Photo Notes

June 26, 2011

Investing In Photo Gear

Filed under: Lighting Technique,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 5:29 pm

I went through some older blog entries I did for an earlier blog at BetterPhoto. I think this is useful information about understanding the cost of photographic tools. I did make a few updates. All the pictures are from my new book: Lighting for Architectural Photography. The book will be out in the fall, but you can pre-order now at Amazon. That’s where the link goes. Here are some more plugs for my other books and classes: If you would rather order something you’ll get right away try my first book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers which is at Amazon.com and other places. You can get a Kindle version or a Nook version also. I have no idea what they look like. Here is a sample chapter from the book. There has been nothing but good feedback on the first book, so I would guess that you’ll like it. Of course I still hope that you will please consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. 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. Remember that the books and the class keep me updating this blog.

I was thinking about how photo gear endures. I used to think about wearing out equipment, and I still do. But I don’t think about wearing out my camera. Technology will force me to replace it long before it wears out. I am on my fourth digital camera system and, as with the others, it will be retired before it stops working. That wasn’t the case with film cameras. I have a Speed Graphic, still my favorite film camera, that isn’t worn out after fifty years, but it has needed some parts.

I still use it when I want to do personal work with a large negative. It was a pleasure to use. My first digital camera was a Leaf back, a DCB 2 that fit on a Mamiya RZ67. I really disliked that camera. It made 3 separate exposures in order to make a color shot. It was very slow and awkward to work with. I was glad to see it go. But, when it did go it was a working camera, a technological dinosaur. I wanted to write about this topic not to whine about digital cameras, but to discuss the expected life times of photoproducts; and how that should affect the way we buy them. For instance, I think that we should buy cameras that have been on the market for a while; my business can’t stand a recall, or other problem with a new product. I also think that I might need a camera with a large file. I nope to do some business with display prints. As a consequence I believe that a camera has a lifetime between 3 and 5 years. It needs to pay for itself quickly!

When I think about lenses, I have different considerations. Current lenses will wear out: the motors that make the lens auto focus will not work forever. Also the focus tracks are very lightweight, they will have wear problems. The tracks are built this way in order to allow auto focus to function quickly. I would guess that the lenses I use frequently are going to last between five and ten years, not too bad. I can make an investment in a lens that will pay off more slowly, even buying specialty lenses that I might not use more that once a month. So I can easily make a case for buying quality lenses.

Tripods last for decades. I would not be surprised to see my current tripods, I have five, last for more another fifty years. So the cost of a tripod is very inexpensive because the cost is amortized over such a long time. By the way I have five tripods because I have small medium and large cameras. My 8X10 camera requires a tripod that is much larger tan I would need for my digital camera. If you buy a good tripod it may outlast ten cameras, a poor tripod may be lousy from the first day.

One of my goals for these blog entries is to talk about lights. In my discussions about strobes I often hear how expensive they are. An investment in strobes is like buying a tripod, since strobes last such a long time. I have some Norman equipment that I bought new in 1983, that’s almost 25 years. The tubes haven’t broken and the strobes still work. Not bad. More to the point, of the photos I’ve made for money since 1983, most required strobes. More than any other piece of equipment, lights separate the assignment photographer from people who are more hobbyist than professional. So, although it may not seem that way when you right the check, strobes are cheap; they will be with you for a long ling time. Good strobes help make professional photographers!

When I teach a class I ask people to practice. I suggest that they work with a Styrofoam wig head and cheap flood lights. The wig head is all white that makes it easy to see the shadows. The flood lights are easy to see and to manipulate. This gives you a sort of a lighting lab where you can practice and experiment. I still use the wig head when I get a new piece of lighting gear. I know I’ve said this before: musicians practice so they can play, why shouldn’t we? If you can only practice with a live model you won’t be able to take the same risks you can with a hunk of Styrofoam. Most models don’t have the patience of the wig head. So, if you’re thinking about a lighting class why not mine?
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June 8, 2011

More Product Photography

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 5:30 pm

Big news here in the land of self promotion! My next book, Lighting for Architectural Photography, is now listed on Amazon. Of course you can’t get a copy yet, but you can order. And there was great rejoicing!  If you would rather order something you’ll get right away try my first book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers which is at Amazon.com and other places. You can get a Kindle version or a Nook version also. I have no idea what they look like. Here is a sample chapter from the book. There has been nothing but good feedback on the first book, so I would guess that you’ll like it. Of course I still hope that you will please consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. 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. Remember that the books and the class keep me updating this blog. I’ll be writing about product photography again this week. This could be the topic for book three, so I would appreciate your feedback.

Any photograph may evoke a feeling or a memory, that is something photography does well. A beautiful sunset over the ocean always makes a good photograph. It will always mean more to those who remember than sunset, but it will stir memories of sunsets in other people. But, in a product shot, this kind of emotional connection is not the first goal of the photograph, sometimes, such as with a new product, it isn’t possible. I think the first goal of a product shot is always to make the product real. So if the product is a toothbrush you need good detail on the bristles. You’ll want to make the plastic handle look clean and shiny. You can’t count on the imagination of the viewer to make your product look good. When NASA makes an artists rendering of what a rover will look like on Mars, it isn’t really a lot different from a shot of a BMW taking a tight curve in Big Sur. The idea is to make the object real, and then really exciting.

The first thing is focus, and you need enough depth of field to keep the whole product sharp. I have seen a lot of fuzzy product shots on eBay, and they don’t add a romantic look to a strobe or a pocket watch. Second you want the product to separate from the background, don’t put a blue product on a blue background. While I think about it, it is usually bad to make the background more vibrant than the subject. If your subject is neutral color and you put it on a bright red background then all that people will see is the background. Finally pick an angle that will give a sense of depth to the product. If you shoot a box of corn flakes shoot it so that you can see a little of the side and some of the top. This way you’ll show a box rather than just the front. You don’t want to make a shot you could get with a flat bed scanner.

The light is important. You can do a good product shot in open shade. Open shade is outside where the subject is lit by the sky, but not by the sun. This will create little or no shadowing on your product. The one problem is that open shade is that the light is blue; after all it comes from the sky not the sun. Sometimes you can get a better effect if you use the cloudy day setting on a camera or phone. Yes you can do a useable product shot on a phone. You can build better lighting in a studio. In this case you can control the shadows in a way that will help define the shape of the product. A really good product shot gives the item a sense of three-dimensionality.

One other thing that can make a product jump off the page is clipping it from the background. I find this a very tiresome chore. I usually use a company called Deepetch for this, you can also find them on Facebook. They just did a very complex job clipping parts of a house for me. It turned out great.

I did an article that discusses how to control reflection, very important in product shots. You can download it here (www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/zpdf/reflections.pdf). You can see some of my other articles here (www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php). I hope they will make you consider buying my books or taking my class at BetterPhoto (www.betterphoto.com/courseOverview.asp?cspID=172). Of course I also do business consulting. Let me know if you need help.

It looks like I will be relocating to Indianapolis in a few weeks or months. If you have any contacts, with clubs or business that you could share I would be grateful. If you would like to attend some lighting workshops in the Mid-West drop me a line at john@siskinphoto.com. You can find me on Facebook and Linkedin, just in case you’re looking.

When I teach a class I ask people to practice. I suggest that they work with a Styrofoam wig head and cheap flood lights. The wig head is all white that makes it easy to see the shadows. The flood lights are easy to see and to manipulate. This gives you a sort of a lighting lab where you can practice and experiment. I still use the wig head when I get a new piece of lighting gear. I know I’ve said this before: musicians practice so they can play, why shouldn’t photographers? If you can only practice with a live model you won’t be able to take the same risks you can with a hunk of Styrofoam. Most models don’t have the patience of the wig head. So, if you’re thinking about a lighting class why not mine?

BetterPhoto.com, The better way to learn photography

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