Photo Notes

December 7, 2018

About Lenses #1

So this post is sort of a plan or, if you prefer, a work in progress. A couple of days ago I put a post on Facebook announcing a series about lenses; this is the beginning. The idea is to have place where there will be links to the other posts and to give a sort of outline for the project. I’ll update this post as the project takes shape.

The first thing you should know: if you’re looking for advice about what lens to buy for your dSLR you may just want to pass on this whole thing. There are a lot of places you can get that information. This series is about understanding lenses and lens design. It may help you choose a lens for a dSLR, but the intent is to help you choose lenses for large format film work. Regardless it will help you understand how lenses work, and that can’t be a bad thing.

I was shooting with my 11X14 camera yesterday. I made a dozen negatives and shot with four lenses: a casket lens-focal length about 230mm; a Schneider Dagor-14 inch focal length; a Goerz Artar-focal length 12 inches; and a Goerz Gotar-13 inch focal length. The thing is, the focal lengths are very similar on these lenses, so there must be other reasons for making choices about which lens to use. When shooting with a small camera one of the first reasons to make a choice about a lens is the distance you’ll be from the subject. If you are closer to a subject you build more shape into the image, while if you’re further from a subject the image will feel flatter. People discuss this as if the lens changes the perspective. But that’s not true-it’s how far the subject is from the camera. If you shoot a persons face from 10 feet away it will always look flatter than if you shoot the same face from a foot away, regardless of what lens you use or how you crop. Distance from the subject is important to my work, but many other things influence my lens choice. First I think about coverage: you need a lot of image to shoot an 11×14 inch camera. I have a lot of lenses that would just make a circle in the center of the ground glass, and I have a lot more that won’t be sharp over the entire frame. The sense of sharpness and how the un-sharp image feels is critical to conscious lens choice. It’s like a painter picking a brush; even a house painter uses different brushes for different tasks, even more so for a portrait painter.

There’s more to the character of a lens that just sharpness. Contrast is also very important. The human eye interprets contrast AS sharpness. As a result of this modern lenses are always designed to maximize contrast, and that is generally a good thing. Maximizing contrast was particularly important before Photoshop because it was very difficult to control contrast in color printing. One of the things that improved contrast, perhaps more than any other factor, was lens coating.

Shot with 28 cm and back elements of my C. Bethiot casket set. An un-coated lens.

So this is a quick discussion of some of the topics I’d like to explore.

History of lenses. Lens construction pre-dates photography by at least a couple of centuries and possibly millennia. Lenses added to human vision. The thing is that since the human eye sees only a small field at any moment you don’t need to make lenses that are accurate over a large field since a person can move the eye or lens to compensate. Making photographic lenses that would cover a large area, at one time, was an early challenge.

Soft focus lenses. There is a difference between spherical aberrations and chromatic aberration and just poor focusing. I’ll also spend some time on soft focus filters. Many lenses have been specially designed to make soft focus images.

Flowers Wrapped in Newspaper-Shot with a Bausch & Lomb Plasigmat. This is a double exposure at two different apertures, which allowed me to selectively choose what was soft and sharp.

Process lenses. These are specially designed to meet the challenges of making printing plates for off-set presses. They are highly corrected for color and field flatness. Using them offers some special opportunities and challenges. I have several of these lenses that I use with my 11×14 camera.

Shot with a Goerz 12 inch Red Dot Artar on my 11×14 camera. Processing effects do not reduce the great sharpness and contrast of this lens.

Lens aberrations. These include pin cushion distortion, barrel distortions and coma.
Classic designs. Of course there is the Tessar from Zeiss, and there are so many more: Dagors, Dogmars, Angulon, Biogon…
Casket lenses and convertibles. Large format lenses are basically fixed focal length lenses, but many large format lenses have been designed that offer multiple focal lengths. I wrote an article for View Camera some years ago about DIY casket sets. You can download it here: www.siskinphoto.com/magazine/zpdf/LensAssembly.pdf

Shot for an article in View Camera about DIY soft focus lenses. This uses Kodak Portra lenses (add on lenses) instead of a lens designed to be used alone.

This whole thing will go on, but if I don’t post something now I may never get started.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:


One more thing, there are almost 9000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

November 15, 2018

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 3-Kodak Color Glossy prints

This post includes the two Kodak color glossy prints from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The color begins in the original process, but it is modified and enhanced in these images. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of an image adds a sameness to all images. On your phone or monitor images always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. These two images are BIG, 30 inches wide and about 40 inches tall. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the silver gelatin and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. The Silver Gelatin prints are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3571. The cyanotype images are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3630


The show has 41 images up on the walls; these are the two Kodak Color Glossy images. These are machine made images. I could print a hundred of them, all exactly the same, by pushing a button. The images are for sale. The images are about 30×40 inches and mounted on Gator board. The price is $350. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Kodak Color Glossy Images

Curt #2

Leslie #6

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 2-Cyanotype Prints

This post includes all the cyanotype images from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of an image adds a sameness to all images. On your phone or monitor images always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the silver gelatin and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. Kodak Color Glossy images are at http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3633. The Silver Gelatin prints are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3571

The show has fourty-one images up on the walls, these are the twenty cyanotype images. Each time you make a cyanotype image it is different, even if made from the same negative. The images are for sale. The cyanotypes are matted to 16X20 inches and are priced at $500. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Cyanotype Images

Wayne #12

Wayne #2

Rubella #5

Rubella #1

Rachel #7

Mindy #7

Jennifer #5

Jennifer #4

Dana #11

Dana #5

Curt #11

Curt #5

Cassie 2 #2

Cassie 1 #5

Cassie 1 #3

Andrea #2

Andrea #1

Alex #5

Alex #1

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 1-Silver Gelatin Prints

This post includes all twenty silver gelatin images from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of images adds a sameness to all images. On line images are always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the cyanotypes and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. The Cyanotypes are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3630 and the Kodak color glossy images are at: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3633

The show has 41 images up on the walls, these are the 20 traditional silver gelatin prints also called fiber base prints. The images are for sale. The silver gelatin prints, the first group below, are $550. They are matted to 20X24 inches. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. These are all hand made prints, done by me in my darkroom. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Silver Gelatin Images

Bree #12

Cassie 2 #14

Leslie #14

Rachel #11

Andrea #5

Wayne #2 V3

Wayne #1

Tyler #12

Rubella #14

Rubella #4

Mindy #7

Wayne #13

Leslie #6

Jennifer #1

Shelby #2

Cassie 2 #7

Bunny #9

Rachel #10

Bree #4

Andrea #9

September 26, 2018

Courting Chaos

Curt #2

I’ve been working on a project involving my 11X14 camera for about two years now. I’ve done more than a dozen shoots with the camera. The first show of this work will take place on November 2nd at Indiana Landmarks (1201 Central Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202). Images will be available for sale at the show. I may make prints available on line as well. I’ve included small digital versions of the images with this blog. Theses versions of the images are only a shadow of the final prints, so please come to the show if you can.

Wayne #2

These images are figure studies handled with a very unusual and chaotic process described below. Many of them are nudes and several of them are disturbing. I’m writing a lot about the process in this post but I should also share some thoughts about the results. I’ve found the entire project to be a voyage of discovery. I really did not know how the project would evolve when it began. My response to the images continues to change as I prepare them for the show. I am very happy with the way the finished prints look. They have a strong impact. There are a lot of parts of the images, wings horns and make up designs that have symbolic impact. The images seem to invite the viewer to create a narrative from them. My narrative involves ideas about escape. I hope you’ll find them interesting. I’m sure the project will continue to evolve.

I’d like to share some thoughts about the inspiration, the process and the results in this blog. There are a lot of places I could begin this story because this project integrates photographic techniques I learned in high school with image manipulation techniques I’ve learned as recently as a few months ago. The project integrates inspiration from my first trip to Europe in 1971 and continues with images I saw this year. Finally this project requires me to come to terms with allowing chaos to be a co-creator in my photography; as a commercial photographer for more than four decades I’ve been fighting chaos. A commercial photographer wants to control and direct images to produce effective visual communication. In this project I’ve used special processes to push the images into shapes I couldn’t predict or control. The results have been the most surprising images of my career.

Mindy #14

I saw a series of sculptures by Michelangelo called the Prisoners when I was in Europe in 1971. I was about fifteen at the time. At first these images appear unfinished, especially in comparison with the David sculpture, but when I continued to stare at the pieces they seemed to be struggling to escape from the marble. The effect was quite surprising to me at the time: the seemingly unfinished sculpture conveyed movement while other sculpture remained static. It’s now almost fifty years later and I still remember the effect and the details of these sculptures.

I remember seeing an Edward Weston photograph of a pepper just a few years after I saw the Prisoners. This image also had a lasting effect on my development as a visual artist. The design of the image was beautiful, but the medium: a silver gelatin photograph was also gorgeous. Of course I had seen photographs before, but this was a contact print from a large format negative. Over the years, in my classes and in working with photography, I’ve often met people that think photographs are somehow independent of the medium in which they’re presented. So a person might think that they’ve seen “Moonrise Over Hernandez” by Ansel Adams because they’ve seen it on line or in a magazine or a book, but a fine photographic print by Ansel has a different effect than an image from an offset press or a computer display. In order to appreciate a creative work it helps to see the work as the artist intended. Of course there are many posters of paintings by Van Gogh or Monet and so many others, but is seeing theses posters equivalent to seeing the original painting? It was the effect of the actual Weston print that allowed me to see beauty of the medium.

Cassie2 #14

Of course there are so many images that affected my way of seeing, and these images, but the work of Man Ray is really part of this process. Man Ray worked in a variety of media: doing sculpture, painting and photography. My perception of his work changed when I saw original pieces at the Getty in Los Angeles. Many of the reproductions of his work are just poor quality, which affected my understanding of his art. When I saw original pieces I was able to understand the technical mastery inherent in the work. This was important to this project because I realized that he was solarizing his negatives in a way I had never seen before, more about this later. The way that Man Ray integrated creative and innovative technique with creative images is spell binding.

On another level this project began when I purchased an 11X14 inch camera. While it’s not necessarily difficult to think about scaling up a camera “it’s just the same thing only bigger” the reality is pretty impressive. A full frame dSLR uses a sensor that is 1X1.5 inches, regardless of how high the sensor resolution; it’s a small area. The camera for this project has a capture area of 11X14 inches. In addition, while the sensor may have high resolution, film resolution is on the molecular level. The total amount of information you can capture is mind blowing. The costs of the thing are pretty impressive as well; a single sheet of 11X14 inch film costs eight dollars. Adams used 4X5 inch camera much of the time; Edward Weston used an 8X10; Brett Weston did use an 11X14 camera occasionally. The problems of using a camera this size are not just expense and weight, it also needs a lot of light. So when I got the camera I wasn’t sure that I would use it much, maybe just a couple of times to prove I could master the thing. Then, after a lot of thinking, I came up with a way of using the camera to make images that I couldn’t create with any other camera. I decided to explore solarizing (re-exposing) the negatives. I am aware that some people refer to the solarization process as the Sabatier effect, but I prefer to use the term solarization.

Shelby #9

This is similar to what Man Ray did, during the processing of his film he re-exposed the negative to light. This creates a reversal effect. This was a pretty common process when I was in high school, but we solarized prints rather than negatives. When you solarize a print the white area of the print black or gray, which can look pretty compelling. It’s impossible to entirely predict what will happen, and even if you do the same thing twice, the results will be different. The thing about Man Ray’s solarization process is that he turned the black areas of the image white AND he could make multiple prints that were the same. This was because he solarized the negative rather than the print. This creates another big problem-you have to process modern film in total darkness (yes, even black and white film) so you can’t see what you’re doing. When Man Ray did this people used orthochromatic films; films that couldn’t see red light, so he could see what he was doing. I realized that I could shoot 11×14 photographic paper, which can be used under safelight. Since I have an 11×14 inch scanner I could take these negatives, which were on paper, and scan them. This enables me to interpret the images in Adobe Photoshop. The reason that the large area negative is an advantage with this process is that you can choose what part of the image you want to re-expose and you can also choose what part of the image to re-develop. Most of the time I used a Mini-Maglite to re-expose the negative and various paint brushes to re-develop. Of course what actually happens to the image when you re-expose and re-develop is chaotic, almost totally unpredictable. Thus I am courting chaos in making these images.

I did a couple of blog posts when I started this project: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3401 and http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3207 and http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2871 . These posts detail some of the development this process. One of the first things I discovered was that the material I was using to shoot, Ilford Multigrade RC Glossy, was much more light sensitive than I would have thought. It has an ISO of about 100 when used with strobes. I was able to set up a sodium vapor safelight, which made it possible to move around the studio quite easily when shooting. One of the greatest advantages of shooting the paper is that the processing is quick and easy. You can develop the RC paper in about a minute. Even with re-exposure it was only about 5 minutes from exposing with the camera to seeing the negative in white light. Almost as quick as Polaroid! In addition, since the large scanner was in the studio I could scan and reverse the images in short order, so the subject was able to leave with prints! The entire process was very fun and interactive.

Leslie #6

Part of that interactivity was the team that made these images. Of course that includes the models, but it also includes David Kidwell, assistant extraordinaire, and Julie Powers, makeup artist for angels and devils. Julie did a couple of really remarkable things for this project: first she designed the make-up for all the models. This is tougher than it might appear because the Multigrade paper doesn’t react to color in an even way: reds and yellows are very dark while blues are brighter that you would suppose. Julie also arranged for all the models, THANKS! David managed set up and kept me on my feet all through the shoots. Now that I’m in my sixties I couldn’t have done it without him! Each of the models was special. It can be difficult to come to terms with normal pictures of yourself, it’s more of a challenge when you’re teaming up when chaos. You know that all of the images will present you in unpredictable ways. My thanks and gratitude to all!

In another way this project began at University High School in Los Angeles, specifically in bungalow L79. At sort of the end of the campus was the photography classroom. I first learned about photography in that classroom. The instructor was Arnold Rubinoff. Arnold was teaching things that really weren’t common in high school photography. I remember learning to make color prints from him. One of the things we learned was how to do solarization. I remember that a couple of the students were particularly enthusiastic about the process. There is often a line that defines the transition from a normal tone to a solarized tone, referred to as a Mackie line, and these two students created an image that was nothing but a Mackie line. They used a process that involved a wash, squeegee and a controlled re-exposure under an enlarger, then putting the image back into the developer. I based my process on what I remembered from that time. I remove the print from the first developer after most or all image development has taken place. I rinse the image and squeegee the water off the print. Then I use a Mini-Maglite with a #5 Ilford Multigrade filter to re-exposure the print. I usually do this from a distance with my fingers occluding some of the light. This gives me more time and more control over the second exposure. The filter also changes the contrast of the second exposure. Then I use a variety of brushes to add developer. I usually use a more concentrated developer with the brushes.

Andrea #5

There are a number of important insights that led to this process. Of course one of the first problems that had to be solved was the cost of film. Other people have reached this point and turned to litho film. This is a graphic arts film that is designed to hold only black and white tones, no gray tones at all! It can be processed to hold grays, but there are issues. Particularly the stuff is really insensitive to light. The ISO is around 4. As I mentioned above the Ilford Multigrade is about ISO 100, which is almost 5 stops more sensitive to light. This is the difference between shooting at f11 and f2. Since most lenses that cover 11X14 are f8 or slower you can imagine that the speed of the material is critical. Another important moment was when I realized that I had an oversized scanner. My original thought was to remove the emulsion from the paper and put it onto a clear base, which would have been very difficult. Scanning the images was easy and quick.

One of the ideas I had after I got my first large digital printer was that I could make negatives on tracing paper and make traditional darkroom prints. I did make this work, but didn’t follow it up. The images were fuzzy flat and hard to print. I returned to the idea for this project. While I was exploring the negatives, digital prints from my Canon printer were great, but they don’t have the same impact as a handmade print. I used the printer to make negatives on a clear film from Fixxons. I was then able to use these negatives to make cyanotype prints and silver gelatin prints. I mentioned cyanotypes in the blog post I referred to earlier and in this blog post: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243, which is from my last show. This post also describes silver gelatin prints. For this show I used multiple coats of cyanotype chemistry on blotter paper. The images have a very dark maximum tone as a result. Because the prints are hand coated each cyanotype print is different, even if made form the same negative. Cyanotype prints do change over time, which is part of the charm. For the silver gelatin prints I used Ilford Multigrade Warm Tone Fiber base paper. Fiber base papers use a barium clay coating called baryta that produces the white tones. I like this much better than resin-coated papers (RC) that use a titanium dioxide to make the whites. In addition when you air dry a glossy fiber based paper the surface looks fabulous. I also toned all the silver gelatin prints with selenium, which makes a more agreeable print color as well as adding to the stability of the final print. There will also be a couple of large color prints as well. While the actual process is done with black and white material, false color does come in during scanning. I’ve manipulated the images to enhance this effect. Since original negatives are so large the prints can be very large as well, which makes for a very powerful print. One more thing about prints, I believe that the price of a print should reflect, at least in part, the amount of actual hand work done by the artist rather than the size of the image.

Rubella #14

Actually shooting with the camera is pretty tricky. Some things are like working with any large format camera, for instance the image is upside down and backwards on the ground glass. Over the years I’ve become used to that. One problem that particularly affects the 11X14 is bellows extension. The closer your lens is to the subject the further it is from the film. I know this seems exactly backwards, but trust me it’s the way it works. What might not be obvious is that as the lens gets further from the film, there is less light on the film. If you are shooting a head and shoulders portrait with a 35mm camera you don’t have any bellows extension; if you’re shooting with 4X5 film you might have a half stop of bellow extension; with the 11X14 camera you’ve lost about 2 stops of light to bellows extension. This means it’s dark on the ground glass when you’re focusing and composing AND you need a lot of light to make the exposure. Most of the time I was using between 5000 and 7000 watt-seconds of strobe power to make the exposure. My lens was generally set between f11 and f16. While this seems like it would give you plenty of depth of field on a digital camera, on the 11X14 it gives you only a matter of millimeters of focus depth. So focus is critical, which makes it very important for the model to stay in place! Another aspect of bellows extension is the way it affects your lens choice. The normal lens, if there is one, for an 11X14 camera is about 450mm, or 18 inches. If you were shooting that same head and shoulders shot, which is close to life size on an 11X14 camera, you’d need about 1000mm (39 inches) of bellows to bring the lens into focus. That makes the camera really difficult to keep stable and to adjust. So you generally end up shooting with shorter lenses which wouldn’t cover the film at infinity, but they do just fine close to the subject. My favorite lenses for this project were a 12 inch red dot Artar from Goerz (f9) and a 14 inch gold dot Dagor (f8) made by Kern for Schneider. Both are classic formulas. The Dagor was originally introduced in the 1890s, and the Artar in the early years of the twentieth century. Both of these are later lenses that benefit from modern coatings. I use the 12 inch Artar for head and shoulders and the 14 inch Dagor for full body shots. I used a few other lenses on occasion including a 48cm Goerz Dogmar (f5.5) and a 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron from Schneider (f6.3), but they just didn’t keep the subject/camera distance in a good range. When I first got the camera I also got a 24 inch Gorez Artar (f11) but it required too much bellows to be useful in the studio.

The camera itself has some basic challenges. Of course the fact that it’s a working 11X14 camera must be in its favor but… It’s built out of parts from other cameras. It’s built on top of a drawer, like something out of a card catalog. This allows it considerable expansion, but it also means the camera can’t fold into any portable configuration. It weighs a lot, so the tripod needs to be a beast. I’ve used several tripods with it, and now I’m using an 8-foot camera stand. The focus skips out of alignment, which is annoying. The bellows sag. There is a plaque on the camera proclaiming it as the Pernicamera Model Number 0001, built in 1995 to 1997. I’d like to meet the person who built it. I don’t use a shutter with the camera at all. I keep the lens open, but all the illumination, once the paper is loaded, is from safelights. I trigger the strobes with a radio slave to make the exposure. This makes it easier to do multiple exposures and to move the subject between the exposures.

Dana #5

I hope to see you on November 2nd. If you’d like more information about a specific image please let me know.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are almost 8500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

July 16, 2018

Large Format Photography Class

I am teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis this quarter. I will be posting a lot of information from this class, and edited audio versions of the lectures here, on my blog. If you would like to help edit the lectures please let me know! This is my first attempt at a pod cast, and it has some glitches. The information is good, and the presenter is enthusiastic

Here is the link to the first podcast:

I mentioned the quiz that I gave my students in a Facebook post. I was very disappointed by the outcome of the quiz I presented. So the first thing I want to do is go over the questions and answers, and how to get the right answers.

Question 1: You are shooting a waterfall. Your camera is on a tripod. The exposure is ISO 400 f8 and 1/125th of a second. You decide to use a 1/15 of a second to blur the water. You change your ISO to 100, what is your aperture?

The number of stops between 1/125 and 1/15 is 3. The change in the ISO, from 400 to 100 is 1 stop. So you need to change your aperture by 1 stop, that is from f8 to f11. The answer is f11.

Question 2. What stop is 3 stops less light that f5.6

1 stop less light is f8, 2 stops is f11 and three stops is f16. The answer is f16

Your exposure is 1/125th of a second and f4 and ISO 200. You want to use f8 and keep your shutter speed at 1/125 what would you change your ISO setting to?

The difference between f 4 and f8 is 2 stops. So you need to change your ISO by 2 stops. ISO 400 is one stop, 2 Stops is ISO 800. The answer is ISO 800

The standard shutter speeds are

1, ½, ¼, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1,250, 1/500, 1/1000.

Each change lets in less light

The standard apertures are

1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22

Each change lets in less light

The standard ISO numbers are

100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

Each change INCREASES sensitivity

The difference between any two of these numbers, say f8 and f11 or 1/125 and 1/250 or ISO 100 and ISO 200 is one stop. That is the same amount of light. A one stop aperture change changes the exposure in the same way a one stop change in shutter speed or a one stop change in ISO would. You make decisions primarily based on how you want to affect depth of field or stop action.

There are intermediate numbers, like f1.8 or 1/100 or ISO 125. These are between the full stop numbers. They are generally a ½ or 1/3 stop change from a full aperture number or shutter speed. The eye can recognize a 1/3 stop change.

You should KNOW THESE NUMBERS.

This is a photomicrograph of an Autochrome. Autochromes were the first easy, well sort of easy, way to make color photographs. It shows how red green and blue particles of potato starch are used to record color with a monochrome emulsion. Some of you may be aware that this is how your digital camera records color. Red green and blue are recorded by specific pixels. Digital cameras use a Bayer Filter to record this information rather than the random potato starch grains of an Autochrome, but your digital camera uses a solution from 1907 to take color pictures!

These articles have some bearing on the subject of this and the next few posts.

Hand Assembling Lenses for the View Camera

Microphotography

Camera Building

And, just a reminder, here is the link to my DIY Page.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are almost 8500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

June 20, 2018

Horseman 970 Medium Format Camera

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 3:48 pm

I’ve wanted to discuss some vintage cameras for a while. I know that a lot of people are more interested in shooting film again, so I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about film cameras, especially fun film cameras, over the decades. Of course my idea of fun might be different from yours. Also I’m teaching Large Format Photography at the Art Institute of Indianapolis in a couple of weeks, so these posts will add a little extra information to the class. I’ll be adding a few of more of these discussions about film cameras to this blog over the next months.

I’d like to start with a medium format technical camera, the Horseman Press. The one I have is the 970. The later models have more movements and some even have a single window for the viewfinder and the rangefinder. The extra are very nice improvements, but not important for me, because I’m not using the camera for commercial shooting, only fun.

The camera weighs in at less than 5 pounds, without a roll film back. It collapses to about 6X7X4 inches, so it’s easy to carry with you. You can use a Horseman roll film back, which is probably your best choice, but Graflex roll film backs and even sheet film holders will work as well. You can get the Graflex holders in 6X6cm, 6X7cm and 6X9cm. I’ve included a picture with an old Graflex back. I’m not sure about the sizes of the horseman backs. The build quality is extremely fine; everything on mine works just beautifully.

Here are a few things I really like: first it will shoot with a large variety of view camera lenses, not just the Horseman lenses. Since you can focus on the ground glass you don’t have to have the actual Topcon lenses that were made for the camera. This is also critical if you want to use the camera movements: tilt, swing and so on. Focusing on the ground glass is the only way to utilize camera movements on any camera. The camera has a hood so you can use the ground glass out doors and the hood pops out of the way for critical focus with a magnifier. Topcon made lenses that were designed for this camera. They are really very nice, and designed to work with the camera. If you do use one of those lenses you can actually hand hold the camera using the rangefinder to focus and the viewfinder to compose. I should point out that the shutter release on the Topcon lenses is designed to be easy to use when you’re hand holding the camera. No need for a special trigger grip. The camera has really good ergonomics to go with its build quality.

The camera has front rise and front swing. If you might want more movements you have a couple of choices: first you could get one of the later versions of the camera. Alternatively, you could use the back movements. The camera has a back bellows that can be opened with four knobs on the side of the camera. If you do this you have about an inch of play in any direction, which provides back tilt and back swing. It’s a little more difficult to use these movements than working with a monorail camera, but no monorail camera collapses to something you can carry with one hand. If you want to shoot a vertical orientation on a tripod there is an extra tripod socket on the side of the camera, another nice design item.

While I can mention additional nice features, like the distance scale on the top of the camera, I should mention a couple of problems. The first one is that, if you want to use any Topcon lens with the rangefinder, and who wouldn’t, you need a rangefinder cam and a set of infinity stops. The rangefinder cams are generally available on eBay, but they can be a little pricey. The infinity stops, which keep the lens in the right place for its focal length, are very rare. Both of these things make it a little difficult to use this camera with multiple lenses, which is a shame. An additional issue is that the front bed doesn’t drop so it’s unlikely that you could use this camera with any lens wider than a 65mm. A 65mm isn’t that wide on 6X9cm negative. However you could set up the camera with a 150mm or even a 210mm and shoot portraits and the 65mm might be about right for groups.

I’m putting this camera up for auction on eBay. I would have continued to search for a set of infinity stops, but another great medium format camera fell into my hands. That’s a story for next time. Here’s the eBay link
Or you could contact me at john@siskinphto.com.

I guess I should mention that the camera comes with the Topcor 105mm f3.5 Super lens, which is a nice thing. This lens covers the 6X9cm format, but won’t cover 4X5. Topcon made another version that did cover 4X5, but it’s slower.

I’ve also included a Graflex 6X9cm roll film back, a sheet film holder and 3 extra lens boards in the Auction! What a deal.

I’m setting up a separate auction for a Super Topcor 150 f5.6 lens. It’s on a Horseman lens board, but unfortunately I don’t have the rangefinder cam or the infinity stops for the lens. Check it out at this eBay link!

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are more than 8000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

May 23, 2018

Selling Food Photography

Filed under: Commercial Photography,Marketing,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 2:28 pm

There are a lot of times I wish I could write really dramatically. I would like to add a Hunter Thompson flair to this post, something that would make it actually readable. However…

I want to write a little about marketing and pricing and working here. I hope this will be of use to my students and to others. Whenever you are doing photography for money, and that is the very definition of professional photography, you need to think about the work the way your client thinks about the work. Maybe this is easy if you’re doing retail photography, shooting family portraits and so on, but it can be more difficult when you shoot for commercial clients.

I’d like to consider a couple of difficult clients and compare them to a current offer I’ve received. So let’s talk about Realtors. In general this is a group of people who believe that their sales skills have a large impact on their success. That could certainly be true. In addition they do not get any money until the sale is completed. This is important. Individually they see the money they spend marketing a property as coming directly from their own pocket. If they are selling, they believe that getting the owner to the right price will create a sale. In general they believe that price is the most important aspect of selling a property. This may be true. In addition they are never going to sell the same property again, or hardly ever. So a realtor is likely to want to reduce any investment made in selling a property. In addition realtors are very skilled negotiators. The result is a group of potential clients who will not put much value on your work and will be very likely to work with the lowest bidder for services. I did this sort of work for a couple of years and this was my experience. In addition, and this is important, because there is a big market, and because realtors require other services, such as printing and web posting, there are companies that offer a whole package, and they contract photographers, often all over the country. The result is that the photographer’s price is forced down and there is little regard for quality.

There are other groups that can be almost as difficult. I used to do a lot of work for art gallery owners. They had similar limited use for the images and they also considered themselves to be very skilled negotiators. I can tell you, if you want to work with these clients, Be Firm.

Now about food: food is one of the few areas where there are a great many new clients entering the market in the last twenty years or so. Back in the 1980s a restaurant had little or no use for pictures of food. There was no place to put them. A caterer or a hotel might have use for photos, and of course chain restaurants needed photos. The only good jobs in this area were magazines and cookbooks that wanted only first rate work. As a result the photographers who did this work were usually highly skilled professionals, and good food stylists were also in demand. Today even a food truck needs pictures! Any food shot, whether for a restaurant, a chef, a caterer or what ever else, might be used in social media, video, web sites, menus, mailers, email and even a cookbook! So it’s clear to me that food shots have a lot of potential value to a client. In addition food shots can be used over time to make many, many sales. If you’re shooting a pizza or a martini that shot could be used by a restaurant in dozens of ways for years. Your work has a grate deal of value to this group of clients. Quality is still a big issue, but now we have both digital cameras and Photoshop so many more photographers can achieve quality images. While a restaurant or a food truck may place some value on a half eaten burrito posted on Facebook, they will probably place a high value on a quality shot of the same burrito in a condition that looks actual appetizing.

There are ways in which restaurants and realtors are similar. One is that they often need help in many marketing areas rather than just photography. Also, most smaller food purveyors don’t have anyone with the skill and time to devote to marketing. As a result there are companies that are trying to offer a whole group of marketing services to these businesses including photography. I’ve recently been approached by a couple of these places. They want a photographer to go to a location, shoot the food and do some editing and file prep. Then they’ll use the photos to market the restaurant. This is a good idea. The market exists. There is one problem these companies don’t want to pay enough. It is unlikely that a single location can be shot and prepared with less than two hours, and more like three, of a photographer’s time. You have to schedule, load equipment, drive, unload equipment, shoot, load equipment, drive, prepare files and upload files at the very least. Surely any photographer competent to do this work ought to get more than $100 for doing this. Just saying…

Of course I’ve been through this sort of thing before. I’ve been told there will be enough volume to make it worth my time. I’ve been told it will provide me with contacts and a network. I’ve been told that it’s really easy and so on. Here’s what I want to say: IT’S WORTH MORE TO THE CLIENT. The client needs good work.

I’ve put a lot of my food photography into this post. Well, I’m not above doing my own marketing. I’ve also put in a couple of restaurant interior shots; your clients will need that as well.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are almost 8000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

March 15, 2018

A Do It Yourself LED light!

I’ve been watching the evolution of LED lighting for some time. As with any light source I’m interested in a couple of things, first how much actual light can I get? Second what does the spectrum look like? Third what is the color temperature of the light? Fourth what is quality of the light, and by this I mean how hard or soft is the light? Fifth what is the portability of the light? Finally, I’m interested in the price. In this post I’ll present a Do It Yourself light that presents a satisfactory solution to these problems.

How much light? I compared this light to a Lowell Omni light with the 420 watt EKB bulb. The DIY LED bulb had 1/3 of a stop less light that the Omni did if the Omni was set to throw a broad light. When the Omni was set to throw a spot then the Omni was 2-1/2 stops brighter. You should note that the LED light is a broad light, so the comparison to the Omni set for spot is not realistic.

I looked at the spectrum with my homemade spectrometer. The spectrum is continuous from red to blue. I can’t tell accurately if the cut off is different from a tungsten light source, but I don’t see a difference. The earlier LED light sources I tested did not have a continuous spectrum; so this is a real improvement.

 

I tested the light with a Konica Minolta Color Meter III F. This is a very accurate meter. The DIY LED had a color balance of 2930K. If you prefer the light needed an 82B filter AND a CC9 magenta filter to match 3200K. 3200K is, of course, the standard professional movie color temperature, which is the color temperature the Lowell Omni light is designed for. This means the DIY LED is a little warmer and a very little bit green. With a ¼ CTB filter over the unit the light had a temperature of 316, essentially even with the 3200K standard. There was still a small amount of green color that could be corrected with a CC10 G filter. This is a small correction, which could be ignored in many situations. I should point out that my various quartz lights show a color spread from about 2900K to 3300K, so there is normally variation in standard quartz lights. You can see the variation in these images.

The left test is a Quartz light with a DYS bulb, the center is the LED with a ¼ CTB filter and the right side is the uncorrected LED.

When corrected in Photoshop all the files look pretty much the same as you can see in the image below.

The DIY LED light acts like a small soft box. If you’re not worried about a specular highlight that might reflect the multi bulb set up, it’s really quite nice. Especially if you use it close to the subject. If the multi bulb design creates a problem in your image you can use it with a fabric cover. You can also use it with a light panel to make it even softer. You can see the difference between the LED light on the left and the Lowell Omni light on the right below. Both lights were set in the same position, about 5 feet from the wig head and about 45º to the left side of the camera. The version from the Lowell light has harder transitions and deeper shadows.

My design for the light is quite light weight, but a little bulky. The turkey roasting pan is easily pushed out of shape, which could be a problem. The good part is that the light will run for quite a while on a 12volt battery with a 120volt converter.

With out a filter the light will cost you about $45. NICE PRICE! Of course this doesn’t include a light stand. The filter is about $7 to $10 depending on which manufacturer makes it. Since the front of the lights are cool you won’t need to worry about burning or melting the filter.

Please note that I am looking for other color temperature bulbs that would work with this design. At this time these are the best balanced bulbs I’ve found. They will work well with a DSLR set to Tungsten. And in many cases can be mixed with other tungsten light sources. I am doing other tests as well, so look for updates. The daylight balanced bulbs I’ve tried are not very close to daylight or strobe.

Here’s the parts list:

The bulbs are Feit 100 Watt Dimmable. I got them at Costco, which was about half the price of the bulbs at this Amazon link.

The 7-bulb holder is available at Amazon. Here’s the link:

The socket, which has an on/off switch, is on Amazon at this link:

I should point out that this socket fits onto a standard light stand. There are several versions of this device. All are a little flimsy. The one in the link has a bigger tightening knob. I think this is better than the one I actually bought, mine slips.

I bought the turkey roasting pan at the Dollar Store. You can get them at Amazon, but you have to get a bunch of them. The pan was just a dollar that the Dollar Store.

The only trick to assembling the thing is to get the roasting pan to sit at the base of the bulbs. I used a couple of feet of pvc pipe to push the pan against against the base of the bulbs. I attached the pvc parts with pvc glue. I’m sure other things would work as well. Keep in mind that the base of the bulbs does get pretty warm, so you probably don’t want to glue the roasting pan to the bulbs. Take a look at the picture to see how I assembled it.

This shot shows how deep the bulbs are set into the turkey roasting pan.

I hope you’ll also check out my books, use the links below:

One more thing, there are now more than 7500 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

October 20, 2017

Thoughts About A Penny

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Siskin @ 9:57 am

In these days, in which our symbols and our differences are taking up so much of our collective attention, I would like to say a few things about money.

First, money has a bad reputation; people say money that is the root of all evil. Frankly I haven’t seen any of that. In fact I think money is the most important invention our species has ever made. In addition I think money is much more likely to lead us to peace than to war. I also think that misunderstanding money causes pain. When we look at money as an end in itself, or as power, we misunderstand. Money is trade.

When a client pays me the effects of that transaction spread like ripples in a pond. I may purchase a product made in China, or pay for health care in Indiana. There is no such thing as a single exchange. Like ringing a bell the vibrations spread out into the world.

I didn’t start this essay to discuss economic interconnectedness, as important as I think that is. I wanted to say something about symbols. Symbols have had a large effect on our culture recently, especially the flag and statues of members of the Confederate States of America. While these are important symbols, I’d like to remind people about the symbols associated with money.

Abraham Lincoln is on the front of the penny. When I grew up Lincoln was called the Great Emancipator. The Civil War was about slavery, but it defined much more than that. The fact that the United Sates won that war proved that there would be a UNITED States of America, not just some loose association, with different rules and different standards everywhere across the continent. In many ways it made us one country. The power and wealth of our country flows from this fact. In addition this fact has made us a country of moral values: a country where the rights and opinions of all citizens are protected. Of course we are not perfect, but we are striving to become a more perfect union. So on the back of the penny it says UNITED STATES oF AMERICA.

On the front of the penny is the word LIBERTY. If Liberty was not a central value of the United States then we would long since have descended into the tyranny that afflicts so much of this planet. I would never suggest that we have secured a perfect personal liberty for ourselves, and our descendants, still we can speak, worship and associate freely. That is a lot.

On the back of the penny it says E.PLURIBUS.UNUM. I was taught that this means “From many one.” It is a traditional motto of the United States. One country that is the effort and result of many, many people. We are mostly descendants of immigrants who came here to secure liberty and a future for themselves and their children. We can only secure these things as a nation. No person is immune from harm individually; we make ourselves safe when we come together. This association places limits on liberty. Personally I agree with some limits and not others, but as a citizen I value the benefits of association. Without all of us, all of our experience and opinions, and values, we are less than we could be.

Above President Lincoln’s head are the words “IN GOD WE TRUST”. One of the greatest accomplishments of this country is the freedom to worship, or not worship as each person sees fit. The first part of the first amendment to the constitution protects this human right. This is not a universal human right, nor are the other rights protected by the first amendment universal. They are protected by our United States of American and the constitution, which defines our association. So this statement can remind us of our rights as citizens and the importance of placing our ultimate trust in something greater than our individual selves. This statement does not name a god, or any particular deity, it respects our personal right to believe or not. While some will disagree with me, I think it would be very difficult to write a more important reminder of our rights on a penny. Still, in this essay at least, there is room for the complete first amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

That is a great statement of some of our basic freedoms.

I hope that the next time you see a penny on the ground you’ll pick it up and dust it off. And maybe we can hope that all our leaders will be wise and generous and remember the importance of a single cent.

John Siskin

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