Photo Notes

April 21, 2011

Light and Style?

Filed under: Lighting Technique,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 3:09 pm

Here are the shameless plugs: my book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on Amazon.com. Here is a sample chapter from the book. There has been nothing but good feedback on this book, so I would guess that you’ll like it. 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 any occasion. I lowered the price a couple of weeks ago, and that has helped. As you know I teach for BetterPhoto.com. I really hope you’ll sign up my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting.

Shot with an 8X10 Toyo field. Scanned from a contact print. Original print on Kodak Azo paper

The idea for this week’s entry came to me as I was reading another photographer’s blog. He used language that I hear a lot: “My light,” and “My style.” The idea that because you create the same light again and again doesn’t seem to me to be a thing that you would want to brag about. One of my goals as a commercial photographer is to be able to work with a variety of tools and create any look that might benefit a client. I know that many photographers want to brand themselves with a signature style, but I prefer to be known as a guy who can deliver, almost anything. In addition, doing the same thing bores me. I want new challenges. I know many people who want to build a business doing portraits, or babies or even weddings. I wonder what kind of enthusiasm I would bring to shooting the six hundred and first school child in a month? I can tell you that if you shoot a thousand piece catalog you aren’t doing much creative thinking after item number seven hundred fifty. You have to do work to be good, but if you constantly do the same work you may lose your edge. If there is such a thing as a photographer’s eye, part of it must surely be the ability to pay attention to your subject, even after hours with that subject. I really like shooting architecture since the subjects are very different it presents constant challenges.

Shot with a 4X5 Speed Graphic and a 65mm Super Angulon lens.

A few years ago another photographer came to me and asked me how a particular shot was done. I looked at the print and told him the original photographer used hard and soft light and had filtered the hard light with at least a 1/2 CTO. I’ve written about this lighting a couple of time here in Photo Technique, here in Shutterbug and also in my book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers. This is a very useful technique, but it does require close attention to detail. I was explaining this when he said “Why don’t you set it up for my shot?” Now I was willing, for free, to explain something about how light works. He could have applied this idea to any shot he wanted, but he didn’t want that. Too often the idea of learning to control light is too much trouble. He wanted me to do it for him. He didn’t want to experiment and learn, too much trouble, he wanted results. Eventually he convinced a friend of mine to come in and rig the lights for him whenever he shot. My friend tells me this photographer refers to himself as an artist.

Shot with my 4X5 Speed Graphic and a 135mm Xenar. Same model as Legs above.

One of the great advantages of digital photography is that testing is free or close to it. I should be precise about what I mean by testing: which is testing tools to see how they work. Testing can also mean shooting for your portfolio. “I need a model for testing” means I want to work on some new images for my book, and that can be expensive. But if I get a new umbrella it won’t cost me anything to shoot a shot of the way the umbrella spreads light or a shot to figure out where it should be placed in relation to the strobe. When I shot with film testing was quite expensive, and frustrating. The frustration was a product of not seeing the results of a test until the film was processed. So I didn’t test much. I tried to figure out what my tools were doing by analyzing my commercial shoots. This didn’t really serve my clients all that well. These days I do a lot of testing so that I can better understand my lights. I hope you’ll do a lot of testing also. And I hope you’ll practice with new techniques so that you can add them to your tool kit. You might get some new ideas by taking my class at BetterPhoto.com  or reading my book.

Digital photography is MUCH easier than film photography was. Just the weight of the equipment is so much less. I used to go out on location to do an architectural job with close to 200 pounds of lights. That would be 5 lights, 2 power packs and accessories in 4 cases. I now have half that in weight and only 3 cases, but with 8 lights. So half the weight and almost twice as many lights, and this is because I don’t need as much power with a digital camera. The work I do is better, because I have instant feedback: the camera is tethered to the computer. Professionals, if they want to keep working, need to bring a really effective skill set, rather than just a good eye, to the table if they want to keep getting work. I think of myself as a craftsman as often as I think of myself as an artist.

You don’t need to log in to post on this blog anymore, but I would appreciate it if people didn’t post links to unrelated and inappropriate sites. I’ve included a few favorite large format photographs with this blog. There are times when I do miss the heavy lifting.
BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

April 9, 2011

What is Real Photography?

Here are the shameless plugs: my book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on Amazon.com. Here is a sample chapter from the book. There has been nothing buut good feedback on this book, so I would guess that you’ll like it. 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 any occasion. I lowered the price a couple of weeks ago, and that has helped.  As you know I teach for BetterPhoto.com. I really hope you’ll sign up my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Sign ups continue for the current session, please sigh up now.

This shot was meant to show the size and shape of the concrete dye.

I don’t know when the Kodak company first used the phrase “You push the button; we do the rest” but it must have been in the early 1900s. The Kodak company made possible a new kind of amateur photography: where the camera operator didn’t need to know anything about the technical aspects of photography. This, I think, is the beginning of the idea that what you need to be a photographer is a “good eye,” not any level of technical excellence. In the last few weeks I’ve seen several posts in which real photographers are complaining about those amateur photographers who are ruining everything. I think we ought to take a look at this sentiment.

First who are the real photographers? Photography is the most popular hobby in the world. How many people

I needed to use some of the light from the window, as well as strobe to balance this shot.

don’t try to take a picture sometime? I now have a camera in my phone, and I expect to have one in my next blender. Really I wouldn’t be surprised to see an oven camera that would e-mail you a picture of your food, so you could turn off the oven before it overcooks. Real photography is photography that communicates with pictures; that captures the memories of your days; and that sends pictures to Grandma. I would guess that without amateurs buying cameras we would still be using Speed Graphics, Rollieflexs and Nikon F cameras. These were cameras that were designed for professionals. Are there enough professionals in the world to pay for the design of a Canon 7D? Or consider it this way: a new Hasselblad H4D-60 costs $42,000, as much as new luxury automobile. A Canon Rebel XS costs just $550. I bet Canon is making more money. The thing professional photographers need to come to terms with is that Aunt Tilly, with her Nikon Coolpix, is the real photographer.

Since I’ve been doing photography the goal of the camera manufactures is to make better images for more people, people like Aunt Tilly. These people are amateurs: they take photographs for themselves and to share with friends. They want to remember the moments of their lives in vivid ways. I am a professional photographer that is I make money with my camera. Not just $5 or 10 from the occasional stock photo, but a living. If I am going to continue to do that I need to do more that tell potential clients that I have a good eye. As the manufacturers make better cameras I need to have skills that Aunt Tilly doesn’t have.

Back when I used film I had equipment that amateurs didn’t have: a 4X5 and 8X10 camera and lights. Business was better then, people with Instamatic cameras didn’t shoot product. But now the graphic designer I used to work for frequently has a new Canon. Because not only has Aunt Tilly got a Coolpix, Bob the graphic designer has a 5D. If Bob can shoot the image he needs for that ad he won’t hire me. The cameras are easier to use, and the images are better, and often they don’t need a professional photographer.

If we want to keep working, and I don’t know about you but I want to keep working, we have to bring more to the table than a good eye. I say this a lot, but what we have to do is be able to make pictures, not just take pictures. Aunt Tilly takes pictures. She finds something interesting and points and shoots. She’s like a walking scanner. Photographers need to be able to build a photo from concept to final image. This means you need to know how to create and control light, how to edit, how to work in Photoshop and how to work with a client. There are other things like framing and writing that can be helpful. If you’re doing these things on automatic, or if you’re sending them out, better look behind you to see if Aunt Tilly is catching up.

I added photographs that I used lights for this week. As I’ve mentioned lighting requires a considerable amount of craft, so Aunt Tilly won’t be catching up in this race any time soon.

I really hope you’ll consider taking my class at BetterPhoto.com. Sign-up are almost over, but if you sign up now you won’t miss a thing. I also hope you’ll suggest my BetterPhoto class An Introduction to Photographic Lighting to other photographers you know, or perhaps you’d like to give it as a gift? Amherst media sent me the cover for my second book, you can see it here, of course you can still look at my first book at Amazon .
BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

April 5, 2011

Teaching Light

Filed under: Lighting Technique,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 3:04 pm

I haven’t been able to get back to the blog for a few weeks. I’m sorry about that, but I have been busy shooting and arranging other crises. Anyway, here are the shameless plugs. My book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on Amazon.com. Here is a sample chapter from the book. 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 any occasion. I lowered the price a couple of weeks ago, and that has helped.  As you know I teach for BetterPhoto.com. I really hope you’ll sign up my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Sign ups could be better this month, so please join the class!

Now that that is over with I wanted to say something about teaching. I teach on line for BetterPhoto.com, so it might be assumed that I teach photography. That is not entirely true. What I really teach is lighting, as it applies to photography. There is a significant difference:  a big part of teaching photography is explaining to students how to record an image. That might be a mountain or a flower or a child, but the idea is to capture what you see. When you actually control light you create the image for the camera to record. You are painting the image with your lights. Photography involves understanding and controlling certain aspects of your picture, for instance how distance is recorded (depth of field) and how time is recorded (how much blur you might allow with the shutter). Lighting provides another tool kit entirely: where light goes, the transition between light and dark, and the color of the light. Often people come to my class with the idea that they can set up lights in ways that will work for most subjects, but this would mean giving up the ability to customize the picture for the subject. That is to create the light for the image.

Since I teach an introductory class what I try to do is give people an opportunity to experiment with the tools. I tell them how to create a very simple, and inexpensive, play ground where they can learn how light works. Play is a critical part of learning. Digital cameras make it much easier and cheaper to learn this way, because they give you almost instant access to your images. Consequently people should be learning all aspects of photography, not just lighting, faster and better than with film. At least I hope so.

One of the questions that I get is: “Will this class teach me to light…” And you can fill in the blank, whether it is people, architecture, product, fine art and so on. My goal is to teach you to light, period. If you understand how light really works you can apply light to anything from a flower to a mountain, but you may need more light for the mountain.

I’ve attached several shots of interiors to this week’s blog. These shots required a lot of control over lighting. I have to say that I do love a challenge. I used these shots, and quite a few more in a Blurb book for a contractor I work for.

I am asking some of my students, and anyone else who would like to participate (you?) to post their thoughts about the differences between learning photography and learning how to control light. Please post something.

I really hope you’ll consider taking my class at BetterPhoto.com. Sign-up are almost over, but if you sign up now you won’t miss a thing. I also hope you’ll suggest my BetterPhoto class An Introduction to Photographic Lighting to other photographers you know, or perhaps you’d like to give it as a gift? Amherst media sent me the cover for my second book, you can see it here, of course you can still look at my first book at Amazon .
BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

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