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.