Photo Notes

February 13, 2011

Editing Images

Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 7:22 pm

Before I get to the shameless plugs for my book and stuff, I’d like to mention something I think is important. Over the last few days I’ve traded a couple of e-mails with one of my students who is an Egyptian. It is a remarkable experience to have such a connection to world events. This would not have happened to me without BetterPhoto. I truly have a world full of connections because I shared what I know and the photographs I’ve made with the world through BetterPhoto. I urge you to get connected, either with BetterPhoto or in some other way. I wish the Egyptian people good fortune in their new adventure.

And here are the shameless plugs. My book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on The wonderful folks at Shutterbug magazine are printing a 3 page excerpt in the current issue. Please pick up the magazine.  Here is a sample chapter from the book. Of course I still hope that you will consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. Frankly purchases of this book mean a lot to me, and it is also a fine gift for any occasion. As you know I teach for I really hope you’ll sign up my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Sign up are very good this month!

This shot was done with 4X5 film so there were significant expenses.

Back in the misty depths of time I was a large format photographer. I shot mostly on 4X5 and 8X10 film, which was expensive. A single piece of processed 4X5 film was about $4 and a sheet of Polaroid was $3. An average shot took 2 Polaroids and 2 pieces of film, so $14 per shot. Expenses were marked up for the client so film and Polaroid were a very significant part of the client’s bill. The reason I mention this is that I didn’t shoot many extra images, so I didn’t need to edit. You edited with the Polaroids, and the set-ups, getting the shot perfected before you took it. When I began using digital it became obvious that since an additional image had no additional cost more images would get made. Of course this means that editing is very important.

I made about 250 exposures on this shoot.

The number of images I shoot has continued to go up as digital equipment has improved and the cost of memory has come down. I did a typical construction shoot last week. I shot about 250 images of earth moving equipment. I love it when the earth moves. The problem is that the client needs only about 20 images. So I need to edit.

I know photographers who claim that they just can’t edit their own work. I think that anytime you tell me what you can’t do you are probably

A musician's head shot

right. But I also ask myself what kind of a photographer will limit himself or herself by saying that he/she can’t something? There are things I can’t do now, but if I wanted to do them I would learn. Some skills are hard to learn, but a professional will find a way to learn them. An amateur might not feel that they want to learn a skill, and that makes sense, because they are doing photography for personal expression.

When I take a photograph there is always a personal element to it. I am affected by the day, the people, the nature of the job and so on. The thing is that this won’t be part of my picture; my picture is only what I put in the frame. So when I look at a group of images the first thing is to concentrate only on what other people will see. I need to analyze the shot as someone else would see it. This isn’t all that difficult to learn, but it is really important. Most people use photography to diarize their

The musician doing a stock shot.

lives, to remember the moments of their own life. This is exactly what you need to avoid if you are making pictures for someone else. The first thing I look for is will the shot interest the intended audience.

The next step is to understand my shot in terms of the purpose of the shot. So I wouldn’t expect a shot of a musician to look like a shot of a realtor. If I’m shooting construction the look is going to be grittier and more graphic than the shot I would do of a finished home. I may have shots that would be excellent for family, but not for commercial usage. The client gets a group of the images for their stated purpose, but I may include additional images in a separate folder.

For analysis and for understanding my shots, I’ll probably

I did quite a number of similar images, but this had a little more emotional impact. I had to compare several images to make the decision.

use a fairly small version of the shot in an editing program. I use Adobe Bridge most of the time. I may edit with 4 or 5 images on a row. But for the next step I’m going to look at the images much larger. In the early editing process I’m looking for things that keep the image from working. In the final edit I’m looking for what makes the image work.

I want to think in terms of the graphic nature of the image, is it strong or subtle? I want to think about the nuances of expression, how intimate is an image? I want to think about color and technical aspects of an image.

One more thing: you want to go back to your images, in a few months or a year, to see if you’ve missed anything. As much as I try to see my shots from outside the experience of the shoot, putting some distance in time between editing and shooting will still change the way I see my work.

I hope you’ll suggest my BetterPhoto class An Introduction to Photographic Lighting to other photographers you know, or perhaps you’d like to give it as a gift? Amherst media sent me the cover for my second book, you can see it here, of course you can still buy my first book on Amazon . Also if you look at the March issue of Shutterbug you’ll find a three page excerpt from my book. I am so pleased that they did this., The better way to learn photography

October 31, 2010

Involuntary Time Travel

Filed under: My Books!,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 10:00 pm

I’ve been doing a lot of editing lately, as a result of the book projects I’ve been working on. Lately I’ve needed to look in the old files. I have film files going back to the early 1970ies at least. I have black and white negatives, color negatives and transparencies. I have 35mm, 120, 4X5, 8X10 and Minox, and don’t forget the stereo slides. I have multiple filing cabinets. By now I must have thousands of CDs and DVDs as well as floppies and what not. I can find things, but not everything is in the first place I look. The really heartbreaking this is when you find something that has been damaged over the years. I didn’t always use archival materials to store my originals.

The biggest problem is what I call Involuntary Time Travel. When you find an image that takes you back to college, or even to high school. Or you do nothing but wonder about what that person is doing now, a quarter century later. When I start looking through the files I visit my past. A good image can evoke powerful feelings. Photography is a really important way to diarize a life; to enable us to revisit the past. But it is much more than that, because we can create images that allow us to communicate with others. My goal is to help people improve their communication skills. To help others speak more clearly.To that end I just finished two more books! My first book is about lighting photographs: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers. It’s on sale now. The link is to Amazon. I hope you’ll pick up a copy. You can see some of the book at Amazon, this link is to the chapter on Portraiture. I just finished a second book for the same publisher on lighting interiors, this book will be available in about a year.
The book that really sent me time traveling is a collection of personal images called B Four. The images are from the beach, buildings, being and beauty. There was a lot of editing involved. I really hope you’ll take time to look at the book, and of course it would mean a lot if you bought a copy. I did the book with blurb so that I could make the decisions about content. I’ve included a few of the images from B Four with this blog.

Please consider taking one of my classes, or even recommending them. I have three classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography, The better way to learn photography

September 5, 2010

Controlling the Viewers’ Eyes

I’ve written several times about making and taking photographs. My main goal in making a photograph is to keep the viewer engaged with the photograph. If a person looks at an image and says “picture of a motorcycle” and moves on, you haven’t really got any attention. If they look at the shot, and spend time staring at the motorcycle, that’s much better.

One of the ways to keep a viewer engaged in a shot is to give them color and line and shape, but not give them a recognizable object. I enjoy making images of this sort. As you may know, from this blog and my magazine articles, I make a lot of abstract images with the microscope.  I was asked to participate in a show last week, and I will probably bring these abstract images.

There are other ways to keep the viewer engaged. One is to place the subject on the left side of the frame, since the viewer’s eye often enters the frame from the upper left it is a good idea to have the subject near that corner of the shot. The eye starts in this corner because this is how people are taught to read English, I have had students who learned to read in the opposite direction, and they seemed to frame in the opposite direction way. Still, people often shoot the subject on the right side of the frame. They scan from the left finally find something on the right and hit the shutter. People could make better pictures if they took more time to re-frame the image.

Another way to influence the viewers’ eye is the use of sharp focus and soft focus in the image. Since the eye is looking for a subject it will naturally look for the sharpest areas of the image. The eye will also look at lighter areas of the image, so you can use these ideas to make better portraits, product shots and even action shots. You can manipulate the focus in an image after you shoot it, with Photoshop or another image manipulation tool. I also like doing this in camera. I use depth of field, dragging the shutter or panning the camera to give different effects. Depth of field is the area that is in focus in front of and behind the actual point where the lens is focused. The amount of distance, that is in focus, is changed by the aperture: a smaller aperture gives more depth of field and a larger aperture gives less. So a wide aperture would allow you to use depth of field to isolate the subject of your shot. There is more information about the aperture in an earlier blog entry.

Shutter drag, or dragging the shutter, is a way to mix the instantaneous light from a strobe with a long exposure of the ambient light. This gives me a chance to mix the image from instant and continuous light. The process of dragging the shutter is less controllable than some of the effects I use so it is good to shoot a lot of frames if you do this. Basically the idea is to use a strobe, which is only on for about 1/1000th of a second, and a long exposure for the ambient light, say a 1/4 second. I have often found this technique effective for shooting people working.

You also use a long exposure for panning. The idea is to move the camera along with the subject. That way the subject is sharp but the background is blurred. As with the shutter drag this doesn’t always work, so you need to take a lot of shots. This is also easier with a range finder camera, since you can see through the viewfinder when the shutter is open.  With a dSLR the viewfinder is black when the shutter is open.

Of course there are other ways to accomplish soft and sharp focus, maybe we’ll get to some of them next week. One thing I’m doing different this week: I the links are connected to copies of the images at BetterPhoto. I really don’t know how well this will work for non-members, so if you can’t use the links please let me know.
My article on strobe power is in the current Photo Technique Magazine. I hope you’ll get a copy.
Please consider taking one of my classes, or even recommending them. I have three classes at BetterPhoto:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography, The better way to learn photography

June 15, 2010

Photographic Communication

Filed under: Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 2:00 pm

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I’m traveling today, and that gives me an opportunity to catch up on this blog. I’ve been doing a lot of work for a contractor client. You can see new work here and here.

I’ve been thinking about visual communication for the last few days. I wrote about photography as a language back at the beginning of this blog. Images have been important to communication since someone painted on the walls of Lascaux. Since it used to be difficult to make images you only saw them in Churches and castles for much of history. Oil paintings have never been cheap. When I was young photographs were common, but people put value on them. So my mother didn’t send pictures of my brother and me to her mother. As prints became relatively cheaper people exchanged prints more often. I remember the first time I received a picture of the bride and groom from their wedding. I didn’t know what to do with it, am I supposed to keep this, or what?

I wrote about the difference between taking and making pictures, but I haven’t really figured out what the ubiquity of visual communication will do. The Jetsons had a picture phone, but all it did was show a picture of the person talking. I was at an event the other day where they sang happy birthday to a person who wasn’t there. This performance was recorded on a phone and sent to the person celebrating the birthday. Not only wouldn’t this have been possible in 1980, but personally I would never have thought of doing such a thing.
So I am interested in how you are incorporating tools like the phone, Facebook and other media into your day-to-day communication. Do you send pictures frequently? What sort of pictures? Do you send much video? The idea is that you take photographs to make a personal visual diary of your life. Do you make that public? How public? How do you share this with others. I am really curious about how people are working with these tools, and how they are sharing the images of their lives.
Thanks, John Siskin

Ps. I don’t have a lot of images on this laptop, so I’m just adding some that I have. Better than pictures of the Burbank Airport.  John

Please check out my classes:

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started In Commercial Photography

May 30, 2010

Terra Incognita

Filed under: Photographic Education,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 12:57 pm

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Film solarization

Some years ago a friend, who had moved from making photographs to making ceramics, explained that ceramics is a mature art form. He meant that, after thousands of years of making ceramics, everything that could be done had been done. Photography is still changing because, in part, the technology is still changing. The interaction between light, subject and sensor or film is still not completely mapped out. I’ve included a couple of my favorite experimental images this week.

As artists we approach the whole territory in different ways. A person can choose to make images by using craft, the tools of the known territory. These skills can enable the artist to produce commercial art and fine art. The idea is to map the unknown by starting from the known and using the known tools. Personally I am comfortable with this approach. The alternative is to begin and try to understand the territory from the inside. This is a more intuitive, less empirical, approach to the unknown. Clearly there are people who work well in this way, but it is difficult. There will be a lot of repetition and failure. Really very few artists have the strength to endure this method. Yet many people try it, often becoming quite frustrated.

One of the reasons that people want to work intuitively is that photography has a large intellectual component compared to other arts. For instance the harp is a very simple instrument: you pluck a string and you hear a tone. Assuming the harp is in tune the next time you pluck the string you will get the same tone. A concert harp will have pedals to control the how long the note sustains. A camera has more complex choices than a harp. To carry the analogy a little further, both tools belong to larger fields of understanding: music and imaging. Both fields have a tremendous amount of experience and information about what makes good art. But photography, as a small part of imaging generally, also has a huge amount of technical information about capturing an image. Certainly there are musical instruments that have this kind of technical component, but not the harp.

Made with an early Leaf back

The harp, indeed any musical instrument, requires practice so that you can translate musical ideas into the performance of music. Certainly the camera also requires practice. In both photography and music one of the advantages of practice is that it allows you to work more intuitively, translating ideas into music or images quickly and confidently. A big part of what a music teacher does is to guide your practice. Photography requires more than practice: you need to develop a personal map of the known territory. While you can create without the map there will be a lot of frustration. Fortunately there are many good maps in books and classes available.

Personally after more that thirty-five years of active photography I am still refining my map. And I am still walking on trails I haven’t traveled before.

You can see some of the territory I’ve mapped out: you can read my articles here and pre-order my book here. If you would like to see some more of my map please consider taking one of my classes.

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started In Commercial Photography

February 24, 2010

Doing Business

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 6:26 pm

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Mickey Mouse

I am often asked about the business of photography: how to get clients and how to charge clients and what to give clients. I can’t answer all these questions at once, but I did want to say some things about rights. I am not a lawyer, and these are only my opinions, but they are based on my experience. The thing I have to do first is to say some things about my clients. I work for businesses. The work I do is generally used for one of two reasons, either documentation or promotion. Of course a documentation shot is unlikely to be modified, because that might interfere with the use of the shot. I did macro shots of spark plugs for general motors because they needed to discuss the color of the deposits. They wouldn’t change those. I expect that a shot used for advertising or marketing will be optimized for the intended market. That is the client’s purpose for the shot.

The client has paid me to deliver a product. If they choose to modify the product, generally that is their business. So if I do a shot of a bank’s board of directors and the banks wants to swap one director for another I can’t stop them from doing that. The shot doesn’t reflect on me, as I am not credited in an annual report. So if the shot looks poorly it is not my problem. If the client paid the bill, if the client didn’t pay the bill that is a problem.

Indian Mortorcycle

I do have some concerns about what happens to my shots after I finish them. My largest concern is that a shot done for a contractor or an architect will be sold to a sub-contractor. I feel that I should be paid extra for this, because in cases like this my image is not being used to market a product, but has become the product. I try to approach situations like this in a reasonable manner, so it generally works out.

Finally there are times that images are stolen. A shot of mine was given to a major photography source book for a contest. They used the image on an in house comp that was later put on the web. I brought this to the publisher’s attention and was properly compensated. In a less pleasant situation some of my work, given to a stock agency, has been used multiple times on the web. I have never been compensated for this, and the stock agency is no longer located in the U.S. And so it goes.

I recognize that the situation is different when you work with individuals and families. Still, if a family commissions you to make an image, that will be part of the families archive, don’t they have some rights to that image? If they want their children and grand children to see them in a certain way, I think that should be available to them.

Martini, Rocks

I think that the real problem with all of this is the photographer’s income. Many photographers, especially portrait and wedding photographers, do not charge enough when they shoot. They give a cheap price for the shoot, and expect to make extra money on the prints or post work. Clearly, in an environment where perfect copies of digital files are very easy, it is difficult to protect this part of your income. Simply put I do not calculate into my original price any money from print or other post sales. I charge enough money to do the shoot, and charge that for the shoot. So it does not bother me to give a client full size files of an image they purchased. They can’t steal something that they have paid for. If you don’t charge enough for the shoot, and have a high charge for prints, you put yourself in a dangerous position.

As a commercial and advertising photographer I try to build relationships with my client, not maximize the profit from a single job. So I have one client that I have done more than 18 jobs for so far this year. No portrait or wedding client will give you that much work. While I understand that a portrait and wedding photographer may feel that she/he must maximize the profit from any single job, I try to maximize the profit over the long term. This also gives me security that the client will come back.

Regardless of what you do remember that you work for a client providing them with a custom product that they commission. It is always important to respect their ownership of the product that they paid for.

As always, I hope you will check out my classes at
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Business to Business: Commercial Photography

Once again, I’ve added images I like, commercial and peal
Thanks, John Siskin


Violin & Flowers

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December 30, 2009

I Finished the Book!

Filed under: Lighting Technique,My Books!,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 4:05 pm

So I wanted to check on with this blog, just in case anyone is paying any attention. I got a book deal on Dec. 10, and the publisher, Amherst Media, wanted a completed manuscript by Dec.31. I finished on Dec. 28, So you may be able to guess what I have been doing for the last couple of weeks. What I’m going to do this week is attach a bunch of images from the book. They are connected to larger versions at my site, and these images also have the captions from the book. Frankly, it’s going to take a couple of days to get backup to normal speed. Please consider my classes, the links are just below. I hope you’ll take one! The book will be published in the fall. There isn’t a title yet, but there are 31,000 words and a couple of hundred photographs!

John Siskin

My Classes
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Business to Business: Commercial Photography

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image 2.16image 9.5image 4.19image 2.3image 10.12image 11.27image 9.14

November 27, 2009

Photograpy, just an art?

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 8:31 pm

When I was in college I used to have discussions with my roommate about photography and art. Pedro thought that photography wasn’t an art, and of course I thought it was. I have not gone over to Pedro’s point of view, but I want to point out that photography is more than just an art. Photography is a language. It is a way of communicating information, the information may be about anything from spark plugs to another planet. Painting, at least picture painting is only an art form. Could you imagine putting Pablo Picasso in a U-2 spy plane and having him overfly Cuba in the 1960ies? Perhaps we could send Thomas Kincade to Mars and have him send back mass-produced delicate canvases showing the light on Mars? Photography is much more than an art, it is integrated into the way we see and communicate.

I used a microscope to make this shot.

I used a microscope to make this shot.

Perhaps we should categorize photography as art or craft, and some things as both. Certainly photos taken by a spy plane are all about the technology, the craft, of photography. When someone hike 10 miles to get a shot of a waterfall they are probably try to create art. When someone spends all day in a studio taking a picture of a flower, it’s because they want to do art.

Buckhorn Falls in Angeles Crest. I have shot these falls several times.

Buckhorn Falls in Angeles Crest. I have shot these falls several times.

I think there are problems when we talk about certain kinds of photos: perhaps those we class as commercial art. If I spend all day taking a shot of a Harley-Davidson is that art? Honestly I don’t know. Perhaps it has to do with how I use the image, but that seems crazy. So if I sell a Harley poster it’s art but if I sell the shot to Harley it’s commercial? How about family portraits made for money or executive portraits? Most photographers do a lot of work that is hard to describe as art, but that doesn’t reduce the value of the work. Photographs can communicate, and be important, without actually being art.

Indian Motorcycle, click on image to see an article about this shoot

Indian Motorcycle, click on image to see an article about this shoot. You may need to right click to download.

Please check out my classes

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Business to Business: Commercial Photography

For information on shooting a motorcycle click

Thanks, John

November 18, 2009


Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 10:27 pm
Made with my custom Super-wide camera that uses a 28mm Nikkor lens on 120 film

Made with my custom Super-wide camera that uses a 28mm Nikkor lens on 120 film

Editing photographs is not only difficult, sometimes it is heart wrenching. Often each image seems a special and unique expression of your creative vision, how can you bare to part with even one. Get over it; this feeling is personal. No one else will ever experience your photographs the way you do. You remember the day, what happened before and after, you remember the client and you remember whether you got paid. The viewer doesn’t experience any of this, and for the photograph to be effective for the viewer you have to give him/her an image they can perceive in their own terms. That is the purpose of editing. I am going to attach some photographs I made to this blog. I designed and built the cameras that made these images. Because of that intimacy no one else will ever perceive the shot in the way I do. I hope they will like it, but they will inevitably have a different feel for the image. You may think editing is time consuming, and it is, but it will make you a better photographer.

The first step in editing is shooting. You need to shoot a lot of images. The last head shot job I did was around 300 images, but on a product job I might shoot only 2 images per product. Since we are now working in digital it is important to always shoot that extra image, or extra dozen images. It is always easier to shoot more than it is to go back. Although Eisenstaedt was famous for just taking a few shots for an assignment, we will do better not to emulate him.

Made with a custom camera that uses a Speed Graphic body and a 30mm lens

Made with a custom camera that uses a Speed Graphic body and a 30mm lens

In order to edit effectively we need to be ruthless. The first step is to remove everything that is clearly a mistake. With a portrait type job this is generally pretty easy. A mistake is an image that doesn’t grab your eye. A mistake is an image that is out of focus. A mistake is an image that is not focused on the subject. A mistake is an image that is blurry. If you shoot in raw a shot doesn’t have to be perfectly exposed, but if the shot is two stops from perfect exposure the shot is a mistake. If the strobes didn’t go off it is a mistake. Get rid of all this stuff, you should have plenty more images. I understand the Photoshop CS 15 will be able to fix everything, but that hasn’t happened yet. Photoshop 16 will be able to make your entire childhood perfect. Yes there are many mistakes you could fix, but you could spend days working in Photoshop. It is better to move through the process quickly. But you might as well save these images somewhere.

Step two is to get rid of everything that makes the subject look like a doofus. So that shot where the subject is checking out your shoes? Gone. At the same time you should part with all the shot where you awkwardly cut off body parts, hands cut in half and so on. Yes a lot of these shots could be saved. If you shot enough you shouldn’t need to save them.

I used a custiomized Graphlex SLR with a 180 soft-focus lens from Fuji

I used a custiomized Graflex SLR with a 180 soft-focus lens from Fuji

This should do it for negative editing; that is removing images because of problems. With any luck you have removed any where from 20 to 50 percent of your shots. Good. The other thing you have does is to look at all of the images that are left at least twice, well you went through the images twice didn’t you? That familiarity with your images is going to help a lot in the next go round. When you look through the images this time, look for images that are particularly fine, not just acceptable. They should have something special they may need cropping or other minor work, but the quality of your vision should be apparent. Also you want to look at the images as if you didn’t shoot them, as if you were seeing them not editing them. Look for an image that really connects. Certainly you can keep images you are unsure about, but you should end up with less than 10 percent of the images you started with.

Made with a digital camera mounted on a customized 4X5 Toyo C

Made with a digital camera mounted on a customized 4X5 Toyo C

I do this in Adobe Bridge, but there are certainly other programs that would do as well or better. As I go through each step I display the images larger, so that I get a better feel for the shots. The next step is to bring the images into Adobe Raw. Raw gives me a better look at each image, and I can begin the image processing. In raw I can do batch corrections on color, contrast, saturation and so on. I can also crop my images and do a variety of individual corrections. I will do my final choices on editing in raw. An image may get left behind at this point for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is something I could fix, but don’t want to, or perhaps two images are very similar.

Finally I will open up all of the images that made it through raw in Photoshop. While I will rarely remove an image form the group in Photoshop I will perfect the images in Photoshop. This is where I will sharpen and do other detail work. Now finally, if the client asks for just there shots (not likely on a head shot) and I don’t have any personal reasons to make a choice, I can say enie minie moe….

Made with a lens I built

Made with a lens I built

You can download a copy of my article on building cameras at this link:

October 12, 2009

Natural?? Light

Taken with both continuousl light and strobes. Link to an article about the Tools of Light

Taken with both continuousl light and strobes. Link to an article about the Tools of Light

I’ve seen a lot of photographers, and some of talented armatures talk about natural light. So maybe I should too. I hate the term natural light, simply because in our culture natural is always good and artificial is always bad. When was the last time you saw a product advertised as NEW! Now with More Artificial Ingredients!! So my first problem is that when someone speaks of natural light they are making a value judgment about light sources. Second, people aren’t always consistent about the term; really natural light ought to be used to describe sunlight, moonlight, starlight, and less useful things like molten lava and the back end of lightning bugs. If you use only natural light you are not going to take any pictures more than a few minutes after sundown or, if indoors, never very far from a window. Of course this limits the pictures that you take. Many people seems to include, in their use of the term natural light, any light source that happened to be there, including such poor quality light sources as fluorescent light and sodium vapor light. I would prefer terms like existing light and ambient light or even found light. We could call the light we make for a shot created light or controlled light, or even perfected light.

I think that the real problem that people have with making light is between continuous light sources, like quartz lights, and instantaneous light sources like strobes. There is no question that it is more difficult to place and modify lights that you can’t see. So often photographers are confused because the shot they see has no relationship, or little resemblance, to the shot they took with the camera strobe. Of course the reason is that the strobe was in a place no light came from, and had a quality of light that wasn’t present the moment before you took the image. It’s as if you switched off all the lights and put a spotlight on your head. So if you are going to get strobe to work for you, you need to learn take control of the way the light works. It isn’t the fault of the light, and it isn’t because the light is instantaneous the problem exists because the photographer expects the strobe to work by magic. Instead the photographer must understand how light can be controlled and used. Then we will make better images because we can control the light.

I should also mention that while you can do things with continuous lights, there are problems that only strobes can solve. Strobes are much brighter than other sources, many strobes are brighter than daylight, so you can control a mixed light environment. Also strobes have a true daylight color balance, so they are easier to use with daylight. Strobes are smaller and lighter than continuous lights with equivalent power would be, and they consume less power.

Link to an article about one light portraits.

Link to an article about one light portraits.

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