Photo Notes

June 26, 2009

Controlling the Shutter

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique — John Siskin @ 10:54 pm
A 1/20th of a second, paned with the horse.

A 1/20th of a second, paned with the horse.

I talked about the shutter and what it does, a couple of weeks ago. This time I am going to discuss aspects of how to use it.

Since DSLR cameras are so small and light that we often hand hold them, they are designed to be used this way some of the time. Unfortunately too often we use them at longer shutter speeds than we can hold steady. This causes blurred pictures. Many years ago Kodak did a study on blurred photos and fond that this is the biggest reason for blurred images. I think that many people have more trouble with this now than when we used film cameras. There are a couple of reasons for this; first digital SLR cameras are heavier than film cameras were. Second since the sensors are smaller than film lenses bring subjects closer than they did with film cameras. For instance a 50mm lens has about a 45º angle of view on a full frame camera and about a 30º angle of view on a Canon D30. Not only does this mean that the subject appears to be closer to the camera, but it also means that camera shake is increased. You can see this for yourself if you want to do a simple experiment. Cut a small hole in a piece of paper, say a circle about an inch in diameter. Now if you hold the paper close to your face and look through it you will be able to keep it pretty steady. If you hold the paper a couple of feet from your face it will be a lot tougher to keep steady. A telephoto lens is like the piece of paper a few feet from your eye, tough to keep steady. There use to be a rule of thumb that you could hand hold 1/the focal length of a lens. So if you were using a 250mm lens you could hand hold a 1/250th of a second. If you were using a 60mm lens you could hand hold a 1/60th of a second. Basically this is now wrong. Unless you have a camera or lens with image stabilization you should not try to hand hold anything less than 1/twice the focal length of the lens. So if you have a 250mm lens don’t hand hold anything less than 1/500th.

There are a couple of ways around this short of image stabilization. Everyone knows about tripods, the only problem is that you have to carry them. By the way, if you are using a lightweight tripod you might want to use the self-timer to trigger the camera, this will reduce vibration. You can also get a monopod, which is like tripod that is missing two legs, this will reduce shake on shots that are not so long. Finally you can build a chain-pod. This costs almost nothing, weighs a couple of ounces and takes up less room than a 35mm film can. Chain-pods are he simplest and best piece of photo equipment you can build. It works like a monopod. To build it drill a small hole in 1/2 inch 1/4X20 (that is a thread size) thumbscrew. Attach about 6 feet of chain to the hole (more if you are really tall). Next put a nut onto the thumbscrew and position it so that the screw can’t go too deep into you tripod socket and glue the nut in place. To use attach the thumbscrew to the base of your camera drop the chain and step on it. Now pull up against the chain. Steady!

This shows how you build a chain pod.

This shows how you build a chain pod.

June 19, 2009

Marketing Commercial Photography

Filed under: Marketing — John Siskin @ 10:19 pm
Photo for a Contractor

Photo for a Contractor

I’ve been working on my new class at It’s starting July 1, and will be called Business to Business: Commercial Photography. Rather than blogging about technical issues, I though I would add some information about marketing to my blog. Next week, more technical stuff. Please check out the class!

Getting business might be the hardest part of doing business. I don’t have all the answers, so what I am going to share are some answers, the one I think might work now. I really want this to be a give and take part of the course, so I have stated a thread called marketing on the Q&A section of the class. I will post information about how to send html mail there, so that is a good incentive to visit the thread (this is the blog, not the course. So no thread, sorry). I am going to break the problem down into parts; I hope that will help.

The first problem is: who are you going to do business for? While you might be skilled in a number of different types of photography, no one is skilled at everything. If you do an honest inventory of your skills it will help you to find clients that are a good fit. At the same time you should look at how businesses use images: advertising, websites, annual reports, documentation and so on. Remember that you are a resource to a business; it is better if you can be an expert resource.

I suggest that you start by looking for businesses. You should use the net, looking at chamber of commerce site and business searches. You should also check out the phone book. Collect information as you do this, particularly addresses, e-mail addresses, web sites and contact names. Your clients are not going to find you spontaneously; you have to do the work to find them.

Passive advertising
The yellow pages used to be a very important part of my marketing. I don’t do any advertising in them any more. In my market, Los Angeles, the yellow pages are useless for commercial photography. They may still work in your market. See who is advertising in the pages, and how big the ads are. Yellow page ads are expensive, and they bill you even if you don’t get clients.

Your web site is very important. If your site makes you look like a fine art photographer it will work against you, as a commercial photographer. It’s possible a fine art site can help you book weddings. If you plan on doing family portraits and working for business you will probably need two websites. Display work that seems to fit your prospective clients’ needs. I prefer a relatively simple site. You can visit my site:

Portfolio sites, there are a bunch of these. Like and I don’t know if any of these sites are worth the time spent uploading to them. I am on a few, without results. If you know of any that work please send me the names.

Bidding sites, these are sites that companies list jobs on. You enter a bid. For most jobs the work will be done inexpensively overseas, but occasionally a local job comes up. Check out and If you know of any others please share. I have gotten work off of one of these, and you don’t have to bid on things you don’t want.

Craig’s List, it doesn’t take a lot of time to do an ad for the list. I have one at my ftp space that I post to the list. I have gotten a number of jobs from Craig’s list, and it’s free.

Active advertising:
Html e-mail, this is my favorite method. Use all those e-mail addresses you found and send basically web pages. You can send a page where the pictures are where you intend them to be and the page has live links to your webpage. Just a great way to promote yourself. I will send out a sample during the class (sorry but this is the blog, not the class)

Social networking, this probably helps with weddings. I don’t know about commercial work. I am on facebook, I hope it is helping me reach more students. I think a key is to update frequently. I am still new at this. Suggestions are welcome.

Post cards, these do work. Probably the best thing you can use as direct mail is a post card. This is expensive, but if you have the capital worth considering. Check out Modern Postcard.

Cold calling, frankly I hate doing this. Also it is noxious to receive cold calls, BUT, at ad agencies and other places where they buy photography, it is some bodies’ job to talk to you. If you are able to do this, remember that your call may not be important to someone. Get off the phone before you annoy someone unnecessarily

Visiting clients, this can work if the circumstances are right. For instance if there is a convention of target clients, you can visit and hand out cards. In Los Angeles there are several buildings where the people in certain businesses are located. So there is a fashion building and a place where home designers are located. If you can walk through and hand out cards it would be good. Of course basic politeness should be observed.

June 12, 2009

Using the Shutter

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique — John Siskin @ 8:18 pm
fast shtter speed

fast shtter speed

So I discussed what a stop is in photography. This week we’ll talk about the shutter; among other things we’ll see how the shutter is controlled in stops. But first a quick explanation of the shutter: in all DSLR cameras and many of the fixed lens cameras the shutter is a physical object that moves over the sensor. It is important to remember this, since it explains some of the limitations of the shutter. There are two curtains on a shutter, one uncovers the sensor and the second covers it up again. Both must move at exactly the same speed for the entire time they are moving over the sensor or your exposure will be uneven. It is really quite amazing how well shutters work, considering the difficulty of the job.


Each full shutter speed is separated by one stop from the shutter speed on either side. So if you have a one second shutter speed the speed with one stop less light will be 1/2 second and the speed with one stop more light will be 2 seconds. That makes sense, since as I said last week one stop more light is double the amount of light you had and one stop less is half the amount of light you had. The same principal applies at the higher shutter speeds: one stop more light than a 1/250th of a second is a 1/125th of a second, and one stop less light is 1/500th of a second. Modern shutters also have 1/2 stop intervals so you would actually see speeds in this order 1/125, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500. There might be an advantage in memorizing these numbers, but I don’t know what it would be. It is pretty easy to double or halve a number is you need to know what the full stop change will be.

The change in the shutter speed affects the way the camera sees time. A short shutter speed, say a 1/250th of a second freezes time and a long shutter speed, say a second blurs time together. So for shooting sports you almost always want a high shutter speed to capture the action. If you are shooting waterfalls, you may want to shoot a different shutter speeds in order to get the look you want. Soon I’ll post information about hand holding shutter speeds.

Long shutter speed

Long shutter speed

June 5, 2009

Seeing Photographs

Filed under: Looking at Photographs — John Siskin @ 10:42 am
They show fish here.

They show fish here.

I thought I would be writing about learning to write in photography again this week, but there is something else to talk about. I went to a show at The Annenberg Space for Photography here in Los Angeles. This is a new museum space for photography here in the center of Century City. The location and the building are wonderful. What happens inside the doors of the space is not so good.


A photograph is a way of capturing a moment, some photographs are several moments smeared together. Some moments are captured more quickly than we can see. Photographs see time differently than we do. Photographs also display time differently than other communication. They show stopped time; the same stopped time any time we choose to look at them. I have a photograph of a rainbow near my monitor; it is the same rainbow whenever I choose to look at it. In addition a good print allows me to get closer, to have a more intimate relationship with the image. This intimacy is one of the reason I still make prints in the wet darkroom, black and white prints made this way have special qualities.

Most of the display space at the Annenberg was devoted to monitors. The images were displayed as constant slide shows, with constant sound tracks. The images could have been displayed as well on the computer in my office. The viewers’ relationship with the image is defined by the timing of the video show. If I wanted to see a shot a moment longer, that couldn’t happen. As with all screens, when I got too close to the screen the image falls apart, there is a bar to this intimacy.

There were some prints. Many of the prints were placed opposite to a wall of windows, so the reflections were annoying. This Space for Photography seems more interested in displaying video than photographs.

I can remember seeing an original Edward Weston print when I was in high school. Honestly this experience changed my life. I don’t think I’ve seen anything on a screen that has had as much impact. If you haven’t seen real photographic prints, made by masters of the art, you should give yourself this experience. Just looking at images on the screen is not the same. I would also suggest that you look at high quality books, perhaps those from Adams, Weston, Sexton or Butler. You will see more than just a well designed image, you will have an invitation to a different kind of intimacy with an image.

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