A Useless^H^H^H^H ful Trick!

Today, a repeat of a 2015 post that is particularly useful for travel photographers.

With the camera on a tripod and exposure set to manual, I can take pictures like these, one by one:

…and on on. As said, I am using a tripod, so the only thing that varies is me (I used a self timer).

And then I can use Photoshop or the GIMP (the latter is a free equivalent) to do things like this very easily:

Or even this:

OK.. so a cool trick. You do this with layers and masks. Hellishly complicated user interface, but once you know the silly UI, the process itself is very simple. It’s the only thing I have the GIMP for.

So. Why would I think this is useful, other than for fun?

Well…. think. You can also use it the other way. Instead of replacing the wall by me, replace me by the wall. And now you can perhaps see a benefit looming.

No? Think on. You are at the Eiffel Tower. Or the Grand Canyon lookout point. Or whatever tourist attraction you can think of. What do you see? Tourists. Right. It attracts them: that’s why it is a tourist attraction.

But not in the same spot all the time. So all you need to do is the same I did here: take a bunch of pictures. Say 10-20 of them. So that you have each spot of attraction at least once without a covering tourist. Then you put them into layers—one each—in PS. And then you manually remove tourists. One by one, poof.. they disappear.

Or if you have the extended or Cloud version, you go one further: you use function File > Scripts > Statistics.  Now choose “median” and select the photos. And you end up automatically with an Eiffel tower without tourists, a Grand Canyone without other onlookers, and so on.

Cool? Yes, very. That warrants four backspaces and a “–ful”, in my opinion. And those of you as experienced as I am in IT (I am avoiding saying “as old as”) know that ^H (Control-H) is a backspace.

So there.

You Must Upgrade. Or Must You?

A student just emailed me this:

I currently have a Canon 40D but it has been suggested [by someone whose judgment I trust] that for event photography I need to upgrade to a Canon 80D.

OK. Interesting. Let’s tackle this one.

First, always be highly suspicious when someone says you “must” do this or that. When it’s “my way or the highway”, I usually take the highway.  Be suspicious of simple solutions and dogmatic statements, just as you should be suspicious of them in politics.

Second, why so specific? Why from a 40D to a 80D? Why not to a 6D, or a 5D Mark III, a 70D, or some other camera altogether?

What the “expert” probably meant is this:

“You want to shoot events. Events often take place in low light. That means you will need to shoot at wide apertures (i.e. need good lenses) and slow shutter speeds. But even then, and especially if you are bouncing a flash, you will inevitably need to shoot at high ISO sensitivity values. And that is the one reason why you may want to upgrade the camera every few years: the ability to shoot at high ISO values, without crazy noise, increases with every new generation of sensors. So an upgrade to a more recent camera wold be good. If the budget stretches, consider a full frame 6D. If not, consider a 70D as well.

But all that said, no-one “must” do anything, and there are other solutions too, like investing in more, better lenses. A 35mm f/1.4 prime lens is great for many types for events, for example. A more powerful flash, if you now have a lower power flash, is also an option. Or you may need nothing at all: photogs shot events a few years ago very happily with this camera. Why not now?

So now we get into the “what type of event”. What type of event do you want to shoot? This, more than anything, will decide for you what you start saving up for.

That is a much more measured statement, isn’t it? That’s how *I* would have answered this.

All this, incidentally, including the differences for different types of event, is what gets discussed in detail at my “Event Photography” workshops. Which I regularly hold: there’s one coming up in Toronto in a few months (list soon), but more importantly, I can run this privately with as few as two or three students., or solo if we do it in Brantford:

  • On demand, any time (minimum one student if held in Brantford, 3 if elsewhere): Event Photography. In this workshop I teach you the secrets of successful event photography, for any type of event.

 That’s it for today, folks. Enjoy your camera and go shoot something cool!

The simplest…

Sometimes, when you are immersed in a profession, you forget that not everyone is even familiar with the language used in that profession, let alone with some of its principles and practices. As an engineer who teaches, I try never to fall victim to that thinking. But sometimes even I do. So in the next series of blog posts, I will briefly define some of the basics. Just in case.

Starting, today, with flash modes.

Your small, camera mounted, flash has a “mode” button. That button gives you access to some of the following modes:

  • TTL (also, “E-TTL”, or “TTL-BL”, etc). This means “automatic flash power”. The camera and the flash together sort out how much power is needed for every photo. They do that with a mechanism that I explain in my courses, books, and workshops. That mechanism is called “TTL”. You do not have to worry about your subject’s brightness, at least in theory: the camera and flash sort it out.
  • MANUAL (Also called “M” or “MAN).  In that mode, you set the flash power. You can, for instance, set it to 1/1, or 100% power: the brightest power level. Or 1/2 (half power), 1/4 (one quarter of its top power), 1/8, and so on. On some cameras, you can go as low as 1/128 power, a very low flash level. So in this mode, if your flash is too bright, you would turn it down to a lower level (or move back from what you are lighting); if it is too dim, you would turn it up (or move closer).
  • Repeating flash, or stroboscopic flash. In this mode, the flash will flash not once, but a defined number of times, with a defined interval. You need to define the number of flashes, the interval, and the power level. (E.g. “5 flashes, at a frequency of 10 flashes per second, at 1/16 power”). That allows you to make photos of, say, a runner against a dark background, where you see not one, but ten images of that runner as she moves through your photo.

There may even be modes additional to this. Depending on the flash you use, there may also be a setting that tells the flash that it is a remote flash, and there may be a setting that allows the flash to be used at fast shutter speeds, but at a reduced power level (“High Speed Flash”, or “FP Flash”). There could be other settings as well, like a “dumb slave setting” (Nikon calls this the “SU-4” setting).

All those additional settings are not modes, but they are what I called them: additional settings. I know, that may be confusing to you (“what is a mode and what is an additional setting?”), but if so, don’t worry about it. It’s what the engineers decided to do. The reasons for not calling these settings “modes” are not important right now.

So there you have it. Some flash “basic basics”.

In my flash courses, I explain al this in detail, of course.

Want to learn more: buy the pro flash manual, and if you are in Toronto, sign up right now for the 25 March portrait and model lighting workshop.  See you there?

25 March workshop in Toronto

Portrait and Model Lighting – 25 March 2017, Toronto
12 noon–4pm
At CSI, Daniel Spectrum Building,
585 Dundas St East,

This workshop introduces you to all the ins and outs of photographing simple studio portraits. From posing techniques to people skills to party shots, you will learn many essential camera, lighting and composition techniques. From light meters to multiple flashes to umbrellas and other modifiers. Learn positioning, lighting and other techniques so you can start to take your own professional portrait pictures.

All you need to bring is a camera with a standard hotshoe connection (i.e. not most Sony cameras). Your previous level of knowledge is not important, but knowing how to operate your camera in manual mode and knowing how to focus are recommended.

This small hands-on course, with a model supplied, teaches:

  • Getting your flashes off camera: Why and how to use Radio Triggers.
  • Modifiers: Umbrella, softbox, reflector, gobo, snoot, and grid.
  • Camera settings and metering.
  • Reflectors. Light stands. Brackets. Gels. And so on: all the things you need to know.
  • Using small flashes for split, rim, loop, broad and short, and Rembrandt lighting.
  • Working with your model: mood, positioning, interacting, putting at ease, and getting the most out of your model.
  • Make-up: Important notes.
  • Gels for correction, and gels for creativity.
  • “Post”-work for maximum success with minimum effort.
  • Black and white: why and when?

You will leave with the ability to do great work in your own home studio, using simple equipment that gives you professional results.

Click here to reserve your space now. Limited to 10 people.

Nothing changes?

Well, not in 8 years. Here’s a technical note in the form of a post from October 2009 that is still valid…:

A reminder to all flash photographers: you need your shutter speed to be below the camera’s flash synch speed.

What does this mean? Let me explain.

The flash fires for the briefest period, of course. Like 1/2000th of a second. That is why we call it a flash.

So when it fires, if the light is to reach the entire film or sensor, the shutter needs to be totally open at that point.

That much is obvious. But what is not obvious is that there is an engineering limitation in your shutter. Beyond a certain shutter speed, the camera’s synch speed, the shutter never totally opens. Instead, a small (increasingly narrow) slit travels across the shutter to give each pixel a brief exposure time.That’s cool – the shutter does not have to be super-fast and expensive and you get a fast shutter speed.

But this gets in the way when you are using flash. When you fire during those short exposure times (on most modern cameras, faster than about 1/200th second), the light does not reach the entire sensor. Look at this example I shot to illustrate this, at speeds from 1/200th to 1/1000th sec:


You can see that as I exceed the sync speed, the light only reaches part of the shutter.

You should also note that especially when using external flashes with Pocketwizards or similar, flash takes time to set up. My 1Ds MKIII has a synch speed f 1/25oth second but as you see, at that speed it is already beginning to cut off. Best stay a bit below your synch speed (I typically set my shutter, when I am using studio flash, to 1/125th second).

(There is a way to overcome that: fast flash, which some high end flash units offer. This continuously, all the time that the shutter travels, pulses the flash at a very rapid rate, so that the slit, as it travels across the sensor, has light coming in throughout its travel time. It works great – do use it when taking flash images outside – but it uses a lot of energy, and hence decreases the range of your flash.)

(Advanced tip: I know of at least one photographer who uses this effect to introduce an electronic version of a neutral density filter or a barn door: he sets his camera to 1/320th second while using flash, and turns the camera upside down. That makes the top part of the image dark, at least as far as the flash part of the light is concerned!)