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.


Another example

…of outdoor flash here.

Take a typical back yard on a sunny day. Set your camera to “P”, or the green AUTO mode, or A/Av mode, and click.

Mmm. Why do we avoid just snapping? Because it can be a little boring and it gives you no control. Let’s take control, instead, and

  1. Darken the background (I do it in manual mode, or you can do it by using “-” exposure compensation). Set shutter, aperture and ISO to give you a dark background (dark colour is saturated colour)
  2. Add a flash or two, using wireless TTL (wireless with manual flash power setting is better if you have the time and things don’t move position while you are shooting, but TTL is faster – I used TTL here):

…which gives us a chair like this:

And a pic like this:

See how rich and blue the sky is (in the first picture it was featureless white)?

That’s a stock quality image and the point is, you can shoot it in seconds. Learn flash (from me in a private session, or wherever I teach) and your pictures will become immeasurably better.


Take your flash off camera

The best way to improve your flash images is to take your flash off the camera.

As I did here in last night’s Mastering Flash class:

Student, lit with flash (Photo: Michael Willems)

You see, that is direct flash – unmodified. Off-camera, using remote TTL (or I could have used a cable).

So yes, it can easily be done – as long as the flash light axis is not the same as your lens axis. Straight into a woman’s face from above is light we love – but crucially, straight into her face does not mean straight from your camera’s perspective!

Now, do not get me wrong: modified is great. Like with a small softbox:

Which from the front looks like this (note the dark circle that prevents light spots):

Which, when combined with a second flash camera right to add edge/hair light, gets me this, of another kind student volunteer in last night’s class:

Student, lit with flash (Photo: Michael Willems)

Simple, no? Just remember:

  • Axis of light <> axis of lens.
  • TTL is fine, if you know how it works.
  • Wireless TTL works very well indeed indoors (and with clever management can be used outdoors also).
  • Keeping it simple often works well.

Simple. With just one or two flashes and a modern cameera you can produce excellent work. (Once you know how it all works, and that is we come in!)


Lunch time!

And when you are a photographer like me, you may take that as a photo op. I cannot even look at a can of soup without thinking “Hmmmmm….”. In terms of photos.

And that leads to this quick setup:

The remainder of lunch about to be photographed with speedlights (Photo: Michael Willems)

The remainder of lunch about to be photographed

That setup was a TTL setup, to save me time. (Connecting Pocketwizards and so on would take a few minutes. Hey, I was hungry – what can I say).

I have, here:

  • Main light, on our left, a 430 EX II speedlight with a Honl Photo Speed Snoot
  • Edge light, a second 430 EX speedlight with a Honl Photo Speed Snoot and a blue/green gel.
  • The umbrella is merely being used as a reflector, to fill in the right a little.
  • A striped place mat for the subject to sit on.
  • A wall, far enough away to be dark, as background.

The camera is a 1D Mark IV with a 580EX II speedlight on it.

And that gives me…:

Lunch, lit with speedlights in wireless TTL mode (photo: Michael Willems)

Lunch, lit with speedlights in wireless TTL mode

So now to bed quickly: I am teaching “Advanced Flash” with Guest Star David Honl (yes, that David Honl) today Saturday 11am-3:30pm in Toronto.

One is a great number.

As you know, for a good flash picture you need many flashes. Or at least several.


Sometimes you want to do it the dramatic way. In that case, the number of flashes is not very important; the location of the flash, however, is.

And the worst possible location is “on your camera”.

So you take your single light source off the camera. If you own a Nikon camera, or a Canon 60D – or the Canon 7D I took this picture with in yesterday’s Canon 7D class in Toronto, it’s simple.

  1. Using your camera’s menu, you make its pop-up flash into the “master” (Canon) or “commander” (Nikon).
  2. Ensure that you disable the “master’s” own flash function: it should only fire commands (“Morse code”) at the remote flash (430EX, 580EX, SB600, SB800, SB900, etc) that you are holding in your left hand…
  3. …which you have set to “slave” (Canon)/”remote” (Nikon) mode.
  4. You then ensure that the cell on the slave flash (on the front of a Canon, on the side of a Nikon) can see the command flashes emitted by the master.

A lot of words. What it means is that with just the right camera and a simple single hand-held flash you can create dramatic side-lit images like this, of a student in last night’s Toronto course:

And this, of another student:

Aren’t those great images? They show, I hope, that you can indeed take interesting images with a single flash aimed straight at your subject. As long as that single flash is not positioned on top of your camera.

About the settings. I set the camera in Manual exposure mode, and I made my settings right to create a dark background – i.e. I wanted to basically see only the flash light in the image.That meant 400 ISO, 1/125th second, f/5.6 on my 50mm f/1.2 lens. Razor sharp and dramatic light.

A note. I just want to remind you all that to learn these and many other advanced techniques, you have one chance to learn from me and, all the way from Los Angeles, my special guest star David Honl (the inventor of the great range of Honl Photo modifiers) on March 19, in Toronto. Just click here to book – in one day, just three weeks away, learn how to use flash, the most exciting light. There is still space, but to be assured of a spot, you need to book now. I promise you will be delighted with what you learn.