Photo Notes

December 27, 2016

On Editing

Griffith Observatory

I have been a working professional photographer for several decades. I actually started taking pictures much earlier. In all that time I’ve never lost my love of actually making an exposure. There is a hopefulness about each exposure: maybe this one will be great or maybe this one will please the client. The actual moment of creation is special.

The thing is, taking a picture is a personal moment. Inevitably there is something left out of the frame. It might be the experience of getting to the shoot or something completely unrelated. If I had a great breakfast before the shoot that part of my experience will never be part of the picture. Perhaps this is obvious, put most people taking pictures seem to miss this fact. One of the signs that the experience is outside the frame of the picture is when the photographer needs to explain the shot. Since most people take pictures to make a sort of visual diary of there lives this is a natural part of picture taking. Most people take picture to capture a part of there experience: this is what my child looked like at three or this is where I stayed on my last vacation. I think that this has a lot to do with the popularity of selfies. Of course I occasionally take pictures to capture moments of my life, but such pictures are not my business.

I make a lot of photograph for clients and for art. When I make a photograph I am shooting to communicate with the viewer of the photograph rather than trying to save a personal experience. This means that I must understand the way a viewer will see my photograph. The viewer will never have the experience of pushing down the shutter button. He or she comes to the photograph with a whole different set of expectations and experience than I had when I made the image. First the viewer expects to be shown something interesting. When I make photographs I am always involved in a process of discovery. I am trying to find what is interesting, compelling or just effective in an image. The viewer expects to be shown what I found; they do not expect to make their own journey of discovery. While it might be interesting to create art that requires such a journey on the part of the viewer, effective photographs present the viewer with the discovered.

Editing is the process of choosing what to share with the viewer. What I choose to share depends on the viewer. If I am working for other creatives, for instance an ad agency or a graphic designer I might share everything. Such people expect to go on to do their own process of discovery in my images. However if the images are for other uses, whether for business or for art, I need to choose images that will communicate with the intended viewers. I need to see my images as other people will see them. It can be very difficult to see images in this way. I must pay attention to what is in the frame, and how others see that content, and just what a photograph can actually communicate. This is a difficult process. Many good photographers are unable to make the shift to editor. I’ve often been shown images that represent something very special to the photographer, but weren’t effective in communicating to any one else. I’ve done this myself: tried to explain what was great about an image I made, only to realize that my audience was only concerned with the actual image.

When I edit my first step is to get rid of all the images that are so technically flawed that nothing can be done with them. While I don’t actually destroy any digital files or negatives, I don’t keep such images in the folder I’m editing. If I’m working with digital files my next step is to do basic corrections for color and exposure on any images that will benefit. Usually I can do this in batches, so it doesn’t take very long. If I’m working with another creative, or a client that wants to see everything, I may present all these images. I only present images at this stage if the client wants to be part of the editing process. The client often has special information they want to display or special insights into how they present their images. I never know everything a client knows; they always have special expertise. It’s important to use that information. So it can be very important to engage the client in the editing process. If I’m working for a client that wants to see only choice images I need to start to see like the client, and I have to start making more difficult picks.

On another pass through the images I’ll pick out any image that is particularly effective. At this point I am always looking for what is good about an image. I’m still trying to be inclusive. So I might keep an image that has a particularly effective portion, even if part of the image is flawed. If I have several images that are redundant this is the point where I’ll let some of them go. I’ll also pick out images that are grouped for special handling, say a group of shots that were made for HDR or focus staking. No part of photography is divorced from the technology of image making, but this process of examining images is effective if I’m using a loupe and grease pencil on a proof sheet or Lightroom. In fact I usually use Adobe Bridge and Adobe Raw to handle digital images.

At this point I begin to edit the actual image rather than the editing the shoot. This is a very important transition. Of course I’m going to continue to throw out images, for technical and esthetic reasons, but the next step is to begin edition the individual images. At this point it’s even more important to look at the images as a viewer would. Remember that the viewer won’t recreate the moment of capturing the image. Just like a client you have special information, but it may not be possible to express that experience in your photograph. So it’s time to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work in an image. This means crop your image. There was an idea among photographers that you should crop the image in camera; that the actual image captured in the camera was almost sacred. One of the reasons for this was that we shot a lot slides, which were used for projection. You couldn’t edit these images, without a great deal of special handling: what you shot was what you showed. With current digital cameras there is no technical reason to shoot this way. In fact there are good reasons to shoot a little extra around your image, for instance you may need to do perspective control or compensate for lens distortion. It is also possible that an image may work best in another shape. There is nothing special about the 2:3 ratio of most digital sensors, square images or different rectangles may work better. It’s even possible that a circle or oval might be the best choice for the image. It’s important to be guided by the image rather than by a frame size or print size. If I end up with a special size image I can always mat the image for a standard frame.

Cropping is so important. It tells the viewer what to look at and keeps the viewer’s eye engaged with the photograph. I have seen so many images that would benefit from a little judicious cropping. There are probably a number of technical things I’ll do to an image when I first open it in Adobe Raw, but nothing is more important to the finished image than cropping. I may crop as a multi-step process, doing a rough crop in Adobe Raw and doing my final cropping in Photoshop. Of course this two-step process is particularly important if I’m going to be doing a perspective crop.

I think that Photoshop has had a more significant and lasting affect on image making than digital cameras have. The previous technology: either wet darkroom or offset printing, didn’t allow for much image manipulation, at least not without extreme costs. Photoshop allows us to get into the image and perfect it. As photographers we should use these tools to create a better visual experience for the viewer. There are so many ways to do this that are beyond the scope of this essay. However it’s important to be open to utilizing this tool kit. Whether you choose to do become a Photoshop expert or to send out your retouching you need to have an idea of the possible. There are limits for photojournalistic images, but those limits don’t apply to personal work, however it’s still important to keeps the viewer’s experience in your mind. Keeping a sense of the real is important to engaging a viewer.

If you’re still reading this you may want to share it. That’s ok with me, but please attribute it to me, for good or ill. If you have another opinion I’d like to hear it. You can e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com.

My home page is at

http://www.siskinphoto.com/index.php

If you’re interested in more information from me you can find my workshops at:

http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php

There are a couple of free classes that I used to offer through BetterPhoto, on the page as well.

You can read my magazine articles at:

http://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php

There are a couple of dozen of them at that link, all free.

You can also find my books at Amazon, of course you’ll have to pay for them:

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

Photographing Architecture

My blog is at

http://siskinphoto.com/blog/

and I’ve posted this essay at the blog.

And just for fun here’s a link to my do it yourself page

http://www.siskinphoto.com/cameraeqp.php

 

 

 

January 8, 2016

New Workshop-Micro Photography

Filed under: Micro Photography,Photographic Education,Workshops — John Siskin @ 12:21 pm

When was the last time you were inspired?
When was the last time you saw something Truly New? Or looked at something and saw it as new?
One of the challenges for a photographer is finding new subjects and new ways of seeing. Of course it’s possible to build a career shooting subjects you have an affinity for, but isn’t important to walk into unknown territory?

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My upcoming Micro Workshop will open doors to terra incognita, the unknown and the unexplored.
There are many ways to explore the merely small, those things you see when you look closely. But this workshop will enable you to see the worlds on the back of a fly and the oceans in a piece of opal, the miraculous rainbows in a piece of plastic. This is your opportunity to photograph an unseen world. This world isn’t too far away, and the tools that take you there are within your grasp. You need only have a good camera and a few adapters to begin. If you choose to go further good microscopes are cheaper than a new lens or speed light.

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I want to act as your tour guide on this journey. I’m asking you come on a safari to the land of the infinitesimal. Unlike most journeys this one will give you the opportunity to return. You’ll be able to go back to this territory because this workshop will give you the keys; you can unlock the door again whenever you choose. This workshop will give you the ability to explore within the heated comfort of your own home. You’ll get extensive information on tools and where to find them.

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Right now I’m looking for a few bold photographers that want to go on this journey. I haven’t set a specific itinerary or a price. We could go for a one day tour or even a two day trip that would include a microscope that you’ll take home. I’d like to know what you want to take home from this trip.

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Please get in touch with me so that this trip can happen, and so you can join us! Right now the tour is scheduled to start on May 15. You can reach me for more information at john@siskinphoto.com.

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You can buy one of my books by clicking on the titles below:


January 6, 2016

Carousel #1

Filed under: Do It Yourself,Other,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 2:36 pm
Carousel

Carousel #1

First off I’d like to thank everyone who’s registered at this blog, NOW AT 4000 REGISTER USERS! Wow!

This is one of my all time favorite photographs. I like it so much I’ve posted the shot on the blog before.
http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=39
http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=85
http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=249

I don’t know that I’m adding anything new here, but I am adding a PayPal link so you can buy this image, and it’s also in my book B-Four.

I like this image because I think it captures the excitement of a boy ridding a carousel. It has a real sense of movement, and the horse almost looks alive! Of course it means more to me because of the experience of making the image. I’ve often talked to people about how making an image affects my perception of the image. So in order to make this image I had to make a unique camera.

Super Wide Camera

Super Wide Camera

This camera started as a tool to shoot Polaroid materials with 35mm lenses. Before digital the only way to preview your lighting and exposure was to shoot Polaroid instant shots before you committed the image to film. This was pretty easy with a large format camera because you could exchange the film back for a Polaroid back, but it was a real problem for 35mm cameras. It was possible to get a Polaroid back that was built to fit on a 35mm camera, but since you couldn’t exchange the back in the middle of a roll of film you needed an extra camera body. A dedicated camera with the custom Polaroid back was a pretty big expense. I designed this camera to use a Polaroid back built for my large format camera and to shoot Nikon lenses. That the thing worked at all was pretty amazing, but it turned out to be pretty useful. As you can probably tell I’m not the world’s best craftsman.

When I finished the camera I realized I could attach a film back as well as the Polaroid back. With most lenses the really wouldn’t mean much, but Nikon builds a few lenses that provide a unique point of view with this camera. These lenses capture a much larger angle of view than a 35mm camera can shoot. They are designed this way so that they can be used to shoot architecture and maintain perspective. This camera is able to capture more of the image from these lenses, which gives you a well corrected extreme wide-angle view. With this camera the lens has about a 110º angle of view, similar to a 17mm lens on a full frame digital camera.

The shutter on the camera is a pneumatic Packard shutter, activated by a bulb you hold in your hand. The shutter speed is about 1/30 of a second, really pretty slow. So in order for the horse to stay sharp I had to move the camera with the horse as I activated the shutter. This is actually a pretty neat trick; it’s called panning. Panning works pretty well with a 35mm camera, but frankly I didn’t expect it to work here because the camera is so awkward. I was amazed and pleased that the pan worked.

Scan of the negative

Scan of the negative

One or two of the earlier posts was about editing, which is so important to any photographer. I’m including an un-retouched scan of the negative (does un-retouched mean touched, probably not). I’ve used a lot of the image in the final presentation. I hope you’ll like it and want to buy a print. The link below will let you order a print of Carousel #1 mounted and matted. The image will be about 13 inches wide, and about the same height. I hope you’ll consider ordering one, the price is just $125, which includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like me to send a print somewhere else let me know at john@siskinphoto.com, I’m sure we can work something out.


I should also mention my book again B-Four. I put this book together with many of my favorite images. I’ve added links to the book from other images that are included. You can see all the images if you go to the link.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:


December 15, 2015

Gyroscope #1

Filed under: Digital Photography,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 1:28 pm

 

Gyroscope #1

Gyroscope #1

The images I’ve posted to this blog recently have all been shot on film. As I post more images for the fine art pages of my blog I’ll be posting more digital images. I wanted to start with this image because it’s one of the first digital fine art images I made. My first digital camera was a Leaf DCB II, which fit onto the back of Mamiya RZ camera. This was a real early digital capture device, sort of a bad marriage of a film camera and a digital camera. The Leaf back was actually only capable of recording a black and white shot. In order to make a color shot the camera shot three images through a red, green and blue filter. The software added the images together to make the color file. This was a HUGE PAIN IN THE BUTT. The position of files needed to be adjusted on each shot. Since the camera took three images it took quite a while to make each shot. You couldn’t take a shot of anything that moved. The camera needed to be tethered to a desktop computer, so it was a real problem to take on location. I was the second owner of the back, and it still cost $6000-six thousand dollars. The image was only three megapixels.

Gyroscope #11

Gyroscope #11

If the subject moved during the shot, or if the lights moved, the image changed. I’d all ready worked with images built of three exposures. I did this on location with waterfalls to add rainbows to the water. I’ve added a shot of Buckhorn Falls to this blog to show how this effect works. In the shot at the top of the blog (Gyroscope #1) I kept the light in the same shot but the outer frame of the gyroscope moved. In Gyroscope #11 I moved the light around between the three exposures. You can see how the light position changed the color of the clear glass I put the gyroscope on.

Buckhorn Falls #2 Shot on 4X5 Ektachrome

Buckhorn Falls #2 Shot on 4X5 Ektachrome

If you’d like to buy either of the Gyroscope images You can use the link below. I’ll mount and mat the images on 11X14 inch board, and the actual image will be just 10 inches tall. That’s as big as the files really want to print. Since these images are smaller you can get these images for only $80 by using the link below. Please tell me which image you want by e-mail (john@siskinphoto.com). I’ll make a special deal if you want both images. I’ll be putting up Buckhorn Falls #2 as a separate post soon, with it’s own sales link.


You can buy one of my books at these links

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images to the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: john@siskinphoto.com. Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

December 7, 2015

What?

Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photographic Education,Portraits — John Siskin @ 3:48 pm
What?

What?

This is the most successful image I’ve ever made. It’s been published several times, including in the New Yorker Magazine. I’ve sold more prints of this shot than any other. And I almost missed it. Of course we often miss shots because we recognize a moment too late, or because something goes wrong, but this shot had a different problem. I made this shot, and made a proof sheet, and put it in a file without noticing how effective this single frame was. I don’t know why I missed it, maybe I just didn’t have time to print, but it ended up in the files. Fortunately I like to go through the old files, because I sometimes find good things. Sometimes you just need fresh eyes to see how effective an image is. Anyway I did notice the image, and it’s been an important part of my portfolio ever since.

Photographing animals in the studio is similar to making studio photographs of children: you need to be ready before the subject steps onto the set. You’ll probably only get the right look one time, so you don’t want to waste that on a set-up shot. In this case the dog came into the shoot after I finished shooting his owner, so everything was ready. I shot the image on Kodak TMAX film with a Mamiya C-330. I used the 250mm lens for the shot. It’s just about the only time I ever used this lens. I liked the Mamiya C-330 cameras because I could afford to have just about everything in the system. I did a lot of good commercial and personal work with these cameras. I still have one C-330 body and the 180 Super lens, a great combination.

If you’d like to buy a digital print of this image, mounted and matted on archival cotton rag board, please use the PayPal link below. The image will be about 13 inches wide mounted on 16X20 board. The price includes shipping in the United States, for other countries please ask first.

This image, and many others, is also available in my book B-Four. You can look at the book at this link, and order it as well. I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images to the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: john@siskinphoto.com. Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

October 10, 2015

Tool Kit

Of course I’m thinking about the workshop next weekend. There are only two spaces left, so you should SIGN UP NOW!

Samantha will be one of the models for Sunday October 18th.

Samantha will be one of the models for Sunday October 18th.

One of the things I want to examine at the workshop is the lighting tool kit for a photographer. The equipment manufacturers want us to buy everything; they’re not exactly on our side. Many of the available tools are of little use, or totally redundant. So I hope that this workshop will actually help you to save money by experimenting with the tools. I’ve seen a lot of people who work with hammers: carpenters, roofers and neurologists. The all use different kinds of hammers; purpose built for their applications. When we choose our tools we need to exercise the same care a carpenter does when he buys a hammer.

harley

The main tools we use as photographers are designed to work for a large variety of applications. So my Nikon D800 is a terrific camera to fit onto a microscope or use for architectural photography or even an auto race. While the camera will work well in all those applications, I’ll need to use different lenses for each situation. This is one of the great strengths of camera design: a good camera can be adapted to different situations. Can you imagine buying a whole new camera everything you needed a lens or even a filter? Strobe lights are the same way: a basic strobe can be used for a lot of applications, if you have the light modifiers for the job. This is one of the good aspects of strobe lights over movie lights, which are purpose built. Over the years I’ve worked with many light modifiers for strobes, everything from large soft boxes to fiber optics. These modifiers are designed to make the lights useful in all kinds of applications. Some of modifiers have been good, some bad; some work in a lot of situations and some are only good for one kind of job. I hope one of the things you’ll receive from the workshop is a better way to choose your tools.

The first step in adding a tool to your kit is identifying the reason you need or want that tool. So I may choose a new light because I didn’t have the lights I felt I could use at my last job, but I may also choose a tool because it inspires me. I think this second reason is really important. I often get tools because they make me want to work, or because they open up new ideas for shots. I also get tools because they replace or upgrade or back up the tools that I have. Of course one problem is that I now have too many tools to take on location.

When i shoot a motorcycle i need to use large light modifiers to build good light.

When I shoot a motorcycle I need to use large light modifiers to build good light.

I’ve got a large studio so I have some tools that are only useful in a full time studio. One of the best is my Broncolor Hazylight. I picked up the frame in a studio sale, and adapted a Norman head to fit the frame. Then I put the whole thing on a camera stand, so it’s easy to position in my studio. Most photographers don’t have a space for a light modifier this big. If you’re going to use a smaller studio you might want to use light panels. The panels are cheap to make and incredibly adaptable.

Here's a shot that mixes hard light, soft light and continuous light effectively.

Here’s a shot that mixes hard light, soft light and continuous light effectively. Effective catch lights as well.

One of the important aspects of a portrait is the catch light in the eyes. The catch light, which is really just a small reflection of you’re the light, can change the whole quality of a portrait. If you don’t see a catch light, or if you see an umbrella, or just a tiny pin prick of light, it can damage an image. There are all kinds of light sources for portraits shooting that address this problem. I’ve used quite a few: portrait dish, soft box, octabox, umbrella and so on. One of the things that makes better catch lights is a large circular light source, which will make a round catch light in the subject’s eyes. For this reason I’ve got a cover with a circular cut out for my Hazylight. I would build a similar cover for a soft box, if I were using one. I also use a light panel and a snoot to make a circular light source. I can use the snoot to put a circle of light onto the panel. I can use these tools to make other shapes and control the direction of the light. This gives me a round catch light, or I can change the angle of the snoot and get many different shapes on the light panel. So both the snoot and the light panels are at the top of my list for light modifiers. I also use the snoot as a hard light source in my shots. I’ve found that the snoot is an incredibly fun tool to have in my lighting kit.

Just a guy using thee right tool for the job!

Just a guy using thee right tool for the job!

I also like using a set of barn doors with my light for illuminating the light panels. The barn doors can even crate a strip with the light panel. I also like the barn doors for shooting architecture. I can control a bounce off a ceiling or other surface, to keep the light out of my image. Of course the barn doors can help to place a highlight in a subject, say a hair light or a rim light. Both the snoot and the barn doors are small light sources, so the position of the light is important, but if you use the snoot or the barn doors with a modifier like the light panel you can make a large light source.

It really doesn’t matter whether you make light with a mono-light or a dedicated strobe. What matters is controlling just a few things: the color of the light, the power of the light, the size and shape of the light source and the position of the light. The color and power of the light really only matter relative to other light sources in your shot. So if you were using just one light you could change the ISO or the aperture to control the amount of light, but if you have two lights they have to be balanced. Not necessarily the same power, but a balance that suits your vision for the shot. Similarly you might want all the lights in a shot to have the same color balance, but you might also want one light to be warmer. A warmer light might give the effect of sunlight coming into your shot. You can control the color of one light in your camera, but the camera won’t make one light warm and another cool. Controlling power and color are tools that you use to build your shot. The size of the light source, relative to your subject, affects the quality of the light: hard or soft. The larger your light source is the less that the position of the light matters; consider how the light comes from the whole sky on an overcast day, no shadows and no direction.

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The image should start in your mind. If you have an idea of how to position a model, or how to light a face, or a room, or a product, then you can start to build that shot. If you start with the same light each time, or only use existing light, then you have much less control over your shot. So it’s important to understand how each tool works, how you can use the tools together, to build the images you want to make. One of my heroes is Felix the Cat, because whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks. As photographers we need a big bag of tricks. Here are a couple of things I have in my bag of tricks whenever I go on location: umbrellas (white, silver, gold all with black covers) gaffers tape, magic arm and super clamp, small tripod, large tripod, lighting filters (Rosco gels) light stands, maybe even a reflector or two. Of course I’ve also got some interesting strobes on location, mine work with both ac and dc power. The heads are small enough to fit almost anywhere. I’ve been doing this for more than forty years, which means a couple of things: I’ve got multiple kits for different location work. I can grab just one box if I’m shooting an executive portrait, but I’ll add a couple of boxes to this, if I’m making room shots. The time I’ve spent shooting also means that the way I use the tools, and the tricks I use, have evolved over the years. Part of being a creative photographer is learning to see what could be, not just what is. I want to help you to build the images that could be.

This is shot made with just a snoot.

This is shot made with just a snoot.

Of course I want to see you at the lighting workshop on October 17 & 18. You can sign up here. You can also see another post about the workshop here. There are only two spaces left for the shoot on Sunday. You can also sign up for just Saturday, which will be demonstrations and explanations. Of course if you just can’t make it to the workshop, you can still get my books.

September 21, 2015

Lighting Workshop-New date posting soon!

Next Micro Workshop -New date posting soon

Samantha 1

Samantha was a model in the last workshop

I’ve made some arrangements for models for the Lighting Workshop. There is a new date; I’ll post it soon. So I have pricing and sign-up information for this workshop below. This workshop is about lighting for still photography with strobe lights. We’re going to work on building the images that you see in your mind: pre-visualizing and creating shots. You can sign up for just the first day of the workshop, where I’ll introduce the tools and explain how to manipulate them, or you can sign up for both days. On the second day, Sunday the 18th, we’ll work in the studio with models and still life shots. You’ll be doing the shooting on Sunday! This workshop is about building images in the camera, but of course we’ll also discuss post-production.

Cassie is also going to model for the workshop

Here are some of the details, on Saturday we’ll start at 10am. The day will be about understanding how light works and how to control light. We’re going to concentrate first on how to achieve the quality of light you want. For this part of the day we’ll see how to modify the light to create hard or softer gradations in the light. Then we’ll work on how to pre-visualize your light: how to build an image in your mind and translate it to your camera. In order to build images for the camera we’ll examine how to balance the light between multiple light sources. We’ll also work with color filtration on the light so that we can change the color as well as the amount of light. We’re also going to discuss how to direct a model so that you can realize your visualization. You’ll get to see professional equipment and how it’s used to create an image in the studio. Of course we’ll also discuss how to build better lighting on location.

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On Sunday we’ll be shooting all day in the studio. There will be several sets. You’ll get the opportunity to work with live models, and different lighting tools. This will be an opportunity for you to shoot, so bring your cameras! This part of the workshop is limited to just 6 students, and 3 are already signed up! You can bring your own lights on Sunday, if you’d like to work with them, of you can use my lights. Trust me, I have plenty of lights!

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 You can sign up for just the Saturday demonstration part of the workshop, which will give you new ways to work with light, for just $95. If you’d like to come both days (New date posting soon!) it’s just $395, for both days. Pretty great for a two-day workshop with live models! You can sign-up on my site at http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

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Please visit my site to see my other workshops and to check out the Free On Line Classes!

Of course, if you can’t come to this workshop, you can still buy my books at Amazon:

June 24, 2015

Nikon PB-4 Bellows

Filed under: Micro Photography,Photographic Education,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 2:10 pm

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a more  about this workshop and other classes if you visit the workshop page on my site. Thanks so much for your attention.

I’ve done blog posts about micro-photography in the past. You might want to check the posts at this link: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?cat=12. I generally like the term micro photography, rather than macro photography, for a couple of reasons: first Nikon calls their close-up lenses Micro-Nikkor. If it works for Nikon it works for me. In addition much of the time I’m shooting at a reproduction ratio grater than 1:1. This means that the image of the object is grater than life size on the camera sensor. Another way to think of this is that the full frame 35mm sensor is 1X1.5 inches. So if a U.S. quarter just fills the short dimension of the frame you’re shooting 1:1, since a quarter is 1 inch tall. I could add metric equivalents, but I hope you get the idea. For a smaller sensor you need to more than fill the frame to get to 1:1. The size of the object and the size of the image, on the camera sensor, are the key to the reproduction ratio, at the camera anyway. If you then multiply the reproduction ratio by the size of the print or the monitor image you get the actual magnification of the image. If I did a shot at 1:1, and then made an 8X10 print, the print would magnify the subject 8 times. If I did a shot that was 10 times the size of the object, on the sensor, the reproduction ratio would be 10:1. If I made an 8X10 print the print would then magnify the image 80 times.

made with the cell phone

made with the cell phone

The thing to keep in mind is that you can magnify the image many times on the monitor, or the print, but usually the resolution will suffer. I’ve included a butterfly picture from my phone. The whole image looks good, especially from a phone. I cropped a closer version of the image, and frankly that doesn’t look so good. There is a very significant improvement in image quality when you magnify the subject in the camera rather than trying to magnify the image in post-production. The camera optics you use to magnify the subject also have a huge effect on the quality of your final shot. The blog posts I mentioned earlier have a lot of information about how various combinations of lenses and other hardware perform for this kind of photography.

Butterfly wing

Butterfly wing

I’ve recently acquired a new bellows and I wanted to write about it here. The bellows allows you to magnify the image, on the sensor, by moving the lens further from the sensor. I know this seems backwards, but the further the lens is from the camera sensor the grater the magnification is on the sensor. Of course the problem is that camera lenses, even Nikon Micro lenses, limit the distance you can move the lens from the sensor. So there are bellows, and extension tubes, so that you can mount the lens further from the sensor. For many years I’ve used a very simple bellows to do micro work, the Nikon Model 3, and its worked pretty well. However I have long wanted to get the Nikon PB-4 Bellows. This isn’t the newest bellows Nikon makes, but I think it’s the best they ever made. First the bellows have a swing movement, so you can change the geometry between lens and camera. This means that the middle of the lens doesn’t have to be parallel to the film. One thing you can do with this adjustment is to change your depth of field so that it follow the subject, or you can use it to change the shape of the subject. There’s a lot of information about swing and tilt movements in other places, so I won’t go into it here. The bellows also has a shift movement, which makes it easier to place the subject in the frame. The thing that really improves my micro shots better is that the camera and the lens can be moved together with a focus adjustment on the bellows unit. This is relatively simple, and a lot of bellows have it, but not my Nikon Model 3. Since I use an old copy stand for my micro set up this offers me better fine focus. The Nikon PB-4 bellows are the only model Nikon made with the swing and shift movements. Of course there are other ways to do this: www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/zpdf/DigitalViewCamera.pdf. This digital view camera works, but it’s more awkward to use than the Nikon PB-4.

Opal

Opal

There are a lot of lenses you can use with the bellows. One good source of optics is enlarging lenses, another is microscope lenses. I’ve discussed lens choices and adapters in the earlier blog posts: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?cat=12. One of the things I want to do is mount a 135mm enlarging lens on the bellows. This should allow me to focus at infinity, so I can easily use this lens to do table top and other set-up that aren’t actually micro. Of course the advantage will be the swing and shift movements.

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Parrot feathers

I’ll be posting more shots soon, here and at my facebook page: www.facebook.com/JohnSiskinPhotographer. These are just my first experiments with the new bellows. I’ll also be doing a post about the Nikkor 60mm G ED f2.8 micro lens that I recently added to my tool kit. Please keep an eye out. You may also want to check out my magazine articles: http://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php as well as the workshop page: http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php. I’m continuing to add the classes I used to teach at BetterPhoto to the workshop page. Of course I hope you’ll consider purchasing my books at Amazon.

Tiny Skull

Tiny Skull

There are over 2900 subscribers to this blog! 3000 soon! Thanks for your interest. I hope some of you will remember to like my page at facebook: www.facebook.com/JohnSiskinPhotographer.

May 14, 2015

One on One Workshops

It’s been a while since I got to blog. As some of you may know I had problems with nerve pain that kept me in bed. Anyway it’s great to be back. I’m so grateful to be able to stand and walk. I’ve been working for a few clients: Alter’d States & National Gypsum, and I have a shoot for the Future Farmers of America next week. I’m also glad that my books are still selling; both are in the top 100 of their categories today. Pretty good performance since the last one was published three years ago. I really liked working with Amherst Media, and I’d just like to say: Thanks for those royalty checks!” So buy one more copy today. They make great gifts. I’d also like thank the over 2,700 people who are registered subscribers to this blog. I’d just like to ask why?

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I got to do a One on One workshop with a student from Illinois just after I got back on my feet. I really like the chance to work with individuals in these workshops. The two of us worked together in the studio, doing demonstrations and applications. When I started working with lights I heard all sorts of things about how different the tools worked, but I only learned how to predict my shots by doing shots. It took a long time because I didn’t test each tool individually. When I started testing each of my tools I was able to see how the tool would work in my mind. I’d like to add here what my student said about the workshop: “I just wanted to drop you a line to thank you for the one-on-one Studio class that I attended with you a week or so ago. This was a great adventure in lighting and I cannot tell you how much I learned about the subject. I think the concept of how to see the light and how you must know how  each lighting tool (i.e.: snoots, barn doors, umbrellas, etc.) modifies the light has been extremely helpful in my understanding of the whole concept of total lighting of a subject, be it a person or an object. Your concept of pre-visualizing what you want the finished product to look like is absolutely necessary. Since my return home I have been trying to do just that with some really great results. I only wish that we could have spent some more time in a hands on practicing mode, but the entire day was spent on the above concepts. Well worth the time spent. I think if I can work it out, I will try to schedule another day with you for the experience of actual putting in practice the concepts that were taught in the class I just completed. I must say that anyone who would like to understand and light people and/or object will be very pleased  with a day, or better yet two days, with you in a one-on-one day . Thanks again for your time and knowledge.”
It’s always nice to hear good things about what I do!

 

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If you can visualize how your lighting tools work you can build a shot in your mind before you even pick up your lights. This is one of the ways a photographer pre-visualizes an image. The process of building a photograph in your mind enables another level of creativity than finding and recording a shot. I like to work with people who want to build photographs and give them tools and techniques that help.

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I’ve included a couple of test shots from the workshop. You might want to see if you know what tools we used for each test shot. The important thing is to test your own tools so that you really know how they light.

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If you want to do a One on One workshop please get in touch. My e-mail is john@siskinphoto.com. We can discuss what you want to do in your workshop. You might also want to check out the workshop page of my site: www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php and this earlier blog entry: www.siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2703 about the One on One Workshops. The cost is still only $425, which is a great deal since you get personal attention and all the facilities of my studio.

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Speaking of learning opportunities, I posted another of the lessons I offered through BetterPhoto. You can download these lessons for free at the workshop page of my site: www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php. If you want to have me critique your assignments there is a small charge.

January 17, 2015

On Contests

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post. Thanks so much for your attention.

I seem to be judging photo contests more often. I would guess this is because I’m getting a more extensive network here in Indiana. Judging is always interesting, and occasionally inspiring. I’m usually asked to make some remarks about judging, as well as talking about the images. What follows are some of the things I think about photo contests.

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First judging is capricious. Any individual judge has his/her particular experience as well as taste. So any contest that has multiple judges is likely to have more even standards than a contest judged by one person. I know that some organizations have standards for judging, but I think that the personality of the judge will still affect her/his choices.

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Photography is not inherently a competitive endeavor; like ice dancing the results are much more open to interpretation than a 100 meter run. A photograph can be extremely personal and deeply evocative with out being a contest winner. I have images that look good to me, for personal reasons, that I don’t want to share. Photographs are a form of communication. Some photographs are able to communicate with almost anyone, while some images are only for a personal journal.

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When I choose to enter a contest there is usually some reward besides winning. For instance the images might be published in a magazine or part of a show. I’ve also entered some contests to get my work in front of a particular judge. Usually I’m looking for an opportunity to promote my images or meet people. In addition I often enter contests that have an entry fee. When there is a fee people only enter their best images. I can understand that people only want the opportunity to share images with friends, but I’m not sure that a contest is the best way to do this. The whole business of winning and losing is not as important as communicating ideas, vision and feelings.

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When I’m judging a contest I look at how much the interpretation or manipulation the photographer brought to the image. While there are may fabulous images that are technically just f8 and be there, I enjoy seeing images that the photographer worked for. I always want to see the photographer’s interpretation and expression in an image. Frankly I think it would be interesting to see a competition where everyone worked in the same location and had a choice of when to visit the location. Here’s the thing: many people take pictures, fewer people make pictures. I’ve included a couple of made pictures with this post.

disney 2 copy (1)

An image for a contest needs to be pretty strong. In most cases a judge won’t have time to become deeply involved with a very subtle image. You need to do a good job presenting your images matting and framing them. If you don’t present your images well it’s unlikely a judge will fully appreciate them. It’s my opinion that a neutral color mat: white gray or black is better for competition because you can’t control what will appear next to your shot. If I’m showing a more graphic image I might use a smaller mat to make the image space larger, but many images need extra space around them to isolate them from the surroundings. If two images are equally good, if such a thing is possible, that the image with better presentation will win. A good image, well presented, may often do better than a better image poorly presented. I usually use black metal frames for my images because are durable and separate my images from the surroundings.

jennifer solarization

One more thing, and this is a personal opinion. I don’t like canvas mounted photographs. I think that putting a photograph on canvas is a way of making a fake painting. My photographs are supposed to be photographs not paintings. If you would rather have paintings than photographs, or you think that paintings are better than photographs, perhaps you should learn to paint. If your clients will pay more for a photograph mounted on canvas then, by all means get canvas mounted photographs. Having said this, I think gallery wraps, where the image continues around the edges of the canvas frame can look good in some rooms, but I don’t think they are good for a competition. They are too easy to damage and they don’t separate from their surroundings.

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If an image is good enough, and sufficiently better than the competition, than it can break any rule and still win. But good enough means pretty damn good. Things like the tonal separation in your print, sharpness and color are critical. It’s possible to have a good image on your computer and get a poor print. Before you enter a print in a competition make sure that print presents your image as well as possible.

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If you’re in Indiana you might be interested in my Portfolio Workshop. We discuss many of these issues and others. There’s more information about the workshop at this link. Also I’m putting some of my BetterPhoto lessons on my site. Please check them out at this link. If you’re interested in a One on One Workshop or private consultation please get in touch.

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