Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

October 31, 2011

New Classes At BetterPhoto!

Filed under: Lighting Technique,Photographic Education,Uncategorized — John Siskin @ 6:27 pm

Some important updates: first BetterPhoto has brought back two of my classes. So I hope you’ll sign up for either Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio or Getting Started in Commercial Photography. These classes, particularly the portrait class, were popular before. I hope they will be again. If you want any information on the classes, that isn’t on the links, please e-mail me: Of course you can take my other class at BetterPhoto: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. I’m pleased to say that my first book continues to sell well. Please pick up a copy of Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers. Another update: my second book will be out in February. You can visit the sale page for Lighting for Architectural Photography. Finally I have a fine art book that I made at blurb, please check out B Four.

I was evaluating the photo equipment in an old photograph for the Indiana Historical Society. There’s an old 8X10 stand camera and a 4X5 and so on, but I found the lighting set up kind of interesting. Now, if you looked at the shot, you’ll know that it’s impossible to be sure of everything that is going on in the set up. But it looks like there is an opening cut for a vignette in a white wall half way down the studio. The wall has to be lit from the camera side in order to keep the vignette white. It looks like some clamp lights were added at some time to help with this. The subject would be lit from behind the wall. This got me thinking; because it is similar to the way I light motorcycles. I want to try lighting the back side of a wall, as I would with a motorcycle, and then bounce the light into a human subject. As with the motorcycle shot I would use white seamless paper for the wall.

Click on the shot for an article about lighting motorcycles

It’s cheap and much easier to work with than drywall. I would probably use two strobes pointed at the wall. It would be good to keep any direct light from these strobes from falling onto the subject. This should create a very soft even light, virtually shadowless. You could vary the lighting somewhat, by changing the brightness of the strobes behind the wall, and by changing the placement. This should do a lot of what people expect from a large ring light. As a lot of my students know a ring light doesn’t really create shadowless light, except when you are extremely close to the subject. In general a lighting set up like this won’t give you much sparkle, or a catch light in the eye, but it could give shape and make most fabrics look great. So maybe a bare bulb, or a light behind the subject would work well as a third light. I haven’t had a chance to work on this, so I’ll be interested to see if anybody, who reads this blog, does an experiment. I would keep the hole in the wall close enough to the camera, and big enough, so that there won’t actually be a vignette. I would guess that the close wall would be 3-6 feet from the camera, and there would be at least 8 feet between the walls. I don’t think I would try to add much hard light to the shot. It would be much easier to design a shot with hard light using the light panels, because they are much easier to move around. Any really large light source, which will create shadowless light, is pretty flattering to persons with skin issues.

I’m thinking about some workshops for next year. Please let me know what would interest you. Thanks, John, The better way to learn photography

October 2, 2011

Seeing and Lights

What you do affects the way you see. I don’t suppose this comes as any particular surprise. And yet I often find that I forget that I see through a filter of commercial photography. This means that my images are designed to read quickly. As I have been learning more about Indianapolis I have been seeing photographs that are very different from my way of seeing. There are a couple of reasons for this: first I am going to several camera clubs. This means I see other peoples’ photographs more often, which is good. Of course I look at a lot of student photos at BetterPhoto, but a lot of those are wig head shots. Another thing that is changing my way of seeing is that I am still lost a lot of the time. So I have to watch where I am going. I expect that my images might begin to change in the next few months.

The tools you use change the way you see. I can remember using a tripod for every shot as an exercise. Shooting this way slows you down and makes you pay attention to composition. Using a view camera changed the way photographers see, because you were always viewing the image upside down and backwards. Instead of paying attention to the overall composition I paid attention to the relationships between parts of the composition. I miss view cameras. One of the best sorts of tools to change the way you see is light. With lights, even just a dedicated strobe, you can change the relationships between sunlight and shadow. With a couple of mono lights you can create light that defines a subject in a new way. You can simulate room light by using soft light from above. You can make something completely different by lighting from below or by using a snoot. Of course I hope you are interested in learning how to use light, that’s the subject that I teach. You can take my class at BetterPhoto, or, if you’re near Indianapolis you can take the workshop I’m giving in a couple of weeks. One of the questions I often get, in my classes, is what should I buy? First, start with just one light. If you get several lights, at one time, you’ll have a tougher time learning to make it work. This is the list I give people in my classes:
Alien Bee B1600 or Calumet Travelite 750. There are other good brands as well. The important thing is getting enough power to enable you to use lights in a variety of ways. You can always reduce light output, but you can’t get more than you bought.
50º or 60º metal bowl reflector. This is the standard reflector, usually 6 to 8 inches. It spreads light over the angle covered by a normal lens.
1-45 inch umbrella, white satin with a removable black back. An umbrella with covered ribs would be better. The size and style of umbrellas is important.
2- light panels with 2-white cotton or white nylon covers. Also get or make a black cover and a sliver cover. Instructions for making light panels  are at the Camera Design page on my website.
Light stand. At least 8 feet tall, 10 is better.
Perhaps a background stand and a neutral muslin background.
Get a chinese Radio Slave. You can get these from eBay, search digital radio slave. Look for one that has a plug headphones or a guitar. For more on connections check out this article. The radio slaves from China are very attractively priced.

When you get a second light, you may get something with less power depending on what you shoot.
I would also get: A second metal bowl reflector, the same as above.
Barn doors and/or snoot Light stand, as above
2- umbrellas, one matching the one you already have, and the other a 60 inch umbrella.
Very short light stand.

If you add a third light I would get Metal bowl reflector, as above.
1 more light panel with a gold cover.
Light stand, maybe with a boom arm.
Barn doors or snoot if you didn’t get it before.
45 inch umbrella.

I’m still doing experimenting with marketing here in Indianapolis. Yesterday I went out and shot a charity event. While this isn’t the kind of thing I do often, it can be a good way to meet some new folks, and hand out a few business cards. I’ll be going to a couple of camera clubs this week. I need to check out the chamber of commerce here in Indianapolis. Of course I am still sending out e-mail, over a thousand sent out so far! I really hope you can take my workshop but if you’re not around Indianapolis you can take my class at BetterPhoto. I also work with a few people privately using the phone and e-mail. Please contact me if you’re interested. And let’s not forget the book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers! I hope you take good photos. Thanks, John

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