Photo Notes

November 27, 2009

Photograpy, just an art?

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 8:31 pm

When I was in college I used to have discussions with my roommate about photography and art. Pedro thought that photography wasn’t an art, and of course I thought it was. I have not gone over to Pedro’s point of view, but I want to point out that photography is more than just an art. Photography is a language. It is a way of communicating information, the information may be about anything from spark plugs to another planet. Painting, at least picture painting is only an art form. Could you imagine putting Pablo Picasso in a U-2 spy plane and having him overfly Cuba in the 1960ies? Perhaps we could send Thomas Kincade to Mars and have him send back mass-produced delicate canvases showing the light on Mars? Photography is much more than an art, it is integrated into the way we see and communicate.

I used a microscope to make this shot.

I used a microscope to make this shot.

Perhaps we should categorize photography as art or craft, and some things as both. Certainly photos taken by a spy plane are all about the technology, the craft, of photography. When someone hike 10 miles to get a shot of a waterfall they are probably try to create art. When someone spends all day in a studio taking a picture of a flower, it’s because they want to do art.

Buckhorn Falls in Angeles Crest. I have shot these falls several times.

Buckhorn Falls in Angeles Crest. I have shot these falls several times.

I think there are problems when we talk about certain kinds of photos: perhaps those we class as commercial art. If I spend all day taking a shot of a Harley-Davidson is that art? Honestly I don’t know. Perhaps it has to do with how I use the image, but that seems crazy. So if I sell a Harley poster it’s art but if I sell the shot to Harley it’s commercial? How about family portraits made for money or executive portraits? Most photographers do a lot of work that is hard to describe as art, but that doesn’t reduce the value of the work. Photographs can communicate, and be important, without actually being art.

Indian Motorcycle, click on image to see an article about this shoot

Indian Motorcycle, click on image to see an article about this shoot. You may need to right click to download.

Please check out my classes

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Business to Business: Commercial Photography

For information on shooting a motorcycle click

Thanks, John

November 18, 2009

Editing

Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 10:27 pm
Made with my custom Super-wide camera that uses a 28mm Nikkor lens on 120 film

Made with my custom Super-wide camera that uses a 28mm Nikkor lens on 120 film

Editing photographs is not only difficult, sometimes it is heart wrenching. Often each image seems a special and unique expression of your creative vision, how can you bare to part with even one. Get over it; this feeling is personal. No one else will ever experience your photographs the way you do. You remember the day, what happened before and after, you remember the client and you remember whether you got paid. The viewer doesn’t experience any of this, and for the photograph to be effective for the viewer you have to give him/her an image they can perceive in their own terms. That is the purpose of editing. I am going to attach some photographs I made to this blog. I designed and built the cameras that made these images. Because of that intimacy no one else will ever perceive the shot in the way I do. I hope they will like it, but they will inevitably have a different feel for the image. You may think editing is time consuming, and it is, but it will make you a better photographer.

The first step in editing is shooting. You need to shoot a lot of images. The last head shot job I did was around 300 images, but on a product job I might shoot only 2 images per product. Since we are now working in digital it is important to always shoot that extra image, or extra dozen images. It is always easier to shoot more than it is to go back. Although Eisenstaedt was famous for just taking a few shots for an assignment, we will do better not to emulate him.

Made with a custom camera that uses a Speed Graphic body and a 30mm lens

Made with a custom camera that uses a Speed Graphic body and a 30mm lens

In order to edit effectively we need to be ruthless. The first step is to remove everything that is clearly a mistake. With a portrait type job this is generally pretty easy. A mistake is an image that doesn’t grab your eye. A mistake is an image that is out of focus. A mistake is an image that is not focused on the subject. A mistake is an image that is blurry. If you shoot in raw a shot doesn’t have to be perfectly exposed, but if the shot is two stops from perfect exposure the shot is a mistake. If the strobes didn’t go off it is a mistake. Get rid of all this stuff, you should have plenty more images. I understand the Photoshop CS 15 will be able to fix everything, but that hasn’t happened yet. Photoshop 16 will be able to make your entire childhood perfect. Yes there are many mistakes you could fix, but you could spend days working in Photoshop. It is better to move through the process quickly. But you might as well save these images somewhere.

Step two is to get rid of everything that makes the subject look like a doofus. So that shot where the subject is checking out your shoes? Gone. At the same time you should part with all the shot where you awkwardly cut off body parts, hands cut in half and so on. Yes a lot of these shots could be saved. If you shot enough you shouldn’t need to save them.

I used a custiomized Graphlex SLR with a 180 soft-focus lens from Fuji

I used a custiomized Graflex SLR with a 180 soft-focus lens from Fuji

This should do it for negative editing; that is removing images because of problems. With any luck you have removed any where from 20 to 50 percent of your shots. Good. The other thing you have does is to look at all of the images that are left at least twice, well you went through the images twice didn’t you? That familiarity with your images is going to help a lot in the next go round. When you look through the images this time, look for images that are particularly fine, not just acceptable. They should have something special they may need cropping or other minor work, but the quality of your vision should be apparent. Also you want to look at the images as if you didn’t shoot them, as if you were seeing them not editing them. Look for an image that really connects. Certainly you can keep images you are unsure about, but you should end up with less than 10 percent of the images you started with.

Made with a digital camera mounted on a customized 4X5 Toyo C

Made with a digital camera mounted on a customized 4X5 Toyo C

I do this in Adobe Bridge, but there are certainly other programs that would do as well or better. As I go through each step I display the images larger, so that I get a better feel for the shots. The next step is to bring the images into Adobe Raw. Raw gives me a better look at each image, and I can begin the image processing. In raw I can do batch corrections on color, contrast, saturation and so on. I can also crop my images and do a variety of individual corrections. I will do my final choices on editing in raw. An image may get left behind at this point for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is something I could fix, but don’t want to, or perhaps two images are very similar.

Finally I will open up all of the images that made it through raw in Photoshop. While I will rarely remove an image form the group in Photoshop I will perfect the images in Photoshop. This is where I will sharpen and do other detail work. Now finally, if the client asks for just there shots (not likely on a head shot) and I don’t have any personal reasons to make a choice, I can say enie minie moe….

Made with a lens I built

Made with a lens I built

You can download a copy of my article on building cameras at this link: www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/camerabuilding.pdf

November 8, 2009

Fluorescent Lights?

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 5:16 pm

I have written elsewhere about fluorescent lights for photography. I didn’t say anything complimentary there, and I don’t intend to say much that is nice in this blog. So if you really love the new compact fluorescent lights as studio lights, it might be best to stop now. Still, the results of my tests were somewhat less dire that I had anticipated.

I was finally able to borrow one of these lights (a Top Lighting PB-85 120v 85 watt) so that I could run tests. I certainly didn’t want to buy one. I did several tests: first I used my spectrometer to look at the color distribution of the light, that is look at the light spread into a rainbow. My spectrometer is made from cardboard, a couple of razor blades and a small piece of diffraction grating. It is not a tremendously accurate device. It was not designed to be used with a camera. Still I am including pictures of daylight and of the fluorescent tube. You can see that daylight is continuous, smooth. The fluorescent has big bright lines and big dark lines, so no continuous spectrum. So the nature of this light is very, very different from daylight.

Fluorescent Spectrum, notice how the spectrum is banded rather than continuous

Fluorescent Spectrum, notice how the spectrum is banded rather than continuous

Sunlight Spectrum

Sunligth Spectrum, it is smoother in the spectrometer.

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In my second test I made a picture of a Macbeth Color Chart with strobe light and the fluorescent light. The color of the two shots was very different, so I would not want to use the fluorescent light with my strobe. However when both shots were white balanced, in the computer, the shots were very similar. Really the fluorescent tube was a closer match than I would have expected, after the white balance. Please keep in mind that white balance will not enable to correct a shot for two different light sources.

Fluorescent version of the Color Checker, white balanced.

Fluorescent version of the Color Checker, white balanced.

Strobe version of the Color Checker, white balanced.

Strobe version of the Color Checker, white balanced.

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In the third test I made 10 shots at a shutter speed of 1/180 to see if the light would be consistent on all the shots. I did not expect this to go well. Fluorescent tubes are supposed to vary with the cycling of alternating current electricity. In this country the power cycles 60 times a second. So 1/180 should be only part of a cycle. In this shot the color did not vary by as much as 1%, really quite impressive. Since the shots all looked the same, I am not including them.

Finally I compared the overall quantity of light to a 600 watt Smith Victor quartz light. The quartz light was 8 times more powerful than the fluorescent  light. Although I could use an array of these lights to increase power, I could not get the power and hard light effect that I can get from quartz lights.

On the whole the light performed better with color than I had anticipated. However the unusual spectrum leaves me suspicious that there will be problems in the real world, especially with fabrics. Certainly the low power disappoints me, but if your camera performs well at high ISO levels, this may be less of a problem for you.

Thanks, John

Please check out my classes

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Business to Business: Commercial Photography

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