All sorts of everything.

I am shooting a three day event, a conference, at Niagara Falls, while my son house-sits back home. So I shoot lots of speakers and so on,

And I love this kind of shooting because if done well, it leads to so many “oh wow” reactions.

But only if done well, and it is complicated:

  • I am using a long lens (70-200) without flash, and on another camera, a wide angle lens (16-35mm on a full frame camera) with a flash, so all settings are totally different from shot to shot.
  • Many, many different environments. A large ballroom. Hallways. Smaller rooms. Restaurants (several). Easy bounce, Then, no bounce. Then, difficult bounce. Coloured walls. Every shot is an engineering challenge!
  • Speakers who will not stop talking, or stand still, or even turn the same way, for a millisecond.
  • Dead batteries all the time.
  • Heavy cameras, two of them. And the arthritis in my hands doesn’t make this any easier.
  • The need to minimize post-production work. Hundreds of times “just a moment or two” means many moments, and that means “hours and hours”..
  • Tough environments including “dark inside with bright outside also visible in the shot”, like this:


But it does not end there…

  • TTL does not always work well when there’s reflections, so I have to use Manual flash setting for a lot of the work. And that is sensitive to changing the distance to the flashed object (“inverse square law”).
  • Impossible white balance.
  • Bouncing means direction, and you need to think about that direction: “Where is the light coming from?”

So I really have to work for my pay. Fortunately, I love my work. And there are ways to make it easier: start with good starting points, like the Willems 400-40-4 rule (look it up) as your basis, and adjust from that basis. When you take my courses or buy my e-books, you will learn these starting points.

And then you can shoot quickly and get great colour, and with a modern camera this applies even at high ISO. Here, for example, is beauty:


No, I did not mean the girls. Well, yes, they are very beautiful, too, but I really meant the venue and the colours. This is why I love flash.

In the next few days, some more about this shoot. It is 1:15 AM and now, finally after a 16-hour non-stop day, I get a rest. But only until 7AM.

And then back to Black Betty, who is waiting patiently in the garage for me:


And then tomorrow evening, I run a photo booth, 80km away. No rest for the wicked!


Pic of the day: Travellers. ravellers


I always carry a camera. Doesn’t this pic shout “Travellers”? No comfortable seating; he is on his smartphone; she is looking at her fingernails; aircraft operations go on slowly in the background. A big but not too busy airport (Las Vegas? No. So where? I cannot remember). Where are they going? Where is their carry-on luggage? Questions.


Travel photography is a popular reason for people to buy a camera, and to actually use it. Before you go, buy my book on travel photography and have me put on my Impactful Travel Photography seminar for you and a few friends (see  And let me give you just a couple of starting notes in this post.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

First: research where exactly you are going to go. I use Flickr and to a lesser extent Google image search to look for great images in the location I am going to. Then I look up where exactly they were taken, and at what time of day (Flickr usually retains the EXIF data). I look for best viewpoints and then research where they are: “where was that great photo taken from, and at what time”. I even look at what lenses were used. Not that you should copy, but you can draw conclusions from that kind of data.

View from the Hotel Chelsea, NY, NY

I also look up attractions’ GPS coordinates, since attractions do not always have a street address. You can google that: Searching for “latitude and longitude of Zabriskie Point” gives you “36.4200° N, 116.8111° W”.

I also look for shooting locations of Hollywood movies: why not let Hollywood do the heavy lifting of finding great locations?

On location, I always ask the hotel reception, the concierge; I buy postcards of locations, and I look for events, since people often do not mind being photographed at them; they expect, rather than resist, cameras.

Bring an app like Daylight to check exact sunrise and sunset times; an hour each way around sunrise and sunset , you get wonderful light.

Then check you have what you need. Camera(s); batteries; chargers; memory cards; lenses; flash(es); perhaps an ND and Polarizing filter or two; some cloths for cleaning (anything that is small, light and cheap is good!); whatever you need, think about it now, not just before traveling.

In other words: preparation does wonders when traveling.

Symbolism in your photos

Photos tell stories. Some stories are good, or at least, are allowed. Like the end of the summer in the southern Netherlands, the other day:

All these help tell the story and are very evocative if you’ve been there.

Other types of symbolism are best left alone. Like an 85-year old walking away into the sunset, and worse, unmistakably in the centre:

This is not the kind of symbolism you should strive for—at least not unintentionally.

The moral of today’s post: ask yourself: “what does my photo mean”? If you cannot answer that, you have a snapshot.

I would say more, but I am about to board a flight to Reykjavik and thence, to Toronto.


Telling a story

If I do manage to get to Israel (help me out here for the crowdsourcing project) then I will do a few things. Other than, of course, the purely mechanical.

First, of course, I will constantly remind myself that I am neutral. For any photojournalism to be worth that name, it has to be impartial. Now, I am going to cover a particular story, of course. But that does not imply bias. Sometimes, journalists have to remind themselves they are there to observe; they are not activists. Of course the very choice of subjects implies an agenda, but it can be an impartial agenda (“in search of justice” rather than “in search of justice for party X”).

Second, I will make this a story, and arrange shoots to show that story. My story really here would contain  the following elements:

  • Who’s who? Newspaper readers may think “Israel”: is one unit.. but Israel consists of various types of Jews, various creeds of Muslims, and of Druze, Bahai, and many more. Informing would be good. Showing how these groups live, who they are, how they interact.
  • Show people under the daily threat of violence. The sign above is not unusual. Imagine being confronted with such things daily.
  • Show who is getting on which whom, or if not, why not. The byzantine nature of Middle East politics is not easy to explain in a few photos, but I can shed some light on it no doubt.
  • Show, if possible, both problems and resolutions.

And all this has to be storytelling.

This particular photo assignment may or may not go ahead (depends on you, kind pledgers—only four days left..please help if you can); but what matters more is that the principles here apply to pretty much all photojournalism.

And no, photojournalism makes no-one any money. Most photojournalists, as an acquainted newspaper photo editor just reminded me, make a loss. As will I: consider it my volunteer work.


Photojournalism Israel: Help me fund!

I set up a kickstarter link… ready to take your pledges now. And your other help, ideas, contacts: you name it. Go here:

Click and read, and let me know any questions. I have allowed one week only. This is so that I can book tickets and guide, and prepare interviews, locations, etc.

I look forward to seeing this spread widely, so the trip can go ahead.



I am going to plan a trip to Israel, late September, to do a freelance photojournalism project. A few words about that project here (and I am asking for your help.)

Israel. You cannot mention this name without emotion. Pro or con, there’s always opinion and emotion. But alas, not enough fact.

The extant conflict in Gaza is an example. It is being well covered, but when I say “well covered”, I mean that Gaza is being well covered. No lack of stories about human interest, dead and injured Palestinian civilians, and so on. And those stories do deserve to be told.

But so do others… and I see very little coverage about Israel. About what its citizens have had to endure for years. And I wonder about this: what must it be like to know that your children will spend years in the army—and not an army that sits and peels potatoes, but an army that gets in harms way. What must it be like to know you are 30 seconds away by missile from hostile countries around you. What must it be like to rarely be able to go to a restaurant without having to be checked out by an armed guard at the door. To have buses, night clubs, and cafés blown up regularly. To know that several towns are under daily missile attack. To see automatic rifles around you all day. To even have repairmen show up with a handgun on their belt. To have to go through metal detectors everywhere. To see teenagers walking in the streets day and night with their automatic rifles.

“Collective guilt”, you say? First, that notion is debatable, but more importantly, that is irrelevant. Ordinary people, in my decades of experience in over 40 countries, want ordinary lives. They want a Toyota to drive, a spouse to make love to, kids to raise, and a house to live in. And in the circumstances above, I wonder if that is easily done. And I wonder if this kind of living under constant threat is not psychologically harmful.

I see very little media coverage of this, and as a pictorial storyteller, I really want to help redress that balance. I see this as an area where I can make a contribution.

Surely that all sounds like you are partial, Michael?

Perhaps it may sound like it to you, but I am not. Let me explain.

First, I think I have a few advantages here:

  1. I know Israel a little, having been several times, and having toured extensively both times.
  2. I know the Middle East: I have spent plenty of time in Iraq, Jordan, Saudi, Qatar, Bahrain, Libya… years altogether. So I know what undemocratic governments are like, too.
  3. Most importantly, I have, as they say, “no dog in this fight”. Being neither Jewish nor Israeli nor Arab nor Palestinian nor anything-else-involved makes it easier for me to get the message across, because I am perceived as being more neutral.

Which I am. A detached view, as one who is not involved in any way, is essential for good journalism. I have an agenda of sorts, of course. I think that Israelis as a whole have endured way more than they should have; but this feeling comes out of an objective look at the situation, and the message will very definitely be photographed with an objective lens. Having a viewpoint born out of experience does not make one partial.

I am certainly also neutral in the sense that I have no personal interest here at all. The interest of Justice, yes. The interest of wanting to see a rarey democratic country in the region at least be given the honour of being heard: that too. Am I partial? No. War and fighting are horrible, and dead civilians are a tragedy, whatever side they are supposedly on. But looking at the experiences of both sides is part of that.

Also, it is very important for me to point out I am not making any money here: I am charging zero for my time. Photojournalists like me often shoot weddings to eat, and then we do the important work out of our own pocket.

So the trip will be 8-10 days of photojournalism. Late September, because that allows me to fund and prepare. If the current conflict is over then, no matter: the story is the constant drip-drip-drip low level threat and actuality of violence that Israelis deal with.

How exactly does photojournalism differ from ordinary photography? In several important ways:

First, I am an observer when shooting. When I am working as a photojournalist, I may not affect the picture in any way. I cannot ask people to look at me. Or to step this way, or that. Or to wait. Or to do anything at all. I need to shoot what there is; the moment I affect what there is, I am not longer an observer.

Second, the picture must represent truth. I cannot edit a picture, other than cropping, colour/WB/B&W conversions, colour space choice, and minor exposure adjustments. Possibly lens adjustments, but only automatic ones (eg to get rid of barrel/pincushion distortion for a given lens). Beyond that, each newspaper has its own policy, but I err on the conservative side: I do nothing beyond what I mentioned there. I will allow myself on-camera adjustments, just like I could choose a film type in the film days, where some had more contrasty pictures, some more subdued.  But beyond these basics, what you will see is what I shot. And about that… I must try to be objective (It is not OK to crop in a way that distorts reality, for instance).

Once I am back with the photos, and even while shooting them, I will contact media to see who is interested. Beyond that, there is the Internet, and there are books, exhibits, and so on to consider.

So now the help. Where does this come in?

If you, like me., believe this story should be told, then help me by part sponsoring the trip. I am doing this on a budget plus my time is not being paid for, so the cost is low: perhaps $8,500 for the entire trip, and that will include everything, including flight, accommodation, food, daily guide, and transport. If you are interested in sponsoring part of this trip, please contact me privately. You will of course get a signed copy of a book I will do of the work.

Now to start preparing.


Travel Photography Opportunity

This Saturday, 12 April, 10AM in Oakville I present “Travel Photography”. A three-hour workshop about, um, travel photography.  Go to to book: seating is strictly limited: no more than five people. This is your chance to learn how I do it, and to immediately improve your photography. What to bring? Composition tips. People tips. Technical requirements. Lens choices. Storytelling tips. All this and more!

Here’s Fremont Street, Las vegas; January 2014

Night shots mean that you either carry a tripod, which you probably will not, or you:

  • Expose carefully and know how you are doing it. Night is not always dark!
  • Carefully handle the differences between light and dark, which can be extreme.
  • Use wider angles if you want to keep things simple (you will learn why).
  • Stabilize yourself (I will teach you some techniques).
  • Choose an appropriate ISO value.

All these are simple things once you know how, and night shots are often essential to really capture a place. Do not put your camera away when the sun disappears!


It’s Springtime. We Travel. We Come Back With Photos.

But are they Any Good? Relax. In a three hour lesson this Sunday, I teach you how to ensure that they will be good:

  • Camera settings for each situation;
  • What to bring;
  • Travel safety for you and your equipment;
  • What lenses to consider;
  • Composition basics;
  • Common mistakes-and solutions.
  • Practical composition tips;
  • Storytelling, and Using an B-Roll;
  • Post-production tips;

This seminar will allow you to do pro travel photography quickly. You will be amazed at how much better your shots are upon your return!

What you need: Basic camera knowledge, a camera, preferably but not necessarily with DSLR capabilities.

BOOK NOW: LIMITED SPACE. Go to and select your travel course. This is a small seminar, max 6 students.