Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

August 27, 2009

Filtering Lights

Filed under: Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 12:56 pm
4 lights, 3 with warming filters

4 lights, 3 with warming filters

A few weeks ago I started this series of blogs about what sorts of controls transferred from film cameras to digital cameras, consequently I written about shutter speed and aperture quite a bit. There is another area I’d like to mention in connection with this theme: filters. Now I have over a hundred filters I used to use to do accurate color correction with film, this was particularly tricky with copy work. Most of those filters now sit unused, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t use filters. There is one area where filters are particularly important, balancing lights. It is sometimes confusing to a digital camera user why you need to do this; after all doesn’t the camera have white balance? The problem is that the camera can only accurately balance to one type of light. So if you are shooting a living room at night with existing tungsten lights and you fill with strobe light the colors will not match well. The result is either an accurately colored room with yellow lights or a blue room with accurate lights. If you use a gel designed to correct strobes to tungsten balance over your strobe you can bring all the light into the same general color, which is much more pleasing. The gel I would pick in this case is called a CTO or a full orange. There are several companies who make filters for lights including Rosco ( One thing to be sure of is that the filters you buy won’t burn, the heat from modeling lights can cause poor quality filters to melt and burn. The heat from hot light can really fry a filter.

I used a blue filter and a cucoloris to create the blue light in the side of the face and the highlight in the eye.

I used a blue filter and a cucoloris to create the blue light in the side of the face and the highlight in the eye.

You can also use filters to adjust the mood of a shot, mixing colored light with light that is accurately balanced. This can be a very effective tool in creating an image. I will use normally balanced light for a large light source, and use warm light, say a 1/2 orange for a hard light to define the side of the face. You can make a very effective portrait in this way. I will also use a filter to change the color of my background. In one of images I’m including with this blog I used one large light source and three hard light sources. The hard light sources were all lower power and all were filtered. I am also including an image where a filter was used to make more dramatic color and one image with a filtered background.

Bird's nest, made with flowers

This shot was made in the studio with a gray background. I used a colored gel to make the blue in the background. It is easier to make a saturated background if you start with a darker background.

August 24, 2009

Lenses and Perspective

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique — John Siskin @ 8:15 pm

Custom Camera with a Fish-eye lensThe important thing to remember is that changing the focal length of your lens does not change where you stand it only changes the way your picture is cropped. So if you take a picture of a person’s face with your widest angle lens you will be inches from the subject if you fill the frame with just the face (unless you don’t own a wide angle lens). If you frame the shot the same way with your longest lens you may be more than 10 feet from the same subject, depending on how long a lens you own. You should really do this exercise and compare the results. In the image with the wide-angle lens your subject will probably look extended and strange. The telephoto image will look flat. The difference isn’t the lens it is where you stand. If you took a third image with the wide-angle lens, but standing where you stood with the telephoto lens and blew up the image to match the telephoto image, besides fewer pixels, you would notice the same flatness you saw with the telephoto lens. If you want to make images have a greater three-dimensionality stand closer to your subject and use a wider lens. If you want your images to be compressed stand further back and use a telephoto. No amount of new lens technology will change this. People often stand to far away from a person to make an intimate portrait, they find being close to the subject embarrassing. This causes a flatter look in the portrait. I use an 80-100mm lens on my full frame camera for portraits. I make more pictures with wide-angle lenses, 18mm to 40mm on my full frame camera, than often than telephoto lenses.

I’ve included a picture of a friend, Lance, made with a 28mm lens and with a  200mm lens. I tried to keep the size of the head the same. You can see the huge changes in the way the face appears, the charges are a result of the difference in camera position. With the 28mm lens I am just inches from the subject and with the 200mm lens I am almost 10 feet from the subject. You should try this for yourself.

Lance with a 28mm lens

Lance with a 28mm lens

Lance with a 200mm lens

Lance with a 200mm lens

August 13, 2009



A hand built super wide camera

A hand built super wide camera

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 a photographs I made to this blogl. I designed and built the camera that made the image. 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.

Made wirth the Super Wide camera

Made wirth the Super Wide camera

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, on a product job I might shoot only 20 images. 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, we will do better not to emulate him in this.

Made with the Super Wide camera

Made with the Super Wide camera

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 has no real subject. A mistake is an image that is out of focus. A mistake is an image that is not focused on the subject. A mistake cuts into important parts of the subject, like the hands. 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. This is why we have terabyte hard drives.

Made with the Super Wide Camera

Made with the Super Wide Camera

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.


Made with the Super Wide Camera

Made with the Super Wide Camera

If I am giving the client a proof disc, that is a disc with all the acceptable images, I will take the images at this point and convert them to jpg with the proprietary program. The proprietary program is often simple than Adobe Raw for this kind of large batch processing.

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 done 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 the third go around with.

I do this in Adobe Bridge, but there are certainly other good programs. 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 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….

August 2, 2009

Location Tips

Filed under: Commercial Photography — John Siskin @ 10:29 pm

Shoot From Different Angles!

I’ve been doing a lot of location work recently, among other things this has put me behind with this blog. I thought this might be a good time to say a few things about working on location, before I go back into technical stuff. Consider this a sort of tip sheet for location work.

1)   Work with an assistant. Not only does this make your life easier, it gives you time to concentrate on the client. Remember that sweating and swearing as you take two hundred and fifty pounds of lighting gear in and out of the location will not make you look more professional.

2)   Don’t lose your temper. Just don’t.

3)   Bring as much back-up gear as possible. Now I understand that you may not have a second laptop computer, but you can have an extra sync cord and a back-up cord to connect the camera to the computer.

4)   Always bring tape, at least gaffers tape. I have tape all over my cases, so I can always grab some off the case.

5)   Always have extra batteries. While a charger is grand, extra batteries are better. You don’t need to wait for them. And don’t forget extra batteries for the computer and lighting equipment.

6)   Extra memory cards, even if you have a big one.

7)   If you bring food you don’t need to take equipment down or lock it up. Still delivery pizzas are tasty!

Closer is more dramatic!

8)   On any job communication with the client is the best way to keep the client.

9)   Even when you have an assistant, don’t pack any equipment case you can’t lift. Better to have several small cases that one you need help with.

10)   At least some of your cases should be tough enough to stand on. It is simpler than bringing a stepladder.

11)    A laser pointer will give you camera something to focus on when the target has no contrast.

12)   A compass will tell you where the sun is going to go.

13)   Make sure your sensor is clean before you leave.

14)   Bring a flashlight. Packing up at night can be a real problem.

15)   I always pack my gear so that it is ready to go out on the next job. I prepare for the next job as the current job is ending. Also this enables me to be sure I haven’t left anything. MY gear is always stored in the location cases.

The job isn’t over when you get back to the home or office. I don’t relax until certain things are taken care of:

1)   First I copy the images onto my hard drive. If I have been shooting tethered the images are already on the drive. Next I copy the images onto a second hard drive.

2)   I start charging the batteries. I always take care of the tools as soon as possible. The next job is as close as the next phone call.

3)   I pull out any gear that didn’t perform well. Either for repair or replacement.

4)   Pay the assistant. I like to do that AFTER the gear is unloaded.

5)   Catch up on my blog and critiques.

All pretty obvious, I guess, but these things have helped me a time or two.

Details Are Important!

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