Monday, 9 March 2009

On learnng

For further photography-related information check out my compendium of tips.

The most frequent questions I receive are on the subject of flash photography - balancing ambient and flash light, flash exposure compensation etc. People are keen to understand the 'rules' or logic behind the technology so that they can develop their technique in a rational manner. Although I would encourage people to seek out as much information as possible on all photographic subjects (reading widely broadens your horizons), ultimately, for a practical subject such as photography, nothing beats 'doing it'. It's the only way to truly develop a deeper understanding and, with digital cameras, this learning process is aided by the almost instantaneous feedback loop between experiment and results.

The concious competence learning model captures this learning process nicely. It was probably developed by management consultants (it reminds me of Donald Rumsfelds infamous 'known unknowns' quote), as it has that business-ring to the language, but I think it captures an essential truth about learning.

1. You start out 'unconciously incompetent' - you don't know what it is you're unable to do.
2. As you develop an interest in the subject and seek out information you become 'conciously incompetent' - you know what it is you're unable to do. If you only read about the subject you'll be stuck at this stage.
3. As you practise the discipline that interests you, you become 'conciously competent'. You can get the results that you want but it requires a great deal of mental effort.
4. As you practise more and more (apparently 10,000 hours of practice are required to become an expert) you finally become 'unconciously competent'. You're great at the discipline without even having to think about it.

So put your books down, stop browsing the internet, and get out with your camera and flash unit and start learning!

Check out more of my photography here: Kent photographers


Dominic said...


I've been using liveview on my 5D2 to help me understand the relationship between ISO/Shutter/Aperture in realtime without taking pics. You can see the effect of your changes as you dial them so a great learning aid tip for others maybe.

Downside is if you have a Speedlite active, it's useless as the histogram underexposes hugely in preperation for the flash - still it's nice to see how the camera is 'thinking' about exposure with Flash. You're also stuck with evaluative metering in liveview.

Bottom line, if taking pics with ambient light you can use Liveview to nail your exposure in realtime.

David said...

Hi Dominic,

An interesting idea. If it helps you understand the problems that cameras have to face in determining exposure then that's great.

I imagine you're setting Live View to exposure simulation and then either putting the camera in Av mode, and using exposure compensation, or manual mode.



Christian said...


I'm trying to use coloured gels to shade the colour of a background wall for portraits. Whatever I do I still seem to end up with a mainly white wall with only a hint of colour. How do I get a nice rich colour cast.

Any help appreciated.
Thank you

David said...

Hi Christian,

Off the top of my head I would try:

1. Adjusting the angle of incidence for your coloured light source to try and increase diffuse reflection.
2. Underexpose for this light source to saturate the colour.

Let me know how you get on.



Christian said...

Ok I got it perfect. This process works for rich colours on a white wall.

1. Underexpose the ambient completely. Keep shutter speed below 200 to stay in sync range. For my purpose 200iso, 200shutter, F5.6 works great in Manual mode.
2. Set Flash to manual power 1/32.
3. Position flash about 2-3ft from wall at 45degrees up.
3. Placed my lee filter strip onto the flash and used the flip-down diffuser to hold it in place and remove that hot spot in one go.

My general advice on filters is to pick the darkest shade of colour available to get the best colour out. I define darkest by the fact that when you lay such filters on a piece of white paper they actually look black.

Thank you

Wedding Photographer in Kent said...

Well done Christian. It wouldn't be so much fun if it all worked first time!