October 31, 2010

photography questions & answers

Continuing on the theme where I look at specific search engine queries via Woopra, and answer a selection of 10 questions more directly…

01)  why doesn’t my light meter display an accurate reading when using a speedlight?

Aside from the (small) chance of your light meter being faulty, the most likely reason why you might get a faulty or obviously incorrect reading from your flash meter when metering your speedlight’s output … is that you are shooting in TTL mode. Most flash meters are fooled by the pre-flash that the camera uses to determine TTL flash exposure (and the final output of the flash).

You can see the position of the pre-flash there, a low output burst of light from your speedlight. The camera senses how much of the light is returned, and from that will calculate the TTL flash exposure you should need. Hand held light meter readings are usually triggered by that pre-flash, and since it is lower in intensity than the actual output from the speedlight, will give you a reading that just doesn’t make sense. I drove myself crazy with this one weekend, when I couldn’t figure out why my flash meter would give me an f2.8 reading, no matter what aperture I set my camera to.

Next question …

02)  why can’t I get great shallow depth of field with my camera and lens?

There are several reasons for this.
- The primary reason is that you’re not using a lens with a wide aperture. A kit zoom lens with an f5.6 maximum aperture is simply not going to do it. You really need a lens with a wide aperture if you want to separate your subject from the background.
- Then you also need to move your subject further from the background. When people pose for a camera, they have a tendency to bunch up against a wall or such. Get them to step forward. The further away from the background, the better.
- You need a camera with a large sensor. An iPhone will never give you shallow depth of field. A medium format camera will give you the shallowest depth of field in comparison.
- Using a longer focal length will also help in separating your subject from the background.

03)  pop-up flash photography techniques

Seriously, there are none. That plastic crap they want to sell to you to give you better light from a pop-up flash, is better spent as money going towards a better hot-shoe mounted speedlight. There are no short-cuts here. There is no good news I can give you about your pop-up flash, other than … you’re going shopping!

04)  how to set flash sync speed on Canon 5D

It would seem like the idea of flash sync speed confuses new photographers – like the idea that there is one specific flash sync speed. There isn’t just one. You can sync your flash at ANY shutter speed below maximum flash sync speed. And if your camera is capable of high-speed flash flash, then you can go much much higher .. with a specific caveat to that. There are some older cameras which aren’t able to do high-speed flash sync. As far as I can recall from distance hazy memory of the camera, the Fuji S2 didn’t. But most (every?) modern DSLR is high-speed flash capable. So your flash can sync at ANY shutter speed. However, there is only one maximum flash sync speed for any specific camera.

05)  camera brand with most accurate metering

I would say that at this point in camera design and technology, there really is no DSLR that doesn’t have accurate metering. The metering systems have become increasingly sophisticated and complex in how they interpret the light levels from various parts of the metered scene – such as Matrix Metering (with Nikon) and Evaluative Metering (with Canon), and any of the equivalents that Pentax, Sony, Olympus and others will have. They are all accurate, I’m sure. So at this point, if you’re not happy with your camera’s metering, then it is a is, imho, just sheer laziness in trying to rely entirely on technology from saving you from understanding exposure metering basics.

06)  can a wedding photographer go behind the priest on the stage?

Absolutely not. However, I would say to check with the specific officiant. I’ve photographed some ethnic weddings where it is expected that you’d be right there up-close to the bride and groom, and you have to edge your way in between some family members with cameras. So it kinda depends on the situation. But really, as a general rule, I’d say absolutely not. As a photographer you are not part of the ceremony, and should do your best not to attract attention.

07)  what white balance settings for wedding photography?

Oh dear. A question asked with the kind of concern that only a JPG shooter can muster. Seriously, shoot in RAW, and then this largely becomes a trivial question. But to answer the question, I use a few of the default WB settings.

Oh dear, another JPG shooter …

08)  best quality settings for my camera

I have to strongly (and near absolutely) insist that if you are serious about photography, you need to shoot in RAW. There are a few exceptions that I can offhand think of. For example, if you are photographing sporting events and printing on-site, then a JPG work flow would be more practical. And in that sense, there might be a few other situations where shooting in JPG is more viable than shooting in RAW. However, for the vast majority of photography, shooting in RAW makes more sense.

09)  wedding photography technique

Well, here it is … wedding photography related articles from this site.
The list keeps growing! Check back.

neil van niekerk Mac

Well, when I posted earlier this year about my move over to using Mac as my main system, I was still using a PC desktop.  When that recently died though, I replaced it with an iMac.  So now I’m working entirely just with Mac computers.  And really, I’m happier for it.  The PC desktop became increasingly problematic in that it crashed repeatedly … especially when I opened up Bridge or Photoshop.  The cause apparently was due to a driver that needed updating.  Now, with me caught between Nvidia and HP and Adobe, as to who is actually responsible for having display drivers that work properly … it’s just easier to get a computer that works fluently.  It makes my life easier.

Now, as an aside, I have to tell this story:
Nice logic from Hewlett Packard tech support (in India). I bought my desktop on Oct 30, 2009. It died a few days ago, and I immediately decided to get the iMac and move my work over to it. So it took me a few days before I had the time to consider taking the HP desktop back to the computer store – and only then did I notice the date that I had bought the computer on, and that today, Oct 30, 2010, would be the last day of warranty. Since it was on a Saturday, the guy at the computer store rightfully pointed out that it would be best if I immediately reported the problem to HP so that it would still fall under warranty. So I called HP tech support … and got through to someone in India, who argued that it was already Oct 31 there in India, and hence the computer is past its warranty date!? Yes, for real. Anyway, after another extended phone call to someone else elsewhere at HP, we did get somewhere, and the computer is being massaged back to life. Fortunately, all the documents and files that were on the computer, were also backed-up online with Carbonite. I would highly recommend Carbonite!

So, back to this specific search engine query, yes indeed, I am now 100% Mac.

the final one for today, is an oddity again:

I look terrible in photographs with camera flash

Really, that is an Google query that somehow pointed to my site.

The only answer I can give you, is to get photographer friends who read this site! ; )

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephen October 31, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Does Woopra track search queries performed in your Wordpress search field? (the search field in the right column)


2 Neil vN October 31, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Stephen … Woopra doesn’t track searches within the blog itself as ‘search engine queries’, but it does track any individual visitor as they move through the site, incl searches within the site.

Neil vN


3 Dominic Velasquez October 31, 2010 at 10:25 pm

I did see one useful function of the pop-up flash – strictly as a flash commander. But other than that, ya, I wholeheartedly agree with you. ;)


4 David Amberson October 31, 2010 at 10:29 pm

“I look terrible in photographs with camera flash” HAHAHAHAHAHA. OMG. People will google anything.

But seriously, Everytime I go anywhere and shoot any kind of gathering/reception/party etc, the end result is always,
“How are your photos always so crisp and clear and bright(well exposed) and you dont use a flash”

This is followed by “Huh”, I do use flash, on every one of those images, flash was used. Do you not remember it going off all night and that huge Quantum turbo pack on my hip.”
“But it doesnt look like flash was used” This means I did my job.

And of course the others who say, “Uh shouldnt your flash face forward, you got it going off behind you dude haha”

As you said, get some friends who know how to use flash. For me, flash gives me more control over the scene. Without it, we only control ambient. With it, we can control both subject exposure and ambient(or background) so we get a more balanced image that doesnt look like the typical P&S snap where kids blown out in front of a cave

Neil, believe it or not, there are true professionals who cant use flash the right way. I work with some thats worked in this business 25yrs and still get asked, “Did you use your softbox in the livingroom”
“But how did you get short lighting on her if you used on camera flash, must have been North window light”
No! ON CAMERA FLASH. No window on that side.
“But how”
Ding ding ding. Bounce flash on wall and….wait for it……”Black Foamie thing”


5 Simon November 1, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Hi Neil,

I presume that this means that the Macbook Pro & cinema display just didn’t quite cut it as a desktop replacement (as described in your Feb 1 2010 blog entry) … hence the iMac. I’m commenting because I was wondering if I could get away with just a Macbook Pro next time I upgrade, but I guess you just found it too slow for a professional RAW workflow? (I’ve got an older white iMac at the moment.)

Also, I know it’s an issue that’s been discussed to death on many forums, but what do you think to the glossy (glassy) screens? Did it take you long to adapt to them?

Thanks for such a great site. I’ve learnt so much from reading your fantastic blog.


6 Neil vN November 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Simon, my MacBook Pro and Cinema Display is still my main work station. The iMac (and previously the PC desktop computer), is the office computer. My assistant needs something to work on as well. ; )

The MacBook Pro works like a dream still. Fast. No drama.

I didn’t have a hard time adapting to the glossy screens at all … after I changed the blinds in the office to cut out any outside glare.

Neil vN


7 TJ McDowell November 2, 2010 at 11:10 pm

We get some pretty interesting queries that serve our website too. I guess I won’t complain about traffic no matter how they get there. As far as the whole TTL and light meter thing, we shoot in manual to avoid the whole TTL mess. I think we value the predictability of manual. While it may seem slower at first, once you get your flash settings right, it’s actually quite a bit quicker.


8 Carlos A November 3, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Hi Neil.

In regards to the first question on this post, I can’t see any logical reason to use a flash meter to set exposure when using TTL flash mode… the flash/camera will adjust the flash power output as needed to achieve a correct exposure given a user selected lens aperture/ISO/shutter speed combination; that is what TTL is designed to do. The way to adjust exposure here is with the FEC (flash exposure compensation) button.

I ONLY use a flash meter when I shoot with my speedlights in manual mode; here I am in control of selecting flash power output (and/or distance to subject) to achieve correct exposure given a aperture/ISO combination.

Am I missing something here?


C. Arche


9 Neil vN November 3, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Carlos .. you’re entirely correct. But why I (and I assume others) have tried to use a flashmeter, is to try and see if the flashmeter agrees with the amount of light put out. In digital times it seems superfluous with the instant feedback of the camera’s preview. When I tried it to figure out what the camera was doing, was when I was shooting slide film … no feedback, and no latitude.

Neil vN


10 Carlos A November 3, 2010 at 6:35 pm

I used to shoot slides years ago so I am aware of the limited exposure latitude of this media. If needed, a flash meter should work fine with any old (film) camera using the original version of TTL which had no pre-flash. With Canon film cameras using A-TTL, you should be able to get an accurate flash exposure reading by half pressing the shutter (this is when the pre-flash occurs in this system), then activating the flash meter before taking the final exposure to measure the actual flash exposure.

With E-TTL (digital SLR’s don’t have TTL or A-TTL modes, those are only availble on film bodies), you can use the flash exposure lock (FEL) button, this will trigger the pre-flash and lock the exposure. Then activate the flash meter and take the photo – this will prevent the pre-flash from firing during the actual exposure as the camera has already made and stored all the relevant flash calculations.

BTW, using FEL with fill flash can help prevent subjects closing their eyes do to the pre-flash.




11 Winston Mattis November 7, 2010 at 4:43 am

Neil could you share what iMac you went for and why?
I am a pc user and need some advice on the change over.


12 Neil vN November 7, 2010 at 5:22 am

Winston .. for the office computer I went with the 27″ Quadcore i5 iMac with 8Gb memory. It runs like a dream.

What still surprises me about the elegance of the iMac, is that there is a single cable running to the iMac .. a power cable. The entire machine is just one unit on a stand, with wireless mouse and keyboard. It is uncluttered and an ergonomic wonder.

Surprisingly enough, it is cheaper at B&H than it is at the Apple Store.

My main machine though is still the MacBook Pro with the 24″ Cinema Display, that I described previously.

Neil vN


13 Winston Mattis November 14, 2010 at 10:08 am

Well Neil I bought a iMac,but finding it hard to convert.
How did you find things like keyboard short cuts.
Could you recommend any good books for this long time PC person?


14 Neil vN November 14, 2010 at 10:15 am

Winston, this book was a good read, and helped me a lot.

Switching to the Mac: The Missing Manual, Snow Leopard Edition

Neil vN


15 Allen December 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Hi Neil.

Back to question 1… The Googler may be referring to their camera’s built-in light meter rather than a separate flash meter. If they are shooting in low light in aperture priority with metering set to evaluative, they may be getting a higher shutter speed reading with the flash switched on. In Canon Land, (where aperture priority + flash = slow sync by default) this is the method used to avoid over exposing the subject in low light. This works hand-in-hand with evaluative flash metering in daylight, where the flash power is reduced when the ambient light reaches a certain level.

I’m sure Nikon cameras have something similar with matrix metering, TTL-BL and slow sync selected.


16 Neil vN December 18, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Allen … quite true. On re-reading the search engine query, it could’ve referred to the camera’s built-in meter as well.

Neil vN


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