KelbyOne Interview – Canon 7D Mark II


See my interview with KelbyOne’s Mia McCormick as I share my thoughts on the new Canon 7D Mark II. I discuss how shooting high ISO has helped me get free from my tripod and shoot handheld. We also address the crop factor and many other features that make this an amazing camera without a painful price. Get more information on the New Canon 7D Mark II.

Fill Flash – Indoors & Out

Flash Techniques:
Fill Flash
I’m surprised at the number of advanced photographers who remain mystified by fill flash.  This powerful technique is simply the blending of two light sources during one exposure.  The primary light source is natural light and the secondary light source is your flash.  During full flash the camera is arbitrarily set at the highest synch speed, but with fill flash, simply shoot in aperture priority and let the flash do the rest.
31165_fillAperture priority is the best mode for using fill flash.  You select the appropriate aperture for the situation and let the camera decide the correct shutter speed.  Assuming the subject isn’t moving and the camera is supported on a tripod, most shutter speeds work.  Your flash can fire at any shutter speed at or below the flash synch speed.  To get started, pretend your flash is turned off and set exposure as you normally do in aperture priority.  Next, set the fill flash to automatically reduce flash output by  -1-1/2 or -2 stops.  Don’t confuse this setup with power settings that manually vary the flash output.  Manual setting will not work as intended.  You want the flash output automatically controlled at your desired setting while in aperture priority mode.  Check your owner’s manual for exact directions for your system.
D6069_fillOnce the flash is set to a substantial minus setting simply shoot as if the flash is not in use.  Fill flash has virtually no effect on the overall exposure.  The magic of fill flash is that it only affects the shadow areas of the image.  Even when set at minus two stops; fill dramatically opens up shadowed areas on cloudy days or during indoor situations.  Shadows can be quite harsh on bright sunny days; consider boosting your fill settings to -1/2 or -1 stop.  My standard setting for indoor/overcast lighting is -2 stops.  Fill light adds a beautiful catch light in the eyes of your subject whether shooting inside or out.  The idea is to blend the flash seamlessly so the subject looks completely natural and not flashed.  Simply reduce the flash exposure to a point well below the natural light exposure and shoot away like normal.  If you’re in doubt about which setting to use, it’s better to err on the side of too little flash.  At least the subject won’t look flashed.
24065_fillUnlike full flash, fill does not freeze subject motion or eliminate camera shake.  Remember, two exposures are taking place, one for the flash and one for the natural light.  If nothing moves, both exposures overlap perfectly as one.  Ghosting occurs if there is movement during the exposure.  Fill light freezes movement the instant the flash discharges, but the subject keeps moving during the time the shutter is open for the ambient light exposure.   The lag time between the flash firing and the shutter closing creates two overlapping images; one blurred and one sharp.  Fill flash won’t freeze the action of your active kids, but it can greatly improve the quality of images inside and out.  As in any normal shooting situation, make sure the shutter speed is adequate for the situation and the let the flash work it’s magic automatically.

Full Flash – Indoors & Out

Full Flash
For candid photos where indoor light levels are low; flash can save the day.  Most interior lighting is quite dim and exhibits a strong color cast.  Simply set your camera to the required sync speed and flash quickly eliminates color casts and the quick pulse of light eliminates the need for a tripod, and freedom to react quickly for candid shots.  Indoors, flash is capable of freezing movement, such as active children!  By definition, full flash means the flash unit provides all the light on a subject.  Select the maximum synch speed for your camera and appropriate lens aperture; and the flash automatically supplies the correct amount of light within a given distance range.
Grey phase Screech Owl capturing mouse in flight.
The most serious drawback to full flash from a small flash unit is that it’s not flattering and shadows are harsh.  Some accessory flash units allow the flash to be aimed up or to the side for bouncing off walls and ceilings. This is a good option for reducing the harshness of direct flash illumination. When using bounce techniques, make sure the wall or ceiling is white to avoid picking up a color cast.  Many flash accessories sold to soften the effects of flash have very limited usefulness for anything other than small subjects.  They fail to make the light source large enough for a significant improvement.

Whether indoors or out, through-the-lens (TTL) flash metering automatically reads the flash reflected from the subject during the exposure, and turns the flash off when correct exposure is achieved. This system automatically compensates as the flash to subject distance changes.  However, no TTL system can fix the exposure difference between widely spaced subjects.  Changing the aperture does not bracket exposure in TTL mode. Within a given range, this automatic feature ensures the same amount of light reaches the subject regardless of aperture selected.  When you need to lighten or darken the flash exposure, vary flash output via the flash compensation dial and not the lens aperture or shutter speed.  Refer to your owner’s manual for precise directions. In practical application, Shutter speed has no effect on exposure with full flash.  The shutter just needs to be fully open when the flash is triggered. The extremely short duration of the flash essentially becomes your shutter speed. This is why we can arbitrarily select the fastest flash sync on the camera, since it really is not part of the expose equation.
F3395.tifMost hobbyists readily compensate their natural light exposures for non-average subjects, but seem to forget the need to do the same with automatic flash when illuminating light and dark subjects.  Most cameras read flash output the same as natural lighting, so very similar flash compensation is prudent for light and dark subjects.  Dial in plus compensation for lighter than average subjects and dial in minus compensation for subjects darker than average.  This assumes the subject is large enough in the frame for an accurate reading.  If the subject is very small, the flash may read the reflectance of the background causing overexposure, therefore a minus compensation may be required in some situations. Keep an eye on your histogram and adjust the flash compensation as desired.
Red Knee Tarantula, Brachypelma smithi, MexicoMy primary use of full flash outdoors is to freeze the movement of small active creatures such as butterflies and insects.  At close working distances of a few feet or less, and a small aperture, an accessory flash can easily overpower bright sunlight. With full flash as the only light source, natural light is of little concern, and a tripod isn’t needed. The extremely short duration of the flash easily stops moving subjects and eliminates camera shake. It doesn’t get much easier, simply turn on the flash, set the synch speed, pick an appropriate aperture, and your ready to go about shooting handheld.

Using Flash – The Basics

The Basics
Small portable flash units have revolutionized 35mm SLR photography, freeing us from the limitations of natural light.  Millions of amateurs own cameras with built in flash, yet flash is one of the least understood tools of photography.  Understanding just the basics of how flash works, will let you do some pretty amazing things with flash.
Special Shutter Speed_basicsFlash photography requires that you learn and work within the quirky characteristics of flash illumination.  Light from any single camera mounted flash has two inescapable characteristics.  First, light from a small light source is very harsh for portraits.  Flattering portraits are usually made with a much larger light source, so don’t expect a small flash to bath your subjects in flattering light.  Basic Theory:  From ten feet away a single flash unit is a tiny light source when the subject is as large as a person. The same flash unit ten inches from a small insect is a much larger light source.  A flash mounted in the camera hot shoe compounds the harshness of a small light source.  All built in flashes and even accessory flashes mounted in the camera hot shoe, are too close to the axis of the lens. The lighting is unflattering, often producing red eye where the subjects eyes glow like some alien life form.  Moving the flash off camera a few inches can make a noticeable improvement in lighting quality.  When using only one flash, I prefer to have it right above the lens, but elevated a few extra inches.
Inverse square law_basicsTo improve the quality of your indoor flash pictures, try bouncing light off a large white surface.  Walls and ceilings work fine as long as they are white.  Flash picks up a colorcast when bounced off colored walls and ceilings.  Bounced flash is less harsh because the light expands tremendously before reaching the ceiling where the large illuminated area is then reflected downward on the subject, creating an effect similar to that of a much larger light source.  Keep in mind that a lot of flash power or distance is lost when light is bounced.  Use a wide aperture and stay reasonably close to your subject.  TTL flash metering compensates as long as you don’t exceed the flash maximum distance range.  Bounce lighting means the light must travel further to reach the subject and power is lost due to light scattering.  If your flash is not powerful enough, kick up the cameras ISO a few stops and in effect you have a much more powerful flash.
Bounced on camera flash_basicsThe second characteristic of all light sources is governed by the laws of physics and is referred to referred to as the Inverse Square Law.  This law states that light from any single point light source diminishes according to the square of distance it travels.  In simple terms, this means the power of your flash diminishes very quickly with distance.  Logically you would think that doubling the distance to your subject would reduce the light reaching that subject by one half.  It’s much worse; light reaching the subject is reduced to only one forth.  In terms of camera adjustments, you’re loosing 2 F-stops of light when you double the distance.  The good news is that your TTL (Through-the-Lens) flash automatically compensates for variations in distance within limits of the flash range.  However, no TTL system can correct for light falloff when trying to illuminate subjects near and far in the same shot.  In practical terms this means that elements a few feet in front of a correctly exposed subject will be overexposed, and elements a few feet behind will be underexposed.  Work around this limitation by keeping subjects at roughly the same distance from the flash.  Moving closer to a subject exaggerates light falloff.  The best tactic for illuminating subjects at varying distances is to back up.  In other words, moving the flash further from the subject reduces the difference in illumination between near and far subjects.  With this basic theory, lets move on to full flash and fill flash.

Extreme Macro Photography: Canon MP-E 65mm

Having shot hundreds of full body pictures of frogs, reptiles, and tarantulas during our macro class in St. Louis, this Gecko eyeball is one of my favorites. I love the abstract quality and other worldly feel in this extreme macro. The high magnification afforded by the Canon MP-E, 65mm macro, allows photographers an opportunity to explore an unseen world. If you’re not familiar with this lens, the range of magnification starts 1X (life size) and extends all the way to 5X or five times life size. This unique optic offers unparalleled convenience when working at high magnification. Simply turn the lens barrel to the desired magnification and move the camera in toward the subject until it is in focus and shoot.
Gecko_2_bl_wThis Gecko eyeball was shot at about 3X, hand held using a Canon ring flash as the only light source.  The quick pulse of light allows hand holding with no camera shake and great depth of field (F16) considering the magnification.  The ring light shaped catch light in the eye was cloned out in PS 6.

There are indeed other ways to obtain very high magnification images with equipment you may already own.  If interested in discussing alternate ways of achieving dramatic high impact macro images, please feel free to contact me through my Facebook page or e-mail me at

Equipment & Settings:
Canon MP-E 65mm, Macro Lens
Hand Held
Canon 5D-Mark III camera body
ISO 400
F16, 1/200th sec
Camera set on manual exposure
Canon Macro Ring Lite, MR-14EX set on ETTL

Palouse in Spring

It had been a while since last photographing the Palouse, in fact it was while still shooting film. What fun it was to return with modern state of the art digital equipment. The rolling hills, farms, and old cars were as beautiful as remembered. There were not as many fields of canola and mustard flowers as some years.
Palouse in SpringWe did find several really vast scenes of yellow. We had a beautiful blue sky, so in this variation the sky was featured more than the canola. An aperture of F11 was chosen to ensure sharpness from near to far. It really is vital you know where to go in this are area, there are 3,000 square miles to explore, and its very easy to spend all your time driving around looking for the best locations. More to come as I process images: Red barns and wheat fields!!!

Equipment & Settings:
Gitzo Tripod
Really Right Stuff ballhead
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 24-105 @ 65mm, Fll, 1/320 sec, ISO 100

African Big Cat Cubs & Wonderful Experiences

Every morning and afternoon photographing in the Masai Mara is a grand adventure. The wildlife spectacle is truly astounding. Having led 16 tours to Kenya, I can say with certainty that we connect with baby animals in a very special way. Our last safari was filled with nearly daily filming of a large pride of lions. This particular pride had a pair of females alternating duties, caring for 6 small lion cubs about 6 weeks old. Needless to say we took every opportunity to film the antics of the junior members of the lion pride as they played, nursed, and wrestled one another.
Babies_blog_wMark Beers, who went on a recent Kenyan safari with me, relays a story reflecting on his experience and feelings when stalking a leopard providing for her cubs.

I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you what a great experience my trip with you to Kenya was. All expectations were truly exceeded. The camps we stayed in were fabulous with great food and nice people. The drivers of the vehicles were exceptional with their knowledge of getting us to the right places at the right time. The photographs I was able to get are my valued “trophies” of this safari.

I was thrilled to have been present for the entire sequence of tracking a leopard throughout the brush and photographing the true nature of the wild when that leopard took down a wildebeest in order to get a meal for her cubs. This was truly spectacular and my most treasured series of photographs from the trip. None of this would have been possible without the supportive leadership and guidance that you provided throughout the trip. The safari in Kenya was truly a life altering trip for me and I cannot wait to go back.
Thank you,
Mark Beers
91205_blog_wPlease join me, in collaboration with Donna Eaton Photography, in Kenya this August for a wonderful African safari. More information is available on my Kenya Photo Tour page. There are only 5 spots remaining, so hurry to make your reservations.

Smoky Mountains Morton Overlook Isolation

Although the upper elevations were bare, spring was indeed creeping up the mountain. On this afternoon our group of 12 photographers captured clouds and mist swirling in the mountains just before sunset. At first we were a bit let down as we hoped for a spectacular sunset. Instead mother-nature gave us clouds and mist filtering through the trees. A 200mm telephoto allowed us to frame with just the most interesting details of the sky and mountains. I used ISO 200 to obtain 1/90th sec exposure to stop the motion of the mist and clouds, and to minimize any camera shake from the windy conditions at Morton Overlook.
105592_3_blog_wEquipment & Settings:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 100-400, F16, @ Approx. 200mm
ISO 200, 1/90th sec.
Gitzo Tripod
Really Right Stuff Ball Head

Creating Orbs

Now that spring is just arriving in our area, it might be fun to use some of our favorite flower images and Photoshop to create orbs. First select one of your favorite flower/garden images and crop it into a square with the flower fairly centered.
orb_blog_wNext, convert the image to 8 bits. In Photoshop:  Image > Mode > 8bits

From the filter menu: Go to Distort > Polar Coordinates

When the Polar Coordinates dialogue appears, choose Polar Rectangular as the method, and click OK.

Next from the main Photoshop menu go to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Vertical

Now go back to Filter Menu:  Go to Distort > Polar Coordinates

This time in the Polar Coordinates dialogue, select Rectangular to Polar as the method, and click ok.

Viola, you have an orb.  Play with different images until you get a feel for which images work best.

Equipment & Settings:
Canon 5D Mark III
Canon 100-400, F5.6
Gitzo Tripod, Really Right Stuff ball head

Smoky Mountain Photo Tour on the Flipside

Once again we had a great photo workshop in the Great Smoky Mountains. We were blessed with great sunrise/sunset, one of the best wildflower displays ever, and a beautiful foggy morning in Cades Cove.
105859_blog_wOur group was really excited about exploring abstract water images, so I’m sharing one of mine. The trick is learning to see these reflections in shaded areas of the stream. The stream should be in shade while the trees on the far side are still in the sun, thus providing the golden reflection seen in the water. The blue hues come from the sky reflecting in the water. We used longer telephoto lenses to isolate small areas of curling and undulating water patterns. A slow shutter speed is critical to getting the desired motion effect. We used the LCD on the back of the camera to review our results, then lengthen or shorten the exposure to get the desired motion. The best results were between ½ sec and 1/6th sec. depending on the speed of the water.

Equipment & Settings:
Gitzo Tripod
Really Right Stuff ballhead
Canon 5D Mark III camera
Canon 100-400 @ 400mm, F22
ISO 400
½ sec exposure

Hope you enjoy our artistic creations as much as we did.

Adam Jones