Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

December 10, 2015

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

This is one of my favorite images. I love the look of the print. I have it above the desk in my office. Sometimes the experience of making an image is transformative: making this image changed the way I make pictures. I learned to take risks, even if the shot might not work. While this might seem natural with digital photography, it’s different with film. I shot this image on 4X5 film. Each sheet of film is individually loaded into a film holder. Five film holders, ten sheets of film, weighs more than a pound, and takes up a lot of room as well. Each exposure costs more than two dollars after processing. So on location each shot is precious. I made this shot with my speed graphic, which weighs almost seven pounds (I got out the scale to do this blog). This isn’t usually important, but Union Station, Los Angeles, won’t let anyone shoot with a tripod unless they have a permit. I made the shot with a Schneider 65mm f8 Super Angulon lens. I’d never made a really sharp image with this lens. So I hand held the camera at an exposure of 1/15 sec at almost f16. The light was beautiful, but I didn’t know if I could hold the camera still for the exposure.

There’s something that I didn’t know about using the Super Angulon lens, or any wide-angle lens on a large format camera. If you focus the camera on infinity and stop down the lens only the center of your shot will be sharp. In order to get a sharp image with this class of lenses you have to focus closer if you stop down the lens. So if you want to have the whole shot sharp, and you’re going to shoot at f16, you should focus at about eight feet from the camera. When I took this shot I was very careful, because I knew I needed to get as much depth of field as I could. So I focused closer, using the rule of thumb that depth of field extend a third in front of your focus point and two-thirds behind that point. To my surprise and delight the whole image is sharp edge to edge. I’ve posted a lot more about aperture and depth of field in these posts:, and Of course the fact that the image is sharp also means I held the camera steady at 1/15th of a second. Pretty good for a large format camera!

My Speed Graphic camera with the 135mm lens, not the 65mm Super Angulon.

My Speed Graphic camera with the 135mm lens, not the 65mm Super Angulon.

It’s always exciting to see your film images after processing, because, unlike digital, you don’t know you’ve got the shot until it’s processed. When I saw this negative, before I even made a print, I knew it was great. I still remember that moment. Regardless of how you make a photograph it’s exciting when you realize you’ve made something special. By the way, since this image is titled Union Station, Los Angeles #1, you can assume that there are more images of this fabulous site to come.

I hope that when I get the website updated I’ll be offering silver gelatin prints of this image in various sizes. Right now I’m offering archival digital prints of this image at a special price just $95, mounted and matted on cotton rag board, and shipped in the United States. The image will be about 11X13 inches and matted to 16X20.

This image, and many others, is also available in my book B-Four. You can look at the book at this link, and order it as well. I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images to the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

October 20, 2014

Junk Man

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post . I’ve listed my BetterPhoto classes at the end of this post. Thanks so much for your attention.


I’m a junk man. I think that it’s better to have more gear than newer gear. So I have a lot of Norman 200B strobes. Norman 200Bs haven’t been made in about 20 years, long time. Norman still makes a 200C, which costs about $1200, while a used, well used, 200B can be had for around $100 on eBay. So, if I can find them I can get a used unit for less than 10% of a new one. The used one weighs more, which is too bad, but it has some actual advantages. The 200B recycles quicker than almost any other strobe; the best 200Bs recycle to full power in a second. Norman 200Bs use 12-volt power, so you can run one off a cigarette lighter socket in your car, you can use a cheap lead acid 12V battery, you can even use a car battery. I don’t know of any other strobe that has so many inexpensive power options. A Norman 200B is pretty powerful, with a guide number around 114 with a standard reflector. The thing is that a Norman reflector spreads light a lot wider field than a Canon or Nikon strobe. The reflector isn’t built in so there are a lot more ways to modify the light, you can even use the bare tube (bare bulb) alone. I’ve also checked and with a big soft box, say 3X3 foot the 200B is about the same brightness as the much more expensive Canon or Nikon units. Now a 200b, even a 200C is a manual strobe: you can control the output, but the strobe won’t automatically change the output. If you’re designing the light for your shot this won’t be a problem, but if you want to have the flash make your choices a Norman 200B, any manual strobe, is not the way to go.


A Norman 200B Head (called an LH2) bare bulb and with some accessories

A Norman 200B Head (called an LH2) bare bulb and with some accessories

If I’m shooting interiors, for an architect or a designer I’ll take 7 of the 200B strobes with me. There are so many places that you might need to put light when shooting interiors, so sometimes even 7 strobes isn’t enough. It’s better to have a lot of strobes, even if they’re junk, than not enough lights. With architectural lighting power isn’t as important as having light where you need it. If I was shooting people or product I might not take as many lights, but I would still grab the 200Bs first.

Norman 200B power pack

Norman 200B power pack


If I’m shooting an event, and frankly I’d rather not, I grab a different strobe: the Sunpak 120J. Another piece of old junk. A 120J has a little more than half as much power as a Norman 200B, but it has automatic exposure! This is an earlier version of strobe automation, not the current ttl system. Still it’s accurate most of the time. Here’s a couple of things I like about the 120J: it uses the same strobe tubes as a 200b and the same reflectors. It can hold its own batteries or use a high voltage battery pack. Also it mounts on a hot shoe or a 1/4X20 thread. Oh yeah, they’re cheap, well reasonably priced. Quantum made some similar units that are worth checking out. The current Quantum strobes are probably worth having if you shoot a lot of events.

A 200B rig for flash fill

A 200B rig for flash fill


There are a couple more classic (old) strobes I should mention, first the Vivitar 283. They made millions of these and you can consistently find them for less than $30. I owned a couple of these modified with an extra capacitor to have a stop more power and there were a lot more modifications and accessories. The high voltage battery packs were really quite helpful because they reduced the recycle time a lot. Another strobe from the same time period is the Sunpak 411. I still use these because the head was so well designed it moved up and down as well as side to side. Unfortunately you don’t often see a 411 in good shape.

Norman kit for location

Norman kit for location


Of course there are a lot of other good used strobes available, and I should mention Lumedyne in particular. These are manual strobes, similar to the 200B, but can produce much more light. With the right accessories you can get up to 2400watt-seconds from these battery powered units. Lumedyne strobes are available new and used, and a little pricier than the Norman 200B. Still if you need battery powered strobes with as much light as a studio strobe this might be the way to go.

Vivitar 283-with manual power control and 2nd capacitor modification

Vivitar 283-with manual power control and 2nd capacitor modification


If you need a lot of light on location there are a couple of ways to go. First there are battery packs that you can plug a mono-light or a studio strobe into. Many companies offer these now, and they can be quite helpful. I prefer to use a gas generator. While it is much heavier you can shoot all night and day with just a few gallons of gas! Of course you may need an assistant to lug the thing around. Gas generators start at less than $150.00, batteries for mono-lights are generally more expensive.

Gas generator for location work

Gas generator for location work

d/I could discuss the new stuff on the market, but not in this entry. There’s a lot more information about strobes in my book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers
If you’re interested in how to light interiors and other architectural shooting you might want this book: Photographing Architecture
Or you can check out my classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography


March 13, 2013

Candlelight Home Tour #2

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies, if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is introduce the books and get you to consider one of my classes at An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography

This week I shot another home for the Candle Light Tour of Indianapolis’ Old North Side. This is also a fabulous home, but why would anybody put a home on a tour that wasn’t fabulous? The interior of this home is very different from the last home, more of an Italian flare, and less of a period piece.

I knew that there would be less time to do this shoot, which reduces what can be done. It’s hard to set up to light a room, do the shot and clean up in two hours, which was all the time I had. In this case I did one very difficult shot that included several rooms and a simple shot of the kitchen. And I did leave the house in the required two hours.

This is the final version of the dining room shot. The exposure was 1/30th of a second at f11
and an ISO of 400. Six strobes were used.

This is the first shot. As you can see the dining room opens onto two other rooms, one with a piano and another room on the right. To add difficulty both these rooms open onto other rooms. The room on the right opens onto a stairway and the music room open onto a front parlor, at least that’s what I think it is. Because I knew I had very little time I brought less lighting gear, just three Norman LH2 heads, three power packs (the 200B units) and a pair of Sunpak 120J strobes. Of course I also brought the camera, and a bag of assorted stands, tripod and umbrellas.

I set up the camera at the far end of the dining room, so that I could see into all the rooms I mentioned. The first light was a 200B placed at the opposite corner of the dining room. I used the 60-inch umbrella on this light to give a softer look to the light in the dining room. I also held a Sunpak 120J in my outstretched arm above the camera to help light the dining room. The Sunpak 120J strobes have about half the power of a Norman 200B, but they do have simple automation and can be set to much lower power settings then the 200B. One nice thing is that the two strobes use the same strobe tubes and can use the same accessories. I placed a shoe cover over this 120J; it was a quick way to modify the light.


In the room on the right I set up another Norman 200B. I used a 30-inch shoot through umbrella because it threw light in every direction. Even so my original placement of the light, to the left of the door, didn’t work because the light was visible in the shot. So I placed the light to the right of the door. Perhaps it would be easier to say nearer the camera? Anyway this hid the strobe. This light also gave enough light to show the stairway. The strobe was set to full power. I used a 1/4 CTO filter to give warmth to this light and add separation from the dining room.

Now the biggest problem is the room with the piano. At first I thought the slave wasn’t working because the room stayed so dark. The problem was that room was really dark. The walls are medium gray and the piano is black, so you can see this might be a challenge. I started bouncing light off a white satin umbrella, but wasn’t happy with the shot until I took the umbrella off and used light directly from the strobe onto the room. Even after this I had to lighten this area a little in post-production. By the way this light had a 1/8-CTO filter for the same reasons as I mentioned above.

So that brings us to the front parlor. If you’ve been keeping track you’ll know that the only light I have left is a Sunpak 120J. So I put that on a stand. I used it bare bulb, no reflector at all. I though it would help the separation between the front parlor and the music room. I think it did help. No filter on this light.

If I had more lights I would have used a second more powerful light in the music room, maybe my Calumet 750 Travelite. I would have had lights on either side of the music room. At the time I would have used two lights with umbrellas for the front parlor, but now I’m not sure it would be better. The bare bulb was good, and it didn’t show in the mirror. Did I mention the large mirror in the front parlor? I’m sorry there’s no diagram for this shot, but the diagram was becoming as complex as the shot.

Here’s the shot with the lights turned off. I think lighting makes the picture. Most of the post-production was dodging and burning. I also adjusted the perspective a little and removed a few things at the edges. You can see the image without these fixes below.

I had a few minutes left so I dragged the 60-inch umbrella into the kitchen. I liked this kitchen because it fit into the overall design of the house so well. As people who have taken my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting will certainly know kitchens can be a challenge to shoot.

The strobe, with the large umbrella is on the left side of the camera if you’re looking into the shot. I used the full 200 watt-seconds with this light and a 1/4-CTO filter to warm up this side of the shot. I used a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second to keep the windows bright. The view out the windows wasn’t very interesting. I had to adjust the angle of the chandelier in the picture several times to remove reflections. As before I did a little dodging and burning, as well as fixing the perspective. I also warmed up the shot a bit; I like warm kitchen shots. I think the lighting really helped the shot; below is a version without my light.

March 4, 2013

Candlelight Home Tour #1

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider one of my classes at An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography

I am involved with Candlelight Home Tour in the Old North Side of Indianapolis. The tour will happen on Halloween this year. I’ll add more information about the tour in later entries. I am also doing this with a few people from the Indy MU Photo Club. So I have a small audience for these shoots. The plan is that I’ll shoot one room, with my lights, and they’ll shoot the rest of the house. Yesterday was the first shoot, and it went very well, although more time would have been welcome, especially for the people from the club.

I started by looking around the house, and I settled on the dining room, because of the look of the room, and also because of the complexity. I was particularly interested in shooting into the two connecting rooms and the windows at the same time. The second camera angle was interesting because of the way the staircase was framed in the door. It was easier to shoot, first because the lights were set up and because there weren’t any windows.

You can see the position of the lights in this diagram, of course everything isn’t exactly to scale. The A light is a Calumet 750 Travelite set at 1/4 power. It creates the overall light of the shot, and is positioned near the camera so that the shadows are less visible from the camera. I bounced the light off a 60-inch umbrella, with a black back, to create soft shadows. Of course there is a lot of information about placing lights in my book: Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Postproduction and Marketing Techniques The B light is a Norman 200B modified with a 30-inch shoot through umbrella. I normally don’t use umbrellas in this way, but here I’m trying to add light quickly to a small ancillary room, and this is a quick way to do it. I used a 1/4 CTO filter over the light because I wanted the two rooms on the side of the shot to have different colors of light. Rosco makes these filters that enable you to modify single lights in a shot. Of course you can modify all the lights in a shot in the camera and in post-production. Light C is also a Norman 200B with a 30-inch shoot through umbrella, but it doesn’t have the 1/4 CTO filter so the color is cooler. This fits because there is a window this room. The light moved from the first position, which is shown to the other side of the room to keep the reflection of the light out of the mirror. In the first shot I placed the D light to open up the left half of the room. I used another Norman 200 B and a silver umbrella. The silver umbrella is a little brighter than the white satin umbrellas I use most of the time, but the light is a little harder. In this case the extra brightness helped. I also used a 1/8 CTO filter to add just a little warmth to the edge of the room. When I made the second shot I pulled this light back just a little and changed its direction so it lit the hall rather than the room, position D2. This wasn’t quite enough to create separation on the staircase so I added a Sunpak 120J light at about 1/4 power. I used the standard bowl reflector on this light, so it was hard light, and pretty bright. I like the sparkle it added to the staircase. I just got a couple of the Sunpak 120J units, they are similar to an older Quantum strobe, but use high voltage batteries I already had. I use a lot of older equipment mostly because I started buying strobes a long time ago. I spend a lot of time helping the students in one of my BetterPhoto classes identify the type of equipment that will work best for them. The exposure was f11 at 1/15 and ISO 200. The exposure needed to be long for the windows and the lighting.


I looked at the shots in Adobe Bridge, and of course it was easy to choose the shots I wanted to work on. When I do architectural shooting the last shots are usually the ones I want to use. Next I opened the horizontal version of shot 1 in Adobe Raw. I reduced the blacks to 3, and I moved the fill light to 12. The exposure was a little dark, so I increased the exposure using the exposure slide. Then, since the right wall was too dark, I opened two separate versions of the file. The second version was much brighter than the first, almost a stop. I mixed the two versions of the shot using layers in Photoshop. I also did a little sharpening and use the dodging and burning tools here and there. The result is at the top of the shot, and I think it worked really well. Oh, I also adjusted the perspective just a little to get the verticals right.

This version was handled the same way, except that I used a little vibrance and saturation to make the carpet a little more colorful.

On this shot I increased the exposure a little and added just a little fill light. I only needed one version of this shot, so it was quick to process. I didn’t have as much time to do this shot, so I’m quite pleased at how well it turned out. About the only thing I had to do in Photoshop was use the burn tool to darken a couple of highlights.

November 12, 2012

Shooting Large Format at Indiana Landmarks

Since I’ve been writing about architectural shooting lately, I should start off by mentioning my book Photographing Architecture. Available at Amazon and other fine booksellers.

Of course my other book: is also available, why not get the set?

And my classes continue at I’d like to meet you in class.
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting,
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio,

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

I’ve been continuing to shoot architecture with the 8X10 camera, and I must say I am having a fabulous time doing it. I did a shoot at a building called the Indiana Landmarks Center, which was formerly the Central Avenue Methodist Church. After restoration the facility is just stunning. I did several shots with the big camera. Two of my favorites are reproduced here. These are scans of the Vandyke prints. As I mentioned in previous blog entries the reproductions are very different from original prints. I will be selling originals soon, so you’ll be able to have an original for yourself. I am going back to the Indiana landmarks Center, probably tomorrow, to do some more shooting.

I should add a few technical details, in case anybody is keeping track. Both these images were made with my widest lens: a 165mm Angulon. This lens has about an 85º angle of view, which is very wide for large format, but not quite as wide as a 20mm lens on full frame 35mm film. I’m continuing to process in a two-bath version of D-23. The first bath is 5 minutes and the second just 3 minutes. I’m pretty happy with this, but I do need to increase the exposure a little. I’m using HP-5 film from Ilford currently, but I’m looking at other options. A box of 25 sheets of 8X10 film costs almost $90, so I want to be careful about what I choose. I’m actually shooting two 4X10-inch images on a single sheet of 8X10-inch film. I use a dark slide I’ve cut in half to protect the unexposed side of the film in the camera. This works really well, but I have to be careful not to double expose.

The image on a Vandyke print is made from silver, like modern black and white photo papers. However the light sensitive coating is mixed by hand and the chemical reactions are very different from modern photo papers. The coating is then brushed onto watercolor or other fine art paper. I’ve been having some difficulty coating the paper, but I think I have it figured out now. If you’re interested in more information about hand coated papers and the chemical/mechanical history of photography you should check out The Keepers of Light by William Crawford. Since it is out of print a new copy can be quite expensive, but Amazon offers used copies at reasonable prices.

After shooting digital for the last few years it is really interesting to travel back in time to large format cameras and older printing processes. As always shooting a big camera makes me a more careful shooter when I return to shooting digital.
Please consider one of my classes at

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

July 9, 2012

About Perspective

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider one of my classes at
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography
If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be giving a lighting presentation at the Indy MU Photo Club on July 12.  I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

A short lens for portraits

A longer lens for portraits

I mentioned in my entry that a photograph is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional reality. Since it is a representation you can change the way people perceive the subject. If you step away from the subject and use a telephoto lens then the subject will appear flatter, and if you get closer and use a wide-angle lens the subject will seem exaggerated. So the photographer’s position is critical to the way the subject looks. I see too many images where the photographer got lazy and just used a zoom lens, rather than considering the way the subject will be seen. Can you see the difference in the two shots of Jennifer? One is taken with a short lens and the other with a telephoto lens. I think the shot with the telephoto lens looks better. I would normally use a long lens for a portrait. These shots are from my book Photographing Architecture.

When I shoot a building my goal is to make the subject look more impressive. I start by using a wide-angle lens. I also look for a position that adds shape to the subject. One way to do this is to get close to the subject, and shoot just part of the subject. Another way to do this is to get above the subject. I did these images for a new client CRG Residential here in Indianapolis. You can see that I climbed the hill behind the building for one shot. I was also on a scissor light for a front shot. Lifts are incredibly helpful when shooting building. In this case I got stuck with one of the people from the company at the top of the lift for about twenty minutes. Photography can be so exciting

From the lift.

A straight look at the building

From behind on the hill

Close shot

Close Shot

Close shot


May 3, 2012

Social Media and More

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,Marketing — John Siskin @ 2:19 pm

The images this week are from my book: Photographing Architecture. I hope you’ll check it out. I have included a couple of diagrams so you can see some of the details. Of course my other book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is still available.  I hope you’ll get a copy if you haven’t already.  Of course you know that one reason for this blog is to sell the book and get you to consider a class at
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography

If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll have classes and private lessons at Indy Photo Coach any day. Also I’ll be giving a lighting presentation at the Indy MU Photo Club on June 14. Finally, for now any way, I’ll be teaching a class in commercial photography next spring at Ivy Tech.

I wanted to say a few things about my current marketing projects. I written quite a few times about marketing, but I really haven’t said much about social media. There are several reasons for that, one of the best is I don’t know much about it. My assumption has been that facebook and many of the other sites are very useful for a photographer who shoots families and weddings. I thought that facebook would be of little use to me since my clients are mostly businesses. That may be true, but my business has changed somewhat since I came to Indianapolis. I am still very interested in commercial accounts, but I’m also interested in teaching and book sales. Also since many businesses do market using social media I think it’s important for me to be familiar with this sort of site. So, while I have long had a page on facebook, I now have a page for John Siskin Photographer: It isn’t much yet, but I have high hopes. Also I have taken up tweeting. My handle is @JohnSiskin. I have a coach for social media. He wants me to post a fantastic amount of stuff. I really hope you’ll visit me at these sites: it’s not really social if you aren’t there. I really want your feedback about all these new offerings.

I also wanted to add a few things I said to a student about photographing kitchens. Shooting a kitchen is an assignment in my An Introduction to Photographic Lighting class. Probably the most difficult assignment. I think that people should shoot kitchens as exercise, the way musician do scales. I can’t say it often enough: photographers should practice. The images are mine, I don’t have permission to post student work.

These are good kitchen shots. I’m sure you put considerable effort into these. Kitchens are difficult for several reasons: there are a lot of reflective surfaces, there are windows and there is a wide tonal range. You’ll often see a kitchen with both white and black furnishings, as well as stainless steel and glass. Very often there is no perfect shot, just a best approximation. You have light coming from the umbrella as well as bounce light from the wall behind the umbrella, because you used a shoot through umbrella. One of the few places I use a shoot through umbrella is when shooting a bathroom. When I shoot a bath using this tool the light passes through the umbrella and bounces off the wall behind the umbrella. Since baths are so often painted white this is a good way to get a large light source into a small space.

You have mixed colors of light in both shots from the daylight sources: strobe and window light and the warm sources: the overhead light and the under cabinet lights. In a kitchen shot this isn’t a big problem, people expect a variety of light sources in a kitchen. I think you used a mono-light with the umbrella, but it’s hard to tell in the set-up shots, this would be a daylight balanced light. Often I’ll use a Rosco 1/2 CTO filter over my lights on an interior shot to make them a little warmer than daylight, but not as warm as a light bulb.

The dedicated strobe gave you some problems: the reflection in the windows and the shadows from the overhead fanlight. I think that a bounce light off the ceiling can be very effective in lighting a space, but you need to be concerned about the spread of the light. If you were shooting just a person you could crop out the ceiling, which I’ve done on some occasions. However, most of the time, I need to use a set of barn doors or a snoot over the light to control where the light is on the ceiling. These tools allow me to avoid having my bounce light spread into the shot. You have the shadow of the fan, and the light directly from the strobe, on the tops of the cabinets in one of your shots.
I hope you’ll check out my classes at BetterPhoto. I have been told that prices are going up this year at BetterPhoto, so you might want to sign up soon.

Thanks, John


March 26, 2012

Doing Business with Interior Designers

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,Commercial Photography,Marketing — John Siskin @ 10:18 am

Amazon is shipping copies of my second book: Photographing Architecture. This is really exciting! Of course you can also get my first book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. You can download copies of most of my articles and some do it yourself projects. I teach three classes at BetterPhoto: Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, An Introduction to Photographic Lighting and Getting Started in Commercial Photography. I hope you’ll check them out.
I was asked to write something about how to hire a photographer for a thread at Linkedin. The group is from the National Kitchen & Bath Association. I spoke to one of the chapters last year. I thought it might be good to start with a few things about how to do business with a designer and post it here. If you came here from the Linkedin group you’ll notice that some of this was posted there.

I’ve included a lot of kitchen and bath photos I made for Terry Beeler and Son Contractors, Inc.

If you’re a designer there are a few things you want to know before you start contacting photographers. First, what do you want from the shoot. Is the shoot for your portfolio only? Are you going to use the shot on a web site? Do you want to submit it to a contest or a magazine? What will you do with the shot? Do you want to hire a photographer who has a relationship with a magazine? This can increase the chances of publication. Is there a particular time or day when this project needs to be shot? Does the weather matter? What is your budget? Exactly what needs to be done? If you only designed the kitchen, then that is what needs to be done. If you also designed a bath or a second floor kitchen tell the photographer up front. What you’re really asking yourself is how are these photographs going to fit into my overall marketing plan?

For both photographers and designers: large portfolios are very impressive. I had a client with a 16X20 inch portfolio; it was very effective. The person buying the kitchen or bath shouldn’t be asked to make an important decision off a 4X6 inch print or your ipad.

Questions to ask the photographer:

Are you available to do the shoot? This is a question about time, location and date.

Do you have experience with this kind of job? If you’re shooting a kitchen a photographer should be able to show you sample interiors. Honestly, if you don’t really like what you see don’t hire the person.

Ask to see a print the size you use for your portfolio. Prints require much more resolution than screen shots to look good. If you don’t see a print you don’t know what the photographer can provide.

How does the photographer charge? How much of a deposit? Is there a late cancellation fee or a weather cancellation fee? Can the photographer provide prints or books or web sized image or other services?

Tell the photographer you want to receive the RAW files (if technology changes you may want RAW files, if not they are probably useless to you) of the shots as well as converted files. You’ll probably want the converted files as jpg.

Your shots will require work in Photoshop. You want to know how the photographer charges for Photoshop work. Photoshop work can be difficult or impossible to estimate before a shoot. Things that seem to be easy are not always easy.

Understand your rights. You are not only paying for photographs you are paying for the right to use them. If your client copied the kitchen you designed into another house you would feel cheated. The photographer has rights to images even after the bill has been paid. Both sides can be unreasonable about this. I believe that a client should be able to use the images in a portfolio or on the web for as long as he/she would like. If my photographs are used in a magazine article I expect credit printed in the magazine and at least five copies of the magazine; I may also expect compensation. If you expect to use the images in a magazine or television ad it will affect the work I do on the images and it will affect your costs. If an image I made is sold to a third party I expect compensation. I want the right to sell the image to the contractor or other interested companies. In general I really want you do anything that will make you more successful, as I think it may lead to more work.

Everybody involved in this sort of a job should understand that time is important. Generally you’re going to be in someone’s home and you don’t want to inconvenience the homeowner more than necessary. Everybody should be on time. Designers need to understand this clearly: if you make the photographer wait for two hours, or twenty minutes, while you adjust things in the photograph it will add to the cost of the photography, often quite a lot. I have arrived at shoots and been told: “Oh, sorry not ready. Can you come back tomorrow?” Maybe I’ll come back after you pay 100% of today’s charges. Honestly, this shouldn’t happen as often as it does. If you’ve hired a photographer to work, at a given time and place, be ready. Photographers tell your client the are paying for your time: day rate or hourly, so be ready for the shoot.

Ask for a list of suppliers and contractors who worked on the job. If the designer will give it to you up front be willing to offer a substantial discount. If anyone on the list wants an extra shot, or a shot of a different room, clear it with the designer and the homeowner. If there is any chance of magazine or ad publication get a property release. Additional sales of these images can be very profitable. In addition these contacts can lead to additional jobs.

Be very specific with the client about their needs and how they will use the image. Write this down and get the client to sign. If the client says the shot is for the web and then tries to print it in a magazine that low-res file will be a problem. You need to be able to show the client that you delivered what was ordered. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver! Deliver on time. If the client busts the budget tell them how and why.

You should have a written agreement with the client, and it should include the following information:

Client’s name and contact information

Date and time of the shoot

Address of the shoot

A description of the photographs you will make.

What kind of files and how many files will be delivered.

Projected delivery date of the final images

Cost and the size of the deposit. When the balance is due.

Inform the client that images may be sold to contractors and suppliers if you have discussed this.

Any information that is particular to this job, including the client’s rights to use the photos.

Well that’s it. Back to a plug for BetterPhoto classes. Seriously folks take a class, please.
Thanks, John

I teach three classes at BetterPhoto:

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

I hope you’ll check them out. I have been told that prices are going up this year at BetterPhoto, so you might want to sign up soon.

March 14, 2012

Shooting the Irving Theater!

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,Indianapolis,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 3:53 pm

I was talking about the workshop at the Irving Theater is the last blog as well. This week I’m going to show you the steps in the shoot.  This was the actual shoot for the Irving so the participants got to see the actual process rather than a staged version of the shoot. I’ve been teaching for a couple of decades and I’ve discovered that many students like to see the way shoots actually work, and the actual problem solving that goes into a shoot. This blog will help those who couldn’t attend. Of course not every moment in this kind of a production is good entertainment. Personally, I sometimes feel as though I’m making a bad landing in front of an audience. Especially if I’m shooting in a theater. I hate to start with a bad shot, but most things begin in the dark. This is the progression of shots that led to the final shot from the Irving Theater on March 4. More than twenty people were present for the experience. There is a short equipment list at the end of the blog. For more information please check out my books. The links are at the top of the page.

Irving 01: Ambient light, the place is a cave with little light. Exposure: 1/90 at F8, which was the exposure for all these shots. The differences are in the light.

Irving 02: Two lights, a Norman LH2400 with 500 watt seconds on the right side of the frame into an Alien Bee parabolic reflector, and a Norman 200B pointed at the back wall. Both of these are tests.

Irving 03: I added a 45 inch umbrella with a Calumet 750 watt-second Travelite near the camera. The Travelite is set to 1/2 power. I added two more Norman 200B units to the back wall with full CTO gels on each. The CTOs are filters to make the light warmer.

Irving 04: I put a Norman LH2400 in the front of the room, just in front of the first pew. The light has about 500 watt-seconds. I put barn doors on the light to control the spill. The spill is bad in this shot.

Irving 05: The Travelite and the Norman 200Bs are the only lights that fired. The CTO gels have been replaced by red gels, looks better. A shot with fewer lights makes it easier to balance the 200B units, but I didn’t plan it. I had problems with the slaves. The chairs appeared.

Irving 06: The Normans at the back and at the front fired. Better! I abandoned the Alien Bee Parabolic reflector and used a 60-inch umbrella on the Norman. This umbrella has a much larger and softer spread. I had hoped the Parabolic umbrella would give me some sort of spot on the stage, this was obviously way to optimistic.

Irving 07: More power in the Travelite and the Norman LH2400 at the right of the camera. Things look better. The red lights have been slightly repositioned.

Irving 08: Another bad slave shot, the light in front didn’t fire. I had radio slaves on the 200Bs and the Travelite near the camera; the other strobes had optical slaves. Slaves can be a problem.Here’s an article about slaves.

Irving 09: I kicked up the power on the strobes. The light at the front ended up with 750 watt-seconds. It has more in this shot. The Travelite was at almost full power. The LH2400 on the right had 1200 watt-seconds. The Norman 200Bs ended up at 100 watt-seconds, which was less then they started with.

Irving 10: The LH2400 in front of the pews was reduced in power to the final 750 watt-second. Norman 200Bs were added on the stage. The one on stage left has a 30” shoot through umbrella. This didn’t work: too much light out the back, 200 watt-seconds. The one on the right had  a metal 8” parabolic reflector to throw a spot on the chair, I25 watt-seconds.

Irving 11: The 30” umbrella on the stage was replaced by a shoe cover. Shoe covers are very useful. One of my assistants, Jeff or Jeff put a jacket between the speakers to help hide the light on the stage.

Irving 12: So we get the idea that slaves don’t work every time. This is particularly true with optical slaves in a room with dark walls.

Irving 13: Basically the final shot, but the fluorescent light is on. I think this is the same as #11, but without people.

Irving 14: The final capture! The fluorescent has been turned off, so we are in the dark.

Irving 15: The shot after retouching. For more on the retouching please see my last blog entry.

Norman LH2400: these are studio strobes. Lights have to be plugged into a power pack to work. The power pack is plugged into the wall. My lights are Norman’s 900 series. I have 8 heads and three power packs, 1-2000 watt-second and 2-1250 watt-second units.

Norman 200B: These are location strobes. The have separate power packs, both AC and DC so they are very flexible. Maximum output is 200 watt-seconds. I used DC packs on the wall and AC packs on the stage. I have 7 heads and 5 packs. This is a very flexible system.

Calumet Travelite 750. A 750 watt-second mono-light. This is a self-contained unit that plugs directly into the wall.

Alien Bee 86 inch parabolic umbrella: Let them describe it. They do a better job:

Norman 8-inch parabolic reflector. This throws a very tight spot. For a little more information on Norman’s reflectors for the 200B:

Well that’s it. Back to a plug for BetterPhoto classes. Seriously folks take a class, please.
Thanks, John

I teach three classes at BetterPhoto:

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

I hope you’ll check them out. I have been told that prices are going up this year at BetterPhoto, so you might want to sign up soon.

February 21, 2012

Location Work

Filed under: Architectural Lighting,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 7:04 pm


I’m doing a workshop here in Indianapolis on March 4. This one will be about shooting interiors, so it will go over some of the same information as my new book: Photographing Architecture . Here’s a link to more information about the workshop. The workshop is free, but tickets are limited.  Of course you can also get my first book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting.   I had a great experience shooting the airport. The images in this blog entry are all from that shoot. I did this shoot for Chusid Associates one of my Los Angeles clients. Chusid Associates is a marketing consultant specializing in architectural and building products. Their blog offers good tips on the value of photos as sales and marketing tools. The project is an expansion of Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport and, as you can see, it is still under construction. The photos are for Ceilings Plus a leading producer of architectural ceiling and wall panels. My instructions were to capture how the ceiling panels help to express the architecture of the facility. I am glad to have the chance to work with Chusid Associates again after my move. I have always had good experiences working with them, and the chance to work with very interesting clients. Much of the micro work on my site is work I’ve done for Chusid Associates.

The shoot reminded me of a couple of things I want to add to this blog; this week I’ll be writing about location shooting. There are two kinds of locations: the first is the one you can drive to. I’ve done thousands of this kind of location shoot. In fact every time I get a new car I drag out the equipment to figure out an efficient way to load the new vehicle. I have a lot of lighting gear, eighteen strobes and the quartz lights, so it takes up a lot of space. Space is the first thing I think about with a vehicle, the second is how beat up the car looks. I like a car to have a certain level of urban camouflage. If the thing looks too good it will draw thieves, better to avoid attention. As you can imagine I mostly end up with used pick-up trucks and vans. I prefer the vans because they are easier to load.

Of course for the airport shoot I had to fly in. This brings a whole different challenge to location work. When I drive to a shoot I can bring everything and the kitchen sink. If I did that on this shoot my luggage charge would have been staggering. When I got off the plane I wouldn’t have been able to get the gear to a rental car. So the key here is to bring just what you need and some back up. This shoot was largely ambient light, but a few shots would require strobes. I knew that I would be using several captures to make my final image (see this earlier blog for details so a good tripod would be absolutely essential. I took my Gitzo legs and a Manfrotto 3025 head. I’ve had the Gitzo legs for at least fifteen years, so I know I can rely on them. The 3025 is not my favorite head, but it’s sturdy, light weight and small, a terrific combination for travel. I also took a five-gallon portable shower. This is basically a heavy-duty plastic bladder I can fill with water. I use this to make my tripod heavier. Weight makes the tripod more stable, which is essential if you want to make several captures from exactly the same place. Too often people buy lightweight tripods that don’t provide enough stability. I have several tripods and heads for different cameras and situations. As I have mentioned in other places tripods are very inexpensive because they will last for decades. So it makes sense to get good ones. One other thing I liked about the Gitzo legs for this job: they fit inside my Pelican case. The Pelican is one of the few cases I’ll check into airline luggage. Of course I also took a chain-pod to stabilize the camera.

I took some of my Norman 200B units to handle whatever lighting needs I would have. It turned out that I needed the Normans to shoot a picture of the ducts behind the ceiling, a bathroom and one of the ceiling shots. While these weren’t the most important shots of the day, they were critical for the client. The 200B units are very sturdy. They produce a lot of light and they recycle incredibility quickly. I used to recommend them all the time, but, as they haven’t been made in about 20 years, I’ve stopped suggesting them. Norman has a new unit called a 200C, which is nice but awfully expensive. They also brought out a 400B that is twice as powerful as the 200B. If you really need a very fast portable unit I would look at this. However I now recommend the LumoPro 160 when I recommend a battery unit. They produce a useful amount of light, and are small and inexpensive. One of the reasons I like the Normans is that they work like the studio strobes I started with, the LumoPros work like dedicated strobes, which is very helpful to people who started with digital equipment.

In addition to the 200B units, which need power packs to run the heads, I needed reflectors, umbrellas, shoe covers as well as light stands. The light stands are always the biggest problem on a job like this. I think that light stands are the most difficult problem. They take up a lot of space and they weigh a lot. I haven’t seen a light stand I really like. What I want is a stand that extends to ten feet, collapses to two feet and weighs about two pounds. I’m not going to get that. I do have one small stand that was meant to be a light stand, but it only goes to about 6 feet. I have a couple of stands that were collapsible music stands. I cut the tops off of them. They are small, but they don’t get that tall and are kind of flimsy. The other thing I carry is a 1/4X20 stud adapter. This allows a tripod to be used as a stand. I also have a vice grip that has 1/4X20 threads welded to it, and the adapter fits on that. This isn’t the same thing, but I might buy one of these. I take some other stuff when I go on location. The last things I pack are clothes, which I use to pad everything else.

I teach three classes at BetterPhoto:

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

I hope you’ll check them out. I have been told that prices are going up this year at BetterPhoto, so you might want to sign up soon.

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