Taylor-made advice

When I first got interested in studio photography I really needed some advice on lighting because it all seemed so complicated (although I loved all the gadgets). Having looked at the available resources I eventually opted to join Karl Taylor Education.

Karl Taylor Education website

I had come across Karl Taylor previously and liked his style of presentation but I was surprised to see how much information was available on his website. Let’s clear the obvious question up straight away – no, it’s not free. I pay a monthly fee of £14/month (March 2022) but for that I get unlimited access to hundreds of informative videos covering topics such as:

  • Studio lighting theory
  • Portrait photography
  • Fashion photography
  • Product shots
  • Post-production
  • Business advice
  • Live photoshoots

As you can probably guess, most of the information is centred around studio photography but there are some additional videos covering landscape and travel photography – but probably not enough to make membership worthwhile if that is the only genre you are interested in. However if you have any interest in the science of photographic lighting and how to make it work in practice then I don’t think you can get much better.

These blog posts are just some personal thoughts and experiences that may hopefully assist someone else – all of them with some spurious link to photography. I have no affiliation with any product or service I may endorse on this blog.

Story behind the shot – The Art Journal

This is the story behind a studio shot of an old 1851 Art Journal compendium.

The Art Journal || © John Hallett Photography

I have a small set of these compendiums from the years 1849-1862 that I purchased from my late Grandmothers estate and some time ago I took a photograph of one on a farmhouse table lit by an oil lamp. Unfortunately the original RAW file of this shot was lost during ‘the catastrophic HDD failure of 2019‘ and the only copy I have left is a fairly small & low resolution JPEG image from a previous version of my website.

Continue reading

A blast of fresh air

I always have an aerosol can of compressed air in the studio just because it is so handy to clean away small particles from a subject, base or background without disturbing anything else. With close-up or macro photography the tiniest grain of dust looks hugely distracting on the final image and often takes up far too much time trying to clone out in post-processing. For example, it was surprising how many small grains of sugar where on the surfaces after my multiple attempts at filling the glass dish during my pharmacy balance photoshoot (Story behind the shot – Pharmacy Balance) and being able to blow them off in a controlled manner was a massive time-saver.

A 400ml aerosol can be bought quite easily and cheaply (e.g. £4.75 from Amazon, February 2022) and just sits on the side ready for use at any time.

Another ‘Top Tip’ – just some personal tips that I have picked up and hopefully may assist someone else – all of them with some spurious link to photography.

Story behind the shot – Sketches of Yesteryear

Apart from my website and this blog I also run a Facebook page called Sketches Of Yesteryear which features numerous drawings and sketches done by my late Grandfather during the period of the 1920’s to1960’s, primarily in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Shropshire.

This entails taking photographs of the sketches which are contained in a variety of different type & size of sketchbook. It soon became apparent that the optimum method of taking these photographs was from overhead with the sketchbook on a low table, whilst using a range of clamps and wedges to keep the page open without flattening the book and damaging the spine – or creating curvature of the sketch page itself.

Lighting needs to be balanced to prevent an exposure gradient across the page and so two strobes set at equal power are positioned equidistantly either side of the table. Once set up I can record an entire book of sketches in relatively little time.

An example of one of Erics sketches

Another balanced view

Here is a second shot of the pharmacy balance from a slightly different perspective. This is also a composite shot but in this case I didn’t have a background shot with a matching perspective and so I chose to use a textured ‘brick wall’ background instead.

1/100s, f/22, ISO100, 45mm, Composite || © John Hallett Photography

Story behind the shot – Pharmacy Balance

The pharmacy balance had been originally rescued when clearing out my grandparents house. My grandfather had been a pharmacist back in the days when they used to mix the medicines themselves in a back room of a chemist shop and so a balance was a necessity. In fact clearly so important to him that he had kept them until the end of his life.

They had clearly seen better days. I am sure that they had been looked after meticulously during their working life but not so well during storage and so the brasswork was dirty and the wood veneer peeling. If there hadn’t been a sentimental value attached to them I’m sure they would have just ended up in a bin.

I had a plan to take a photograph of them that was hatched back in the middle of 2021 and so I stripped them apart completely and started what could be loosely called a restoration. With the wood polished as best as possible and the brasswork cleaned they looked acceptable and so the photograph was ready to stage.

The plan involved creating a composite photograph with the balance in one shot and a pharmacy background in another. The background shot has already been taken during my day at the museum photoshoot some months previously and so the first part of the staging was to erect a mid-grey (18%) collapsible background behind my shooting table which would make the selection of the subject easier in Photoshop later. Then I chose a marble-effect covering for the table and placed the balance on top (I guessed that a Victorian pharmacy probably had marble worktops). I also had some of the original brass weights and so I placed one of them on the ‘weight’ side of the balance and poured sugar onto the ‘sample’ side to get them to ‘balance’.

It was at this point that I realised how accurate these old balances are. It seemed that it only took a few grains of sugar for it to go from ‘too little’ to ‘too much’ and it took about 10 attempts to get the correct quantity – with an emptying and cleaning of the glass dish each time (trying to remove sugar already in the dish with a spoon left an unsightly divot in the otherwise smooth heap).

Once the balance was set-up and balanced I just had to decide on the camera height for the shot and then rotate the balance to the optimum viewing angle. With the camera tethered to a laptop the first trial shots could be taken and the power of the studio strobes adjusted to achieve an acceptable exposure. To prevent unsightly dark shadows I lit both sides with softbox diffusers.

Once the shots were taken (with a few taken at a different camera height as well) it was time to import them into Lightroom and Photoshop to create the composite. But that’s a story for another day. Here is the finished shot:

“Pharmacy Balance” 1/100s, f/22, ISO100 || © John Hallett Photography

Part 2 (the editing stage) to follow……

Story behind the shot – Royal Daylight

When I was clearing out my late fathers old art studio (that eventually became my photographic studio) a piece of sheet metal used to block up a hole in the door was made redundant when I carried out a more permanent fix. I kept it because I was aware that it was an old enamel advertising sign for paraffin and I hate to throw such things away. A few weeks ago, with the constant media attention to rising fuel costs, I thought that it may become a topical photograph in its own right. But then I started to formulate a plan to photograph it with a paraffin lamp which I had already put to one side as a potential still-life prop.

So, after clamping the sign in an upright position, I placed the lamp in front but slightly to the left to allow the word ‘paraffin’ to show. The problem was that this made the image a little one-sided and so I placed a brown-glass bottle to the right to balance things out. I managed to get the wick of the lamp damp with the remnants of fuel that fortunately remained in the lamp and, after trimming the wick so that it was even, I lit it and adjusted the wick’s height to get a small, but constant, flame.

Using any type of artificial light would have destroyed the effect of the flame and so I took a series of test shots at different shutter speeds to find one that gave the desired result and concluded that 15 seconds was the optimum.

There was little post-processing apart from removing some of the more obvious rust spots on the sign, a bit of dodging of the shadows on the lamp and bottle and a slight graduated darkening of the foreground.

"Royal Daylight" image
“Royal Daylight” 15.0s, f/8.0, ISO100 || © John Hallett Photography

Tethered shooting

Any photographer working in a studio environment will eventually want to work tethered, i.e. with the camera connected to a computer, so that you can not only remotely operate the shutter but also view the image on a larger screen in an image editor.

An unexpected side-effect of my recent Pentax medium-format camera purchase is that I discovered it was compatible with Lightroom tethering, and so with a quickly purchased USB-3 cable I can now see an image directly in Lightroom as I take it – and hence make exposure and focus adjustments in a more much accurate way. Previously I had been using an LCD television monitor linked to the camera via a HDMI cable but this only showed a larger image from the camera’s rear screen and the exposure levels and colour were somewhat suspect. I am aware that some tethering systems can adjust the camera settings remotely as well, but this software is free and certainly worthy of a trial run. It worked extremely well and it is a vast improvement over the LCD television set-up.

Tethered shooting set-up

Whilst I was testing out the tethering I was also trying out my new Pentax 645 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens in the studio environment and I was very pleased with the results given that it was just a quick test.

Test shot using a Pentax 645 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens.
1/100s, f/22, ISO100, 2 studio strobes with soft boxes

That didn’t take long

I’ve not long purchased my medium format camera and already invested in a new lens. It’s for a good reason though – Spring is almost upon us and the garden will be full of flora & fauna and just the right time for some close-up photography. I have chosen the Pentax 645 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Now technically this isn’t actually a macro lens because it will only achieve 1:2 magnification and macro is lifesize, i.e. 1:1, but I don’t really need to magnify that closely and the specification (and reviews) of this lens makes it more than worth it. First impressions are very good and I’ve never had a lens that focusses so quietly.

First shot from the new lens || © John Hallett Photography

A few more composites

I’ve added a few more composite photographs to the collection – all with the ‘old tool’ theme which I’m finding quite interesting. The practice using Photoshop in conjunction with Lightroom is certainly paying off and it is getting easier to add the backgrounds without it looking too obvious. Here are the latest couple:

Rusty cog