Four flashes with David Honl

Last year, when I taught my flash workshop in Toronto I was joined by David Honl, of the excellent range of Honl modifiers I use. We set up a shot like this:

  • Background light with a short snoot;
  • Two gridded side lights (1/4″ grids) aimed forward from slightly behind;
  • One light on camera with a Traveller 8 softbox
  • All fired with Pocketwizards.

That looks like this (with Dave on the right):

And the resulting shot is this:

Now you know how those shots are done!


Nice day

Today, I shot some pictures at Comic Con 2011 in Toronto.

Comic Con Toronto (Photo: Michael Willems)

Comic Con Toronto

What lens did I  use for that?

Wide. 21mm (actually 16mm, but on a 1.3 crop factor camera, so that is equivalent to a “real” 21mm). That is how you get this feeling of depth. We call this technique “close-far”. The wide angle lens is greatly under-appreciated. But not by me.

Comic Con Toronto (Photo: Michael Willems)


Comic Con 2011, Toronto

Are those Klingons? (Comic Con 2011, Toronto)

At Comic Con, I met up with photojournalist David Honl and Hollywood actress Claudia Christian, who was signing autographs. Claudia is best known for her role in “Babylon 5”, but she has appeared, and today appears, in many, many movies, TV movies and TV series (including appearances in classics such as “Dallas”, “Columbo”, Quantum Leap, Matlock,  and “Murder, she wrote”).

(If you are near the UK: go meet her. Claudia is organizing a big event August 13-14 in London: see )

Techie photo details: All I used today was my 1D MkIV with the 16-35mm f/2.8 lens. Manual is the mode to use of course. I used available light, and also used some fill flash on several of the shots – namely on the portraits.

Warm up the colour

When the light is very dull and you want to add some quality, you can add a bit of flash outdoors, I am sure you all do this.

But do you also think about colour?

I often add a gel for a little colour. Like in this image:

A family celebrating their late father, Burlington, 2010

Burlington, 2010: A family celebrating their late father and husband

A half CTO gel (CTO means “colour temperature orange”) allowed me to warm up the light on the family here. I use the Honl Photo speed strap and gels: incredibly easy system that has revolutionized small flash use.

Make sure that if you want the effect in the image above, your white balance is set to “flash”.

TIP: If you use a CTO gel and set the white balance to Tungsten (light bulb), the family would look normal – but now the background would turn blue.

(I probably don’t have to mention it again – David Honl himself is joining me as Guest Star in Toronto on March 19, at the School of Imaging, for a special four-hour “advanced flash” course! Book now – there is still some space).

About colour in photos

In my series of “travel tips”, here’s a thought or two about colour.

Colour is often nice when used very deliberately. And the good news: there are tricks to doing that.

Like using single colours. Whenever you see a strong primary colour dominate, consider whether this might contain a picture:

Blue Vegas

Or when you see opposite colours – like blue and yellow together:

Speed Humps!

(Can you see the use of flash in that image?)

Warm colours are good too – think about a sunset. Think of adding a little CTO filterin front of your flash (a gel – I use the Honl gels, which like the rest of the Honl range of modifiers, has made my life much easier).

And I especially like the combination of all three main primary colours, red, green and blue, all in the same image:

Sedona Afternoon View

You will see this in many of my images: here’s another one, an on-request snap of a couple of tourists in Sedona, AZ (can you see I used a long lens for this? Why?)

Sedona Tourists

Finally, candy colours can be fun too: we look at them, our eye is drawn to them:

Candy Cane Colours

So my lesson for today is: think about colour: how are you using it? Are you getting the best out of it?

Foot note: I mentioned David Honl above. Dave is coming to Toronto – he is my special guest in a three-hour course on “Event Photography and Creative Light”, on Saturday, 19 March 2011. The location is to be announced but it will be in, or right next to, Toronto. Let me know right now if you want to reserve your space.

Teaching News

As you probably all know, I am an educator. I teach a variety of photography subjects in various locations and in various ways.

Learning from a live person is a great way to quickly gain essential photographic skills, so I thought perhaps I should update you as to where you can see me.

Michael Willems Looking Very Serious - Photo, Albert Wong (using film!)

S0 – here are the ten ways you can learn from me:

    1. Via this blog. Of course a blog is only an aide to real, in person teaching, but it is a very valuable resource. Search, look at specific categories, check out keywords, and so on. Read back to over a year ago, when I started posting daily.
    2. Via the Henry’s School of Imaging, Canada’s premier photo school. I teach many subjects there, including my course on Travel Photography and my Outdoor Flash workshop as well as my outdoor Creative Urban Photography workshop. I plan to post my November/December School of Imaging schedule here later today.
    3. Via my courses in Mono, Ontario – like the Creative Lighting all-day course I teach tomorrow with Joseph Marranca.
    4. By way of Personal coaching and custom one-on one or group courses. Contact me if you are interested (“contact” above).
    5. Worldwide, via special courses and tours, such as the courses I recently taught in Phoenix and Las Vegas. If you are interested in having me come to your town, shout (same “contact” button above).
    6. Via local special events – such as the upcoming half-day course with special guest David Honl (yes, the David Honl) on 19 March 2011 – book this day off in your calendar, it’ll be a great event with limited seating.
    7. Via speaking engagements to photo clubs – again, contact me if your club has not had me speak yet, or if you would like a repeat.
    8. Via custom corporate speaking engagements: if our company has people who want to learn photography, go for it!
    9. And finally, via custom 8- or 12-week courses for your organization.
    10. As a speaker at photography shows, like the Digital Imaging Show that is held twice a year beside Toronto Airport.

      I hope that clarifies, and above all, I hope to see you at one of these events soon. There is, as said, no substitute to personal training. Blogs are good, books are great, but personal interaction is much better. Think about it – otherwise we would just ship our kids and students a bunch of books and URLs at the start of each year. It just doesn’t work that way!


      OK, one more sample from the fun series of Flash seminars I did with David Honl at Studio Pet’ographique in Las Vegas.

      We filled up the room both days and had a lot of fun. I love sharing what I know, and doing practical shots makes it even better. More later but now I need tocatch a plane to Philadelphia and on to Toronto tomorrow morning.

      Gel, grid, and softbox were used fior this picture of a student volunteer:

      Photo by Michael Willems

      Looking at the light.

      Offline soon!

      Flash tip

      When your flash is grossly overexposing your pictures…

      • The flash is not seated correctly, or the contacts are dirty
      • The flash is set to MAN (manual), instead of TTL
      • You are using + Flash Exposure Compensation (or on a Nikon, also Exposure Compensation).
      • You are simply too close.

      Those are four obvious starting points.

      Here is me, pictured by David Honl in Las Vegas the other evening. Using a Leica X1 with off camera flash equipped with CTO gel and Honl Photo Traveller 8 softbox.

      Michael Willems, shot by photographer David Honl

      Michael Willems, shot by David Honl using a Leica and flash


      I have done two workshops in the last two days, and am preparing for the Vegas one with David Honl in a couple of weeks time (read on, below). Workshops are fun for all concerned and add tremendously to your ability to create great shots. Read all the books you like, but doing in an interactive learning environment is how to really learn.

      Saturday was “Creative Lighting”, with Joseph Marranca. We taught a group of students some advanced flash techniques using small flashes:

      Students at the workshop in Mono, Ont (Photo by Michael Willems)

      Students at the workshop in Mono, Ont

      This is a great course and we will be doing it again soon. Everyone goes home with knowledge and experience – and with portfolio shots.

      Then on Sunday, I led a group of students through Oakville for the School of Imaging, for “Creative Urban Photography”.

      Phone box in Oakville, Ont (Photo by Michael Willems)

      Phone box in Oakville, Ont

      Now I take a moment to regroup and to prepare for many more.

      One exciting pair of workshops coming up in Las Vegas, NV on July 12 and 13.

      I am teaching “Advanced Flash” – for amateurs and pros who really want to learn how small flashes work. When to use TTL, and when manual? What are the four technical items you need to know? What are the catches to TTL? How to overcome them? When to use what modifier? Why and when to use gels?

      To make it even better, it’s not just theory and technical stuff. I am once again joined in these workshops by David Honl. Yes, the David Honl of the excellent line of modifiers, and the David Honl who shot Saddam Hussein’s trial (with a camera). Yes, that one. Dave will take students through making some great creative shots using small flashes and modifiers, and all participants get to go home with these portfolio shots.

      Read up on this workshop here – there’s space, but do book soon to be sure.

      Photography is better and easier than ever, once you learn the small flash technique that enable you to do really creative lighting with real ease. Come to Vegas and find out how.

      Dave Honl shooting Michael Willems (with a camera)

      Dave Honl shooting Michael Willems in Phoenix, March 2010