Photo Notes

August 22, 2017

Dedicated Strobe Test

Over the years I’ve written and taught many times about lighting gear. I believe that any photographer who is wholly dependent on finding good light, rather than being able to make and modify light, when making a picture is limited in ability. While I recognize that there are many photographic artists who work in this manner, it is just not acceptable for a commercial photographer to be limited in this way. I should point out that you still purchase my book on this strobe lighting, just click on the link below.

The tools of light are evolving, as are all the tools of photography. When I first started making pictures on camera electronic flash was pretty new. It was also not very good. Now there are many fine lighting tools that work with digital cameras. Of course this doesn’t solve the biggest problem of portable flash units: you can’t see the light you’re actually photographing. An on camera flash makes light at your camera, so, if you’re not careful, you’ll get the dear in the headlights effect and red eyes. Any lighting unit is only as good as the visualization or lighting control of the photographer. Automation doesn’t make good pictures, just properly exposed pictures. It takes a photographer to make good pictures.

Since I started teaching at the Art Institute of Indianapolis I’ve had to discuss lighting tools almost constantly. The tools I’ve used for decades aren’t practical or available for the students. It seems ridiculous to suggest that twenty something students buy strobes older than they are. So I’ve been evaluating many of the current products. I have just a couple of important parameters for evaluating a flash: light and price.

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

It may seem obvious that I would evaluate a flash based on actual light output, but I’ve had a couple of conversations lately that make me think it’s not obvious.

Photographers have told me that, since their cameras make very fine images at very high ISO setting, they don’t need a lot of strobe power. I’ll admit that a high ISO is a wonderful thing and that it does change they way you can use lighting tools in many situations but it can’t solve every problem. And that is the issue: not light quantity but light problems. A little bit of light can improve the images you take at an event even if you’re shooting at ISO 1600, but that’s not the only problem you’d like to solve with a camera amounted flash. The biggest problem for a dedicated flash is flash fill in sunlight. I refer to this as the ribbon-cutting problem. Your job requires you to shoot a group of people outdoors in the middle of the day, say an opening of a new store. There is a group of people standing around. You can’t change the light on the group or change the angle, simply because they have to be shot in front of building, and right now. The folks look a little like raccoons because of the shadows created by their brows, chins and so on. There isn’t any way to solve this problem with a reflector, unless the reflector is the size of a truck. You can solve this problem with a flash. The technique is called flash fill. The idea is to use a strobe that will fill in your shadows. You need ¼ to ½ the amount of light from your strobe that you get from daylight to make the ribbon-cutting shot work. In other situations you may use much less or, perhaps, even more fill flash. The Daylight 16 Rule states that you set your shutter speed to match your ISO and shoot at f16 for a full daylight shot: ISO 100, 1/100 and f16. Since this is a group you’ll be about 10 feet from all of them. In order to make this work you’ll need an exposure f11 from your strobe, or if you can shoot at 1/200 then f8. This would put your flash power at ½ the daylight exposure, or 1 stop less than daylight. This level of light will do a good job of filling your shadows.

You may be thinking, but the new strobes allow me to sync at higher speeds, so I’ll just raise the sync speed and then I can use less strobe. Doesn’t work. As you use higher sync speed the strobe has to fire more times so you get less total light in the shot. The power drops off very fast, so the fastest speed you can use for the ribbon cutting shot is they original sync speed of your camera, probably around 1/200 for a modern digital camera. Raising the ISO just raises the shutter speed, so that doesn’t work either.

 

No Flash

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

So it would be very useful if we knew what aperture we could use with a flash at 10 feet from the subject with ISO 100. Good news and bad news on this subject. The good news is that most dedicated flash units are evaluated using a metric called guide numbers. Guide numbers are often done in feet and in meters, for our purpose the guide number measured in feet is the most useful. The guide number in feet is the aperture the strobe would give you at 10 feet from the subject at multiplied by 10. So if your flash is 10 feet from the subject, and the exposure is f5.6, your guide number is 56. Of course this is measured without any other light source. If the f-stop at 10 feet is f8-1/3 then the guide number would be 90. This isn’t rocket science, and using this information we can see that we’d need at least a guide number of 80 and we’d like to have 110. Now the bad news: while the manufactures usually list guide numbers for flash units they lie about the numbers.

I don’t mean they lie just a little, they lie A LOT! I tested the Sunpak 120J II. The manufacturer’s listed guide number is 177. The actual guide number is 50. The difference is about 4 stops. That means the unit has about 1/8th the power that Sunpak says it does. If I took the unit to the ribbon cutting I would fail. While Sunpak lies a lot, most of the manufacturers are lying by 2 or more stops. One notable exception here, the NIKON SB910 has a guide number of 111 according to Nikon and my test says that’s true. I also tested the Youngnuo YN685, which had a real guide number of 70; the Bolt VS570, which had guide number of 90, and the Polaroid PL190, which had a guide number of 60. I also tested a couple of classic strobes, Norman 200B, guide number of 120: the original Quantum Turbo, guide number 90, and some other things.

The second consideration I mentioned above is price. There are quite a number of dedicated flash units priced between $100 and $200. I like this price point for a couple of reasons: first it’s doable for my students at the Art Institute. Second it allows you to buy several units for what one Nikon unit would cost: $597.00. While a little extra power is good, several units will allow more creative lighting and offer back up when something breaks.

So what did I find out? The best unit for price and power is the Godox TT685. It has a guide number of about 90. It costs $119 at B&H or Amazon.
I would like t than B&H. I’ve ordered half a dozen different flash units, tested them and returned them. They are just great about returns. I couldn’t have afforded to test so many units without the returns department at B&H. Thanks folks!

Using the Godox TT685

No Flash

I’ll be writing more about working with the Godox soon! By the way the shots are from the Indiana State Fair.

Oh, and one more thing, you can get my book on Photographing architecture at this link:

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.

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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.

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.

February 10, 2015

Working With A Cucoloris

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Do It Yourself,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 4:18 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 little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post. Thanks so much for your attention.

Matthews Cucoloris

Matthews Cucoloris

I just bought a used Matthews Cucoloris. Now this is certainly a piece of equipment you could build, but I didn’t. Basically it’s a piece of plywood, about 18X24 inches, with a bunch of irregularly shaped holes in it. It fits on a C-stand or even a standard light stand with a grip head. The idea is to use the cucoloris to make shadows. You can put it in front of a light with a bowl reflector or perhaps a snoot. By moving the cucoloris around you can change the position and shape of the shadows. You can also change the size and edge sharpness of the shadows by moving the cucoloris closer or further from the light source. On the whole a really useful tool as you can use it on a subject or on the background. I’ve attached some examples.

 

With CTO filter

With CTO filter

There’s a kind of a calculation in deciding whether to buy or build a piece of equipment. Money is a part of it: if I only wanted one light panel I might buy it; but I’ve got five light panels, so I saved a few hundred dollars by making my panels. There are things like a chain-pod or my fish-eye camera  that aren’t available commercially. I’ve also built things, like my mono-pod, when I didn’t know if I would really like working with them. One problem, when you build your own gear, is that it doesn’t always perform well. Of course building gear is also time consuming, for instance I still haven’t completed my darkroom.

Bastard Amber Filter

Bastard Amber Filter

 

Pale Lavender Filter

Pale Lavender Filter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re going to save time by buying gear instead of building it you should use some of that time practicing with your new gear. I’m sure I’ve written before that photographers don’t practice enough. Most good musicians practice everyday and many photographers don’t practice at all. We may learn about techniques or tools but most of the time we don’t do the kind of repetitive practice that a musician does when playing scales. So as soon as I got the cucoloris I grabbed a strobe and the wig head and started to experiment.

 

Background with even light

Background with even light

I have a mottled gray muslin background on each side of my studio. Neither of them is particularly lovely, but they get better if you light them creatively. So I used the cucoloris and various Rosco gels to see how I could change the background. I am very pleased with the results. I usually work with CTO filters when I want to warm up the light, but this time I also tried bastard amber, which was quite nice. I also tried a pale lavender, which looked more neutral than I expected. I was really pleased with how easy it is to make changes in the appearance of the background, both color and pattern, with the cucoloris. I’m sure I’ll be using the cucoloris to create better backgrounds in the future.

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Of course you can also use the cucoloris on a subject rather than the background. In order to practice I brought out a wig head as a test subject. If you’ve looked at my Intro to Lighting class you’ll know that I think the wig head is a great test subject. By keeping the strobe close to the cucoloris I was able to create some interesting shadows on the subject. I’m sure that there will be opportunities to use this.

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When I look at any test I learn how the image actually looks, rather than how I think it will look. I also get ideas for more testing. In this case I want to see how the cucoloris will perform if I put a snoot on the strobe. Also I have diffusion domes that fit over my strobes. These are designed to make the light from modeling light look more like the light from the strobe tube. I want to try working with the dome because the visual presentation with the modeling light didn’t really look like the image the camera captured with the strobe light. This isn’t surprising because the difference in the shape of the tube and the modeling light can be important when the strobe is used close to the cucoloris.

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January 5, 2015

Free Photo Classes!

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 taught Photographic Lighting and other subjects at BetterPhoto for about eight years, and it was a wonderful experience. I got to work with emerging photographer from all over the world as well as the other experienced pros who also offered courses at BetterPhoto. BetterPhoto is charting a new course that won’t involve any of the interactive classes that I, or the other instructors offered. I hope that Jim Moitke and the rest of the BetterPhoto crew do well with this venture.

I’ve been thinking about what to do with my classes. They’ve done well for me at BetterPhoto where I supported them with photo critiques, responses to questions and regular e-mails. Since the classes were priced around $200, I was compensated for this work. I’ve decided to make the lessons available on line for free, but if you want critiques and other support for the lessons I’ll charge a per lesson, rather than per class, fee of $25. This will give interested people a chance to use the course material and get help when they need it. I hope you’ll understand that I don’t have time to support these classes for free.

I’ll be putting up the lessons over the next few months. I hope to post a new one weekly. They’ll also be available at the workshop page of my site. So please check pack for more lessons. There is a PayPal link with each lesson so you can choose to get critiques of the assignments, or if you just want to support the lessons.

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Photographic Lighting, Lesson 1.pdf


Photographic Lighting, Lesson 2
Photographic Lighting, Lesson 3
Photographic Lighting, Lesson 4
An Introduction to Product PhotographyProduct Photography, Lesson 1

Product Photography, Lesson 2

October 20, 2014

Junk Man

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.

 

I’m a junk man. I think that it’s better to have more gear than newer gear. So I have a lot of Norman 200B strobes. Norman 200Bs haven’t been made in about 20 years, long time. Norman still makes a 200C, which costs about $1200, while a used, well used, 200B can be had for around $100 on eBay. So, if I can find them I can get a used unit for less than 10% of a new one. The used one weighs more, which is too bad, but it has some actual advantages. The 200B recycles quicker than almost any other strobe; the best 200Bs recycle to full power in a second. Norman 200Bs use 12-volt power, so you can run one off a cigarette lighter socket in your car, you can use a cheap lead acid 12V battery, you can even use a car battery. I don’t know of any other strobe that has so many inexpensive power options. A Norman 200B is pretty powerful, with a guide number around 114 with a standard reflector. The thing is that a Norman reflector spreads light a lot wider field than a Canon or Nikon strobe. The reflector isn’t built in so there are a lot more ways to modify the light, you can even use the bare tube (bare bulb) alone. I’ve also checked and with a big soft box, say 3X3 foot the 200B is about the same brightness as the much more expensive Canon or Nikon units. Now a 200b, even a 200C is a manual strobe: you can control the output, but the strobe won’t automatically change the output. If you’re designing the light for your shot this won’t be a problem, but if you want to have the flash make your choices a Norman 200B, any manual strobe, is not the way to go.

 

A Norman 200B Head (called an LH2) bare bulb and with some accessories

A Norman 200B Head (called an LH2) bare bulb and with some accessories

If I’m shooting interiors, for an architect or a designer I’ll take 7 of the 200B strobes with me. There are so many places that you might need to put light when shooting interiors, so sometimes even 7 strobes isn’t enough. It’s better to have a lot of strobes, even if they’re junk, than not enough lights. With architectural lighting power isn’t as important as having light where you need it. If I was shooting people or product I might not take as many lights, but I would still grab the 200Bs first.

Norman 200B power pack

Norman 200B power pack

 

If I’m shooting an event, and frankly I’d rather not, I grab a different strobe: the Sunpak 120J. Another piece of old junk. A 120J has a little more than half as much power as a Norman 200B, but it has automatic exposure! This is an earlier version of strobe automation, not the current ttl system. Still it’s accurate most of the time. Here’s a couple of things I like about the 120J: it uses the same strobe tubes as a 200b and the same reflectors. It can hold its own batteries or use a high voltage battery pack. Also it mounts on a hot shoe or a 1/4X20 thread. Oh yeah, they’re cheap, well reasonably priced. Quantum made some similar units that are worth checking out. The current Quantum strobes are probably worth having if you shoot a lot of events.

A 200B rig for flash fill

A 200B rig for flash fill

 

There are a couple more classic (old) strobes I should mention, first the Vivitar 283. They made millions of these and you can consistently find them for less than $30. I owned a couple of these modified with an extra capacitor to have a stop more power and there were a lot more modifications and accessories. The high voltage battery packs were really quite helpful because they reduced the recycle time a lot. Another strobe from the same time period is the Sunpak 411. I still use these because the head was so well designed it moved up and down as well as side to side. Unfortunately you don’t often see a 411 in good shape.

Norman kit for location

Norman kit for location

 

Of course there are a lot of other good used strobes available, and I should mention Lumedyne in particular. These are manual strobes, similar to the 200B, but can produce much more light. With the right accessories you can get up to 2400watt-seconds from these battery powered units. Lumedyne strobes are available new and used, and a little pricier than the Norman 200B. Still if you need battery powered strobes with as much light as a studio strobe this might be the way to go.

Vivitar 283-with manual power control and 2nd capacitor modification

Vivitar 283-with manual power control and 2nd capacitor modification

 

If you need a lot of light on location there are a couple of ways to go. First there are battery packs that you can plug a mono-light or a studio strobe into. Many companies offer these now, and they can be quite helpful. I prefer to use a gas generator. While it is much heavier you can shoot all night and day with just a few gallons of gas! Of course you may need an assistant to lug the thing around. Gas generators start at less than $150.00, batteries for mono-lights are generally more expensive.

Gas generator for location work

Gas generator for location work

d/I could discuss the new stuff on the market, but not in this entry. There’s a lot more information about strobes in my book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers
If you’re interested in how to light interiors and other architectural shooting you might want this book: Photographing Architecture
Or you can check out my classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography

 

September 23, 2014

One On One Photography Workshops!

A lot of class promotions start with the term: learn at your own pace. I’m offering you an opportunity to learn at your own pace, one on one, with the instructor. You choose the material we’ll go over. I provide the studio, the equipment, heck I might even buy lunch! Here’s the deal: A day in the studio with me. One on one. Pick a day. Pick the material. You set the pace. While we could discuss anything I think we should stick to photography, since that’s the subject I usually teach. This is a fabulous deal, and it will only last a short time. Just $425 for the studio, the equipment and me! Keep in mind the studio generally rents for $200 a day, so the studio, the equipment and me is a fabulous deal.

Some people have had schedule problems people with past courses, but now You Pick the Date! I hope we’ll have at least six hours together, but the class will fit your schedule. We could even do a second day for just a little more money. Let me know what you want to learn and when you want to come by. Also if you’d like to bring another person we can arrange that for a little more. Of course there’s no extra charge if you want to bring a model.

For my portrait class at BetterPhoto.com

For my portrait class at BetterPhoto.com

Now I know that you wouldn’t want to spend a day in the studio with just anyone. So I have to tell you about my accomplishments. Anyway I do this it’s going to sound like I’m blowing my own horn, but here goes: I was 15 when I had my first photography job, as an assistant to a commercial photographer in Los Angeles. His name is Steve Berman and he also taught at one of the best photography schools in LA: Art Center. I learned a lot! In the more than 40 years since then I’ve worked as a photographer and taught photography. In Los Angeles I’ve shot for Disney, Munchkin and General motors as repeatedly. Since I’ve moved to Indianapolis I’ve shot for the Hilton, BMW Construction, Mid West Studio and more. I’m currently teaching three classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, and Getting Started in Commercial Photography. BetterPhoto has sent me students from all over the world. I’ve done two books for Amherst Media: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers and Photographing Architecture. Both are available from Amazon and also local camera stores. I’ve done a couple of dozen articles for photography magazines including Shutterbug, Photo Techniques, Studio Photography and View Camera. You can learn a lot more about me by visiting my website: www.siskinphoto.com. You’ll find most of my articles on the magazine page at my site. Of course I’ll answer any questions about my experience, just call 317.473.0406 or e-mail to john@siskinphoto.com

I also want to introduce you to my studio, because it is a terrific place to experiment and learn. I have more than twenty strobes, including a strobe powered projector! There are another half dozen quartz lights, various types. In addition there are umbrellas, light panels and soft boxes, even a ring light and a beauty dish. So you’ll have the opportunity for hands on learning with any equipment you might want. The shooting space is 24X45 feet with a 12 foot ceiling. Of course we could also arrange to do a location shoot, even an architectural shoot.

Shot of the Irving Theater for a workshop in Indianapolis.

Shot of the Irving Theater for a workshop in Indianapolis.

This is a custom learning opportunity. You can choose the material we cover. Here are some ideas, these can be a class or a starting point: How Light Works, Portraiture Lighting, Product Lighting, Shooting Jewelry, Commercial Photography, One Light Shooting, Location Shooting and whatever else I can help you with. For many subjects we can begin with a structured program or we can experiment and discover together.

Shot with a group of Ivy Tech students in my studio.

Shot with a group of Ivy Tech students in my studio.

The price for your day in the studio is just $425.


Remember you can choose a date that fits your schedule.
Shot with a class from The Learning Tree University in Los Angeles

Shot with a class from The Learning Tree University in Los Angeles

The pictures are from workshops and classes I’ve presented over the last few years.

If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll also consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about the Portfolio Workshop if you check out this blog post .
 

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

April 30, 2014

Notes From the Lighting Workshop

Filed under: Indianapolis,Lighting Technique,Photographic Education,Portraits — John Siskin @ 12:22 pm

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

The Lighting Workshop happened last weekend and it went very well. We spent all day discussing and working with strobes. Since the class size was small I was able to be very responsive to the specific interests of each participant. We set up the strobes to see how the tools work in specific situations as well as discussing the basics of how light works. If you understand the basics of a light: size, color, position and power, you can understand what a light will do. We did a lot of shots so that we could see the effect. Of course the shots were for demonstration so we concentrated on the lighting. In this shot I’m the model, which is not my best talent. I used a light panel with a white cotton broad cloth cover. These are great light modifiers. I wanted to use a hard light in the shot so I set up a strobe with a snoot to the right of the camera. I like snoots more than grid spots because the light spreads more than with grids as you pull the snoots back from the subject. This shot shows the set-up.

The light panel gives a smooth gradation across most of the face. The snoot defines the other side of the face. One of the first things I wanted to demonstrate was how to use a colored gel to change the color of the light. I usually use warm gels, but I wanted to make a change here so I added a CTB gel, which is a blue. The CTB gel is from Rosco and is designed to make a tungsten light act like daylight. The shot below shows how the shot looked at first: not great. The light on my face is a little dark while there is probably too much light from the snoot. It burns out the left side of my face.

In the next shot I made some adjustments. The light on my face is a little brighter, which helps. Also I’ve positioned the light panel just a little more in front of my face; this make the light cover more of my face. The snoot is positioned to keep the light on just the side of my face. This is accomplished by moving the snoot a little more toward the center of the shot. The light from the snoot is still too bright. You’ll notice that since the light panel is still situated pretty far to the side of my face as  there is little or know reflection in my glasses. The further the light panels comes toward the camera position the more reflection there will be in my glasses.

In the last shot I added a 1-stop neutral density filter to the blue gel. This reduced the light on the left side of my face nicely. The light panel is a little closer to the camera position so there is a little more reflection in my glasses. When you use a large light modifier, which makes soft light, the reflection (specular highlight) is larger and less bright, relative to the rest of the light. So the reflection is as strong as a reflection from a small hard light. This works well in this shot. The same thing applies to the catch lights in the eyes, which have a nice size and brightness in this shot.

You can see the two gels on the version of the shot below. They’re held onto the snoot by a very small spring clamp.

I hope you’ll consider taking one of my workshops. The next one is the continuing Portfolio Workshop on June 2. You can find more information on the workshop page of my site. You can also find the books on my site, and I hope you’ll check them out. I’ll be speaking about micro (not macro but micro) photography on June 5 at the Photo Venture Camera Club here in Indianapolis. Finally please don’t forget my classes at BetterPhoto, you can take them anywhere!
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

Here are a couple more shots from the workshop. Thanks Bill!


April 10, 2014

Strobe Lighting Workshop! April 27th

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Indianapolis,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 2:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

And here are the books:

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

John
john@siskinphoto.com
www.siskinphoto.com

March 20, 2014

New Classes!

Filed under: Indianapolis,Lighting Technique,Marketing — John Siskin @ 3:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Photographing Architecture

My Classes at BetterPhoto.com:

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

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

 

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