Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

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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