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

 

 

 

December 10, 2015

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

This is one of my favorite images. I love the look of the print. I have it above the desk in my office. Sometimes the experience of making an image is transformative: making this image changed the way I make pictures. I learned to take risks, even if the shot might not work. While this might seem natural with digital photography, it’s different with film. I shot this image on 4X5 film. Each sheet of film is individually loaded into a film holder. Five film holders, ten sheets of film, weighs more than a pound, and takes up a lot of room as well. Each exposure costs more than two dollars after processing. So on location each shot is precious. I made this shot with my speed graphic, which weighs almost seven pounds (I got out the scale to do this blog). This isn’t usually important, but Union Station, Los Angeles, won’t let anyone shoot with a tripod unless they have a permit. I made the shot with a Schneider 65mm f8 Super Angulon lens. I’d never made a really sharp image with this lens. So I hand held the camera at an exposure of 1/15 sec at almost f16. The light was beautiful, but I didn’t know if I could hold the camera still for the exposure.

There’s something that I didn’t know about using the Super Angulon lens, or any wide-angle lens on a large format camera. If you focus the camera on infinity and stop down the lens only the center of your shot will be sharp. In order to get a sharp image with this class of lenses you have to focus closer if you stop down the lens. So if you want to have the whole shot sharp, and you’re going to shoot at f16, you should focus at about eight feet from the camera. When I took this shot I was very careful, because I knew I needed to get as much depth of field as I could. So I focused closer, using the rule of thumb that depth of field extend a third in front of your focus point and two-thirds behind that point. To my surprise and delight the whole image is sharp edge to edge. I’ve posted a lot more about aperture and depth of field in these posts: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=50, http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=56 and http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=68. Of course the fact that the image is sharp also means I held the camera steady at 1/15th of a second. Pretty good for a large format camera!

My Speed Graphic camera with the 135mm lens, not the 65mm Super Angulon.

My Speed Graphic camera with the 135mm lens, not the 65mm Super Angulon.

It’s always exciting to see your film images after processing, because, unlike digital, you don’t know you’ve got the shot until it’s processed. When I saw this negative, before I even made a print, I knew it was great. I still remember that moment. Regardless of how you make a photograph it’s exciting when you realize you’ve made something special. By the way, since this image is titled Union Station, Los Angeles #1, you can assume that there are more images of this fabulous site to come.

I hope that when I get the website updated I’ll be offering silver gelatin prints of this image in various sizes. Right now I’m offering archival digital prints of this image at a special price just $95, mounted and matted on cotton rag board, and shipped in the United States. The image will be about 11X13 inches and matted to 16X20.



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.

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.

December 6, 2015

Indiana World War Memorial & Museum-Stairs, 2015

Filed under: Film Technique,Looking at Photographs,New Photographs — John Siskin @ 3:31 pm

Indiana World War Memorial & Museum-stairs, 2015

Except for dance and the human voice, art requires people to use tools. Of course tool use is so basic to human beings that we often differentiate ourselves from other animals because we use tools. I think that tools are important to artists, and I know that they’re important to me. Some cameras inspire me to take pictures: some lenses seem to bring images to life. I recently got a Graflex XL, and I’ve carried it with me ever since. The camera is nice, but the real star is the lens: a Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8. This lens is also on the classic Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras.

I like the way that stone and concrete look in black and white images. The stone has a real presence in this image probably because of the way the lens capture texture. The precision of the stonework is evident in this shot. Indianapolis has some really amazing stonework throughout the city. I’ve made some fine images of buildings here, and I continue to work with these subjects. Indiana has been a source of limestone for many buildings in the U.S. and the stuff has a great monumental feel. I really like the brighter highlights on the columns in the middle of the image.

I’m still committed to film for many of my fine art images. One reason is a second moment of discovery: when you shoot in digital you see a picture immediately, with film you don’t see an image until the film is developed and printed. The separation between shoot and image gives me a chance to imagine how I will work with the image. The sense of seeing a good negative is very rewarding. Of course it is also rewarding to work with a craft I’ve been practicing for decades.

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 14 inches long mounted on 16X20 board. The price includes shipping in the United States, for other countries please ask first.


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.

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.

pr07

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.

11

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.

pr15

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.

pr02

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.

pr12

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.

knife   pepper

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.

July 6, 2014

Changing Your Way of Seeing

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 . I’ve listed my BetterPhoto classes at the end of this post. Thanks so much for your attention.

Frame 16

I see as a photographer, constantly breaking the world into still images. I think that most people who spend a big chunk of life doing photography see a little differently from people who aren’t involved in static art forms. I’ll look at something and think: “I’d shoot that, maybe a little warmer and with more contrast” or maybe: “That was a really great instant” and: “Look at that design.” I think this is part of being a good photographer. I once heard a guy say that he always adjusted a TV to look like Kodachrome, since that was the way he saw the world. Of course this illustrates one of the problems with this way of seeing: you start to see everything the same way. I’ve been known to walk by an interesting subject while thinking that’s not the kind of shot I do. I often make my shots warmer, even my black and white shots, but I can’t remember the last time I made a shot cooler.

Frame 22

So I’m always looking for ways to break out of my way of seeing. I know that many people want to have a style, but not me. I’m a photographer, not a painter, so I can be prolific and do work that’s new. I want to push myself to see in different ways. One of the ways I do this is to work with different tools: cameras, lenses and software. I just got a Horizon Perfekt, which is really helping me to see differently. This camera shoots a 120º image, horizontally anyway. It’s really different from other wide-angle images because the lens actually moves during the shot.Frame 12

 

I shot with a Koni-Omega camera last week. It’s a medium format film camera. This is a manual camera with range finder. Shooting it reminded me of the acronym FAST: Focus, Aperture, Shutter and Think. I think that my digital camera has allowed me to get a little sloppy with technique. Of course shooting with a new camera is not the only way to open yourself to new ways of seeing, but it can be fun as well as enlightening.

Frame 15

I got an 11X14 camera recently, but I haven’t shot with it yet. I still have to build a lens board and order some film, but it should be a quite an experience. Whenever you work with a very large camera the difficulties increase and so does the expense. But if 11X14 is anything like 8X10 getting a good result will be really fun. Sometimes just getting a good exposure can make you feel great. There’s another practice tool I want to work with. I have an old Spiratone 400 mm f6.3 lens. I’ve really only used it a couple of times because I’m more interested in wide-angle lenses. But in an effort to expand my vision I’m going to put in on the digital camera and start shooting. Who knows how that will affect my seeing? By the way I’ve included a couple of panoramas from the Horizon camera and one more from the Koni-Omega. Also I recently updated my website so you can get an idea of how I’m seeing now. Please check it out at www.siskinphoto.com

Of course there are other ways of expanding your seeing, like taking a BetterPhoto course. Here are the three I teach, perhaps you’d like to take another one or share them with a friend.
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography
One other note about BetterPhoto: I’ve been in the habit of sending out a private note to all my former students at BetterPhoto (Almost a thousand people!) each month. There’s some sort of hang up in the e-mail system for thst so, for a while anyway, I won’t be sending that note. I hope no one is too disappointed.
Thanks,  John

 

June 16, 2014

Portfolio Workshop October 30th!

The last Portfolio Workshop went really well. Why not join us  for the next one? We’ll meet on October 30th at 6:30pm at my studio in Downtown Indianapolis. Read on for more details.
Making photographs might be a solitary experience, but as soon as you’ve made a photograph you’ll want to share it. As you gain experience as a photographer you’ll want to share your photographs more broadly, beyond friends and acquaintance. Of course you’ll be concerned about how other people perceive your work, or at least I hope you will. If you want to present your images to galleries or contests or businesses it’s important to learn how other people see your work. Frankly it’s quite difficult to learn this on your own. I’ve learned this for myself. When I look at my shots I remember the circumstances of the shoot, and this always colors my perception of the shot.

Mosaic

The above shot is a good example I made this shot for a hotel in Beverly Hills. The owners of the hotel and the designer weren’t ready for the shoot and there were other problems. So, while the shot is good, I didn’t put it on my website for quite a while because I remembered the problems when I looked at the shot. So choosing photographs to show is very difficult. When I do a shoot I have certain reasons for the shots, the reasons may be commercial, personal or something else. Because the first time I edit the shots the choices are based on the reasons I did the shoot. I sometimes miss a shot that has other possibilities. This is why I go back to older shots and review them again. That even happened with this shot:

What?

 

The purpose of the Portfolio Workshop is to help you develop skills for editing and presenting your shots. There are different ways to present your portfolio, and presentation is important. I’ve seen a lot of people who only have digital versions of their portfolios. While a digital portfolio is good, I think you might also want a print portfolio; for one thing it helps you sell prints. More important you want to show various ways of presenting images to your client: digital, website print and more. These tools may be important to a commercial client. For instance I had a high end landscaping client that showed very large prints to potential buyers. He told me that he was going to be landscaping a couple of acres of land and you just couldn’t present that with a 4X6 inch print. Of course he knew he needed really good photographs if he was going to show prints that big. I have a 16X20 inch portfolio that I present to architecture clients; it’s been quite successful. I have a couple of portfolios on my tablet and even a few pdf portfolios my clients can see on line: www.siskinphoto.com/aportrait.pdf and www.siskinphoto.com/aarch.pdf. In the workshop we’ll be talking about the most effective ways of sharing our work. We’ll also talk about how to get people to look at our work. The shot below is in my16X20 portfolio.

Mark David

There’s a lot more to this workshop than listening to me pontificate about someone else’s photographs. This is a small group and everyone is encouraged to participate. The idea is to see how several different people react to your images. One object of this workshop is to develop a supportive environment where you can get detailed feedback about your images. Another object is to develop everybody’s skill communicating about images. This is always challenging to photographers because few photographers have a background in design. When you can better describe why an image works you’ll also create better skills designing and building images. Of course we’ll also share technical information about making images, but, in this sort of workshop, technology is secondary to developing our design skills.

I’m asking participants to bring two images to each meeting. This way everyone will get a chance to have an image reviewed and to comment on other people’s images. I’m sure there are people who would like to have just their portfolio reviewed rather than be part of this workshop. I certainly do portfolio reviews, but they cost more than $20. A portfolio review is static, this workshop will help you develop your skills as a photographer over time and build great portfolios. The Portfolio Workshop is a live experience. It meets once a month in my Indianapolis Studio.

You can start attending this workshop with just a few images. We meet once a month so you’ll have the opportunity to create more images for your portfolio and bring them to the workshop. You can use the workshop experience to help you decide what kind of a portfolio to develop, or you can develop several portfolios at one time. I’m always working on several sorts of images at the same time. I encourage everyone to participate, by bringing images and by giving feedback to the other participants. Sign up at the Workshop Page on my site. Please join in!

You can get my books through amazon or other booksellers.

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

January 10, 2014

Critiques

Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 3:55 pm

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.

 

December 9, 2013

More Than Pressing the Button

 

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!


May 30, 2013

Print Types

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. Please get copies, if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is introduce the books and get you to consider one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography

The second portfolio class was great. Please let me know if you want to be on the mailing list. Here’s some more information the next meeting is Tuesday June 18, 2013, 6:30 pm. We may be meeting at my new studio. Stay tuned for more about that! The class is a great opportunity to make a greater commitment to your work and learn more about how others see your work. Still only $20. I look forward to seeing you if you’re near Indianapolis.

I’m going to discuss the kinds of prints I’ll be using in my show at Indiana Landmarks. The opening is on June 7 at 6pm. I hope I’ll see you there! For more information check this link. Most of the images in this week’s blog are going to the show at Landmarks. Please keep in mind that images on your screen aren’t good representations of what real prints look like. The images are linked to the fine art part of my website, which you can use to buy a print. The prints available on my website are made on the Moab Entrada rag paper discussed below.

I’ll start with silver gelatin prints because in many ways they’re my favorites. These were the most common black and white prints for most of the twentieth century. The black part of the image is silver and the emulsion is made of gelatin, which is probably the reason for the name. One of the most beautiful aspects of these prints is the bright whites created by a layer of barium clay called baryta. This layer is on most prints made on a paper base, usually called fiber based paper. This layer was replaced by a titanium layer when resin coated papers were introduced. I think resin papers aren’t as beautiful because they don’t have the baryta layer.

Fiber based silver gelatin papers are still available ready to use. The prints are exposed in a darkroom with an enlarger. Processing time is over an hour; most of this is wash time. If the prints are properly handled, particularly given through washing, they will last for at more than a hundred years. There are many examples of prints that have lasted longer than a hundred years. The photographer has considerable control over the print; in addition to changing density the photographer can also change contrast tone and local density.

Cyanotypes have bright blue images on a base that is the color of the paper or other material you print on. Sir John Herschel invented the process in 1842. The light sensitive chemistry is iron based, and the final image is an iron compound. The final dye is called Prussian blue. The chemistry is mixed by hand and brush coated on the paper. Multiple coatings add to the saturation of the image, which is why I usually triple coat the paper I use for cyanotypes. Processing is just a long wash.

 

Cyanotype, Vandyke and other processes are usually referred to as alternate processes or alt process. The idea is that these are different from the more commercial photographic processed used for most photography. These processes are much more personal, for instance the paper is hand coated by the photographer. The processes are not very sensitive to light so enlargers can’t be used. Most often the original camera negative is pressed right against the hand coated paper. An alt process print is a handmade object and each print will be unique. Of course the photographer has to exercise considerable care when preparing and processing these prints in the darkroom.

The Vandyke process produces a brown toned image. The image is made of silver, but the light sensitivity is based on iron chemistry, like cyanotypes rather than silver chemistry like a silver gelatin print. This process is often referred to as Kallitype. The sensitizer contains Ferric Ammonium Citrate, Tartaric Acid and Silver Nitrate. Processing includes considerable wash time as well as a bath in sodium thiosulfate. Properly processed Vandyke images have lasted for about a hundred years.

 

From the time that George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest” there have been places to get your processing work done for you. In some cases, for instance Kodachrome processing, there was literally no way to do it yourself. In addition much processing can’t be done economically unless you do a lot of printing everyday. Certainly many people have noticed that their ink jet printers don’t work well after sitting unused for several weeks. There are several things that are important to the photographer and the viewer with all of these processes; first is how much control does the photographer have over the images. The printer that I am using allows me to manipulate the image files in Photoshop. This gives me incredible control over the final print. Another consideration is how long will the prints last. While none of these processes have been around long enough to prove durability, prints can tested using light and heat.

Fuji Type R Paper was actually used when photo labs had enlargers. The R stood for reversal. It allowed the lab to maker a print directly from a slide or a larger film positive. So you could make prints from Kodachrome or Ektachrome without making an inter negative. Labs generally used enlargers to work with this paper, so you could do dodging and burning, but there was not much other control. I am not sure if anyone is still making Type R paper. These prints had good saturation and good durability.

Moab Entrada Rag 290 Bright paper is made to high standards and designed for specialized ink jet printers. It is a rag paper and has no acid or lignin. The Epson Ultrachrome inks are used. These are pigment inks so they will last for an exceptionally long time. I find that these prints have a very long tonal scale and very fine color. These prints are made from files that have been prepared with Photoshop. Both color and black and white prints can be made on this paper.

I am showing a 20X50 inch print of this image! It looks great.

Fuji Crystal Archive Matte paper is a color photographic paper designed to be used with digital enlargers. Prints are made from files that have been prepared with Photoshop. This kind of paper is usually used to make color prints. I often use it to make mono-chrome images with a warm tone. Prints made with this product are expected to last more than twenty years.

Please check out my classes at BetterPhoto.com:

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting,

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio,

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

Thanks, John

 

 

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress