Photo Notes

April 24, 2021

Photographic Seeing and Interpretation

 

Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer at Museum Hill Santa Fe, by Craig Dan Goseyan

I made this picture Wednesday on Museum Hill in Santa Fe. The subject is a sculpture titled Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer, and it was made by Craig Dan Goseyan. It’s a very impressive piece. One of the things I hope this image captures is the effect created by the very large size of the work. Regardless of how I interpret the piece, and all photography of 3 dimensional objects, is interpretation, the effect of seeing a photograph is not the same as seeing the thing itself. If you see a photograph of the Grand Canyon, you haven’t seen the Grand Canyon. I think most people who have ever tried to photograph the Grand Canyon have discovered how photographs do not convey the effect of seeing the canyon.

I wanted to mention this because I have a related problem with sharing my images on computer screens. The effect of seeing the image on screens is not the same as seeing a print. First, as in the image of this sculpture, you do not have actual scale of the work. This sculpture must be close to 20 feet tall. If you’re looking at the image on a phone, you simply have no idea, and you also miss texture and much more. I’ve made many big prints over the years, some over 6 feet tall. In fact, one of the reasons I shoot large format film is that I can make big prints. The original size of the digital file of this image is 4 foot 6 inches tall at 300dpi. Actually, I could make an even bigger scan of this negative. If I were to make a traditional darkroom print of this shot, I could make it 9 feet tall, which would help convey the size of the sculpture. Of course, it would be an incredibly difficult thing to make such a print. A few old friends may remember that I once made an enlarger to make such huge prints. Another aspect of my interpretation of this sculpture is that I shot it in black and white. Any black and white image is certainly an interpretation of the original, since most of us see in color. Cole Weston was quoted as saying to his brother Brett “I see in color, don’t you?” I choose to shoot in black and white much of the time because I’m more interested in the shape and feel of my subjects and I want to push the viewers’ eye to see that way. That doesn’t mean I don’t use color; this image like most of my black and white images is subtly toned, which I hope affects the mood of the image. Of course, a print would allow me more control over the tone of an image because it wouldn’t be dependent on how you set up your monitor.

Often, I feel that sharing my images as small digital files is like listening to Tales From the Topographic Oceans done by the band Yes in 1973 on the original speaker of a 1967 Chrysler.  The sound that you hear are related to what the band recorded, but perhaps not closely related. Another disappointing aspect of sharing images this way is that the images from digital phones, and every other image making device out there, are the same size and on the same monitor as images that I crafted with large cameras and processed, painstakingly, in my darkroom.

When I began doing photograph, in the very early seventies, much of what we were taught was actually print making. In those days we were taught to print on silver chloride and silver bromide papers. In more recent times I’ve also learned to make Vandyke and cyanotype prints, both of which involve hand coating paper. I could scan and share these prints but you would lose just about every aspect of the prints which makes them special. Except for the cyanotypes which are a strong blue color. In addition to these types of prints I’ve also made type C prints and Cibachromes, both of which are color prints as well as a couple of platinum prints which are black and white. Print making is an art and craft which was once an integral part of photography; you could not learn to be a photographer without learning to be a print maker. Even when I started doing photography, by which time commercial color printing for amateur photographers was ubiquitous, photo classes always taught printmaking as part of the course. I was talking to another photographer, a guy who is really serious about it. He’s really into wet plate work, tin types and ambrotypes, but he has never actually seen a platinum print or a Vandyke print or an albumen print. These are all beautiful ways of presenting and interpreting a photographic image. One of the reasons that I like to shoot black and white film, rather than make wet plate negatives, is that I can print them in all these different ways. Truth be told, you can also convert your digital images into black and white negatives and print them out onto transparent media. You can make all these print types with these digital negatives. For a variety of reasons, I’ve made digital negatives of film images before printing them, this method works very well.

There are many very fine digital printers on the market and some very lovely papers designed for them. I certainly do not want to take anything away from the current Epson and Canon high end printers. I can’t think of any reason why I would want to make a color print using an enlarger and a darkroom. The simple fact is that these are better prints. Not only is the color spectacular, but the long-term stability of digital prints, if you do it right, is at least as good as prints made from color negatives using type C papers. The fact is that you can purchase one of these printers for much less than a 4×5 color enlarger would have cost you in 1980, in actual not corrected for inflation dollars, is fabulous. While people often mention the cost of paper and ink for these printers, you should have seen what paper and chemicals cost for color darkroom printing. I really like the Canon Pro 100 printer I use these days and I would certainly consider buying another printer from either Canon or Epson. These are terrific tools for color printing. They will also make a fine black and white print. But… the digitally printed black and white image is different from a darkroom print. The dyes or pigments used for the prints are different, and look different, from the silver halides used in traditional black and white prints. The digital prints will also look different, sometimes very different, from the various hand coated prints: Vandyke, cyanotype, platinum and so on. Still it’s no reason not to try and make black and white prints with an ink jet printer, and it might lead to hand made printing.

One more thing about digital printing: it’s really easy to make a bunch of prints. Thousands… So, I’ll sell a digital print for $75, but I won’t sell any darkroom print for less than $300, and some prints would be much more expensive. If you see any prints that you’re interested in on my site, or that I’ve posted, please contact me about buying a print!

In addition to buying images from me, PLEASE buy some photo books. I was looking around my office today and I have over 375 photo books, just in my office. You can look at the images of other photographers on line, and that will improve your seeing, but books allow the photographer to have greater control over the size color and presentation of the images. I believe that spending time with images, especially images the maker cared about, is the best way to improve your own image making.

I thought it might be good to close this post with another image of a sculpture. By way of contrast with the first image in this post, this piece is 3 inches high. It’s a monochromatic piece of work. So, I added color and built a background for the piece in this shot. Also, if you’re interested, I made this image BEFORE Photoshop. The shot was done on a single piece of film using light, multiple exposure and props, old school!

Check out my books at Amazon. I’m not sure the links will work, but you can search for me at Amazon. A digital print of Apache Mountain Spirit Dancer is available for $75 which includes shipping the U.S.A. Such a deal. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com to order this or another print. Thanks for your attention!

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

https://amzn.to/3tH5Dp9

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Post production and Marketing Techniques

https://amzn.to/3c8nLlU

March 22, 2021

Photography Through The Microscope!

Beginning with this post I am going to make prints of some of the images on my blog available. More information is posted at the end of this blog. Thanks for your support

Watch face DSC-2184

In the book Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance the author (Robert M. Pirsig) quotes an instruction booklet, that said “assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.” Macro and micro photography require that your peace of mind increase in direct proportion to the reduction in the size of the object you are photographing. It gets more difficult, and it requires more patience, as you get closer.

butterfly wing DSC-2184

Most people approach macro photography by purchasing some sort of macro lens which enables them to reproduce picture of an object at perhaps one quarter the size of the object in real life on the sensor of their camera, maybe even bigger.  So, one quarter reproduction means that if you had a 25 cent piece, a quarter in US language, you could take a picture four of them and stacked across the short distance of a full frame sensor sensor. And they would fit. The quarter is an inch wide and a full frame sensor is an inch wide (and an inch and a half long). If the quarter filled a full frame sensor it would be a 1:1 capture, or life size.

watch part  DSC2146

Macro photography is occasionally discussed in terms of where it begins and where it’s simply a close-up. I’m not sure that that’s terribly useful, but, when you are less than three feet from your subject with a more or less normal lens, you’re pretty close and it isn’t necessarily difficult to make that picture, depending upon the equipment you’re using. As you get within less than an inch of your subject it gets to be extremely difficult to shoot, and when you are within one or two millimeters of your subject, it becomes almost impossibly difficult to photograph. What I’m going to explain here is photography with the microscope, which is generally photography within less than an inch of the subject.

hair gel  _DSC2073

I will discuss other ways of doing close-up work in other postings. This posting is concerned with very, very close microscope work. This is not the usual way I approach this subject: in the past I’ve discussed macro photography and built up to micro and microscopic photography. That might make more sense. However, I’ve recently posted a lot of photographs made with the microscope, and so I hope that many people might be interested if I start there.

Leitz Microscope

The first thing about the microscope is to understand that the actual equipment that you need to do this kind of photography is easier to get, and less expensive, than you might think it would be. That’s important because one of the things I would hope that this discussion does is to encourage you to try this kind of micro photography or microscopy if you want to be more formal.

Leitz Microscope set-up

Before I write about the individual components of the camera/microscope combination, I’d like to give an overview of the set-up, from top to bottom. At the top is a digital SLR, the currently available cameras would be good for this. Next is a T-mount (more below) which connects the camera lens mount to a microscope adapter. This adapter is basically a hollow tube that fits between the camera and the eyepiece tube. The eyepiece is in the eyepiece tube, and it’s the first part for the optical system. The eyepiece tube is connected to the microscope head, where the lens or lenses are mounted. That lens is called the objective lens and it is the second part of the optical system. Below the objective lens is the stage, which is where you’ll place your subject. Under the stage there will often be an iris/condenser device, which can be used to change the quality of the light coming through the subject. Probably most scopes have a mirror below the condenser, but a few will have a light source. I think a mirror is more useful. At the bottom is the base, which is usually heavy to keep the whole thing stable.C14 The condenser, it helps to focus the light onto the subject

The large wheel is course focus and the small one is fine focus. They are often set up this way on modern scopes

The condenser, it helps to focus the light onto the subject.

A decent student grade microscope can be had for around a hundred and fifty dollars. This will do the job. Of course, you can spend much more on a microscope, but since you are not trying to accurately reproduce pictures of cell division or tiny crystalline structures (at least I’m hoping you’re not) a student grade microscope is a good choice. A student grade scope has course focusing and fine focusing, two separate knobs. It takes standard interchangeable eyepieces and interchangeable objective lenses with a standard thread. I’ll put a link to a student scope, and the rest of the stuff, at the end of the post.

Objective lenses on Lens turret

Eyepiece

In order to understand the reproduction ratio of a microscope for viewing it’s pretty simple. The eyepiece and the objective lens have numbers for their power, say 10x or 4x. Multiply the two numbers and you have the power of the system. So, if you have a 4X objective and 10X eyepiece, you would be viewing at 40 times life size, which is a nice range to work in. I’m not actually sure that this is exactly the power on your camera sensor, but whatever it is you’re damn close. When you make a print of the capture or reproduce it on your computer screen it gets larger still. So, you are frequently looking at things that may be a hundred, two hundred maybe even three hundred times life size on your computer screen, which is pretty impressive.

Microscope Adapter and T-mount

The adapters that you need to do this, in addition to the scope, are first a microscope adapter. This fits around the eyepiece tube on a standard microscope. Is available for less than $40. Surplus shed would be a good place to start looking for them. In addition, you will need a T-mount adapter. T-mount was an early interchangeable lens mount that is still used today. A T-mount lens could fit onto cameras with several different lens mounts, if you used the right adapter. And it remained unchanged and in use pretty much to this day. There are mounts for most current cameras, even mirrorless. T-mount is also used for telescopes and some other optical systems. You can also get old mirror lenses that use t-mount adapters. They can be a lot of fun. T-mounts are available from Surplus Shed and B&H Photo and any of a variety of suppliers.

The camera on top of the scope

Microscope and T-mount attached. They are screwed together

The microscope adapter is two pieces. It’s easier to mount the small piece on the scope and mount the larger piece onto the camera and then put them together on top of the scope.

You should start with the microscope arranged vertically. Most of the student grade microscopes, in fact, I think all of them, will tilt backwards to make it easier to sit and view your subject. Unfortunately, if you mount your camera on the microscope in this way, it will probably fall off the microscope and that would be a bad thing. So, you’ll set up the microscope vertically. Important safety tip. It is also very important to set the camera to use the self-timer. If you trigger the camera directly with the shutter release you will shake the camera and get fuzzy pictures. You could also use a remote release, but the self-timer works very well for microscope work.

Microscope lenses- Shown are a 4X Plan, a 25mm Zeiss Luminar and a Spencer 10X. This is the group I’ll usually put onto the scope.

I would always start with a 4X objective lens. I say this because one of the problems that you’ll get into, as I mentioned earlier, is the closer you get to your subject the more difficult it is to manage taking a picture of the subject. With a 4X objective lens, the lens will end up being between a quarter and three-quarters of an inch from your subject. That gives you just enough room to light the subject from above. It also gives you room to put a filter on the lens; it gives you room to do a whole lot of things. A 10X lens will be less than 3 millimeters from your subject, which makes it impossible, or close to impossible, to light your subject from above. You’ll only be able to work with transparent subjects with the 10X or more powerful lens. It’s more difficult to manage the focusing or positioning with the 10X lens. When a professional microscopist uses a 100X lens she/he will usually add oil to the top of the subject and then put the lens into the oil. There’s less reflectivity if you do this. You would only be able to photograph transparent subjects with light transmitted from below the stage. I have not tried to do this, and, unless I find some transparent subject that seems absolutely compelling to me, I am unlikely to try it in the future.

Eyepieces, Shown are a Leitz 6x and 10X and a Wollensak 15X and 20X

One of the things that may not come with a student-grade microscope is multiple eyepieces. And this is one of the things that you might very much want for photo microscopy such as I do. Since it’s so difficult to use more powerful objective lenses, you may find yourself wanting to change the eyepiece to change the power of the scope. Eye pieces come in a variety of strengths. I own a 4X eyepiece, a 10x eyepiece, a 15x eyepiece and a 20x eyepiece, which gives me some variety of reproduction powers. Surplus shed carries a number of different eyepieces and they would be a good place to start looking for eyepieces. A student grade microscope usually comes with a 10X eyepiece and that is a good place to start. Neither standard eyepieces or objective lenses are terribly expensive, compared to camera lenses. There are some special purpose objective lenses if you’d like an upgrade. If you find a PLAN objective lens it will be sharper than the lenses that come with most scopes. The biggest difference might be that an inexpensive objective lens will be more likely to be fuzzy at the sides of your image.

Geared stage

Most student microscopes have clips which will hold down a regular microscope slide. Then you position the slide, or other subject by moving it with your fingers under the scope. This is the biggest problem with inexpensive microscopes. Better scopes have a geared stage to move the subject around under the scope. If you really enjoy photo microscopy you might want to get a scope which has gears to control the position of the subject.

Lowell Pro light with Barn Doors

Lowel Pro light

The next thing you will need is a light source. Most student-grade microscopes and in fact most fancy microscopes only have a mirror below the lens. Most scopes also have a condenser between the mirror and the stage which changes the spread of the light that you’re using. I find that the condenser is not terribly useful to the way I approach microscopy, but you may find it helpful. Some student grade microscopes will not have a condenser. The actual light source that you use can be something as simple as a desk lamp or even the room light. And that will work very acceptably for an awful lot of work that you might do with the microscope. Look for a lamp that has a continuous spectrum or perhaps an LED light source. Stay away from fluorescent light sources because the spectrum can make it very difficult to get a true color reproduction or can change the color reproductions in unexpected ways. I find that I rarely look for accurate color in micro photography, especially because the images aren’t things we can usually see with the unaided eye. Often, I will use the 3200º Kelvin quartz light and either not compensate for the warm color shift of compensate in Adobe RAW when I open the image. A small light source gives you more control than a broad light source. At this point I am using a Lowel PRO quartz light, which provides much more light than any desk lamp. I like this a lot, but it’s not available new, there are generally several of them on eBay pretty inexpensively. Lowel still makes several more powerful quartz lights, like the Lowel Omni or Tota quartz light but these might be too hot for microscope work (they do get extremely hot).  A bright light source is especially important when I start to filter or modify the light because I will still have enough light to actually see the subject. Even without a filter it’s dark through a microscope; more so when the light has to go through the camera and into the viewfinder, after it leaves the microscope eyepiece. The next problem is to position the light source. The Lowel PRO quartz light can be attached to a regular light stand mount or it can be attached to a tripod mount. This enables you to use a ball head or another tripod head to position your lamp in relationship to your subject. This light also has barn doors which give you more control over the light. You can also move the microscope mirror which will help position the light; that is if you are lighting your subject from bellow. If you’re using a 4x objective lens you can also light a subject from above, which makes positioning the Lowel PRO light with a tripod head even more helpful. You can also use a strobe to light, even a dedicated camera flash. This can increase sharpness, because camera shake can be a problem, BUT, it’s very difficult to be sure what your subject will look like when you take the picture. Also, you’ll still need a bright light to focus.

The 4X lens focused on a feather. You have a good amount of room between the lens and the subject.

If you are using the 4X objective lens you will find that most of the focusing can be achieved with the course focus wheel on your scope. The fine focus wheel is useful when you try to use that 10X lens. You will also find that the objective lens will stay at about the same distance from you subjects, so if you get a sense of that distance you can set the scope at about the right distance before you look through the camera. Your actual focus is achieved by looking through the camera viewfinder. Since your microscope is set up vertically, it may help to place the scope on a low table or get something to help you stand above the scope. As you might imagine depth of field, holding things at different distances form the lens in acceptable focus, doesn’t really exist with microscopes. With few exceptions, notably Zeiss Luminar lenses, microscope lenses do not have diaphragms, so there is no way to adjust depth of field, that is if you had any… What you can do is use Photoshop to do focus stacking. In order to do this, you need to take a several pictures at different focus points. Photoshop will enable you to combine these images into a single image with better focus. This can be a very helpful technique. While it is outside the scope of this particular post you will find that there are plenty of tutorials on line. Or, you could wait for me to do a post about modifying micro images in Photoshop. If you do take images for photo stacking, you’ll want to take them at the same exposure.

Image without focus stacking

Image with focus stacking DSC2130

When I first worked with high magnification optical systems exposure was very difficult to calculate. I had to compensate for long bellows extension on the view camera as well as reciprocity failure form the long exposure times. It is still astonishing to me how much easier it is to get a great exposure with a digital camera. If you set your camera on aperture preferred, you’ll get a good exposure. You may want to add exposure compensation correction, if you want a darker or lighter exposure. You might want to see what an image looks like at different settings, just to get a better feel for how you can interpret your subject. Of course, you can also do a lot of interpretation after you capture the image in photoshop. These changes in exposure calculation are perhaps the biggest improvement in micro photography that I’ve seen in 40 years. The massive improvement in the amount of information that a sensor records, compared to 35mm film, is also very significant. I used to do micro photography with large format cameras and transparency film, which was really quite difficult.

Sodium Thiosulfate

As you look at the pictures of the set-up and the various tools I use, you might want to begin thinking about subjects. I’ve recently done some nice work with old watches and some shiny goo meant for hair. Jerome Russel used to be a client and they made some very shiny hair care products with glitter and other reflective materials. I’ve included shots of both here.

Watch Parts

Old Watch Parts DSC2210

Old Watch Parts DSC2207

Jerome Russel Hair stuff:

Hair goo-focus stacking DSC2069

Hair goo-focus stacking DSC2061

Hair goo-file heavily modified in Photoshop DSC2058

Of course, a lot of things have interesting colors. Below are a couple of shots of dried Selenium toner, which is used in the wet darkroom to add color to B&W prints.

Selenium Toner DSC1999

Selenium Toner-file heavily modified in Photoshop DSC2000

Let’s not forget living things. These are a couple of pictures of butterfly wings. Bet you didn’t visualize them looking like this.

Butterfly wing DSC2050

Butterfly wing DSC2046

I mentioned filters above. There’s a lot of science behind this trick, but I’m going to cut direct to the chase. Put certain transparent materials, things like plastics and sodium thiosulfate (B&W fixer from the wet darkroom) between two polarizing filters. As you rotate one of the filters colors will start to appear. FUN! But, as I mentioned above, you need a lot of light. These shots are of a plastic prop ice cube. You can get interesting results, but you’ll need to experiment. Frankly all of photo microscopy requires an experimental attitude.

Plastic Prop Ice Cube-Dual Polarization

Sodium thiosulfate, fixer in the B&W darkroom-Dual Polarization DSC2025

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I am now offering prints of many of these images. If the caption has an index code like DSC1234 you can buy a print! Right now, all prints are set to fit on an 11×14 inch piece of paper. If the image is too thin it will have white paper on the sides. I am printing with an archival ink/paper combination. Prints are shipped by USPS priority mail to anywhere in the US that’s covered by Priority Mail service. The price is $75 for the first print and $60 for each additional print ordered at the same time. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com and include index code and your address. I will send you a PayPal request to arrange payment. I will be adding old and new images to this service. If you see an image on my site you would like to purchase please tell me where you found it and I’ll try to make it available to you. Thanks for your support!

A few links to the items mentioned in the post:

Student scope:

https://www.surplusshed.com/pages/item/T1480D.html

Microscope adapter:

https://www.surplusshed.com/pages/item/M1573D.html

Sony T-mount:

https://amzn.to/3s7xGOa

Nikon T-mount:

https://amzn.to/312M2DC

Canon T-mount

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/261256-REG/Celestron_93419_T_Mount_SLR_Camera_Adapter.html

And my books!
Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

https://amzn.to/3tH5Dp9

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Postproduction and Marketing Techniques

https://amzn.to/3c8nLlU

November 8, 2020

Digital Shooting is Different!

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Digital Photography,Looking at Photographs — John Siskin @ 3:12 pm

There are over 600 images attached to this blog post, probably excessive… Please take a look. Due to the number of images I’ve decided to place them after the text. If you only want to look at the images please scroll right through the text. Please note, all of these images were shot by me in 2020. They are covered by any and all applicable copyright law. Thanks!

I’ve had several discussions, over the years about the difference between digital and analog photography. When I first started to do a blog I did some posts about the things that hadn’t changed, the things that carried over from film to digital. Some of that stuff is in this article: file:///Users/siskin/Downloads/basic-1.pdf. This made the point that many of the basics of photographic capture, things like aperture and shutter speed and design, don’t really change when you’re shooting digital. Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people, including photo instructors, who want to work with a digital camera as if it is a film camera. You can certainly do this, but it ignores some of the great advantages of digital shooting.

Since I got out to New Mexico most of my time, photographically, has been spent with film cameras. I don’t want to try to justify that choice, except by saying I’m having a lot of fun playing with film cameras. Since most of my time as a commercial photographer and teacher, for many years, has been largely spent with digital cameras, I’m very aware of differences in the way I shoot digital and film. This blog post is about a very basic and EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, differences between shooting film and digital: MONEY and TIME. Every time you press the shutter button on a film camera you have committed to a financial expenditure. Maybe you think, but it’s not a lot, it shouldn’t be important to your shooting decisions. Here’s the thing, it’s not a lot, if you shoot a digital camera like a film camera, BUT, if you shoot it like a digital camera, it should be a lot. Later in this blog I’m going to present the shots I took at Leonora Curtin Wetlands, a couple of weeks ago. The first time I went with a film camera, and shot about 8 images. I went back a few days later with my digital camera and shot 700 images. The film cost about $8 dollars. I took be about an hour to process the roll and another hour to scan the images. If I’d shot film, I’d have spent about $85 dollars and say a couple of days to process and scan all those shots…

My Mamiya Press camera is a little tricky to use and it has questionable ergonomics; the Nikon D800 is easy to use and a dream to handle. Why do I insist on working with film cameras, and while we’re at it why do people climb mountains… Ansel Adams often spent a lot of time on making each image, at best his 4×5 camera and tripod took minutes to set up, so he put a lot of effort into each negative. Jay Maisel was also, originally, a film photographer. Instead of a 4×5 camera he was using 35mm cameras. The thing about Jay is that he shot a ton of film! I’ve heard him speak and have some of his books. One of my articles even appeared in a magazine that featured his work. He is a terrific photographer and you should look at his work. Every story I’ve heard about him stresses how many photographs he takes, how much film he used. It was EXPENSIVE to shoot like Jay. Of course, he had a big budget for his shoots…

The thing is that digital capture separates pushing the shutter button from emptying your wallet. SO, SHOOT LIKE JAY MAISEL!!

But then I have to edit all those images…

Of course, did you think that buying an expensive camera made you a better photographer? Editing makes you a better photographer.

Over the years I’ve talked to a lot of stock photographers, magazine photographers and photo teachers. The stock photographers and the magazine photographers will always tell you to “frame loosely”, leave a little extra space in your composition. And, they’ll remind you to shoot both vertical and horizontal versions of your subject. The reason is that when you sell that image you don’t know what the buyer will want to do with it: maybe they’ll need a little extra room for a title or for a label. I’ve heard a lot of photo teachers harangue students to make their compositions in the camera; to do their final framing in the view finder. This is a good exercise, and it was sort of important if you were shooting slides for projection, but it’s not good advice for digital shooting. Those ideas were important when folks were shooting 35mm film. Today, people have forgotten how little resolution 35mm film had. You could make a good 8×10 inch print, if you didn’t crop much. If you had a really graphic composition a bigger print would work, but a double page spread in Life Magazine wasn’t going to look great. So, people were using bigger film, much of the time. Like my Mamiya Press camera, which uses 6x9cm film. As you may know, I often shoot much bigger film, 8×10 inch and 11×14 inch negatives! Modern digital cameras have huge files, which can translate into either huge prints, or cropping without a loss in image resolution. The files from my Nikon will print at 24×16 inches at 300 dpi, fantastic resolution! Even the files from my phone camera have more resolution than the 35mm film I used when I started out. So shoot loosely!

In the old days, most of us spent a good deal of time in the darkroom. It was part of basic training. First, if a photographer didn’t understand the whole process, he/she was often handicapped in dealing with a professional lab: you didn’t know what they could and couldn’t do. Of course, there were lazy photographers, people who dropped the film off and assumed that the lab would do right by them. If you were a wedding shooter, and went to a pro lab that was good at weddings, this generally worked out. If you dropped your film off at the drug store your work often looked lousy. Today, with digital, a good photographer needs to have a real familiarity with digital image processing. You can get services like www.deepetch to do the work for you, but just like with an old school professional lab, you need to communicate with them. You can also work with Photoshop or Lightroom and get great results on your own, and your hands won’t smell like fixer. The bottom line is that you’re going to have to have some involvement in the interpretation of the image after the shot. Shooting loosely doesn’t mean that your finished images should be loose!

I’ve already done a blog post about editing: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3362. Editing is very difficult process; it can be heart breaking. In this post I’ve included a proof sheet of the 8 images I shot with my film camera at Leonora Curtin Wetlands. One shot was ruined by my mistake, and I took 3 shots through Photoshop. This was a quick shoot; I was only there for about a half hour because the place was closing. Because of the short time I kept the wide-angle lens on the camera the whole time. Three out of eight is pretty good odds…

I went back a couple of days later with the digital camera: Nikon D800. I had a few hours to shoot, which would have changed the original shoot as well. The big change was that I shot like a digital photographer. I shot 700 images. I’ve attached 608 of the images to this blog. I kept the others back because they had people in them and I didn’t bother to get model releases from those folks. If you plan on selling your shots you better plan on getting model release forms filled out. Regardless, it’s a hell of a lot of pictures. I edited these files several times. It took a while, and I put it off for a while. It’s often better to edit after you’ve spent a few days away from the shoot. You’re more likely to edit the images for effect, rather than the experience of making the shot. I used to ask students to trade raw images with each other so that they could get the feeling of editing, truly independent of shooting. This is great exercise. We often forget that the viewer won’t have the experience of making the shot, they only have what we choose to share. I finished 15 shots in Photoshop, not such good odds, but odds on, better images. I’ve included all these images so that you can get the idea of what it’s like to edit a big shoot.

For the digital shoot I had four lenses, all manual focus. It’s not that I don’t have, or use, autofocus lenses, but I felt I needed some practice with these lenses. As I’ve written before, it’s extremely important for photographers to PRACTICE. I had the Vivitar Series 1, 90-180 Flat Field zoom lens F4.5. This is a very unusual lens design. It was supposed to have been designed for medical photography. The one I have now is wicked sharp, but what really makes this lens different is that it CONTINUOUSLY focuses from infinity to macro. I know of only one other zoom lens that would do that: the Nikkor 70-180, discontinued now. Both these lenses are rare and rather expensive for older manual focus used lenses. The Vivitar is really great for shooting product because it has a tripod collar, which makes it really easy to charge the camera orientation without changing the centering. I also took the Lomography Daguerreotype Achromat. This is a modern lens built with a similar optical design to 19th century lenses. It’s a beautiful thing, actually gold plated. It makes very soft images. You’ll be able to pick them out of the attached images pretty easily. I was using it wide open, f2.9, which adds to the softness. Then I took the Nikkor 35mm PC. lens f2.8. This is a very manual lens with a manual diaphragm. What makes it interesting is that it is a shift lens. You can move the center of the lens in relation to the center of the film. Usually this is used for shooting architecture, but in this case, I just wanted to play with it. Finally I had the 14mm f2.8 Rokinon, which is just incredibly wide! There are no prizes for figuring out which images are made with which lens. In fact, since these lenses don’t leave a trace in the exif files, I don’t know myself. I really should keep better records.

I am sure you would choose different images to work with than I did. I am sure you would process the images differently than I did. That is an essential part of our individual expression. I would like to hear your thoughts about these images. Please e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com with your thoughts! Unfortunately, I had to close the comments on this blog long ago, but I’ll add your comments at the end.

Shoot #1-Mamiya Press with 50mm lens-Processed images:

Shoot #1-Mamiya Press with 50mm lens-Proof sheet

contact sheet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shoot #2-Nikon D800-Processed images

Shoot #2-Nikon D800-Original images

Wow, you’re still here? Thanks! If you have any comments e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com!

 

July 16, 2018

Large Format Photography Class

I am teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis this quarter. I will be posting a lot of information from this class, and edited audio versions of the lectures here, on my blog. If you would like to help edit the lectures please let me know! This is my first attempt at a pod cast, and it has some glitches. The information is good, and the presenter is enthusiastic

Here is the link to the first podcast:

I mentioned the quiz that I gave my students in a Facebook post. I was very disappointed by the outcome of the quiz I presented. So the first thing I want to do is go over the questions and answers, and how to get the right answers.

Question 1: You are shooting a waterfall. Your camera is on a tripod. The exposure is ISO 400 f8 and 1/125th of a second. You decide to use a 1/15 of a second to blur the water. You change your ISO to 100, what is your aperture?

The number of stops between 1/125 and 1/15 is 3. The change in the ISO, from 400 to 100 is 1 stop. So you need to change your aperture by 1 stop, that is from f8 to f11. The answer is f11.

Question 2. What stop is 3 stops less light that f5.6

1 stop less light is f8, 2 stops is f11 and three stops is f16. The answer is f16

Your exposure is 1/125th of a second and f4 and ISO 200. You want to use f8 and keep your shutter speed at 1/125 what would you change your ISO setting to?

The difference between f 4 and f8 is 2 stops. So you need to change your ISO by 2 stops. ISO 400 is one stop, 2 Stops is ISO 800. The answer is ISO 800

The standard shutter speeds are

1, ½, ¼, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1,250, 1/500, 1/1000.

Each change lets in less light

The standard apertures are

1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22

Each change lets in less light

The standard ISO numbers are

100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

Each change INCREASES sensitivity

The difference between any two of these numbers, say f8 and f11 or 1/125 and 1/250 or ISO 100 and ISO 200 is one stop. That is the same amount of light. A one stop aperture change changes the exposure in the same way a one stop change in shutter speed or a one stop change in ISO would. You make decisions primarily based on how you want to affect depth of field or stop action.

There are intermediate numbers, like f1.8 or 1/100 or ISO 125. These are between the full stop numbers. They are generally a ½ or 1/3 stop change from a full aperture number or shutter speed. The eye can recognize a 1/3 stop change.

You should KNOW THESE NUMBERS.

This is a photomicrograph of an Autochrome. Autochromes were the first easy, well sort of easy, way to make color photographs. It shows how red green and blue particles of potato starch are used to record color with a monochrome emulsion. Some of you may be aware that this is how your digital camera records color. Red green and blue are recorded by specific pixels. Digital cameras use a Bayer Filter to record this information rather than the random potato starch grains of an Autochrome, but your digital camera uses a solution from 1907 to take color pictures!

These articles have some bearing on the subject of this and the next few posts.

Hand Assembling Lenses for the View Camera

Microphotography

Camera Building

And, just a reminder, here is the link to my DIY Page.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are almost 8500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

August 22, 2017

Dedicated Strobe Test

Over the years I’ve written and taught many times about lighting gear. I believe that any photographer who is wholly dependent on finding good light, rather than being able to make and modify light, when making a picture is limited in ability. While I recognize that there are many photographic artists who work in this manner, it is just not acceptable for a commercial photographer to be limited in this way. I should point out that you still purchase my book on this strobe lighting, just click on the link below.

The tools of light are evolving, as are all the tools of photography. When I first started making pictures on camera electronic flash was pretty new. It was also not very good. Now there are many fine lighting tools that work with digital cameras. Of course this doesn’t solve the biggest problem of portable flash units: you can’t see the light you’re actually photographing. An on camera flash makes light at your camera, so, if you’re not careful, you’ll get the dear in the headlights effect and red eyes. Any lighting unit is only as good as the visualization or lighting control of the photographer. Automation doesn’t make good pictures, just properly exposed pictures. It takes a photographer to make good pictures.

Since I started teaching at the Art Institute of Indianapolis I’ve had to discuss lighting tools almost constantly. The tools I’ve used for decades aren’t practical or available for the students. It seems ridiculous to suggest that twenty something students buy strobes older than they are. So I’ve been evaluating many of the current products. I have just a couple of important parameters for evaluating a flash: light and price.

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

It may seem obvious that I would evaluate a flash based on actual light output, but I’ve had a couple of conversations lately that make me think it’s not obvious.

Photographers have told me that, since their cameras make very fine images at very high ISO setting, they don’t need a lot of strobe power. I’ll admit that a high ISO is a wonderful thing and that it does change they way you can use lighting tools in many situations but it can’t solve every problem. And that is the issue: not light quantity but light problems. A little bit of light can improve the images you take at an event even if you’re shooting at ISO 1600, but that’s not the only problem you’d like to solve with a camera amounted flash. The biggest problem for a dedicated flash is flash fill in sunlight. I refer to this as the ribbon-cutting problem. Your job requires you to shoot a group of people outdoors in the middle of the day, say an opening of a new store. There is a group of people standing around. You can’t change the light on the group or change the angle, simply because they have to be shot in front of building, and right now. The folks look a little like raccoons because of the shadows created by their brows, chins and so on. There isn’t any way to solve this problem with a reflector, unless the reflector is the size of a truck. You can solve this problem with a flash. The technique is called flash fill. The idea is to use a strobe that will fill in your shadows. You need ¼ to ½ the amount of light from your strobe that you get from daylight to make the ribbon-cutting shot work. In other situations you may use much less or, perhaps, even more fill flash. The Daylight 16 Rule states that you set your shutter speed to match your ISO and shoot at f16 for a full daylight shot: ISO 100, 1/100 and f16. Since this is a group you’ll be about 10 feet from all of them. In order to make this work you’ll need an exposure f11 from your strobe, or if you can shoot at 1/200 then f8. This would put your flash power at ½ the daylight exposure, or 1 stop less than daylight. This level of light will do a good job of filling your shadows.

You may be thinking, but the new strobes allow me to sync at higher speeds, so I’ll just raise the sync speed and then I can use less strobe. Doesn’t work. As you use higher sync speed the strobe has to fire more times so you get less total light in the shot. The power drops off very fast, so the fastest speed you can use for the ribbon cutting shot is they original sync speed of your camera, probably around 1/200 for a modern digital camera. Raising the ISO just raises the shutter speed, so that doesn’t work either.

 

No Flash

Flash Fill using the Godox TT685

So it would be very useful if we knew what aperture we could use with a flash at 10 feet from the subject with ISO 100. Good news and bad news on this subject. The good news is that most dedicated flash units are evaluated using a metric called guide numbers. Guide numbers are often done in feet and in meters, for our purpose the guide number measured in feet is the most useful. The guide number in feet is the aperture the strobe would give you at 10 feet from the subject at multiplied by 10. So if your flash is 10 feet from the subject, and the exposure is f5.6, your guide number is 56. Of course this is measured without any other light source. If the f-stop at 10 feet is f8-1/3 then the guide number would be 90. This isn’t rocket science, and using this information we can see that we’d need at least a guide number of 80 and we’d like to have 110. Now the bad news: while the manufactures usually list guide numbers for flash units they lie about the numbers.

I don’t mean they lie just a little, they lie A LOT! I tested the Sunpak 120J II. The manufacturer’s listed guide number is 177. The actual guide number is 50. The difference is about 4 stops. That means the unit has about 1/8th the power that Sunpak says it does. If I took the unit to the ribbon cutting I would fail. While Sunpak lies a lot, most of the manufacturers are lying by 2 or more stops. One notable exception here, the NIKON SB910 has a guide number of 111 according to Nikon and my test says that’s true. I also tested the Youngnuo YN685, which had a real guide number of 70; the Bolt VS570, which had guide number of 90, and the Polaroid PL190, which had a guide number of 60. I also tested a couple of classic strobes, Norman 200B, guide number of 120: the original Quantum Turbo, guide number 90, and some other things.

The second consideration I mentioned above is price. There are quite a number of dedicated flash units priced between $100 and $200. I like this price point for a couple of reasons: first it’s doable for my students at the Art Institute. Second it allows you to buy several units for what one Nikon unit would cost: $597.00. While a little extra power is good, several units will allow more creative lighting and offer back up when something breaks.

So what did I find out? The best unit for price and power is the Godox TT685. It has a guide number of about 90. It costs $119 at B&H or Amazon.
I would like t than B&H. I’ve ordered half a dozen different flash units, tested them and returned them. They are just great about returns. I couldn’t have afforded to test so many units without the returns department at B&H. Thanks folks!

Using the Godox TT685

No Flash

I’ll be writing more about working with the Godox soon! By the way the shots are from the Indiana State Fair.

Oh, and one more thing, you can get my book on Photographing architecture at this link:

December 27, 2016

On Editing

Griffith Observatory

I have been a working professional photographer for several decades. I actually started taking pictures much earlier. In all that time I’ve never lost my love of actually making an exposure. There is a hopefulness about each exposure: maybe this one will be great or maybe this one will please the client. The actual moment of creation is special.

The thing is, taking a picture is a personal moment. Inevitably there is something left out of the frame. It might be the experience of getting to the shoot or something completely unrelated. If I had a great breakfast before the shoot that part of my experience will never be part of the picture. Perhaps this is obvious, put most people taking pictures seem to miss this fact. One of the signs that the experience is outside the frame of the picture is when the photographer needs to explain the shot. Since most people take pictures to make a sort of visual diary of there lives this is a natural part of picture taking. Most people take picture to capture a part of there experience: this is what my child looked like at three or this is where I stayed on my last vacation. I think that this has a lot to do with the popularity of selfies. Of course I occasionally take pictures to capture moments of my life, but such pictures are not my business.

I make a lot of photograph for clients and for art. When I make a photograph I am shooting to communicate with the viewer of the photograph rather than trying to save a personal experience. This means that I must understand the way a viewer will see my photograph. The viewer will never have the experience of pushing down the shutter button. He or she comes to the photograph with a whole different set of expectations and experience than I had when I made the image. First the viewer expects to be shown something interesting. When I make photographs I am always involved in a process of discovery. I am trying to find what is interesting, compelling or just effective in an image. The viewer expects to be shown what I found; they do not expect to make their own journey of discovery. While it might be interesting to create art that requires such a journey on the part of the viewer, effective photographs present the viewer with the discovered.

Editing is the process of choosing what to share with the viewer. What I choose to share depends on the viewer. If I am working for other creatives, for instance an ad agency or a graphic designer I might share everything. Such people expect to go on to do their own process of discovery in my images. However if the images are for other uses, whether for business or for art, I need to choose images that will communicate with the intended viewers. I need to see my images as other people will see them. It can be very difficult to see images in this way. I must pay attention to what is in the frame, and how others see that content, and just what a photograph can actually communicate. This is a difficult process. Many good photographers are unable to make the shift to editor. I’ve often been shown images that represent something very special to the photographer, but weren’t effective in communicating to any one else. I’ve done this myself: tried to explain what was great about an image I made, only to realize that my audience was only concerned with the actual image.

When I edit my first step is to get rid of all the images that are so technically flawed that nothing can be done with them. While I don’t actually destroy any digital files or negatives, I don’t keep such images in the folder I’m editing. If I’m working with digital files my next step is to do basic corrections for color and exposure on any images that will benefit. Usually I can do this in batches, so it doesn’t take very long. If I’m working with another creative, or a client that wants to see everything, I may present all these images. I only present images at this stage if the client wants to be part of the editing process. The client often has special information they want to display or special insights into how they present their images. I never know everything a client knows; they always have special expertise. It’s important to use that information. So it can be very important to engage the client in the editing process. If I’m working for a client that wants to see only choice images I need to start to see like the client, and I have to start making more difficult picks.

On another pass through the images I’ll pick out any image that is particularly effective. At this point I am always looking for what is good about an image. I’m still trying to be inclusive. So I might keep an image that has a particularly effective portion, even if part of the image is flawed. If I have several images that are redundant this is the point where I’ll let some of them go. I’ll also pick out images that are grouped for special handling, say a group of shots that were made for HDR or focus staking. No part of photography is divorced from the technology of image making, but this process of examining images is effective if I’m using a loupe and grease pencil on a proof sheet or Lightroom. In fact I usually use Adobe Bridge and Adobe Raw to handle digital images.

At this point I begin to edit the actual image rather than the editing the shoot. This is a very important transition. Of course I’m going to continue to throw out images, for technical and esthetic reasons, but the next step is to begin edition the individual images. At this point it’s even more important to look at the images as a viewer would. Remember that the viewer won’t recreate the moment of capturing the image. Just like a client you have special information, but it may not be possible to express that experience in your photograph. So it’s time to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t work in an image. This means crop your image. There was an idea among photographers that you should crop the image in camera; that the actual image captured in the camera was almost sacred. One of the reasons for this was that we shot a lot slides, which were used for projection. You couldn’t edit these images, without a great deal of special handling: what you shot was what you showed. With current digital cameras there is no technical reason to shoot this way. In fact there are good reasons to shoot a little extra around your image, for instance you may need to do perspective control or compensate for lens distortion. It is also possible that an image may work best in another shape. There is nothing special about the 2:3 ratio of most digital sensors, square images or different rectangles may work better. It’s even possible that a circle or oval might be the best choice for the image. It’s important to be guided by the image rather than by a frame size or print size. If I end up with a special size image I can always mat the image for a standard frame.

Cropping is so important. It tells the viewer what to look at and keeps the viewer’s eye engaged with the photograph. I have seen so many images that would benefit from a little judicious cropping. There are probably a number of technical things I’ll do to an image when I first open it in Adobe Raw, but nothing is more important to the finished image than cropping. I may crop as a multi-step process, doing a rough crop in Adobe Raw and doing my final cropping in Photoshop. Of course this two-step process is particularly important if I’m going to be doing a perspective crop.

I think that Photoshop has had a more significant and lasting affect on image making than digital cameras have. The previous technology: either wet darkroom or offset printing, didn’t allow for much image manipulation, at least not without extreme costs. Photoshop allows us to get into the image and perfect it. As photographers we should use these tools to create a better visual experience for the viewer. There are so many ways to do this that are beyond the scope of this essay. However it’s important to be open to utilizing this tool kit. Whether you choose to do become a Photoshop expert or to send out your retouching you need to have an idea of the possible. There are limits for photojournalistic images, but those limits don’t apply to personal work, however it’s still important to keeps the viewer’s experience in your mind. Keeping a sense of the real is important to engaging a viewer.

If you’re still reading this you may want to share it. That’s ok with me, but please attribute it to me, for good or ill. If you have another opinion I’d like to hear it. You can e-mail me at john@siskinphoto.com.

My home page is at

http://www.siskinphoto.com/index.php

If you’re interested in more information from me you can find my workshops at:

http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php

There are a couple of free classes that I used to offer through BetterPhoto, on the page as well.

You can read my magazine articles at:

http://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php

There are a couple of dozen of them at that link, all free.

You can also find my books at Amazon, of course you’ll have to pay for them:

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

Photographing Architecture

My blog is at

http://siskinphoto.com/blog/

and I’ve posted this essay at the blog.

And just for fun here’s a link to my do it yourself page

http://www.siskinphoto.com/cameraeqp.php

 

 

 

December 15, 2015

Gyroscope #1

Filed under: Digital Photography,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 1:28 pm

 

Gyroscope #1

Gyroscope #1

The images I’ve posted to this blog recently have all been shot on film. As I post more images for the fine art pages of my blog I’ll be posting more digital images. I wanted to start with this image because it’s one of the first digital fine art images I made. My first digital camera was a Leaf DCB II, which fit onto the back of Mamiya RZ camera. This was a real early digital capture device, sort of a bad marriage of a film camera and a digital camera. The Leaf back was actually only capable of recording a black and white shot. In order to make a color shot the camera shot three images through a red, green and blue filter. The software added the images together to make the color file. This was a HUGE PAIN IN THE BUTT. The position of files needed to be adjusted on each shot. Since the camera took three images it took quite a while to make each shot. You couldn’t take a shot of anything that moved. The camera needed to be tethered to a desktop computer, so it was a real problem to take on location. I was the second owner of the back, and it still cost $6000-six thousand dollars. The image was only three megapixels.

Gyroscope #11

Gyroscope #11

If the subject moved during the shot, or if the lights moved, the image changed. I’d all ready worked with images built of three exposures. I did this on location with waterfalls to add rainbows to the water. I’ve added a shot of Buckhorn Falls to this blog to show how this effect works. In the shot at the top of the blog (Gyroscope #1) I kept the light in the same shot but the outer frame of the gyroscope moved. In Gyroscope #11 I moved the light around between the three exposures. You can see how the light position changed the color of the clear glass I put the gyroscope on.

Buckhorn Falls #2 Shot on 4X5 Ektachrome

Buckhorn Falls #2 Shot on 4X5 Ektachrome

If you’d like to buy either of the Gyroscope images You can use the link below. I’ll mount and mat the images on 11X14 inch board, and the actual image will be just 10 inches tall. That’s as big as the files really want to print. Since these images are smaller you can get these images for only $80 by using the link below. Please tell me which image you want by e-mail (john@siskinphoto.com). I’ll make a special deal if you want both images. I’ll be putting up Buckhorn Falls #2 as a separate post soon, with it’s own sales link.


You can buy one of my books at these links

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: john@siskinphoto.com. Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

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