Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

September 3, 2013

The Studio is Open!

I’m going to keep thins simple in this entry: just a bunch of pictures of the new studio. It’s possible to shoot here, but not everything is put in the right place yet. The shooting space is about 42X24 feet, pretty damn large. The background holders are up. I’m going to put some more holders on the sides so that I can pull down white or black to add or subtract bounce fill. I need a little help to finish, some things are to big to lift. If you’re local maybe you could help me out, or help with a shoot. I’m trying to set up a shot of a Mini-Cooper, maybe for this weekend. You can also arrange to drop by and have a look. Thanks for your attention! I’ll just remind you about the BetterPhoto classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:


The shooting wall. You can see the background holders above the wall.

Another view of the shooting wall.

The back of the studio. You can see the cargo door.

This is the outside. It's a separate building. There is parking, particularly on evenings and weekends.

My office. I'm very happy about the way it turned out.

January 17, 2013

More Tools and Tips!

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

I wanted to continue with the equipment and tips I was talking about in the last entry. I always enjoy talking about these sorts of things. I feel that the equipment manufacturers often try to make us all create images in similar ways, and I prefer to be creative about making pictures. For instance there are a lot of lenses built with vibration reduction technology, and this is a great thing. But, as I mentioned in the last entry, you can use a chain pod, which will also reduce vibration. The chain pod will work with almost any camera and lens, including the stuff you already own.

I've put a radio trigger on an optical slave so that I can use multiple sets of radio slaves.

The first thing I want to mention, because I just figured it out, allows me to use two different radio slave systems together. I try to buy a lot of receivers when I buy radio slaves because I have a lot of strobes. The problem is when I need even more receivers the signals of the two radio slave systems don’t always match up. I discovered I could put the sending unit from a second set of radio slaves onto an optical slave and trigger both sets of slaves together. One thing I’m looking for now is a very sensitive optical slave to extend the range of my radio slaves. Please note that I am still using inexpensive Chinese radio slaves with good results overall.

Cine foil is a flexible aluminum foil that can be used to block light and as lens hood.

A couple more things that are in my camera case, that I didn’t mention last time, model release forms, cine foil and a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker. Of course it is always wise to have a release form whenever you shoot a person or private property, because there are severe limits on publication without a release. Because so much of my work is for clients there are times I can’t get a release, and so can’t use a shot in a book or article. Here’s a link to a good release form. I really like Cine foil, which is black aluminum foil. It can be used to control

GretagMacbeth ColorChecker, gives me good gray samples and pure colors.

the spill from a light or as a lens hood in a pinch. A couple of pieces take up no room, and can be a real lifesaver. I keep a roll in the studio. The GretagMacbeth ColorChecker is the most accurate gray and color sample I own. Since I always shoot in RAW I will shoot a sample image with the ColorChecker after I finish the set-up. I can use this sample to make the color accurate on all of the shots with the same set-up. You can also use it to help you make pleasing color, because you can see how a particular setting will affect the colors you’re using.

Perhaps I should mention that I have several camera cases, not only do I have cases for my lights but I also have hard soft and small camera cases. I store my main camera in a Pelican case. I really like this large hard case because I can store almost my entire system, everything I would take on location anyway. Also the Pelican case provides very good protection and it is pretty easy to ship. Another good thing: the Pelican cases are ugly. I avoid the fancy cases that draw peoples’ attention; you don’t want to have your camera gear stolen. The problem with a hard case is that it’s difficult to work out of, so I have a couple of soft cases for when I have to keep moving. I have different sized cases so that I can reduce the load when I need less equipment. I’d like to see a case that would allow you to add external sections, so you could create the right space to fit your gear. Of course I have a lot of gear so being able to customize a case would make it easier to work.

Almost all my cases are used. I buy inexpensive used cases from camera stores, thrift stores, surplus stores and even antique stores. I will get a case even when I don’t have anything specific to put in it, if it is cheap and in usable condition. I stuff cases inside cases to store them; otherwise I’d have run out of room long ago. It usually turns out that I need most of the cases I get. I even keep much of my studio gear in cases; you never know when you’ll have to do something unusual on location.

A useful case from Home Depot

Most of my lighting cases have come from military surplus stores or hardware stores. I’ve used a lot of ammunition cases over the years because they are very strong and also waterproof. I often add a 1/4X20 threaded nut to the cases. This allows me to put a stud to mount a light onto the case. This means that I have a short light stand, or a stand I can put on a table, without having to carry another stand. I have a lot of lighting cases because I can’t use a case so heavy that I can’t actually lift it. I also have a wheeled cart, which can make it a lot easier to get lights and cameras to location. Light stands and tripods go into a large duffel bag.

These cases have 1/4X20 threads so I can attach studs for my lights.

Rolling cart, ammunition cases and duffel bag. Ready for a location shoot!













I saw this on YouTube: As a long time fan of Edward Weston’s photos it was nice to see it again.

Please consider one of my classes at

An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio

Getting Started in Commercial Photography

If you’re in the Indianapolis area there are other opportunities as well. I’ll be showing much of my personal architectural work in June at Indiana Landmarks. Please come look.

July 9, 2012

About Perspective

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

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

A short lens for portraits

A longer lens for portraits

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

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

From the lift.

A straight look at the building

From behind on the hill

Close shot

Close Shot

Close shot


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.

June 8, 2011

More Product Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did an article that discusses how to control reflection, very important in product shots. You can download it here ( You can see some of my other articles here ( I hope they will make you consider buying my books or taking my class at BetterPhoto ( Of course I also do business consulting. Let me know if you need help.

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

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

May 1, 2011

Product Photography

Filed under: Commercial Photography — John Siskin @ 5:18 pm

Here are the shameless plugs: my book Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers is on 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 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. 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.

I just started doing some consulting for an importer. I am helping them to create better product photos for the web and other uses. I used to do a lot of product work, and, as with many types of photography, I do less product work now. It is just easier to do this work with a digital camera, so a lot of companies want to do the work in house. I’ve done a lot of this kind of consulting in the past and hope to do a lot more. I used to do a couple of courses at BetterPhoto that covered this kind of work, but they aren’t currently offered. In the last few days I have been thinking about doing a book on product photography that would be aimed at businesses. Please let me know if you need any help in this area, or other kinds of photography.

2 vases in a room set. Some times a set will help to make products more attractive.

Of course there are many different kinds of product photographs. The simplest is a shot that proves that you have the thing. Many people do this kind of shot with their phones and post the images on eBay. This is a very simple level of communication: you can trust me to send you the item because you can see that I have the thing. The next big step up is doing images for catalog or the web. These are the sorts of images that give you real information about the item. Often you may make the decision to purchase the item from the picture. Where a description might say Chinese style vase, 24 inches high. A photograph can give you a wealth of information about the design, shape and color of the product. I can’t imagine making most buying decisions without a picture. Most businesses, especially if they already have a designer, can do this sort of work in house. While they may need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars, getting better product shots is worth it.

The foil is a bit of a challenge. There is a nice gradation of light that gives shape to a simple box.

At the highest level product photographs are designed to make people really want the product. So if you are making a shot of tomato soup or of a motorcycle the goal is to make people want to take out their wallet. Very often a professional photographer is better suited to this work than trying to do it in house. A photographer should have more equipment, and may have very specialized equipment. Of at least as much importance as the equipment a photographer should understand how to design an image for maximum impact. In addition to a skilled photographer, a stylist is often essential. This is a person with skills in presenting a product in the best environment and in the best condition.

A good product photograph should define the shape of the product: Not just the front, but how deep is it? You want to pick an angle that gives a good sense of all the dimensions of the product. If the product does something, lights turn on or wheels turn, it is often important to show these details. Accurate color is impossible on the web, because users set their monitors differently, but you should do the best you can with color in all circumstances. If the food looks sort of green it won’t help sales. When you do photographs for print you can control color, so find out about what color space will be used for your shots. Very often I like to show products in and out of packaging. If you are selling grape nuts well you might want to have some in the shot, but you will also need the package so people will know what to buy.

This micro shot shows the details of a very small product, and also helps to define the size of the product. It can help to use an object of known size in a shot.

The light should also help to define the shape of the product. So the light on the top of the product should be different from the light on the front. This will make things more three-dimensional. You may want to have a gradation across the product as well. All of this helps to make the shot of the product feel real, and that helps to sell the product. Remember that your job is to make shots that do sell the product, and to do that you want to know about the way the shot will be used. A shot for a large print option is different than a thumbnail for the web.

Who knows I may be talking about product for more blogs? Let me know if you have any questions on this topic. I have changes the blogs so it is easier to leave a comment. As a result I have had many people try to post information about pharmaceuticals and pornography, so  I would value real comments.

I hope that this weeks images feel at least marginally related to the subject of the blog, they are all jobs I’ve done for clients. Thanks, for your attention., The better way to learn photography

September 22, 2010

Odds & Ends

Filed under: Commercial Photography — John Siskin @ 1:11 pm

The blog is back up! I’m just adding a few recent shots and some information about them. I’ll be adding more information soon. Thanks for your attention.

This shot is for Chusid Associates. It reminded me how difficult it is to work with dry ice. Some version of this shot will be a magazine cover. You can visit the client’s blog for more information on this entertaining shoot. Please visit the clients site at and, particularly if you work with building materials.
Moving the Earth

This shot is for Terry Beeler and Son Contractors Inc. you can see their site at I hope you will take a look at the site because there are thousands of my photographs there. This shot was taken with a wide-angle lens and a strobe to create a little more drama.

Finally this is a shot of an egg on a white piece of paper. Just goes to prove how much you can do with light. This shot was part of an article on lighting with projectors. The article was in Photo Techniques Magazine.  I have an article in the current issue of Photo Technique magazine. I hope you’ll check it out at a local bookstore. You can see more of my articles here.

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

I saw the first copy of my book last week. What a thrill! It really looks great. I hope you’ll pre-order the book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

August 1, 2010

Photography For Business

Filed under: Commercial Photography — John Siskin @ 8:20 pm

All of my clients are businesses. I would estimate that three quarters of my students at BetterPhoto, or more, want to be professional photographers. The strange thing is that almost none of my students want to work for businesses. The business model that most photographers have involves working for individuals doing portraits and events, like weddings. There are a number of reasons that I don’t go after that business: first your clients don’t do much repeat business. Second your clients have limited budgets, because they aren’t making any money off your photographs. Third you do the same kind of jobs all the time.
Any business needs to communicate with its clients. While a family might want a new portrait every couple of years many businesses HAVE to make a catalog four times a year. Even if a business only has a dozen clients it needs to tell them things about capabilities and products. So I get more business from a business client then I would from any individual. I help businesses to show what they do, how they do it and what they can do; these are important stories for any business.
While any healthy business is very concerned about the bottom line, it is the bottom line not the actual expense that should concern them. So, while the costs of doing a printed catalog may be large, the potential profit is also large. Businesses value experience over price. They want to know that the provider has delivered in the past. Both these attitudes make my job more profitable. Since I have worked with a lot of different businesses I bring a lot of experience and capability to the table. If you are starting out you’ll need to offer attractive prices and perhaps prove yourself with a sample shoot. Still getting any new business client can be important for any photograph, so it is usually worth any extra effort.
My favorite part of commercial photography is the variety of work I can do for clients. I have experience in shooting, products, portraits and microscopy. If I shot for individuals I would rarely get to do more than portraits and events. I find shooting the same sorts of work is boring.
I use a variety of tools to find my clients. I think my favorite is html mail. You can see samples here and here . This gives me a way to show clients what I do in a professional way. Also I can help businesses to use the same tool. I also use direct mail and the phone, but not as much as I used to. You can see samples of html mail here and here.
I teach a class in commercial photography, as well as classes in lighting and portraiture at I hope you will check out the classes soon. My first book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers will be published in the fall you can pre-order it. I have a new magazine article coming out in September about strobe power. You can see it in Photo Technique Magazine.

Thanks, John
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May 20, 2010

A Mixed Bag

Filed under: Commercial Photography — John Siskin @ 5:23 pm

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A few ideas and images I thought I might share. The photos are from cameras I built, check out the links and this one as well:

Shot with the super wide camera I built.

I like generators better than battery packs. They weigh more, but will work for hours on a tank of gas. Easy to refill. They don’t recycle slower as the day goes on. You can get a two-stroke generator for about $100.00 at Home Depot.

The more advertising there is in your cases the more likely they are to be stolen, whether it is advertising for you or the case manufacturer. It is always best to keep a low profile. Military surplus cases can be very good. Don’t pack anything you can’t lift.

If you are going to do any complex lighting find a way to tether your camera to a laptop. There is just no way to really evaluate the details of your image on the back of the camera. Viewing size matters.

Keep model releases in your camera bag.

Keep a chain-pod and a shoe cover in the bag as well. You never know.

You can always crop into an image, but you can’t create more space around the image, so leave a little room.

If you’re going to shoot kids keep cheap toys around to give them. Bribery is your best way of motivating children. Come to think of it, it works on adults as well.

Remember to thank people, especially assistants.

Remember the Odd Couple? Felix Unger was a photographer. It is important to be obsessed with detail; it is your job.

Shoot in raw. Always.

Learn to pre-visualize. Look at people and things and decide how you would light them. Imagine your sensor is an empty canvas, what do you want to put in it?

If you don’t practice you won’t be able to shoot well. Musicians practice. Masters of martial arts practice. You need to practice seeing, which you can do without a camera, but you also need to practice technique which requires any equipment you plan on using. Lighting requires more practice than most aspects of photography.

You might even consider taking a class, perhaps one of mine?

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


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