Photo Notes

November 25, 2010

Do It Yourself: Mono pod

Filed under: Do It Yourself — John Siskin @ 3:49 pm

Tubing used for Building a Mono pod

So here are the shameless plugs at the beginning of this blog. My book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on Amazon.com. It got as high as number 15 in photographic lighting books! And there was much rejoicing! But is is dropping now, so you need to buy a couple of copies for holiday presents. Here is a sample chapter. Of course I still hope that you will consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. Frankly purchases of this book mean a lot to me, and it is also a fine gift for the holidays.  I really hope that people will consider this work. And you know that I teach for BetterPhoto.com, they have discontinued most of my courses. I really hope you’ll sign up for the one that is left:  An Introduction to Photographic Lighting.

A PVC cap, a 1/4X20 bolt and a hitch pin. The small parts for the mono pod

There are a number of good reasons for do it yourself projects, not the least of which is cost. For instance the light panel project will save you around hundred dollars per panel, a very effective do it yourself project! Another example, closely related to today’s project is the chain pod. You’ll want to build this, because there is no widely available version in stores. That is also true of the modified umbrella, which is very useful for architectural lighting. Dean Collins once wrote:
“photographic equipment evolution
year 1-5 build everything
year 6-10 buy everything

Drilling the cap. This will attach the mono pod to the camera.

year 11-15 build everything
year 16 sell everything and get a real job…”
So you should probably build something.

I decided to make a mono pod, but saving money wasn’t the primary reason for doing this project. I have always used the chain pod where others use a mono pod, and it does a good job. But I have an 80 to 200mm f2.8 lens that is frankly a pig. I wanted something that would take weight off my arms and the chain pod won’t do that. I don’t have any experience with mono pods, but I figured some of what I know about tripods would apply. I think that tripods are inexpensive because they last for a really long time. Some of mine are 50 or more years old. So it seems to me that it is a good idea to buy a good mono pod, because it might be with me for a long time. But I don’t know if I am going to like mono pods and I don’t know what will be important to me. So I decided to build one first. I should say that I haven’t worked with the

The EMT tubing is inside the PVC to the holes will line up.

home built pod long enough to make a decision about whether or not to buy one.

I already had a couple of parts lying around the shop. I have a lot of junk and sometimes it turns out to be good stuff. In this case I had 4 feet of PVC tubing and the same amount of EMT, which fits inside the PVC. I had a 1/4X20 bolt. I needed a cap for the PVC and a hitch pin. Total cost of about $1.50. All these things can be found at a home improvement store or a hardware store.
I used a drill press for this project, mostly because it was a lot easier to take pictures of. You could use a regular electric drill, but you do need to be careful since you’re going to drill into a curved surface. Please use eye protection and take it slow if you aren’t experienced with drills. I drilled a hole through the end cap for the 1/4X20 bolt to fit through. I made sure the bolt didn’t extend too far. I put epoxy on the bolt and put it into the cap. I used JB Weld, but you could use another product. You need an epoxy that fills gaps, so super glue won’t do the job. I put this aside to dry.
I put a line on the EMT, and an arrow on the PVC. This would

The cap and the EMT inside the PVC with the hitch pin

enable me to get the two aligned so that I could put in the hitch pin later. I figured out a good height for the first setting and marked it. I drilled a hole through both tubes that the hitch pin would fit through. Then I drilled a couple of more holes through the EMT, so I could change the height. So you have one hole through the PVC tube and a couple through the EMT. This allows you to change the height. It is easier if you keep all the holes on the EMT aligned the same way on the tubing.

The cap will just press onto the PVC. This means that I can attach the cap to the bottom of the camera and press it onto the tubing. Which is an easy way to assemble the mono pod. The hitch pin will keep the

Using the Mono pod

monopod at the right height. I don’t know how long this will last, but I expect to be able to tell if I like mono pods with this tool.

BetterPhoto has discontinued two of my classes, but I still have one left. I hope you’ll consider taking it.
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Have a great Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season!
Thanks, John

It is easier to hold the lens with the mono pod.

BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

November 17, 2010

Strobes: What Do You Need?

Filed under: Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 3:15 pm

I’m going to continue puting the shameless plugs at the beginning of this blog again this week. My book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on Amazon.com. It got as high as number 15 in photographic lighting books! And there was much rejoicing! But is is dropping now, so you need to buy a couple of copies for holiday presents. Here is a sample chapter. Of course I still hope that you will consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. Frankly purchases of this book mean a lot to me, and it is also a fine gift for the holidays.  I really hope that people will consider this work. And you know that I teach for BetterPhoto.com. I’ll leave those links to the end of the blog.
I think I must have had my first strobe back in high school. I had a couple of cameras that used flash bulbs before that, but I never had any bulbs. I can’t remember what it was. I got my first good strobe when I was in university, a Sunpak 411. I still have it. It is a terrific strobe. It works automatically at 4 f-tops, but it also had manual control. Full power down to 1/32 power and you could move the flash tube to face left and right and up and down. I also still have a Sunpak 611 that I use pretty frequently. The thing that I want to point out about these strobes is that there best features are not the automatic features, but the manual features. Most of the time, when I use any lights, especially strobes, I need to use manual control. This is because I am adding light to a shot. I am making an image that is different from the image I see. So I need to preview that shot and I need to control to have control over the light in the shot. When you use a strobe automatically you are asking the strobe to change the image, rather than record the image. Auto control of strobe works well with flash fill and sometimes for events, but it is not the best way to make other kinds of shots.

A 750 watt-second mono light.

I suppose the question I get most often in my lighting classes is what lights should I buy. The answer varies depending on the kind of work that someone wants to do, but there are some things I recommend a lot. If you’re going to shoot portraits or people in general or product or architecture you can probably do anything you want to with mono lights.These are strobes, generally with a significant amount of power, that use regular AC power. This makes them easy to use on location or in the studio. You can control the amount of light from these without significantly changing the color. You don’t have this kind of control with any continuous light source. A good mono light is bright enough to make daylight into a secondary light source, that is a considerable amount of power.

Light Panel with white cotton cover.

Here is a one light kit that I have often suggested. I would suggest that you start with one light. You will understand lights better if you do that. As soon as you add a second light you more that double the potential problems.
Alien Bee B1600
A 50º or 60º reflector. This is the standard reflector, often 6 to 8 inches. Usually a manufacturer has one or two metal bowl shaped reflector that control the spread of light to cover what a normal lens might capture.
A 45 inch white satin umbrella with a removable black back. An umbrella with covered ribs would be better.
2- light panels with 2-white cotton or nylon covers and a black cover and a sliver cover.
Light stand. At least 8 feet tall, 10 is better
Perhaps a background stand and a neutral or mottled gray muslin background. If you’re shooting product a couple of

rolls of seamless paper would be better.
Chinese Radio Slave.

Sync Connector, this connector is used on a lot of strobes, but not all.

You can get these from eBay, search digital radio slave. Look for one that has a plug like OLD headphones, .25 X 1.5 inch. For more on sync connections check out this article.
With a second light, which might be lower in power based on your work. So if you were shooting portraits you could probably get a second light that had lower power, but if you were shooting architecture you would want a light that had as much power as your first light. I would also get:
50º or 60º reflector
Barn doors and/or snoot
Light stand, similar to what you got with the first light.
2- umbrellas, one matching the one you got with the first light and the other a 60 inch umbrella.
Very short light stand, this can be used for a background or hidden in a shot.

A Snoot, this tool allows you to put light into a small area of a shot.

If you add a third light, and this would depend on what you needed to light, I would get
60º reflector
1 more light panel with a gold cover, if you are shooting portraits. Just a white cover if you are shooting product. You probably don’t use the light panels very often if you shoot architecture.
Light stand
Barn doors or snoot whichever one you don’t have.
45 inch umbrella.
I hope this helps.
Please consider taking one of my classes, or even recommending them. I have three classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography

BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

A few portraits made with strobe:

There is more information about this image in my book!

I used both hard and soft light on this subject.

November 6, 2010

Gaining Perspective

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 6:14 pm

Usually I put the shameless plugs at the bottom end of this blog, but not this week. My book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on Amazon.com at number 16 in photographic lighting books! And there was much rejoicing! Here is a sample chapter.   Of course I still hope that you will consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. Frankly purchases of this book mean a lot to me. I really hope that people will consider this work.  And you know that I teach for BetterPhoto.com. I’ll leave those links to the end of the blog.
There are a few ways to change the shape of the face. The one I talk about most is with lighting. You can use light to  shape the face in a two dimensional medium. The more you use large light sources, particularly the light panel/umbrella combination the less strong shadowing you will have, and the less definition you will get.
The second consideration is perspective. This really means where you stand. If you are 2 feet from a persons face the contours of the face are exaggerated. If you shoot at 10 feet from a subject the face is flat. Consider it this way, the distance from your lens to the nose is say 24 inches, then the distance to the ear will be close to 29 inches. The difference between these two numbers is a significant percentage of the total. If you are 72 inches (6 feet) from the nose than you will be about 77 inches from the ear, the difference is insignificant. So if you want to make a shot with a flatter perspective you need to move further away from the subject. This will require a longer lens, to keep the subject the same size in the image.  On my full frame camera I generally don’t use anything less than a 100mm lens for a headshot of an average face. For a face with extreme contours I’ll use a 200mm lens. Since most people use smaller chips they will need to convert these numbers, but for instance a 50mm lens is pretty short (about 80mm converted) to use for an average face. Perhaps an 85mm lens might be better, for an average face and you might want 135, for an extreme face. In these two shots I used a 50mm lens on my full frame camera and a 200mm lens. The lighting is the same. You can see a difference in the way the face looks. I think he 200mm shot is ok, but the 50 is certainly too exaggerated.

Shot with a 50mm lenms on a full frame camera.

Shot with a 200mm lens. I think the face looks much better.

This is why it is important to move your camera rather than rely on a zoom lens when you do portraits. If you’re to close or too far away the zoom won’t fix that it will just change the perspective.
Of course changing the angle of the face can also change the shape. If you shoot a profile a strong nose or chin will be very visible.
Please consider taking one of my classes, or even recommending them. I have three classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography

BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

Just a couple more from B Four;

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