Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

May 23, 2018

Selling Food Photography

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Marketing,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 2:28 pm

There are a lot of times I wish I could write really dramatically. I would like to add a Hunter Thompson flair to this post, something that would make it actually readable. However…

I want to write a little about marketing and pricing and working here. I hope this will be of use to my students and to others. Whenever you are doing photography for money, and that is the very definition of professional photography, you need to think about the work the way your client thinks about the work. Maybe this is easy if you’re doing retail photography, shooting family portraits and so on, but it can be more difficult when you shoot for commercial clients.

I’d like to consider a couple of difficult clients and compare them to a current offer I’ve received. So let’s talk about Realtors. In general this is a group of people who believe that their sales skills have a large impact on their success. That could certainly be true. In addition they do not get any money until the sale is completed. This is important. Individually they see the money they spend marketing a property as coming directly from their own pocket. If they are selling, they believe that getting the owner to the right price will create a sale. In general they believe that price is the most important aspect of selling a property. This may be true. In addition they are never going to sell the same property again, or hardly ever. So a realtor is likely to want to reduce any investment made in selling a property. In addition realtors are very skilled negotiators. The result is a group of potential clients who will not put much value on your work and will be very likely to work with the lowest bidder for services. I did this sort of work for a couple of years and this was my experience. In addition, and this is important, because there is a big market, and because realtors require other services, such as printing and web posting, there are companies that offer a whole package, and they contract photographers, often all over the country. The result is that the photographer’s price is forced down and there is little regard for quality.

There are other groups that can be almost as difficult. I used to do a lot of work for art gallery owners. They had similar limited use for the images and they also considered themselves to be very skilled negotiators. I can tell you, if you want to work with these clients, Be Firm.

Now about food: food is one of the few areas where there are a great many new clients entering the market in the last twenty years or so. Back in the 1980s a restaurant had little or no use for pictures of food. There was no place to put them. A caterer or a hotel might have use for photos, and of course chain restaurants needed photos. The only good jobs in this area were magazines and cookbooks that wanted only first rate work. As a result the photographers who did this work were usually highly skilled professionals, and good food stylists were also in demand. Today even a food truck needs pictures! Any food shot, whether for a restaurant, a chef, a caterer or what ever else, might be used in social media, video, web sites, menus, mailers, email and even a cookbook! So it’s clear to me that food shots have a lot of potential value to a client. In addition food shots can be used over time to make many, many sales. If you’re shooting a pizza or a martini that shot could be used by a restaurant in dozens of ways for years. Your work has a grate deal of value to this group of clients. Quality is still a big issue, but now we have both digital cameras and Photoshop so many more photographers can achieve quality images. While a restaurant or a food truck may place some value on a half eaten burrito posted on Facebook, they will probably place a high value on a quality shot of the same burrito in a condition that looks actual appetizing.

There are ways in which restaurants and realtors are similar. One is that they often need help in many marketing areas rather than just photography. Also, most smaller food purveyors don’t have anyone with the skill and time to devote to marketing. As a result there are companies that are trying to offer a whole group of marketing services to these businesses including photography. I’ve recently been approached by a couple of these places. They want a photographer to go to a location, shoot the food and do some editing and file prep. Then they’ll use the photos to market the restaurant. This is a good idea. The market exists. There is one problem these companies don’t want to pay enough. It is unlikely that a single location can be shot and prepared with less than two hours, and more like three, of a photographer’s time. You have to schedule, load equipment, drive, unload equipment, shoot, load equipment, drive, prepare files and upload files at the very least. Surely any photographer competent to do this work ought to get more than $100 for doing this. Just saying…

Of course I’ve been through this sort of thing before. I’ve been told there will be enough volume to make it worth my time. I’ve been told it will provide me with contacts and a network. I’ve been told that it’s really easy and so on. Here’s what I want to say: IT’S WORTH MORE TO THE CLIENT. The client needs good work.

I’ve put a lot of my food photography into this post. Well, I’m not above doing my own marketing. I’ve also put in a couple of restaurant interior shots; your clients will need that as well.

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

One more thing, there are almost 8000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

May 28, 2014

I Updated!

Filed under: Large Format Photography,Marketing,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 2:37 pm

I’ve often posted about the marketing I’m doing. I’ve just finished a complete makeover of my website, which is a very critical part of my marketing. If you didn’t just click over from I hope you’ll visit soon. I haven’t renewed the site in several years, so this update was overdue. I made a number of decisions about how my site should be seen and about who I want to attract to the site. While I know that many people are trying to create sites that are friendlier to phones and other devices, my site is specifically designed to be viewed from a desktop computer. That’s because I built the site for designers and commercial clients, and I expect they make decisions about photography while they’re at work. If I were looking for wedding, portrait or other retail clients I wouldn’t have made this decision. I think the biggest change is that the images on my site are larger, since I’m selling my services as a photographer I think that bigger images look better. I’ve left some text in the site to satisfy Google’s searching mechanism, but the site is really built to show images. I’ve included a couple of images that weren’t on the site before in this blog.

Disney work

It’s always interesting to review the images I’ve made. I find that I change my perception of an image as the experiences of making the image recede. Sometimes, if I had a good time on the shoot, my first impression is that the images are better than they might actually be, and the opposite is also true. Of course I also see how the business and techniques of photography have changed over the forty odd, some very odd, years I have been in the business of photography. While I know that many people think that digital photography is the most significant change, in my work I think the way that Photoshop allows you to manipulate images has had a greater effect. When I used to shoot transparency film for a client there was no way to change the image after the transparency film was shot in the camera, you really had to pay attention to what you did in camera. It’s easier now and you also have much more ability to create. I think the current toolkit available to photographers gives us great opportunities to make commercial and other sorts of photographs.

Horse 1

Of course I don’t always feel that digital imaging is the most personally satisfying way to make photographs, so I still do personal work with large format cameras. There are several posts in this blog about images I’ve made with my 8X10 Toyo camera. I can’t find a perfect explanation for what is so satisfying about making an image with a big camera, but I assure you that I find something special in working with a big camera. This is why I just bought an 11X14 camera. That’s right it shoot an 11X14 inch piece of film; each exposure is on about 154 square inches of film. Several people have already asked me if this is better than a digital image. Of course that depends on several factors. The 11X14 isn’t easier to use and in most situations it doesn’t make better pictures. However if you are making black and white images, whether on modern silver bromide papers or with hand coated alternative emulsions, it will make prints that are visibly different from anything you’ll get with an ink jet printer. There’s no way you can tell the difference by looking at a screen, you have to go look at original prints by people who used large cameras, say Edward Weston. There are many reasons: no enlarger, continuous tone, no grain and more, but trust me the effect can be quite compelling.

Perincamera #0001

The new 11X14 camera!

I’d like to tell you that I’ve already had good results with the camera, but there’s more needed than just the camera to make images. The fact is that I don’t have any film holders. 11X14 inch film holders are quite expensive, several hundred dollars apiece. So if you happen to know of an 11X14 holder that I can get for a reasonable price please let me know. The holder will be going to a good home. I think I have the other tools I need to make images: lenses, tripod and so on, but if you know of any tools for an ultra large format camera please let me know.


Recently a rather large number of people have registered at this blog, at least a couple of hundred folks. In fact I’m getting several new registrations each day. While I’m pleased and flattered that so many people have registered I’m wondering why? None of you have left any comments. Am I missing something? Well, regardless thank you!

Munchkin Inc.

In addition to supporting the blog by registering you can do more and increase your photographic knowledge! My books Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting
and Photographing Architecture are available at Amazon and other places. You can take a class with me at no matter where you are. I’ve had students as far away as Bangladesh and as close by as Indianapolis. Please check out these fine classes:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography
Of course if you are in the Mid West you can come to my studio for a class. The next opportunity is the Portfolio Workshop on June 16 ( I’ve recently offered a Strobe Lighting Workshop and a Matting and Framing Workshop. I’ll offer these workshops and more soon. Please let me know if you have any ideas for more workshops. Also I’ll be giving a lecture/demonstration about photo microscopy at the Venture Photo Club here in Indianapolis on June 5. Please let me know if you’d like me to present at any photo club that’s local (that’s local to Indianapolis).

Thanks for your attention,

April 4, 2014

Working With Clients

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Marketing,Post-Processing — John Siskin @ 1:51 pm

Please check out my on-line classes at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography, take a look at my site for workshops in Indianapolis and check out my books:

I’ve been doing commercial photography for several decades. One of the problems with what I do is communication with my clients. Often they haven’t worked with photographers, and really don’t have an idea about the process. I’ve been wanting to update the information I give them about the jobs I do. Most of my clients are businesses rather than ad agencies, so this is particularly important. As I thought about this I realized it might be a good thing to put this on the blog because I’d like to get feedback about how you work with clients. As you read this keep in mind that my clients are looking for shots of their jobs and products rather than weddings and babies. I like working with businesses; there is more variety in the work and businesses come back for more work sooner than families. I’ve included a couple of pictures just to keep things interesting.

The most important thing in creating an effective image for a client is to engage the client in building that image. Without an ad agency the client is the only source of expertise on the subject. I have shot things the size of a pinhead and subjects about as big as a city block. I have literally shot everything from cuticle cream to parts for a submarine. While I find it’s useful to know a little about a lot of things the only subjects I know in depth are photography and lighting. So if I can’t get the client to help me tell the story many jobs will be worse off. Whenever possible I want the client, or their representative, at the shoot. Certainly someone should be at the first shoot, after that I will know more about the product and the client’s taste. However the results are usually better when the client is engaged. I have a wireless system for showing the images to the client as the shoot progresses.

Before I can begin a job there needs to be a shot list. The client and I need to agree on a time and place for the shoot, and of course the price. It’s at this point that I explain to the client that my price is largely based on the amount of time that will be involved doing the client’s shoot. In three hours I might have finished shooting a bank’s board of directors, but I’d still be doing the set up for a motorcycle shoot in my studio. One of the problems of negotiating with a client is that they often think that the prep, shot and clean up happen in almost no time at all. I’ll just walk in with a camera and shoot. Not only is this a problem when we’re negotiating the price, it can be difficult to get the client to block out enough time for the shoot. If you don’t address this issue before the shoot you might have trouble during the shoot. In addition the material needed for the shoot, assistant and the location will affect the price.

Before I can give the client a price the client and I need to agree on what will be delivered when. My preference is to give the client an edited low-res version of most of the files. Then I hope the client will choose the files they’re most interested in and final retouching can be done on those files. I will include the time to prepare the edited version of the files in the original estimate. When I do the editing I will remove images that are just bad and others that are redundant. I will open each file in Adobe Camera Raw and adjust such things as color, exposure, cropping, sharpness and lens distortion. While this only take a few seconds on a single image, a shoot with 500 images can take a while to edit. I reduce the size of the files to them easier to review. I spend the time to prepare this set of files because I want to show the client a good version of my work, obviously this group of images will reflect on my talents. The difficulty is that the client doesn’t always review these files. I don’t know if I should reduce the number of files I send or make other changes. Regardless I will deliver whatever version of the files the client wants, but I do try to keep the mistakes to myself. The client can even have my Raw files if they want, but since most clients can’t open these files I generally don’t deliver them. I will give the client an estimate for image editing, if any, before I do any additional work to a particular file. This is all part of the negotiation with the client. We need to define just what the client will get and when.

I’ll get a deposit from the client before the day of the shoot. Generally the deposit is 50% of the estimate. I try to deliver the first version of the files to the client in 48 hours or less, and I’ll include a bill for the balance with these files.

If you know what usage means to a photographer you are in the minority. Of course this can make it difficult or impossible to charge a usage fee to a client, and most of the time I don’t. Usage is simply the way the image is used, say in a magazine or on a web site. By extension it is a license, for a fee, to use the image in a specific way. If a photographer sells a photo from his/her files to be used once in a magazine and then sees it used on a billboard or a national advertising campaign the photographer has been cheated and the usage agreement has been violated. This can result in litigation. My policy is the when the client pays me to create a custom photograph, rather than buying an image from my files, that purchase includes the right to use the photograph to aid the client’s business for as long as the client feels the image is useful, with few exceptions. The client can’t sell the photograph, as a photograph and not part of packaging, to a third party. So a contractor can’t sell a photo to a window manufacturer with out negotiating compensation for me. If the client chooses to give the image away, well that’s the clients business. Any stock images that I license a client to use have specific limits on usage. I hope that my clients will be successful, and that they will return to me for more photographs. I also do consulting for businesses setting up in house photographic systems. I expect that the material I create for these businesses will not be shared outside the business. In addition to my concerns about how my images are used I understand that the client has concerns about how I use the images. My policy is that I don’t offer client images for sale to other clients or third parties. Specifically I don’t license client images through any stock agency. I will use the images to promote my business: in print, on line and in magazine articles. However I appreciate that some images have proprietary information so I will give the client a chance to review images before I use them.

There are things I’m still thinking about, for instance weather and working hours. When I had a business in Los Angeles years would go by without a weather conflict. That isn’t true in Indiana. I would prefer that a client reschedule a job if the weather is predicted to be unworkable two days in advance. If the client insists and the job can’t be done then there’s a problem.  I haven’t been able to use the time in another way and I think I should charge the client. Any thoughts? In addition I wonder about what hours I’m expected to keep? A wedding photographer expects to work weekends and evenings, as an architectural photographer I might have to be on site a dawn to shoot a building. Should I charge extra for special hours? Should I charge extra if I have to do rush work on the files? Of course I do charge extra for a day that is more than 10 hours long. I fyou’d like to let me know what you thing please ( or register with this site.

There’s no such thing as a package job around here. At least the first job with any client requires us to create a mutual understanding of possibilities and responsibilities
Of course, if you can’t come to Indianapolis you can still get my books or take my classes. And I hope you will!
Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographer

Photographing Architecture

My Classes at

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

March 20, 2014

New Classes!

Filed under: Indianapolis,Lighting Technique,Marketing — John Siskin @ 3:30 pm

Please check out my on-line classes at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and my books:

When I’m not shooting, and who can shoot all the time, I’m marketing. Frankly I’d rather be shooting, but If I don’t let people know about my photography I won’t be doing much shooting. I just made a couple of pdf files that I’m hosting on my site. I can send people a link to these files, like this and this I’m using these with e-mail and with facebook, and they seem to be working. I really need to redo my website, but I’m not quite ready to get into that project. If you’d like to get mailings from me about classes I teach or my photographic services please send me an e-mail: I’ve added a few shots to this entry that might make it into the next pdf file.

I’m offering some classes here at my studio that I hope you’ll want to take. The first is the Portfolio Workshop. This is an ongoing group that gets together to discuss each others’ work and give encouragement. Here’s some information from the website: “Since portfolios are the tools photographers use to present their vision it’s really important to know how people perceive your work. In many ways it’s like a resume: it’s a detailed introduction for a person in fine arts or commercial art.” Come join us it’ only $20 per meeting. The next meeting is April 7 at my studio. Check out to sign up.

I’m also offering a Lighting Workshop on April 27. Here’s some information about that class: The cost will be $225. There are only going to be 5 participants, so you can get a real hands on experience! We’re going over these topics:
How to use strobes.
Kinds of light.
What different light modifiers do to the light and why.
Using different kinds to lights together.
Balancing the light from different strobes.
You can sign up at the workshop page on my website: And I hope to see you on the 27th. Since this is such a small class it’ll fill up soon.

Of course, if you can’t come to Indianapolis you can still get my books or take my classes. And I hope you will!
Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographer

Photographing Architecture

My Classes at

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started in Commercial Photography


May 23, 2012

Back to the Big Camera

Filed under: Large Format Photography,Marketing — John Siskin @ 7:34 am

I’ve been giving a lot of attention to my new page at facebook: I’ve added more than a dozen albums filled with images from my article and book projects. I hope you will check out some of this. In addition I have started tweeting; frankly I don’t know how I feel about this pastime yet. So, with all of this, I seem to have neglected the blog. I’m back.

I’ve tried for a while now to get back into shooting 8X10 inch film. I used to really enjoy this. It is extremely challenging, but when you do it just right the results are sublime. I’m not going to attach any images made with the 8X10 camera to this blog, because you might get the idea that a print of a large format image looks like what you see on your screen. It doesn’t, it’s much better. Film is essentially an information storage medium, as is digital. A large piece of film stores information in a more continuous way than a small negative or digital capture. In addition there is a quirkiness to the way large format lenses represent the world. Every current Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens sees in the same way. There were many different large format lenses, and even two of the same brand and design didn’t always see the same way. I mention all this because I recently acquired one of the most marvelous large format lenses ever built: a 14 inch Gold Dot Dagor, built by Kern in Switzerland for Schneider Corporation of America. The lens is the last generation of the famous Dagors, first designed in the 19th century. Let me tell you folks there is a lot of history here and a wealth of fabulous images. Anyway the lens is inspiring me to set up the equipment to develop sheet film. I’m sure I’ll be writing about this in future blog posts.

I’ve added pictures that I made with lenses I assembled. For more about this please check the article I did for view camera. These lenses inspired me to see differently.

One more thing I want to say about the difference between shooting a big camera and a digital camera. When you shoot digital you try to make a good capture and then you have almost infinite opportunity to interpret that capture in post-production. If you shoot film for a traditional print, say a silver gelatin print, you have too make decisions about the final image when you shoot. You can’t, for instance, change the color of the filter you use to make black and white image when you print the image, you can only do it when you shoot. This means you need to think more about the final image when you shoot, not just when you edit. I don’t think this is better or worse, but it is different.

Thanks for paying attention the blog. I’ll be back soon. Here are the usual reminders.
Please check out my books and classes:

Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Postproduction and Marketing Techniques

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Thanks, John

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

Thanks, John


May 3, 2012

Social Media and More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, John


March 26, 2012

Doing Business with Interior Designers

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ask the photographer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Client’s name and contact information

Date and time of the shoot

Address of the shoot

A description of the photographs you will make.

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

Projected delivery date of the final images

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

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

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

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

I teach three classes at BetterPhoto:

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

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

September 17, 2011

Updates and Marketing

Filed under: Indianapolis,Marketing — John Siskin @ 11:59 am

I really like the long tonal range created by the windows in this shot. This is Grand Central Station in New York. I like this angle because it makes the window look monumental.

I’m going to try putting the shameless plugs at the end of this message.  I hope you’ll take time to read them.

I sent off more images for my architecture book this week. I’ll do whatever the editor wants. I’ve used some of these additional images here in the blog. I don’t know if anybody out there has much experience with blogging, but I have an issue: I get a couple of spam posts to a few of my old posts every day. These are annoying to remove. Any suggestions?

I went back to two photo clubs this week. I will be doing live presentations at both of them soon. I guess I should practice my presentation. I’m hoping to do a workshop soon, somewhere here in Indianapolis. I’m still sending out e-mail on a daily basis. I’m going to try to get to a chamber of commerce function next week. I know that soon I’m going to have to pick up the phone and actually call ad agencies and designers, but I am still putting that off. Agencies are supposed to take time to learn about creatives in their area, but that doesn’t always make them receptive. The other thing I need to do is contact the schools that teach photography around here, maybe next week. It’s always difficult to present yourself to strangers.

The room is really just a background for the lifestyle shot. You often need to light a space to create a shot that tells a specific story. In this case the shot advertises a small winery.

One of the clubs I’m attending had a print competition last night. On the whole the images were quite good. I know that this is a very important part of any group of photographers, but I wonder if photography is inherently a competitive art form. Actually I wonder if art should be competitive? Regardless I wanted to a few thoughts about competitions. First, if you can, get information about your judges. I’ve known judges who just seem to like versions of the same thing; reflections or patterns for instance. Second, most competitions have a lot of images; one way to make your image stand out is to make it big. Last night the images where presented to the club, the 8X10 images were too small to see. In a group of images a small shot is at a disadvantage.

I took a design class in college that talked about three kinds of space: positive, negative and equivocal. I have a friend who shoots wonderful images that are mostly equivocal space. They can be fascinating, but you have to spend time relating to the image. You can’t just get a quick gestalt of the image. These images, while great, aren’t going to win any prizes. If you want a prize build a strong image, with good graphic qualities. Then add detail to keep the eye entertained.

This is the entry of a new home. The low angle defines the height of the entry way very effectively. This was a very difficult angle because of the many interesting aspects of the room.

One more thing: consider entering contests that have fees. They usually publish the list of judges and they often have better judges. Keep in mind that most gallery owners and other taste makers have better things to do than look at the thousands of pictures that may be in a good contest. So they get paid. Also a fee keeps people who don’t really believe they have great images from entering. I don’t enter contests often, but when I do I pay a fee.

I also like contests that judge prints. Lot’s of things look good on my monitor, but when I print them, not so much. High quality prints have a resolution several times as high as a monitor. So you can really see more detail, for good or ill. When I want to see the work of a photographer I want to see prints, not just phosphors on a screen. I have hundreds of photo books so I can see the detail in a good reproduction. Looking at a classic photograph on a screen is very disappointing. Unfortunately there are fewer print competitions than there used to be.

I suggested an alternative to competition to the club: giving the members a chance to present a small portfolio. Perhaps two or three members would present at each meeting. That way the members would have more of a sense of what the other members do. But I do know they love their competition.

This is a really dramatic room, particularly the staircase. Because the room is shot with a very wide lens the staircase looks a little more dramatic than it does in the room. There are lights on both floors and at the back of the room, so a shot like this takes a while to set up.

First in the list of shameless plugs: it looks like I will be offering a workshop here in Indianapolis. I might have a location lined up, I’ll know next week. I hope to do this in October. It’ll be about lighting. If you’re interested please let me know what you’d like to learn. More information soon! Here are some plugs for my books and classes: you can get the books from Amazon: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers and the class is at Here is a sample chapter from the book. There has been nothing but good feedback on this book, so I would guess that you’ll like it. Of course I still hope that you will please consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. Purchases of B Four mean a lot to me, and it is also a fine gift for any occasion. I lowered the price a couple of weeks ago, and that has helped. As you know I teach for I really hope you’ll sign up my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Remember that the books and the class keep me updating this blog. My new book, Lighting For Architectural Photography will be out in February., The better way to learn photography

September 8, 2011

Now In Indianapolis!

Filed under: Indianapolis,Marketing — John Siskin @ 1:13 pm

Here are some plugs for my books and classes: you can get the books from Amazon: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers and the class is at Here is a sample chapter from the book. There has been nothing but good feedback on this book, so I would guess that you’ll like it. Of course I still hope that you will please consider purchasing my fine art book B Four: pictures of beach, beauty, beings and buildings. Purchases of B Four mean a lot to me, and it is also a fine gift for any occasion. I lowered the price a couple of weeks ago, and that has helped. As you know I teach for I really hope you’ll sign up my class: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Remember that the books and the class keep me updating this blog. My new book, Lighting For Architectural Photography will be out in February.


I am now in Indianapolis. The transition from Los Angeles has been very difficult. Our dog, Dodie, an old English sheep dog, passed away on our trip. I still find myself turning around to look for her. I keep hearing her. She was a very good dog.

I had hoped to be further along with marketing and networking by now. And so it goes. I have been to a few photo related events, including a club out in Carmel. Also I have made some connections with instructors at Ivy Tech College. The most important thing I’ve done is to set up my office. I know that many people work well in a sort of chaotic state, but that leads to chaotic work habits for me. So, while much of our stuff is in boxes, my office is pretty nice. I have a local phone number: (417)473-0406. I though about leaving it off the blog, but I spent hours updating all the pages of my web site with the number, so it’s not hard to find. If you haven’t checked out my web site you can see it at I hope you’ll take a look, after all this blog is about promoting what I do.

I am going to get more serious about marketing this week. I have already sent out an e-mail introduction to some local advertising agencies. This week I started contacting people involved in construction businesses. I wish that businesses would find me in some magical fashion, but that isn’t likely. One of the biggest problems is how to let people who might need your services know about them without being too annoying. I’ve tried a lot of things over the years: mail pieces, cold calling and so on, but e-mail is basically free and you can contact a lot of businesses at one time. I’m attaching a screen capture of one of my e-mails. Keep in mind that all of the pictures are linked to the web site when you get the actual message.

Photography is more than just a fine art. Just like English is more than just poetry. It is a language that communicates directly with almost any viewer. It makes sense to use visual skills to communicate with potential clients. In the piece I’m sending out I’m SHOWING people that I make images for their kind of business. I’m not going to tell them I make great pictures of saxophones, odds are they don’t care. If I can’t communicate with potential clients, how can I help them to communicate?

I’m going to a camera club this evening. I hope to find out more about photography classes and about suppliers locally. I am also wondering about rental studios and labs. All of this is sort of fun, but it’s also a little intimidating.

I spent some time reviewing and editing the version of my second book the publisher sent. I think it’s working quite well. There is now going to be some material about shooting exteriors of buildings. This should make the book more useful. I did a shot of the exterior of the Indianapolis library at several different time of the day to show how the light changes. The book will be published in February now, rather than November. I hope you’ll get a copy.


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

February 20, 2011

Looking For Work?

Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Marketing — John Siskin @ 7:36 pm

For Aids Walk, Los Angeles

Here are the shameless plugs at the beginning of the blog. 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.

Shot for a breeder.

Sign up are very good this month!

Recently I’ve been having a conversation with a couple of people on the discussion board at We’ve been discussing selling photographs. One of the problems that a person has as he/she becomes a more committed photographer is that she/he needs some sort of validation. Many people will participate in contests, but often the judging of

Shot for Ramada South Bay.

a contest is capricious or even insane. Selling photography can seem like a much better way of getting validation, and it might even buy you some new gear. Heck, it can even turn a hobby into a tax write off.   If you want to sell photographs you need to look at the photographs that get bought, rather than the photographs you want to take. I have been selling photographs for almost thirty years. I started out photographing backgrounds for the Chipmunks: Alvin, Theodore and Simon. The last job I did was photographing a concrete

For Aids Walk, Los Angeles

pour for the footings of a new building. In the middle I’ve done work for General Motors and Aids Walk. Almost every photograph I’ve ever sold I sold to a business or a magazine. These are markets that need a lot of photographs. I’ve already done 6 jobs this year for one client. You can see some of the work I’ve done for this client at Families don’t need a lot of photographs, would you do a family portrait more often then every other year?  People don’t have weddings frequently, at least most people don’t. I’ve seen a lot of bad photography that got paid for, because the clients needed the images. If you want to sell photographs look at the businesses

For Rhythm Child

that buy photographs. Also get the Photographer’s Market. The Photographers market lists ad agencies, magazines and publishers. It even lists art fairs. It also tells you how to approach various kinds of businesses.

I have the 2010 version of Photographers Market right now. If I were going to do a major push for new accounts I would go get 2011 version. While there may be new markets, and that is important, the key thing is that you have up to date information on who the buyer is in a particular company or publisher. I found the publisher for my current book, and my next book, in Photographer’s Market. I sold to the New Yorker because of Photographer’s Market. What is not to love?

It is difficult for emerging photographers to understand that

For West Wind Studios.

they need to develop a broader definition of what a photographer does. You might want to look at my website:, to see the many kinds of photography I do to make a living. Oh, and I also teach at The pictures this week are images I’ve made for clients.

On a related note, I am really interested in what people are sending out as digital portfolios. If you have a digital portfolio, and you don’t mind, could you send me a copy? If you want I could add a link to the portfolio here in the blog, or not. Of course if you could tell me how the portfolio is targeted, and how you send it, that would be great.
Thanks, John Siskin

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 look at my first book at Amazon . Also if you look at the current issue of Shutterbug you’ll find a three page excerpt form my book. I am so pleased that they did this., The better way to learn photography

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress