Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

April 21, 2011

Light and Style?

Filed under: Lighting Technique,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 3:09 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.

Shot with an 8X10 Toyo field. Scanned from a contact print. Original print on Kodak Azo paper

The idea for this week’s entry came to me as I was reading another photographer’s blog. He used language that I hear a lot: “My light,” and “My style.” The idea that because you create the same light again and again doesn’t seem to me to be a thing that you would want to brag about. One of my goals as a commercial photographer is to be able to work with a variety of tools and create any look that might benefit a client. I know that many photographers want to brand themselves with a signature style, but I prefer to be known as a guy who can deliver, almost anything. In addition, doing the same thing bores me. I want new challenges. I know many people who want to build a business doing portraits, or babies or even weddings. I wonder what kind of enthusiasm I would bring to shooting the six hundred and first school child in a month? I can tell you that if you shoot a thousand piece catalog you aren’t doing much creative thinking after item number seven hundred fifty. You have to do work to be good, but if you constantly do the same work you may lose your edge. If there is such a thing as a photographer’s eye, part of it must surely be the ability to pay attention to your subject, even after hours with that subject. I really like shooting architecture since the subjects are very different it presents constant challenges.

Shot with a 4X5 Speed Graphic and a 65mm Super Angulon lens.

A few years ago another photographer came to me and asked me how a particular shot was done. I looked at the print and told him the original photographer used hard and soft light and had filtered the hard light with at least a 1/2 CTO. I’ve written about this lighting a couple of time here in Photo Technique, here in Shutterbug and also in my book: Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers. This is a very useful technique, but it does require close attention to detail. I was explaining this when he said “Why don’t you set it up for my shot?” Now I was willing, for free, to explain something about how light works. He could have applied this idea to any shot he wanted, but he didn’t want that. Too often the idea of learning to control light is too much trouble. He wanted me to do it for him. He didn’t want to experiment and learn, too much trouble, he wanted results. Eventually he convinced a friend of mine to come in and rig the lights for him whenever he shot. My friend tells me this photographer refers to himself as an artist.

Shot with my 4X5 Speed Graphic and a 135mm Xenar. Same model as Legs above.

One of the great advantages of digital photography is that testing is free or close to it. I should be precise about what I mean by testing: which is testing tools to see how they work. Testing can also mean shooting for your portfolio. “I need a model for testing” means I want to work on some new images for my book, and that can be expensive. But if I get a new umbrella it won’t cost me anything to shoot a shot of the way the umbrella spreads light or a shot to figure out where it should be placed in relation to the strobe. When I shot with film testing was quite expensive, and frustrating. The frustration was a product of not seeing the results of a test until the film was processed. So I didn’t test much. I tried to figure out what my tools were doing by analyzing my commercial shoots. This didn’t really serve my clients all that well. These days I do a lot of testing so that I can better understand my lights. I hope you’ll do a lot of testing also. And I hope you’ll practice with new techniques so that you can add them to your tool kit. You might get some new ideas by taking my class at  or reading my book.

Digital photography is MUCH easier than film photography was. Just the weight of the equipment is so much less. I used to go out on location to do an architectural job with close to 200 pounds of lights. That would be 5 lights, 2 power packs and accessories in 4 cases. I now have half that in weight and only 3 cases, but with 8 lights. So half the weight and almost twice as many lights, and this is because I don’t need as much power with a digital camera. The work I do is better, because I have instant feedback: the camera is tethered to the computer. Professionals, if they want to keep working, need to bring a really effective skill set, rather than just a good eye, to the table if they want to keep getting work. I think of myself as a craftsman as often as I think of myself as an artist.

You don’t need to log in to post on this blog anymore, but I would appreciate it if people didn’t post links to unrelated and inappropriate sites. I’ve included a few favorite large format photographs with this blog. There are times when I do miss the heavy lifting., The better way to learn photography


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    Pingback by Light and Style in photography | deepetch blog — April 26, 2011 @ 2:41 am

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    Pingback by Light and Style in photography | Clippingshop blog — April 26, 2011 @ 5:57 am

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