Learning light

In an intensive half-day custom course, I taught my student Melony some glamour photography techniques a few days ago. From flash techniques to colour to modifiers to using a light meter to posing.

She brought her daughter as her subject, and both did excellent work.

Student shooting model

Student shooting model

(By the way, did I ever tell you to make the viewer work in interpreting an image? Yes I did. And the blurred out daughter in the background is an excellent way to do that. Don’t tell the whole story, let the viewer figure it out.)

But anyway. Student Melony also kindly photographed me:

Michael Willems, by Melony McB.

Michael Willems, by Melony McB.

That is a great portrait.

And I can say that because it is the photographer who makes the portrait, in this case, more than the subject.

So how did we do this? Why does it work?

This works because:

    1. The light is good. First, Melony exposed the background properly (i.e. she did not overexpose it: exposing less is good, so that the subject, not the background, becomes the “bright pixels”). Willems’s Dictum: “Bright Pixels are Sharp Pixels”. Also known as “blurriness hides in the shadows”.
    2. Then, I am lit by the sun from the right (aided by a speedlight, but as the sun came out just at the right moment, this was no longer necessary). That gives us the nice shadow.
    3. But then, in a twist, and that twist is what does it, I am lit by a strobe with a softbox on the (camera) left – that gives the “ultra-realistic” look. Light from the back -and yet I am bright in the front.
    4. This image also show good use of appropriate props – I am holding the camera, which for a photographer is part of the story.

      Pocketwizards and a battery-powered Bowens light, as well as a speedlight, were used here.

      And kudos to those of you who spotted the other essentials, around my neck: a Hood Loupe by Hoodman, and a flash meter.

      Light makes a photo. Creative light makes it better. And it is simple. Once you know it.

      This is the sort of stuff I teach at my workshops, and Joseph Marranca and I are doing several more in October: check the schedule on www.cameratraining.ca !

      And yes, I wear a tie almost every day.

      Snow snaps

      In preparation for an upcoming two-day Country Photography Workshop I am organizing with a colleague on 3+4 April (ask me about it!), I took a few snaps in the snow yesterday with the 1D Mark IV. Interestingly, it meters more accurately than the 1D Mark III: I needed less exposure compensation since even evaluative metering was biased more towards the selected focus point. (This is odd since focus-point tied spot metering works less often).

      Can you tell I like wide angles?

      Snow tips:

      • Set exposure carefully for most images, emphasizing background saturation. Use a grey card or spot meter off treees, or off the sky, and adjust starting from that.
      • Bring a spare battery.
      • Careful bringing the camera into the house afterward: use a plastic bag.
      • Meter carefully and use the “highlights” view and the histogram to ensure you are not blowing out the snow – but you are getting close.
      • Use flash to light up close objects (see how I did it?)
      • High-speed flash is needed if the time exceeds 1/250th – it can be left on since the camera will only use it when needed – but it will cut effective flash power by at least 50%.
      • It is very hard to see  your images: bring a Hoodman Hood Loupe and let your eyes acclimatise.

      One more snap and it’s back to the order of the day:

      Again, flash and careful exposure gives it that nice saturated look.

      Outdoors Tip

      You should definitely get one of these:

      A Hoodman Hood Loupe. With it, you can see your LCD even in bright outdoors daylight. It adjusts to your eyes and it magnifies, as well. Invaluable, and I would not go anywhere without mine.

      I am so glad I had mine in Arizona last week. Otherwise I would not have seen what I was getting in bright “creative light” like this:

      Or this:

      Without a Hood Loupe, you are guessing. A sin “I think they’re OK, and when I get indoors I’ll see for sure” – if you can even see the display at all.