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.