Making it seem easy.

A student wrote to me just now, about last Saturday’s workshop, “You and Joseph make it look so easy!”.

He means things like turning this well-conceived but not-very well made available light snapshot…:

…into this creatively lit art photo:

That was from the workshop last Saturday. And yes, we shot this in the camera like that – it’s not Photoshopped.

Our student is underestimating himself, and based on past performance I am sure he did great – but his point is well taken. Experience makes everything seem easy. Brain surgery, too (one day I must ask  brain surgeon).

How do you learn? My teaching uses the following methodology:

  1. You learn by understanding technical basics.
  2. Then you build on those in a step-wise manner – logical progression is key here. Build understanding, one fact at a time. Only when you “get” one fact, move on to the next level, that builds on the previous.
  3. Then you lean how these principles and technologies apply in real life: i.e. what situations they address.
  4. Then you practice. This is when you really learn. During, and after, this practice, of course you continually go back to step 1 and review the fundamentals – and it is at this point that they will all eventually click into place.

That is behind my basic teaching (“learn the camera”), and my advanced teaching, in particular the “Advanced Flash” and “Event Photography” signature courses. And it is also behind the practical workshops Joseph Marranca and I teach to small groups of students.

Sometimes this teaching can seem a bit much. So many facts to learn! But compare this to driving a car, which is also complicated. Or try riding a bicycle.

An image is the confluence of moment, subject, and light. So, the key to the shot above is:

  1. Know the technical aspects of your photography (without that, all else fails);
  2. Come up with the concept;
  3. Ensure you have equipment;
  4. Ensure you have model, setting and props;
  5. Design the right lighting – the key step in this image;
  6. Execute!

On the workshops, we do everything from step 1 to 6. The shots above are made by everything coming together. Without the idea – nothing. Without model and props – nothing. Without technical skills – nothing. Without equipment – nothing.

So how did we make that shot?

We rented a boat, and… oh wait. No lake.

So we used the following:

Not something you set up in ten minutes, of course. But when you do it, and it all comes together, the images are great.



Last Tango in Mono

A reminder for those of you who live in the Toronto area and who want to learn all about flash and creative light: the last ever Mono workshop is on Saturday, 23 April, and there are just two spots left.

This workshop, in the country home I am leaving at the end of this month, teaches you first the technical points, and then Joseph Marranca and I help you put those into practice. So you will learn – plus you go back with actual portfolio shots that you have made – like these, from previous workshops:

Angry Jump

Angry Jump

All of these were shot “as is”, and minimal processing has been done. The shots were made in the camera, not in post. The one thing they have in common is that they use creative light.

Burying a dead lover

Burying a dead lover

Smoke machine, gels, white balance: all doable once you know how.

Hitchcock! - Shot by Joseph Marranca and Michael Willems, Mono, Ontario, 2010


That was a “broad daylight” shot, above.  Shot with just speedlights. Yup, that is what creative light can do.

Lit Runner - Shot by Joseph Marranca and Michael Willems, Mono, Ontario, 2010

Lit Runner

Cross lighting – wonderful, no?

Pensive Girl - Shot by Joseph Marranca and Michael Willems, Mono, Ontario, 2010

Pensive Girl

Looks photoshopped? Nope. Just exposed well and lit well. Simple once you know, and that is what these workshops are all about.

Umbrella Girl - Shot by Joseph Marranca and Michael Willems, Mono, Ontario, 2010

Umbrella Girl

The shot above was another daylight shot, nice day, no rain – but as it happens, we had a garden hose.

Hummer threat - Shot by Joseph Marranca and Michael Willems, Mono, Ontario, 2010

Hummer threat

We have shot Hummers, Horses, and indeed also a Harley:

Harley Chick - Shot by Michael Willems and Joseph Marranca, Mono, 2010

Harley Chick

Those are just a few of the shots we did in past workshops – and Saturday’s will be a very special one. Think “wakeboarder” and “green screen”.

If you have always wanted to learn flash and then learn how to apply it both practically and creatively, book now and come to Mono.

Of course we will do more workshops going forward, but they will no longer be in Mono – one of the most amazing settings you will ever shoot in. Two spots left, and we will not allow more in, since the student-teacher ratio is very important to us. This is not a “20 people, one instructor” workshop (rather, it is “no more than 10 students, and two pro instructors”).

See you Saturday – and others, you will see a few shots here later.


Warning: bodies here

Today marked the first “The Art of Photographing Nudes” workshop that Joseph Marranca and I held in Mono, Ontario for photo enthusiasts.

Kassandra, grunge James Bond nude silhouette

In this workshop, students learned about such things as:

  • Background of the nude photograph
  • Types of nude shots
  • Challenges
  • Equipment/technical
  • Model: interaction, finding, putting at ease
  • Men vs Women
  • Light: how to keep it simple
  • Colour vs Black and White
  • Composition
  • Do’s and Dont’s

Many practical tips made this a very useful way to spend a Sunday, and everyone went back with lots of shots.

When you have a great model like Kassandra, your task shifts slightly from directing every shot to “setting up the shot, then taking lots of images, then selecting the ones you like best”.

We shall be holding another one in March – let me know if you think you might want to be one of the students. Two expert photographer instructors, one cook (thanks Michelle) and no more than ten students at the most.

After the click, another few shots.

Warning: those of you that are offended by the sight of the human body (I am sorry if in 2011 you are: we all have one – and  if you want to be a photographer you had better get used to that fact!) – that there will be unclothed human bodies after you click here:

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Upcoming workshop

There will be many lighting tips during the next Advanced Flash workshop in Mono (just north of Toronto) on 20 November.

Joseph Marranca and I will take students through a thorough overview, and then detail, of all types of flash (this is the same workshop I taught recently in Las Vegas and Phoenix); then practice, and then the best part: with a professional model, we create and make portfolio shots together, using all the techniques we have learned.

Shots like this:

Cherry and Tara Elizabeth

Cherry and Tara Elizabeth

Cherry, the horse, was old, and he recently passed away: this was the last photo taken of him.

It was lit by a battery-operated studio flash with a softbox on our right, and one bare flash (a speedlight) on our left (slightly behind the horse). Can you see how this adds some rim light to his face and legs, and hence gives them shape and offsets them from what is behind? This can be very important for well-lit portraits.

If you are interested in learning more, sign up: there are still a few places left. But hurry: we limit attendance to a maximum of ten students, which with two instructors is a great ratio.

And those of you who cannot come: sign up for a starter course at Henry’s (ask me when I am teaching what!), and of course this blog will contain daily tips, many of which I take from my workshop practice. Photography is one great adventure, and one I hope you will pursue to make ever more beautiful images.