Light for Effect

I don’t often shoot with just an IPhone but at PodCamp Toronto 2015 I brought one of my cheap LCD movie lights with me._DSC8940-Edit

I was showing the campers how you could use a movie light or even a decent flashlight to illuminate portrait shots using smartphones or really any other camera.

The shot on the right of the model was taken at Jennifer Rosenbaum’s fabulous boudoir workshop (which BTW is coming back to Toronto in 2015 and if you want to learn how to pose and shoot people especially with a DSLR camera this is a terrific workshop).

The light coming from the left is an LCD Icelight by Westcott. Very expensive but daylight balanced which is what professional photographers will want when shooting.westcott-icelight

But you can do much the same with a super cheap LCD movie light that takes AA batteries and can be handheld.

I think I paid around $50 for mine online and the light is variable in intensity and you can even drop diffusion (makes the light softer) or colour filters in front of the LCDs for special effects. TRIOPO-TTV160-CN-160-LED-Video-Light-Lighting-for

By using a light off camera, you can create very professional looking images without a lot of cost using very simple cameras or cameras in smartphones.

BTW all the reddish lighting that is painting the walls and splashing on the model is created by add-on filters in Lightroom (one of the better photo editing software packages).

The effect may not be to everyone’s taste but I like it and when I am shooting for myself that’s all that counts.


How To Shoot Kids And Animals

I don’t have any baby shots but Sandy Puc sure does.

SamShooting2I’ve been to Sandy’s Babies and Bellies workshop and if you’re at all interested in learning how to shoot babies and soon-to-be-moms I highly recommend Sandy’s workshops which do occasionally come to Canada. (Here’s a link to Sandy’s workshop.)

(Here’s a link to her book available from Amazon.)

One of the main things I learned was to shoot kids at their level. All too often we shoot kids from our own level with the camera looking down at the child. This makes the poor kid’s head look enormous (whatever is closest to the camera appears larger) with a small body in the background.734

If you’re shooting babies put them on a bed or a couch  (take care they don’t roll or squirm off) and shoot from their eye level. Your baby photos will be so much better.

That’s one of Sandy’s images in the photo and it’s wonderful isn’t it?

Based on the catch-lights in the baby’s eyes this might have been shot using window light coming from the right of the image. You could shoot just as good a shot as this IF (there’s always an “IF”) you keep the background simple.

If you’re shooting with a DSLR, use a “fast” lens which is one that opens wide creating a shot like this with a small depth of field which emphasizes the child and separates baby from the blurry background). A 50mm f/1.8 for most DSLRs (see photo below) is cheap ($150), fast and works great. It should be your second lens after your kit lens which came with your camera.

Same with kids. Get down on the floor with them and shoot at their eye level. The kids will think it’s a hoot that you’re down there with them and after a few shots will ignore the camera.

Same thing with pets. Go online and look at some pet photographers’s sites and you’ll see they tend to shoot eye-to-eye with the

One thing babies and animals have in common is they have a very limited attention span. Shooting babies just after feeding helps and getting animals after a big workout helps calm them down.

BTW I think animal photography is one of the hardest things to do and babies come a close second.

Stop shooting everything at your eye level

I chanced upon a wonderful PBS documentary on American photography giant Dorothea Lange 272e8236594cd7fc2deb1ba6c522e93bwhose iconic images working for the US Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression of the 1930s changed documentary photography forever.

We’ve all seen Lange’s images. They are haunting*.

That’s a shot taken in 1936 of her sitting on top of a car shooting with a hand-held camera of the day! (It was a Graflex Super D 4″ X 5″.)

Notice where she’s sitting.800px-Lange_car

She’s high up on top of a car. This puts her lens about 10 feet above the ground. It changes the camera’s position and her perspective on her subject. She isn’t shooting from her eye level.

You can and should be doing the same thing with your camera. If you stop taking your shots from the same position, you’ll get radically different images.

Try standing on a chair at a party. Shoot from ground level upwards. This changing of perspective is why the “selfie-stick” is so popular.

* BTW the woman in the photo was in her mid-30’s when this image was taken! The hopeless hard life of barely existing aged her beyond her years.

Why You Should Join A Local Camera Club

If you join a local camera club you’ll be hanging out with other folks who care just as much as you do about photography.

If your club is any good (and my club the Oakville Camera Club is very good indeed) you’ll get opportunities to take workshops and participate in local walkabouts that will do so much to improve your photography skills.

One of the things a club does is invite speakers to talk about photography and last night the Oakville Camera Club had one of the best.


Boris Spremo was a long-time award-winning press photographer with Canada’s Globe and Mail and later the Toronto Star. A recipient of the Order of Canada and many, many photography awards, Boris regaled the full-house audience with a fabulous slide show and commentary on news photography as he lived it over the last 50 years.

A humble and gentle man, he sure can tell a story from everything from shooting photos of Pierre and Maggie Trudeau to getting arrested during the US invasion of Grenada. A man unafraid of heights, Boris shot the CN Tower from the ground to the service pinnacle and was granted access to other high up locations that most other news photographers just wouldn’t go.

Congratulations to Boris Spremo for a life well lived and to the Oakville Camera Club for attracting such a great speaker.

Just One More

At PodCamp Toronto 2015 my very popular workshop 101 Tips For Radically Better Images garnered a lot of great comments from the campers (Thanks guys.) The one issue I had was there wasn’t enough time in one hour to give the proper emphasis to some of the tips.

This is one I wished we could have spent the entire hour reviewing.

When you watch a press conference on TV or attend a wedding what’s the one thing you keep hearing the photographers yelling? Isn’t “Just One More!”

Why are these pros so annoying?

It’s because they know that with or without flash people blink when they’re having their photos taken. Professional portrait photographers know this fact and that’s why in the old days of film they would shoot a whole roll of 12 or 24 frames just to get one image with the eyes open.P2140582-1

It’s even worse when you’re shooting groups. (Notice the lady second from left.)

The photo above was one of two similar shots taken by my wife at First Oakville’s 2015 Charter Party and International Speech Contest where I was soundly beaten this year. We used the second shot where everyone had their eyes open.

It’s even worse for DSLR pro photographers who are using flash equipment that allows for a “pre-flash” which fires a mini-blast a microsecond before the main flash goes off in order to set the auto TTL (through the lens) exposure control. There are some people (and teenagers are especially quick to blink) who react to the pre-flash.

The only way you can beat their reaction time is to turn off the pre-flash system and as you count down to taking the image you push the shutter button when you hit “two” and not one.

Sure a PhotoShop pro can cut a head off of one frame and paste it into another shot but that’s tedious work and not possible if you’re shooting JPGs with a point-and-shoot or smartphone.

So when you’re shooting a portrait don’t hesitate to say “just one more” several times until you’re sure you’ve got the image you want.

Find simple backgrounds

This tip from Toronto’s fabulous PodCamp which was held at Ryerson University last week is all about backgrounds.

Messy or busy backgrounds can be fixed simply by shooting closer which was the last tip I posted.

In the photo below taken at the Toronto Zombie Walk there are 5,000 other zombies in the background but through tight cropping and vignetting (darkening the edges of the image forcing the viewer’s eye to the brighter subjects in the centre) we only see these two frightening participants.Peter West Photo-1-222-XL

Think about moving the camera to hide stuff that distract from your main subject. Shooting from a higher angle than your subject is a quick way of getting rid of the normal background clutter.

In the photo below shot during a modelling session, this lovely model was placed in front of a black background to highlight her blond hair and pale skin tones. Of course a studio light was used to illuminate her but you could use a cheap LED movie light that’s powered by batteries and super portable.PW Photo-20

If you’re doing outdoor environmental portraits, which are easy to do using any camera including a smartphone, consider picking brick walls for your background. Often the alleyways between buildings can provide really nice indirect light that is warmed by the colour of the bricks. This warming light also falls on the subject’s face.

Avoid using a flash and let the natural light take over and you’ll be amazed at how professional these portraits will appear.

Look For The Garbage Can

One of the issues of not shooting in close is many photographers leave too much space in the background of their images. If they’re not really careful, in pops a garbage can.

This garbage can idea came from one of the other photography instructors who worked with me at Henry’s Camera’s School of Imaging. He said every photo has a garbage can somewhere and for the most part he was right.


In the photo above I used a white vignette affect to minimize a ton of distracting stuff that I couldn’t get rid of in the background. I think it worked out but there was a lot of “garbage cans” in this image.

Have a look at your own images. Were you so engaged with your subject that you missed the messy stuff in the background?

I do it all the time. I’m especially vulnerable to wall fixtures in hotel rooms which seem to magically grow out of the side of my subject’s head. Sure a trip to PhotoShop can fix this but if I had been a more observant photographer, I could avoid the post production work.