are fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Removing chromatic aberration is fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Noise reduction is fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • B/W conversions are fine, but only with “standard” channel settings, and not to manipulate the truth.
  • Sharpening is fine, but not to manipulate the truth.
  • Not fine: vignetting, graduated fill, spot removal/the healing tool, adding grain, and any other change to the image, especially, of course, changes designed to manipulate the truth.

“Manipulating the truth” means changing anything that changes the facts. That can include removing or adding objects. Changing sizes and shapes to change positioning or distances. Making skies darker using graduated filters. Anything, in other words, that causes a photo to be interpreted in such a way that it does not reflect the actual truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Above all, it is important to have a clearly stated policy. Nothing worse for a photojournalist than to have uncertainty over what is, or is not, allowed.

And that, for the record, is my $0.02.


Sure you can do good photos with just one flash. Look at some examples from last night’s Sheridan College class.

One flash, fitted with a Honl photo 1/4″ grid:

One flash, fitted with a small Honl photo 12″ softbox:

And one flash, fitted with a shoot-through umbrella:

As you see, all these are acceptable or good. The umbrella is a little softer, but it throws light all over the room. The softbox is probably the best option here.

I used the standard “studio settings”: 1/125 sec, f/8, at 200 ISO in order to keep the ambient light out.



Why do I decide on certain camera settings?

Look at an example shot (the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, where if you weigh over 350lbs you eat for free).

I used my 50mm f/1.2 lens that night: I wanted small size, good quality, and the ability to open the aperture if needed.

That’s 1600 ISO, f/5.6, and 1/30th sec (in that order).

And here, the menu:

That’s 1600 ISO, 1/60th, f/4. Yum, a septuple bypass burger!

OK, so why those settings?

At night I decided 1600 ISO would be a good starting point. (experience told me this).

Next, I wanted f/5.6 to get depth of field with my 50mm lens (ditto, experience told me that also). I also wanted f/5.6 to be able to decrease that number quickly, all the way to f/1.2 if needed, in case of lower light.

That f/5.6 gave me 1/30th sec with this kind of lighting, which also I knew I could do handheld (I am quite steady). If it had given me a slower speed I would have increased the ISO to 3200, say.

If I had wanted more depth of field, ditto: this was f/8 at 3200 ISO (one stop smaller aperture = one stop higher ISO).

That’s the thinking process. Can you see how it works? With a bit of experience and application of the basic rules of aperture, shutter and ISO, you get there. That’s really all you need.

Note that all three pictures are similar in exposure value, since all three are artificially lit objects that are not far apart on brightness.

My 12-week course at Sheridan College started yesterday night – 20 students who will know all this within weeks. Do learn! And do consider my e-books to help in that. And come back with great pics.

Magic Recipes

We all want simple starting points, Right? So here’s five of my simple flash “recipes” – great starting points. This post you may want to print!

The following are four great, simple to remember, starting points. They are no substitute for proper learning, but they are very good in the context of that learning. And you can try them today. Now. These recipes all have you using one or more small flashes (speedlights). Adjust them as needed!

I .Indoors Flash, Warm Backgrounds:

For this, you use the Willems 400-40-40 recipe as your starting point:

  • 400 ISO
  • 1/40th second
  • F/4
  • Flash aimed behind you upward at 45 degrees, bounced off a wall/ceiling
  • Increase ISO when needed!

II. Studio Style Flash (big flash):

  • 100 ISO
  • 1/125th second
  • f/8

III. Studio Style Flash (small flash/modified):

  • 200 ISO
  • 1/125th second
  • f/5.6

IV. Outdoors, Sunny Day, Dramatic Portrait:

  • 100 ISO
  • 1/250th second
  • f/11 – f/18
  • You may need to use a close-by. direct (unmodified) flash.

V. Outdoors, Sunny Day, Blurry Background:

  • 100 ISO
  • 1/2000th sec
  • f/4
  • High-Speed Flash / Auto FP flash enabled!
  • You will have to be close to your subject; if modified with a softbox, extremely close.


TAKE IT FURTHER: These are some quick start points. get into depth by having me teach you. And buy my “recipe book”: 52 recipes with tips and tricks. Click here.


You can do this too.

Here’s a quick portrait of Ivan, the manager of Mississauga’s Vistek store.

Took about… oh, all of one minute.

Here’s how.

  1. Set camera to manual exposure.
  2. Select values for Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed that will make the room go dark. Here, that was 1/160th sec, f/8 at 100 ISO.
  3. Put a flash on the camera in MASTER mode (a Canon 600EX here, set to using light, not radio, as a master). (You can use the popup flash on a Nikon or on modern Canons like the 7D, 60D, etc.)
  4. Make sure that this master flash will not fire during the shot – it fires only commands (“morse code”) to slave flashes, prior to the shot. Set this on your flash or camera.
  5. Hold a slave flash (in my case a 430EX in slave mode) in your left hand.
  6. Ensure that this flash in in TTL slave mode on the same channel as your master flash.
  7. If the room is very small, put a grid (eg a Honl Photo 1/4″ grid) on the slave flash.
  8. Aim that flash directly at the subject (really).
  9. Focus, recompose
  10. Shoot!

It really was as quick as that. When you learn good technique, you too can be quick with creative shots like this.


Illegal! Illegal? Really…?

Let me start a little discussion here today.

Brought on by a shoot cancelled because of “privacy reasons”, I had a discussion yesterday on an Internet pro photographer forum about photographing children. In short, this is frowned upon even when allowed (in a public place) – in my view, a worrying development for photographers and for anyone who likes freedom.

Apart from my cancelled shoot, this is in no way a personal argument – I do not go around photographing kids – but I am concerned that the general opinion in this discussion was that photographing children should be illegal, even in a public setting, and that this opinion seemed to be based not on fact, but on emotion.

Now don’t get me wrong: I know there are bad people in the world, and I am very sensitive to the need to protect children, and to parents’ wish to do just that. Goes without reason and should not even need saying.

But I had a problem with the majority opinion and the lack of nuance in translating the need to protect to the desired policy to achieve that. If I – hopefully correctly – paraphrase that majority opinion, it was:

  1. That photographing kids is dangerous to them.
  2. That whether it was legal or not, it was objectionable and should lead to police persecution, if not prosecution.
  3. That the law is irrelevant: kids matter, the law does not.
  4. That the wishes of the individual (e.g. a parent) overrule those of the photographer.

As happens regularly, in this case I was in the minority – a minority of one, in disagreeing with this.

Alas, the thread was deleted by the moderator (who was arguing against me – I have to think perhaps the deletion happened because he thought he was losing the argument? :-)). So I will try to recap my thoughts – this subject is important enough to be discussed extensively.

I disagree strongly with the position that photographing children should be de facto illegal. For the following reasons:

  1. I believe that there is no evidence to suggest that photography, or identifying children, does any significant harm. Child abuse is done in the vast majority of cases (over 98% I believe?) by people who know the child, not by weird stalking strangers. If there is any evidence to suggest that photography has caused any child abduction or abuse cases, I do not know of it. I have kids and want them to be safe – but let’s be evidence-based, not emotion-based. Evidence may well show that we should outlaw uncles, soccer coaches, and relatives, but not photography.
  2. The argument that people who photograph a child “obviously” do this for sexual reasons (“let them go away to masturbate”, was the phrase used”) is entirely unsupported by factual evidence.
  3. The argument, also made, that one must not be allowed to offend anyone or hurt their feelings is also a very weak one. Whatever we do, we will hurt someone’s feelings. Imagine if we allowed religious feelings to dictate policy – the sum total of all religions is against, and hence is offended, I am sure, by everything. Everything we do offends someone.
  4. A phrase similar to “photography of children should not be protected by the law” was used. (Forgive me if I do not recall the exact phrase: the thread, as said, was deleted). This shows a worrying lack of understanding of law. Unlike people who live in dictatorships (and I have worked in them), we do not live in a society where everything is forbidden except what is specifically allowed. Rather, the reverse, and I think we should keep it that way.
  5. With few exceptions, our law allows photographers on public property to photograph anyone on public property.
  6. The phrase “I do not care what the law says, it must not be allowed” (again, paraphrased) is also a worrying one. The whole point of having laws is that it does matter. If something is bad, prove it and make a law against it, and then it is no longer allowed. We do not regulate ourselves by random sentiments or opinions: the law ensures that all this clear, evidence-based, discussed openly, and agreed upon by a majority. History has shown amply that freedom restrictions by popular emotion are always a bad idea.
  7. Imagine if we outlawed photographing children. There are many issues with this seemingly simple law. Like “what about crowds?”. “What if they are your own”. “What if you are their uncle?”. “What about public events?”. “What if it is news?”. “What if the thing you are shooting is newsworthy but the criminal brings a child to avoid photography”. And so on. A simple idea, when thought through, would end up as many complex pages of law. Lawyers would be happy I imagine, but would we?
  8. There are already plenty of good laws against criminals. Stalking is already illegal – no need to make the act of photography itself illegal.

Meanwhile, often aided by our authorities, the general population increasingly thinks that photography is already illegal. And when photographers support this, rather than pushing back and insisting on evidence and law, we live in sad times. Again and again, it is easy to manipulate the vox populi.

So before you take a quick position, I recommend you think things through and try to be fact-based.

Sure we should be sensitive, but if photographers everywhere stopped shooting whenever anyone objects, or worse, did not start because someone might, we would end up doing little photography. Lawmakers and governments always want to increase their power by restricting our rights; since the magna charta, we have pushed back against this.

Remember: Photons are just photons and have no magic evil-powers when captured by a sensor instead of a retina.

But there is one good thing here: I am glad that people apparently feel that a photo can be powerful.

(You can comment by clicking below. Feel free! The first comment by any reader has to be approved, which I will do quickly – then you’re good from then on).

My Flash pic is too dark!

I am using a flash and my image is too dark! What’s wrong?

It could be any of several things. The top ones in this handy checklist:

  1. You are too far (especially when bouncing). Increase the ISO or open up the aperture, or get closer.
  2. You are shooting a reflective object. Avoid shooting directly at a reflective object: bounce, or move it.
  3. Your Flash Exposure Compensation (“FEC”, symbol lightning rod and +/1 symbol combined) is set to “minus”. Set FEC back to 0, on the camera and on the flash.
  4. You are shooting a white scene. Set FEC to plus, eg +1 to +1.7
  5. Your flash is set to commander mode. Set it back to normal TTL, using the commander/remote button or menu.
  6. Your flash is set to manual mode. Set it back to normal TTL, using the “mode” button.

Now try again!



Society’s demonization of photography continues. As a photographer, I am more than a little bothered by this.

Take this example. My son’s school just sent a press release email to all parents. It read, in part:

Dear Parents/Guardians,

The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following and believed to be photographing two teenage girls. On February 2nd and again on February 6, 2012, just after 3:00 p.m., the two girls were walking home from school in the area of Monks Passage and Oak Meadow Road when they observed a man following them.

The man was driving a white Cadillac and appeared to be photographing them.

The girls were able to obtain the licence plate of the vehicle and subsequent police investigation led to the driver being identified.


The letter then went on to give some common-sense safety advice (play safe and play together; walk together, and so on).

What bothers me is not the way in which authorities watch over out children’s safety (I have kids too). What bothers me is the “…and believed to be photographing” part. As though that in itself is bad; the implication is that photographing is a step worse than merely following and harassing.

Photographing someone is no more illegal or wrong than looking at someone or speaking to someone. Both are perfectly legal. And both can, when done in a harassing manner, be wrong.

Yes: it is legal in Canada to photograph anyone and anything you like, in a public place. Of course there are limits: harassing is wrong. But that is the harassing – it has nothing to do with photography itself. Imagine if the press release had read:

“The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following and is believed to have spoken to two teenage girls”

or perhaps

“The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following, and is believed to have looked in the direction of, two teenage girls”

Or maybe

“The Halton Regional Police Service has arrested and charged a man after he was seen following, and is believed to have listened to, two teenage girls”

That would sound silly – but photography – oh, that is bad: it steals people’s souls. Worse if he was using a long lens – never mind that an iPhone has lots of megapixels too, but a long lens makes you extra evil.

I am not exaggerating. Last summer, a fellow newspaper shooter I know was interrogated by police after “he was seen photographing children with a long lens” – and two cars, not one, were sent to intercept this photojournalist, who was merely getting a “weather picture” for the Oakville Beaver, our local newspaper.

Can I suggest we use slightly less incendiary language? As a photographer who carries a camera at all times, I do not want to start being seen as a threat – thanks. Photography is not sinister and it must not be turned into anything sinister. It does no harm – and the pictures teens put up as Facebook profiles are, I am sure, more revealing and provocative than anything you could capture in the streets.

Oh, and I received the 2008 Halton Police “News Photograph of the Year” award.  Which I captured with, yes, a camera.


Auto ISO

When you are using “auto ISO”, meaning the camera sets ISO for you, be careful.

In this mode, the camera will raise ISO and lower it – but it will get it wrong in some situations.

Low light. The camera will raise ISO to give you a handholding-suitable shutter speed. But do you want that? Or do you want quality (low ISO gives you that quality) and use a tripod? Night shots, twlight shots, fireworks, lightning: these are the obvious examples. For night shots, use low ISO and a tripod. So: low light: if you can use a tripod, use low ISO.

Motion needs. When there is enough light, the camera will lower ISO to give you good quality and shutter OK for handholding. But when you need that extra shutter speed, for sports, say, or for anything else that needs motion frozen, you need higher ISO. You may need 1600 or even 3200 ISO for hockey, but no auto ISO will give you that. So if you have motion, then raise ISO to suit.

My rules of thumb for ISO:

  • Outdoors, or low light with tripod, or studio shoots: start at 200 ISO
  • Indoors, even when using flash: 400 ISO
  • Difficult light – sports, motion, museums, churches: start at 800 ISO

In all cases, vary as able or as needed (if there is more light, use lower ISO; if you still get motion blur, use higher ISO).

Note – Auto ISO and manual will, on many cameras, give you a “aperture PLUS shutter priority” mode. This can be a cool thing to play with.