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  • Strobe Lighting Workshop! April 27th

    Posted on April 10th, 2014 John Siskin No comments

    If you’re close to Indiana this will be a great workshop, if not you can take an online class with me at BetterPhoto.com. The shots this week are demonstration images and diagrams from my classes and books.

    It’s sometimes useful to remember that we don’t actually photograph things or people or places; we photograph the light reflected off people or things or paces. For instance if you take a picture of someone under a blue light that person will be blue, also you can’t take a picture without light. So, in a very real sense all photography is painting with light. Like painting a photographer can choose to make a straight recording of a subject, but also like painting, a photographer can choose to manipulate and interpret the subject. I think that manipulation is part of want makes an image a photograph rather than a snap shot. Manipulating the light is one way the photographer can change an image, and it’s a powerful way to manipulate an image. Creating light can allow you to build a shot that isn’t part of the world and to take a shot where the light is wrong or just insufficient.

    A house painter uses a different tool kit than a portrait painter. I don’t think portrait painters ever use rollers! Of course there are different tools for creating different kinds of light for photographs. You might use a dedicated flash to open up the shadows in an outdoor portrait, but if you try to do a studio portrait with the same flash you’ll be disappointed with the results. A good artist, with any medium, knows how each tool will affect the picture. This workshop is designed to give you greater confidence and ability with the tools of lighting.

    Strobes are fantastic tools for lighting still pictures. You can get a dedicated strobe that will do a good job shooting 500 pictures at an event powered by just a few batteries. You can carry the thing in a pocket. When a movie crew shows up there is at least one truck entirely full of lights; a movie light with the same power as a good strobe is hard for one person to lift. There is only one problem with strobe lights: the photographer can’t see the light that will make the picture. The light is only on for 1/1000th of a second while the shutter is open. So to make good shots with these lights we have to be able to predict, pre-visualize, what our strobes will do. That’s what this workshop is about.

    Automatic or dedicated strobes are good tools when you need to get a good exposure quickly, say if your shooting a wedding or other event, but automation doesn’t give you complete control over the light. It’s more like painting by numbers that painting with light. In addition to a light we need the right tools to modify the light: to get quality light rather than just quantity light. It’s a big problem for photographers to choose good tools. The manufacturers of the gear want to sell you more things rather than help you make better pictures, so they don’t always give you enough information. So one goal of this workshop is to help you decide what tools would be best for you. My studio is a kind of test kitchen for light modifiers. You’ll be able to see the light that different tools make. Other goals are to learn how to use several lights together and how to use strobe with ambient light.


    Strobe Lighting! April 27th
    This workshop will take place on Sunday the 27th of April. We’ll meet at my studio: 971 North Delaware, Unit B, Indianapolis. We’ll be starting at 10:00 am, and we’ll be working together all day. The cost will be $225. There are only three spaces left. You can sign up for either workshop at the workshop page on my site: http://www.siskinphoto.com/Workshop.html, or give me a call (317) 473-0406.

    If you control the light in your picture you are doing so much more to build the image than when you just record the light. Finding light is good, but building light is fabulous. The idea is to understand how to control and create light to build your own vision.

     

    I post on this blog mostly to promote my classes at BetterPhoto and my books. I’m lucky enough to have students from around the world. If you’re interested in taking one of these classes here are the links:

    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

    Getting Started in Commercial Photography

    And here are the books:

    I’ll mention a couple of more resources that might interest you on my website: my magazine page has two-dozen of my articles on subjects from lighting to lens building that appeared in such magazines as Shutterbug, Photo Techniques and View Camera. Check it out at: http://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php. And if you like to build some of your own equipment you can check out the projects here: http://www.siskinphoto.com/cameraeqp.php. You can check out my page at facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohnSiskinPhotographer. Or my website: www.siskinphoto.com and of course you can probably find traces of me at places like LinkedIn, Behance (www.behance.net/siskin), Flicker and even Twitter (twitter.com/JohnSiskin).
    Thanks for your attention!

    John
    john@siskinphoto.com
    www.siskinphoto.com

  • Working With Clients

    Posted on April 4th, 2014 John Siskin No comments

    Please check out my on-line classes at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography, take a look at my site for workshops in Indianapolis and check out my books:

    I’ve been doing commercial photography for several decades. One of the problems with what I do is communication with my clients. Often they haven’t worked with photographers, and really don’t have an idea about the process. I’ve been wanting to update the information I give them about the jobs I do. Most of my clients are businesses rather than ad agencies, so this is particularly important. As I thought about this I realized it might be a good thing to put this on the blog because I’d like to get feedback about how you work with clients. As you read this keep in mind that my clients are looking for shots of their jobs and products rather than weddings and babies. I like working with businesses; there is more variety in the work and businesses come back for more work sooner than families. I’ve included a couple of pictures just to keep things interesting.

    The most important thing in creating an effective image for a client is to engage the client in building that image. Without an ad agency the client is the only source of expertise on the subject. I have shot things the size of a pinhead and subjects about as big as a city block. I have literally shot everything from cuticle cream to parts for a submarine. While I find it’s useful to know a little about a lot of things the only subjects I know in depth are photography and lighting. So if I can’t get the client to help me tell the story many jobs will be worse off. Whenever possible I want the client, or their representative, at the shoot. Certainly someone should be at the first shoot, after that I will know more about the product and the client’s taste. However the results are usually better when the client is engaged. I have a wireless system for showing the images to the client as the shoot progresses.

    Before I can begin a job there needs to be a shot list. The client and I need to agree on a time and place for the shoot, and of course the price. It’s at this point that I explain to the client that my price is largely based on the amount of time that will be involved doing the client’s shoot. In three hours I might have finished shooting a bank’s board of directors, but I’d still be doing the set up for a motorcycle shoot in my studio. One of the problems of negotiating with a client is that they often think that the prep, shot and clean up happen in almost no time at all. I’ll just walk in with a camera and shoot. Not only is this a problem when we’re negotiating the price, it can be difficult to get the client to block out enough time for the shoot. If you don’t address this issue before the shoot you might have trouble during the shoot. In addition the material needed for the shoot, assistant and the location will affect the price.

    Before I can give the client a price the client and I need to agree on what will be delivered when. My preference is to give the client an edited low-res version of most of the files. Then I hope the client will choose the files they’re most interested in and final retouching can be done on those files. I will include the time to prepare the edited version of the files in the original estimate. When I do the editing I will remove images that are just bad and others that are redundant. I will open each file in Adobe Camera Raw and adjust such things as color, exposure, cropping, sharpness and lens distortion. While this only take a few seconds on a single image, a shoot with 500 images can take a while to edit. I reduce the size of the files to them easier to review. I spend the time to prepare this set of files because I want to show the client a good version of my work, obviously this group of images will reflect on my talents. The difficulty is that the client doesn’t always review these files. I don’t know if I should reduce the number of files I send or make other changes. Regardless I will deliver whatever version of the files the client wants, but I do try to keep the mistakes to myself. The client can even have my Raw files if they want, but since most clients can’t open these files I generally don’t deliver them. I will give the client an estimate for image editing, if any, before I do any additional work to a particular file. This is all part of the negotiation with the client. We need to define just what the client will get and when.

    I’ll get a deposit from the client before the day of the shoot. Generally the deposit is 50% of the estimate. I try to deliver the first version of the files to the client in 48 hours or less, and I’ll include a bill for the balance with these files.

    If you know what usage means to a photographer you are in the minority. Of course this can make it difficult or impossible to charge a usage fee to a client, and most of the time I don’t. Usage is simply the way the image is used, say in a magazine or on a web site. By extension it is a license, for a fee, to use the image in a specific way. If a photographer sells a photo from his/her files to be used once in a magazine and then sees it used on a billboard or a national advertising campaign the photographer has been cheated and the usage agreement has been violated. This can result in litigation. My policy is the when the client pays me to create a custom photograph, rather than buying an image from my files, that purchase includes the right to use the photograph to aid the client’s business for as long as the client feels the image is useful, with few exceptions. The client can’t sell the photograph, as a photograph and not part of packaging, to a third party. So a contractor can’t sell a photo to a window manufacturer with out negotiating compensation for me. If the client chooses to give the image away, well that’s the clients business. Any stock images that I license a client to use have specific limits on usage. I hope that my clients will be successful, and that they will return to me for more photographs. I also do consulting for businesses setting up in house photographic systems. I expect that the material I create for these businesses will not be shared outside the business. In addition to my concerns about how my images are used I understand that the client has concerns about how I use the images. My policy is that I don’t offer client images for sale to other clients or third parties. Specifically I don’t license client images through any stock agency. I will use the images to promote my business: in print, on line and in magazine articles. However I appreciate that some images have proprietary information so I will give the client a chance to review images before I use them.

    There are things I’m still thinking about, for instance weather and working hours. When I had a business in Los Angeles years would go by without a weather conflict. That isn’t true in Indiana. I would prefer that a client reschedule a job if the weather is predicted to be unworkable two days in advance. If the client insists and the job can’t be done then there’s a problem.  I haven’t been able to use the time in another way and I think I should charge the client. Any thoughts? In addition I wonder about what hours I’m expected to keep? A wedding photographer expects to work weekends and evenings, as an architectural photographer I might have to be on site a dawn to shoot a building. Should I charge extra for special hours? Should I charge extra if I have to do rush work on the files? Of course I do charge extra for a day that is more than 10 hours long. I fyou’d like to let me know what you thing please (john@siskinphoto.com) or register with this site.

    There’s no such thing as a package job around here. At least the first job with any client requires us to create a mutual understanding of possibilities and responsibilities
    Of course, if you can’t come to Indianapolis you can still get my books or take my classes. And I hope you will!
    Books:
    Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographer

    Photographing Architecture

    My Classes at BetterPhoto.com:

    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

    Getting Started in Commercial Photography


  • New Classes!

    Posted on March 20th, 2014 John Siskin No comments

    Please check out my on-line classes at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and my books:

    When I’m not shooting, and who can shoot all the time, I’m marketing. Frankly I’d rather be shooting, but If I don’t let people know about my photography I won’t be doing much shooting. I just made a couple of pdf files that I’m hosting on my site. I can send people a link to these files, like this http://www.siskinphoto.com/acontractor.pdf and this http://www.siskinphoto.com/aportrait.pdf. I’m using these with e-mail and with facebook, and they seem to be working. I really need to redo my website, but I’m not quite ready to get into that project. If you’d like to get mailings from me about classes I teach or my photographic services please send me an e-mail: john@siskinphoto.com. I’ve added a few shots to this entry that might make it into the next pdf file.

    I’m offering some classes here at my studio that I hope you’ll want to take. The first is the Portfolio Workshop. This is an ongoing group that gets together to discuss each others’ work and give encouragement. Here’s some information from the website: “Since portfolios are the tools photographers use to present their vision it’s really important to know how people perceive your work. In many ways it’s like a resume: it’s a detailed introduction for a person in fine arts or commercial art.” Come join us it’ only $20 per meeting. The next meeting is April 7 at my studio. Check out www.siskinphoto.com/Workshop.html to sign up.

    I’m also offering a Lighting Workshop on April 27. Here’s some information about that class: The cost will be $225. There are only going to be 5 participants, so you can get a real hands on experience! We’re going over these topics:
    How to use strobes.
    Kinds of light.
    What different light modifiers do to the light and why.
    Using different kinds to lights together.
    Balancing the light from different strobes.
    You can sign up at the workshop page on my website: www.siskinphoto.com/Workshop.html. And I hope to see you on the 27th. Since this is such a small class it’ll fill up soon.

    Of course, if you can’t come to Indianapolis you can still get my books or take my classes. And I hope you will!
    Books:
    Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographer

    Photographing Architecture

    My Classes at BetterPhoto.com:

    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

    Getting Started in Commercial Photography

     

  • The Norman Tri-Lite and Me

    Posted on February 20th, 2014 John Siskin No comments

    Please check out my on-line classes at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and my books:

    So I wanted to post a few samples made with the Norman Tri-Lite I just got. Unfortunately the only person I’ve had around the studio to inflict portraits on is myself. So I’m posting selfies. As you may remember the Tri-Lite is a sort of slide projector that uses a strobe for a light source. I’ve experimented with this before with a home built projector (http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=742 and http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=804) but the Tri-Lite is a brighter and more reliable tool. Norman doesn’t make the Tri-Lite anymore but you can find them at eBay. You need a Norman power Pack to power the Tri-Lite, it won’t plug into the wall. All the Tri-Lites I’ve seen work with the Norman 900 series power packs, but I understand some were built that use other Norman packs. If you want more information download the instructions for the Tri-Lite here. I used a simple cucoloris made out of cine foil for the shot. I put a picture of the Tri-Lite and the cucoloris below.


    I used a bare bulb Norman 200B behind my head to make a rim light and to bounce off the light panel on my right side. You can see the set-up below. I covered the 200B with a Rosco CTO to give warmth to the background and the rim lite. On some of the shots I used a second 200B behind the light panel to give me a large light source. You can see the set-up and the bare bulb 200B with the CTO filter below.

    So here’s the selfies with the Tri-Lite

    Here’s a couple where I missed my head with the Tri Lite. It’s really tricky to do selfies with a light source that really needs to be aimed carefully.


    I wanted to update you on a few things happening here at my studio: first I’m continuing to offer the Portfolio Workshop. For more information on this and my other workshops please take a look at the workshop page on my site. You can also find information about the Matting & Framing Workshop for Photographers at the site. This is going to be a very small class, so if you’re in Indianapolis sign up now. You can also rent my studio, and get the chance to work with Normans! Call 317.473.0406 or e-mail to reserve time for a shoot or a private workshop. If you can’t get to Indianapolis you can take one of my BetterPhoto classes:
    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography.

  • Norman Strobes

    Posted on February 2nd, 2014 John Siskin No comments

    Please check out my on-line classes at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:

    I often write about lights and lighting in this blog. I think that learning how to manipulate light is perhaps the most important skill a photographer can acquire. If you can’t manipulate light your photography is mostly about what you see, rather than making pictures of what you imagine. There are many ways to put your imaginings into your photographs, but light might be the most powerful tool to do this sort of creation. In order to create photographs with light you need to learn to visualize your images and you need tools to create those images.

    This month I want to say some things about my tools. I have a lot of lights; I think I’m up to twenty strobes. Most of them are from a company called Norman. Over the years I’ve said a few uncomplimentary things about Norman, and, in fact, I think I’ve had a bit of an inferiority complex about my Normans. Well it’s time to stop this and say a few nice things about Normans. Now before I start I have to say that Norman made some bad products, some of which, like the P4000D, I owned. Norman also made some products, like the P2000D, that worked reliably but were not great designs.

    The occasion for this change is my new Norman Tri-lite. This is a sort of strobe slide projector, which only Norman made. It will project actual 35mm slides and cucoloris. If you’re interested you can check out the instructions: http://normanlights.com/manuals/tl2000manual.pdf. There are no new Tri-lites, and they aren’t common on eBay, but you can find them. I expect to receive the Tri-lite in a few days, of course I’ll put up some images in the future. I really appreciate the great number of unusual products Norman has made over the years. Of course there are things like barn doors and grid spots, but there are also a very wide variety of reflectors and even two different snoots for most of their strobe heads. Norman even made an optical spot, usually only found on movie sets, another very unusual product.

    I have two Norman systems: the 900 series, these are studio strobes that use power packs, and the 200Bs that are both battery and ac units, and I like them both. Norman has made a couple of other systems, and even mono-lights, but I haven’t much experience with any of them. The 900 series is the most powerful system Norman makes. When I shot large format film I used the most powerful powerpack they made, but now I use the 1200/1250 watt-second packs. I recently got an M1200 powerpack. It’s the first Norman pack I’ve had with really variable output. The reason I’m getting a lot of Norman equipment now is that it’s really cheap used. I think I paid about $65 for the M1200. Keep in mind that in order to work with a studio strobe you have to have a powerpack and a matching head; you can’t just plug the heads into the wall. If you’d like a lot more information about strobes take my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

     

    The Norman 200Bs are a little harder to recommend. They’re really flexible units, and well suited for digital work. The only problem is that there are no new 200Bs, they haven’t been made in something like twenty years. That’s a long time for gear that get’s used on location. So you have to question the reliability of any 200B. This is why I have so many 200Bs (7 heads, 5 dc powerpacks, 2 ac powerpacks) if something breaks I have more. Of course Norman has come out with updated systems, both the 200C and the 400B, but there are a lot of other things I would check out before investing in one of these Norman systems. Let me tell you some good things about the 200Bs: first they recycle extremely quickly, from zero to full power in about one second. There are both battery powered and ac powerpacks, which adds to the flexibility of the strobes. The battery units run on twelve volts so you can run them off a car or even a car battery; there are cheap lead/acid batteries, about $30, that will run a 200B. There is a fine group of accessories: snoot, reflectors, glass dome reflectors, grid spots and so on. There are even sore reflectors with modeling lights. So I’m going to try to keep my 200Bs as long as I can. By the way, the pictures with this blog entry are all made with Norman 200Bs in the lighting mix.

    So, if you want a larger and better toolkit to light your photos you might want to check out used Norman gear. Check out this link for more information: http://normanlights.com/owners_manuals.asp. And stay away from P4000D!

    I wanted to update you on a few things happening here at my studio: first I’m continuing to offer the Portfolio Workshop. For more information on this and my other workshops please take a look at the workshop page on my site. You can also find information about the Matting & Framing Workshop for Photographers at the site. This is going to be a very small class, so if you’re in Indianapolis sign up now. You can also rent my studio, and get the chance to work with Normans! Call 317.473.0406 or e-mail to reserve time for a shoot or a private workshop. If you can’t get to Indianapolis you can take one of my BetterPhoto classes:
    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography.

  • Critiques

    Posted on January 10th, 2014 John Siskin No comments

    To start I just want to quickly remind you about the classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:

    I went to the blog archive to find an entry about doing critiques, and I realized I hadn’t posted anything about this topic. Considering how may critiques I’ve written for my BetterPhoto classes, it surprised me that I haven’t done a blog entry about this topic. I’m continuing to build a portfolio class here in Indianapolis, and so this is an important topic. The pictures this week are from a shoot I did for the Indianapolis Hilton. I love shooting hotels!

    A critique is different from a review. A review is done for an audience that hasn’t experienced the subject of the review. So it can be useful to give a negative review, perhaps even something scathing, because it will keep the reader from experiencing something bad. A critique is designed to give the creator of the work, a photographer in this case, information about how you respond to the image and helpful information about the image. So a review might say these are wonderful luminous images, a critique would say more. Perhaps: “I respond to the feeling of light in this image. I think you choose your subject matter well. I like the choice of paper, and the muted color palette of the image. You might have cropped tighter.” Well you get the idea.

    I think the first thing you say about an image should be positive, but, frankly, that isn’t always the first part of a critique I write. One of the advantages of writing critiques is that you can organize your thoughts while you construct the critique. When you are doing a spoken critique, or participating in a class critique, you want to organize your thoughts before you begin. Certainly you don’t want to discourage anybody when you mean to help her/him. I try to start by talking about my emotional response to the image, if I have one. I want to say that I have a good feeling about the image, or a strong feeling, and to say why. So I might say that a shot of a frozen lake gives me a strong feeling of cold and distance, which might not sound good on its own, but matches the goal the photographer had for the image. One thing to keep in mind is that the emotion impact of a photograph is a big part of what a photographer wants to create in an image. Also you can create a bleak image, or a positive image, from pleasant elements by manipulating light and exposure. One of the important things is to discuss the impact of an image: are the feelings from an image mild or wild?

    The next thing to discuss is what you might be able to do to strengthen the image. I like to start by discussing things that can be done with the existing image, that is things you can change in post-processing. The first, and most important, thing is cropping. I have seen so many images that are weakened simply because the photographer hasn’t cropped the image. I try to shoot with a little extra room around my image, so I expect to crop every shot that I work with. I am surprised that so many people show images that they haven’t cropped. When I do a critique on-line I’ll also be talking about the color, contrast and sharpening as well as anything else you can do in post. If I am doing an in-person critique I will talk about presentation as well. If you show me a 4X6” print of a shot I won’t thing you are as committed to your work as when you show me an 11X14 with a mat. If you aren’t committed to your work why would you expect people to take it seriously? Some images have to be big in order to work well. I have friend in Los Angeles who makes very complex images that are really quite wonderful. His prints are 20X30”, and work quite well because you can examine all the details in the big print. However if you look at these images on his website the images suffer a lot because of the small size. In addition to size I will discuss the matting and framing, as well as other presentation details.

    The last section of my critiques is devoted to items that can only apply to making new shots. So I might say if you work with a back lit subject outdoors you might want to use flash fill. I may even suggest that flash fill is usually a good idea outdoors. I also find myself discussing the way you load the frame. Perhaps I’ll say something about keeping empty space on the right side of the frame or keeping the subject’s hands in a shot. This is a good time to add information about any technique.

    If you’d like me to critique your shot then you might want to come to my portfolio class on Monday January 13. Or if you can’t get to Indianapolis you can take one of my BetterPhoto classes:
    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography.

     

  • More Than Pressing the Button

    Posted on December 9th, 2013 John Siskin No comments

     

    To start I just want to quickly remind you about the classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:

     

    People make pictures as a form of communication. People have been making pictures for tens of thousands of years, maybe for as long as there have been people. The oldest pictures that are still visible are made with pigments and painted in caves. These may not be the first pictures, but they seem to have lasted the longest. I suppose that pictures like the ones in caves might have been common, but time has washed them away. The reason I start with this idea is that the ability of a picture to convey information about the nature of things, or about feelings, is basic to humanity.  Of course this isn’t the only way we communicate, you’re reading this after all, but it is possibly the most basic way we communicate. Perhaps, because it is so basic people don’t receive much instruction in images. I’ve taken more English classes than I can remember, as well as other language classes. I’ve even taken classes in computer languages, learning to communicate with an inanimate object. Now, of course, I’ve also taken photography and art classes, I make photographs for a living after all, but every class I took about making images was an elective, not one was required. As a photo teacher I’m constantly amazed at how little insight my students have about how to communicate with images. Perhaps we should have more basic instruction in communicating with images.

    As an example consider what is called the “rule of thirds.” The basic idea is that a line in your frame, particularly the horizon line, should run across the frame at one third of the way from the top or bottom of the frame. There are a few more considerations with this rule, like the idea that the places where the lines a third into the frame intersect are the most effective places to place the subject. If a photographer has any information about composition, this will often be the first thing he/she knows. Some of my students have followed this rule slavishly, even when it made an obviously bad image. Other basic ideas, like leading lines or placing the subject in a place where the eye will find it quickly are rarely known. Too bad, really. So many photographers have the idea that composition is an innate skill, something you do with your gut, rather than your brain. People often refer to this skill as the eye: “he has a really good eye.” We spend so much of our time discussing equipment and technique, but ignore the most critical skill, building better images. I think there is more to it than choosing what to make a picture of; how we present a subject is at least as important as the subject.

    Another consideration is how a photograph itself is presented. If somebody shows me photos of a model mixed in with photos of their last vacation and a couple of pictures she/he took at an antique show, it’s going to make all the images more confusing and less effective. Choosing images that support each other builds a portfolio that is stronger than the individual images. Presenting the images in a consistent manner can also help strengthen the individual images. Most people I know are presenting their images in an electronic format, either on line or in a tablet. I do present this way this too, but I think it is a weaker way to show images. In general this presentation means that the images are small, and there is a sameness to reviewing images on a screen that you don’t have in a print portfolio. If you go to a museum or gallery you’ll notice that the size and frame of an image are part of the artwork. A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and Guernica look depressingly similar on my computer screen, but Seurat’s painting is 10 feet long and Guernica is something like 25 feet long. So what you see on your computer screen is not what these paintings look like, unless you have a 25-foot screen. Maybe you think that these images don’t look very similar; perhaps you should go see them in person.

    I’ve been tying to start a group here in Indianapolis that would work on building portfolios and better images. Frankly it’s not going very well. I’m hoping to find a group of around ten people who will commit to building a group of images that work together, or on portfolio groups. I’ll be working on a couple of things myself. I hope the participants will have new images most months. I expect them to discuss their reactions to the other participants’ images. Getting feedback from several people is probably the best way to learn how others react to your images. Also, it’s easier to listen to a critique from someone who is also building a portfolio and presenting images. If there are enough people then we could have separate groups for commercial work and fine art. So this is a group effort, not presentation where you sit back and watch.

    I’ve attached images from one of my tablet portfolios. I’m going to present these images at facebook as well. Tablets are clearly a wonderful tool for an informal portfolio presentation. You can have an extensive portfolio with you wherever you go. You can choose different groups of images to show different audiences. Also you have some control over the way your images appear, at least because you can choose which tablet to buy. However if the tablet is the only way you present yourself you’ll limit your print sales, if nothing else.

    If you’re interested in the portfolio class please contact me at john@siskinphoto.com or 317.473.0406. Also check out the workshop (http://www.siskinphoto.com/Workshop.html) page of my blog for more information. I’m not doing a portfolio project on line, at this time, but I am still teaching at BetterPhoto.com. I have three classes there, all of which involve critiques of images as well as technical information. I hope you will check them out:
    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography.

     

    Please keep in mind that the classes and the books help to keep this blog going, so do your holiday shopping here! Happy New Year!


  • Rokinon 14mm f2.8 lens

    Posted on November 20th, 2013 John Siskin No comments

     

    To start I just want to quickly remind you about the classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:

     

    I don’t think I spend a lot of timer writing about equipment on this blog, at least not new equipment. I guess that part of the reason I don’t is that I don’t get much new equipment. I am, for instance, a master at maintaining Norman 200B strobes, which has kept me from getting new strobe equipment form more than a decade. However I just got the Indianapolis Hilton as a client, and this gave me a reason to consider a new lens. Since most of my commercial work, and this job in particular, is architectural interiors I use a wide-angle lens most of the time. Most often a Nikkor 18-35 f3.5-5.6. I’m not sure what to say about this lens, it’s good but not great. It’s sharp enough, but has significant barrel distortion, and of course it isn’t particularly fast. It’s pretty damn wide, at 18mmsome thing like a 100º, but the thing is that clients always want wider. Clients want to see the whole damn room in one shot, and this seems particularly true of bath shots. It may not look good, but they want everything. So I’ve been considering a 14mmm lens. Nikon has a 14 f2.8 that costs more than $1500 and a 14-24 zoom that costs about $2000, frankly a lot of money. Now I’m a commercial photographer, and that means I like to actually make a little money. $2000 is a lot for a good bath shot.


    I just bought the Rokinon 14mm F2.8 for Nikon (Black), here’s the Rokinon lens in a Canon mount if you want to check it out. There are a couple of similar lenses, might be the same lens, with different names. I had looked at this lens in the past, but now there is an automatic version, which will work with the various kinds of auto exposure. While it won’t do auto-focus, it will allow the electronic rangefinder in the camera to tell you when it’s in focus. This is important, because super-wide lenses are tricky to focus. I ordered the lens from Amazon, and it was in my hand in about 14 hours. Cost $3.99 extra for less than one day service. I wanted to get the lens as soon as possible so that I could check it out thoroughly before I used it for the Hilton. By the way the lens cost $372.99 at Amazon; could have had it cheaper, but maybe not faster. All the pics, this week, are from playing with the new lens.


    I just want to mention that it’s important to double-check your equipment and supplies before you go on a shoot. Because I checked I found out that the lens has pretty significant barrel distortion. But I also found out that Photoshop CS6 was able to locate an on-line profile to repair the distortion, so I’m good to go. By the way barrel distortion is when straight lines curve near the edge of the frame, sort of a fish-eye effect. When your lines converge, or diverge, that cause by the way you position the camera, of course you can fix this as well.


    Hope you like the pics. I’ve done a few things to them in addition to the distortion fix. I’m really happy with the lens. By the way the build quality seems nice as well.



    I hope people are interested in these posts, but I really don’t know. If you want to leave a comment you have to log in. I’m sorry about that, but I was getting a huge amount of spam posts, so I had to change to registration. If you’d like you can send me an e-mail with your comments, john@siskinphoto.com. Also please remember the classes and the books!

    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography.

     

    Thanks, John

  • Studio Open House!

    Posted on October 30th, 2013 John Siskin No comments

     

    To start I just want to remind you about the classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:

     

    I’m going to be having an opening for my studio on Friday November 1. The address is 971 North Delaware Street, Suite B, here in Indianapolis. Please come by if you can. I’ll be showing photographs of buildings in my studio and at the building in front: Re/Max Metro. The text for this blog entry is from recent correspondence and the photos are from a job for BMW Contractors. Thanks for your attention!


    A couple of things about rim light, first most of your shots won’t work. Positioning the light is very critical, and even when you have an assistant, most of the time the light or the model won’t be in the right place. I much prefer the snoot as a tool for rim light. Norman has a wider “stovepipe” snoot that I prefer to the smaller ones like the Alien Bee. What I do most of the time to get rim light is put a bare bulb strobe, no reflector at all behind directly behind the subject. This works more often. This will put light on the background so sometimes I put a gel on the back of the light to change the color of the background. The position and power of the light both affect the outcome, so you have to experiment. I like to avoid discussing things in terms or ratios for several reasons: the most important is that ratios stop people from paying attention to the results. I set up my shots with a tethered computer so that I can evaluate the shot better. The bare bulb allows for more movement in the subject, but you have to keep the subject between you and the light. You can also use a large reflector on the side to bring some of the light to the front.


    I really like to use at least one very large light modifier, usually a light panel, for a portrait. It creates a very soft gradation.

    I don’t like the term “natural light.” It is a value term, and it often gives the idea that ambient or found light is generally or always better than light you design and create. This isn’t true. Many people have no idea how to make good light, but that is no reason to think that found light must be better. Photography comes from the Greek and means “write with light” if you can’t design good light are you writing with light or copying light?


    You need to look at several things when you examine light. The first is the color. Often people don’t notice how warm or cool a light source is. The color of a subject will shift with the light, but because our eyes compensate for color, we don’t always notice.


    The transition from light to shadow is a function of the size of a light source. So if you have light from the sky coming into a room you get a large light source, very long transition from light to dark. You need a big light source, at least as big as a window, to reproduce this light. Hard light makes very short transitions, which look like sunlight especially if you add warm filtration to the light.


    Watch a person’s eyes in prints or when you are shooting. You can often see the reflection of the light source there. A small reflection come from a hard light, a bigger reflection is a large light source. The large reflection won’t be as bright. The eyes can also tell you about the placement and direction of light sources.


    Balancing light is the essential trick with strobes, to evaluate and change our images by searching for the right levels on our lights and our exposures. With the histogram and the proof image on camera or in the computer we have better tools for creating the right exposure than any meter could give us, but it does take repeated testing. If you use a hand-held meter you will get an answer, but very often it will be profoundly wrong.


    In addition to the new image stabilization equipment, there are some standard suggestions about holding the camera more effectively. Cradle the lens in your left hand, thumb pointing away from your body. The left hand supports the lens and the camera. The right hand guides the camera and controls the camera. Relax your body and breath out half way when you shoot. Lean against a tree or a wall. You might also consider a mono-pod or a chainpod to help stabilize your camera.

    I hope people are interested in these posts, but I really don’t know. If you want to leave a comment you have to log in. I’m sorry about that, but I was getting a huge amount of spam posts, so I had to change to registration. If you’d like you can send me an e-mail with your comments, john@siskinphoto.com. Also please remember the classes and the books!

    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography.

     

  • Bike Shot in the Studio

    Posted on October 1st, 2013 John Siskin 2 comments

    I’ve been working on the studio, no surprise there. I’m finally happy with the current situation, while there’s more to do, it doesn’t have to be done now. I’ve moved in the lights: 20 or so strobes, another half-dozen quartz lights and an armful of projectors. I think I have 10 tripods, not sure how that happened. Booms and light stands, umbrellas, soft boxes and light panels, and all the things that come from a life spent in photography. Of course the important thing now is to get the studio busy. That means shooting, and I just got a couple of new customers! I also want to rent out the studio and offer classes here. What I want to do in this blog is to show you the studio at work, shooting and teaching. Ginny Taylor-Rosner brought a few of her advanced student from Ivy Tech in for a motorcycle shoot. This entry has a lot of large shots; I hope you will follow it to the end. Here’s the studio plan:

    It’s easy to get large subjects into this studio, as you can see. I used a gray muslin on the back wall and black plastic muslin on the floor, so the set was really inexpensive.

    The first thing I did was pull down white seamless along the side walls. I installed seamless holders on the side walls so that I could use them for very large reflectors with white paper, and so I could pull down black paper to reduce bounce light. It worked really well in this shot. In the shot marked Side Lights I only have the lights that are on the side seamless on, not the light on the front seamless. The light on camera left was placed at the front of the seamless to rake across the paper. This creates a very big light source. On camera right I place a light set at 750 watt-second at the back of the seamless. It spread across the side seamless and onto the diagonal seamless.

    I put another roll of seamless on a pair of seamless stands on a diagonal in front of the bike. Once again I used a strobe raking across the seamless to give me a big light source. This light was set at only 400 watt-seconds. You can see what this light added in the image marked Front Light. This image has the all three of the large light sources. It’s important to have barn doors on the lights when you are bouncing light off seamless paper. The barn doors keep the light from spilling directly onto the bike and the background. I had to use cine-foil, black aluminum foil, in addition to the barn doors, for the front light because of spill light.

    Only the light on the diagonal seamless.

    I made some small changes in the position of the lights that rake across the paper. It’s much easier to move the lights than it is to move the bike or the paper. We also moved in a gobo (large black light panel) at the back of the bike to make the light on the saddlebag more even. Then I put a bare bulb light set at 200 watt-seconds, covered with a pale lavender gel, behind the bike. This added the highlight below the bike and put a little color into the background. If I’d used a darker background we could have added more drama with this light. This shot is marked Last Light.

    Added a small strobe behind the bike. Bare bulb with a gel.

    In this shot, Final Set-Up, you can see the position of most lights in the set. I added the light panel in front of the bile late in the shoot. It helps to open up the tire and to even some of the reflection on the front of the bike.

    I was a little concerned about the density of the engine and the high light from the light behind the bike, so I made a couple of bracketed exposures. I used these captures to give me a little more control over these areas by using them as layers in Photoshop. I did a few other quick touch-up to make my Final Image.

    Thanks for visiting the studio here in the blog. If you’re in Indianapolis give me a call and come by 317.473.0406. If you need to rent a studio I’m ready. Special price for October: $275 for the day! I hope to have classes available in the next few weeks. If you need a private session let me know as well. The Portfolio Class is meeting on TUESDAY OCTOBER 15. This class will help you present your work. There’s more information, and a sign-up link here. I hope to see you soon!

     

    Here are a couple more images from the shoot!

    Shot by Terry Pitman

    Don’t forget about the classes at BetterPhoto and my books!
    : An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
    Getting Started in Commercial Photography