Photo Notes

May 16, 2020

Shutter Hacks 2

So it’s been a long time since I last updated this blog. I’ve done a lot of personal projects since I updated this blog. The biggest one has been moving to New Mexico. I’ve also done a number of equipment related photographic projects in the last year, which I am going to add to this blog as time goes by. This is the first one of those, and in some ways it’s just an extension of the last blog post I did. You may remember, or you can check below, it was about shutters and lens boards for large cameras.

New Photography from Taos San Francisco de Asís Mission Church #1. Made with the Toyo 810M and 6 ½ inch W.A. Dagor.

The two elements that have the most do with how your final images are captured, are first, the lens that makes the image, and second the way in which you record the image. Many lenses are designed to have as little character and to be as sharp and contrasty as possible, but that’s not true of all lenses. Some lenses are designed for soft focus, some lenses are designed primarily to bring the image closer or to give you a wider angle. Many lenses have lower contrast and more flare. Modern lens design is often more concerned with contrast than with sharpness. The human will often see contrast and saturation as more graphic than actual detail. Also, some lenses are just not very good. Many older lenses, while they may have flare or other defects, can make very compelling images. Some modern lenses have been designed for digital cameras that exhibit these properties: check out for examples. The lens you use may have more effect if you’re working with a large format film camera; and you’ll have more lens choices.


Regarding recording the image, if you’re recording it in digital then the simple thing is how much resolution do you have? But if you’re recording it in film, the size of the film and the characteristics of the film will have a huge effect on your final image. The resolution of the film, whether the film is color or positive transparency, or black and white negative film, all these things have a tremendous amount to do with your final capture.

In order for the lens and film (or sensor) to function well, you need a number of controls on your camera. You need to control how much light finds the final capture area, whether it’s film or digital, and that’s done by blocking some of the light in the lens with a diaphragm (aperture) and by using a shutter (shutter speed). You’ll need to focus the lens by changing the distance between the lens and the film and of course, you need to keep everything dark between the lens and the capture area.

So a camera may be quite simple: just a film holder and focus. With large format cameras the shutter is usually mounted in the lens, as is the diaphragm. Many large format cameras are little more than a platform for the assemblage of parts. Many cameras are much more complex, particularly digital cameras, which will have the sensor and shutter and meter and viewfinder and electronics built into the camera. One advantage of a large format camera, not only can you change the focus of the lens, but you can change the geometry of the camera: the camera allows you to change whether the film plane and the lens plane are parallel to each other as well as the distance between the two. Sometimes simplicity offers more control than complexity.
All of this means that you can modify large format cameras. You can create or customize cameras that give you special abilities or enable you to use special lenses or enable your lenses to do things they might not otherwise have done. You can put different sizes of film on behind lenses that were designed for something else. And all of this can be very creative, and it can be fun! It can enable you to make images you couldn’t otherwise make.

The Sinar shutter mounted onto a Toyo Bellows lens hood. You can sell all the shutter speeds on the side. It’s mounted sideways to keep the shutter control away from the rails of the bellows lens hood.

In the last blog post I talked about changing lens boards and mounting different lenses onto multiple large format cameras. I showed how I made a make lens board converter to enable me to fit a Toyo lens board on my old 8X20 Korona view camera. I also showed how to mount an external shutter, called a Packard shutter, on to a bellows lens shade. This puts the shutter in front of the lens. Packard shutters are air-driven shutters and they’re incredibly useful, but they have only limited control. In this post I’m demonstrating two more shutter adaptations: one is using a shutter from a Sinar camera and the second one with a Packard shutter.

A side view of the bellows lens hood and the shutter. The adapter from the lens hood is glued to the lens hood. The original purpose of the lens hood and the barn doors is similar.

Sinar are made wonderful view cameras, very complex, with very precise levels of control. Very fine Swiss workmanship. They were some of the finest view cameras you could buy, but they were also some of the most expensive view cameras you could buy. They made some really, really interesting accessories. One of the things they made was a shutter designed to fit into the camera. This shutter was way better than your average Packard shutter because this shutter what had accurate shutter speeds from 1/60 to 30 seconds. As time went by their shutters evolved into electronic devices that could only work with Sinar cameras. The shutter I adapted was designed to work with the older Sinar Norma cameras. It is a completely mechanical shutter.

The Sinar barn doors, before disassembly.

Rather than use the magnetic strip I used to hold a Packard shutter to my bellows lens shade, I used the mount from a Sinar barn door attachment, which I put on the front of a Toyo bellows lens shade. Now it works with any of the cameras that I’ve already adapted to take the Toyo bellows lens shade: my 8X20 Korona camera, my 11X14 camera, my Toyo 810M and Toyo 45C. Not only will it fit a lot of cameras, it will fit a lot of lenses. You can see how this comes together in the pictures associated with this particular post. The Sinar shutter requires a cable release with an extremely long throw, much longer than a regular cable release. This is because the cable cocks the shutter as well as triggering the shutter. I’ve found that the only cables that work are the ones Sinar built for the shutter.

The whole assembly mounted onto my Toyo 810M. Note the Sinar cable release.

Another project that I want to share here is a shutter I attached to a Toyo board that was originally made to fit adapt the Speed Graphic lens boards onto the Toyo cameras. Many of my lenses are mounted on the speed graphic lens boards since the boards are common, inexpensive and small.  The Packard shutter mounts directly behind the Toyo board. You can see this in the pictures. This is a smaller Packard shutter. There’s a pipe which attaches the air hose through the shutter. It’s a very handy item.

The front of the Toyo/Packard board. The tube in the upper right is for the air hose.

The back of the Toyo/Packard lens board. You’ll notice the tube from the front is attached with rubber air hose to the piston.

Both projects are also shown with the diaphragm adapters that allow you to hold lenses that aren’t mounted onto boards and don’t have retaining rings. This all makes for very, very flexible lens mounting system. You can put practically any lens on the front of your view camera, even lenses that were never designed for cameras.

The Toyo/Packard board with a lens attached. I’ve used an old diaphragm holder to attach the lens.

I’ll be describing several more projects in upcoming posts, including a tour of my new darkroom. Also, I will be selling a number of items that I no longer need. So, if you watch this blog you may find those items listed; and they will cost a little less money here than on eBay.

So if there’s anything that you’re particularly looking for you might let me know send an email to, thank you very much for your attention.

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

One more thing, there are more than 13,000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

March 27, 2019

Lens Board Hacks for Large Format Cameras

I’ve been teaching people about view cameras for a long time. I used to tell people it was like a cross between an erector set and a camera. You can put it together in whatever way you want. I also used to tell them that it was a simple camera; the thing is simple doesn’t mean easy. An ax is a very simple tool, but if you need to cut down a tree, I guarantee you that a chain saw, while more complex, will be easier…


The view camera is essentially three parts, the lens, the bellows and the film holder. The rest of the camera is there to make it possible to fit these parts together in the best position for a specific photograph. I’m going to be discussing how the lens is mounted on the camera in the rest of this post. Almost any lens will fit on almost any view camera. Brands don’t matter because lenses are fitted to boards which fit specific cameras. There are no electrical contacts, rangefinder cogs or complex bayonets in this system, only rectangular boards. These boards are designed to fit on a camera so that no light can leak around the board. Many recent manufacturers use metal boards with a sort of lip that fits the camera, but may versions have been used over the years. This s the problem: most cameras use a board that only fits that brand, or at most a couple of brands, of camera. In fact, many camera companies use different boards for different model cameras. While this doesn’t mean that you can’t exchange lenses between different cameras it does become a pain in the neck. In order to mount a lens on a different board you generally have to unscrew the rear elements and remove the retaining ring before you put it back together on another board fitted to that lens.


If you only have a couple of lenses and a couple of cameras this isn’t intolerable, but for me it’s getting out of hand. I have a couple of dozen lenses and five cameras I might use them on. Since each lens might be used with any of the cameras this can mean a lot of lens boards. I’m not the first person to create conversion boards, in fact, many of the camera companies build boards to fit boards from other cameras. However, a couple of my recent cameras, my 11X14 and 8×20 camera, are older and no conversion boards exist. Also my main lens boards, the 6X6 inch Toyo board, is too large to easily fit to these cameras. To compound the problem these two cameras don’t take the same lens board. So, I want to show you how I solved this problem. In addition I want to show you a way to use lenses that don’t have a retaining ring and lenses that don’t have a shutter.


The basic plan, which I’ve illustrated below, is to take a lens board that fits the new camera and attach it to a lens board that fits a Toyo camera. You’re going to put them together front to front, with a little space between. The space allows for the boards to be connected to the camera. Then you can take the center piece of the front standard and mount it to the Toyo board. Since the standards on Toyo cameras, and several other cameras, are the same on both the front and back this works well to give a place to attach any lens mounted on a Toyo board. I should also point out that the standards on Toyo cameras, at least older ones, are pretty fragile, so it’s possible to get the part you’ll want off a broken camera.


01: This shows my new Korona 8X20 camera. The lens board I’m converting is mounted on the camera.


02: The wooden lens board for the Korona and a metal Toyo board. I want the Korona to take Toyo boards.


03: After I’ve outlined the hole I want; I drill holes around the edge of the hole. These holes make it easier to control the Dremel tool.

04: The Dremel set up. The bit cuts to the side. The black collar makes it easier to control the Dremel tool. BE CAREFUL, the Dremel is tricky to use.

05: Cutting the hole with the Dremel tool.

06: I use the hole in the wood lens board to size the hole in the Toyo board.

07: I’ve used the same process as I did on the wood lens board. Holes first then the Dremel too. The metal board is more difficult to cut than the wood board. BE CAREFUL-USE EYE PROTECTION!

08: The metal board has sharp edges. I’ll use the Dremel to sand them smooth

09: I’ve drilled holes in the edges of the Toyo board. Then I’ll use those holes to drill hole for the bolts into the wood lens board. I’ve placed washers in the space between the boards. If you just screw the two boards together you won’t have space to mount them on the camera.

10: I’ve assembled the two boards. I’ll check this assembly on the camera Before I Glue The Parts!

11: I’ve put a bead of the glue onto the wood board. I use Ultra Black Gasket Maker Glue. Basically it’s black silicone sealer.

12: I’ve put the glue into the gap. Use a lot of glue. You don’t want light leaks. This is a messy step.

13: This is the part I salvaged from a broken Toyo standard. I had to fill a couple of screw holes with the same Ultra Black Gasket Maker Glue. I use the same part on my 11×14 camera.

14: the assembly mounted on the 8×20 Korona camera.

15: My Schneider 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron f6.3 mounted onto the camera!

View camera lenses are connected to lens boards with a threaded ring machined on the outside of the lens. These threads mate with a ring called a retaining ring. This is a simple system which works well until the retaining ring is lost. If all these retaining rings had been standardized to just a few sizes losing a ring might not be a problem. Unfortunately there are at least dozens of different widths and thread counts and pitches, so it’s impossible to just order a replacement. Generally you’ll have to have a new retaining ring custom machined. This is expensive; if you can find a machinist with the needed skills. However there is a fix! Many years ago, a sort of universal lens holder was made. This used a variable diaphragm, like the aperture in a lens. These diaphragms were made with very stiff blades, which could be locked in place. These are generally available at eBay, but they are pricey. Expect to pay from $200 to $500 for a good one. You want to be careful to check how large and how small the diaphragm adjusts, so you can be sure it will fit as many lenses as possible. Use terms like adjustable large format lens diaphragm to find one on eBay. Keep in mind that you need to be sure the lens is probably seated and locked in place before you put the lens on your camera.

A1: The lens mounting diaphragm on the camera.

A2: An old brass lens on mounted to the 8×20 camera.

In addition to lenses that don’t have a retaining ring there are also a lot of lenses that don’t have a shutter. Of course you can use a lens cap if you’re working with a long exposure, but if you want more choices it’s good to have a shutter. You can have a machinist install your lens in a new shutter, but this is quite expensive and requires a very good machinist. If you have as many old lenses as I do this can be a daunting prospect. There is a way around this problem as well, but it isn’t as controllable as a modern leaf shutter. The solution is a Packard shutter. Strangely enough these are still being made! You can find a new shutter at, or you can find used ones on eBay. These are air driven shutters, which means that they’re powered by an air bulb that you hold in your hand. In fact these air bulbs are the reason that most shutters have a B setting, b stood for bulb. With these shutters you can hold the shutter open as long as you want, or open and close the shutter in about 1/20 of a second. It’s important to stress that that fast speed is extremely variable. These shutters are often mounted inside a large view camera or on the back of lens boards. I’ve arranged one to fit on the front of a Toyo compendium lens hood. This works very well for a couple of reasons, first I can use a very large Packard shutter that wouldn’t fit into my camera. Second, I can use the same shutter with several cameras. The compendium lens hood protects my film from being exposed by light from the side of camera. It’s also nice that the compendium hood fits onto the part of the front standard that I used as my lens board converter! This means that I can mount the same shutter assembly on several cameras, including some that are quite old.

B1: The Toyo standard has mounting holes for a compendium lens shade. The shade is mounted in this shot.

B2: I’ve moved the compendium shade in front of the lens. I put magnetic strips on the front of the shade. These strips are holding the Packard shutter in this shot.

B3: The Packard shutter is open in this shot. Now I can use the Schneider G-Claron on the camera!

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

One more thing, there are more than 10,000 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.

January 21, 2016

Union Station, Los Angeles #2

Union Station #2

Union Station #2

Another shot of Union Station in Los Angeles. This is a beautiful place fallen on hard times. It’s still busy, but people in L.A. don’t use transit service like they do in New York, and trains just aren’t part of the mix in California. Still I’ve take trains out of here a couple of times, and it’s always interesting. It’s also a fabulous place to shoot, but don’t take my word for it-look for Union Station on television. It’s used for a lot of shoots. Consequently the management is difficult about using a camera, and won’t let use a tripod at all. I really like the way the super wide effect changes this building, and I also like the way the people appear in the shot. I particularly like the child on the left side of the frame.

Super-wide Camera

Super-wide Camera

This shot was made with the super-wide camera I build. I used the same one for shots at El Matador and other places. I’ve included a scan of the original negative so you can see the way the lens cuts the corners off on a 6X6cm piece of film. This was always an interesting camera to use. It wasn’t possible to really predict hos the camera would see, or even if the negative would be sharp. So it was always exciting to see the film. You can check out an article I did on making cameras at this link. I hope you’ll check it out.


original scan

original scan


Just so I’ve mentioned it my family’s company Angelus Furniture built the benches and some of the other furnishings in this room.

If you want a print of Union Station, Los Angeles #2, use the link below. I’ll send you a print mounted and matted to 16X20 inches. No additional charge for shipping in the U.S.

I’m going to give a Micro-Photography Workshop soon ( and another Lighting Workshop, probably in March. Please check them out. You can find out more about my workshops, and access some FREE Classes at my website.

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

January 7, 2016




The last blog was about my Super-Wide Camera, which has 110º angle of view. Of course it’s possible to go even wider, and I built a camera to do that also. The thing is that when you go beyond super wide you get distortion. Just as it’s not really possible to make a flat map of the entire planet that makes all the continents and distances look right, it’s impossible to show everything in front of the lens without distortion. This camera/lens combination shows everything in front of the camera: 180º in all directions, but the images bows out in the center. This is called fisheye effect.

The shot was made at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, maybe you’ve seen it in an old James Dean movie? There is a pendulum in the center of this shot, but it’s hard to see because it’s moving. The pendulum demonstrates that the earth is moving, but I’m not sure how that works. I made the shot on 4X5 Ektachrome film, and the exposure is long enough for the pendulum to have moved from side to side. Didn’t use a tripod, but I did have the camera steadied against the rail. The transparency looks a little like a Christmas tree ornament. The actual image is about 80mm across on the film, pretty impressive.

Fisheye Camera

Fisheye Camera

I should say that I didn’t build these cameras because you couldn’t get super wide lenses or fisheye lenses for 35mm cameras. I did it because the resolution of film was so poor. If you made an 8X image of shot like this from 35mm film the image would already show grain and a loss of detail. Because this shot uses at least 10 times more film than there would be with a 35mm shot the grain and detail are much better! I’ve made prints 24 inches wide that looked fabulous. You can use the PayPal link below to get a print that’s about 13 inches wide, on a black background. I normally mount and mat on white board, if you’d like something else let me know when you order the print. I’ll be adding more links as this project goes forward.

The camera started life as a Speed Graphic, a classic press camera. The lens is from a Russian Kiev 60 camera that shot 6X6 cm images. The lens made full frame (edge to edge) square fisheye images on the original camera. I modified the lens by removing the built in lens hood. Then I customized the Speed Graphic to take the Kiev lenses. I also had to remove the base board (front) of the camera so it wouldn’t show up in the shot. The camera was a junker when I began, with a very rough appearance. I took the leather off the outside of the camera and refinished the mahogany surface. On the whole, I think it is the best looking camera I ever built. The camera focuses using the ground glass or the focus scale on the lens. Speed Graphics have a built in focal plane shutter so that’s what the camera uses. You can see my article about camera building here.

I’ve attached a couple of the other images I made with the camera below. I hope to add posts and PayPal links for these images soon.

Wat Thai Temple, Los Angeles

Wat Thai Temple, Los Angeles


Castaic Power Plant-Pulling Rotor, California

Castaic Power Plant-Pulling Rotor, California

I hope you’ll order a print of this image. As usual the price, $125, includes mounting and matting. The image will be about 1X13 inches. Please let me know about the mat at Also contact me if you’d like the print shipped outside the United States. You can also get the image, and many others, in my book B-Four.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

January 6, 2016

Carousel #1

Filed under: Do It Yourself,Other,Photographic Education — John Siskin @ 2:36 pm

Carousel #1

First off I’d like to thank everyone who’s registered at this blog, NOW AT 4000 REGISTER USERS! Wow!

This is one of my all time favorite photographs. I like it so much I’ve posted the shot on the blog before.

I don’t know that I’m adding anything new here, but I am adding a PayPal link so you can buy this image, and it’s also in my book B-Four.

I like this image because I think it captures the excitement of a boy ridding a carousel. It has a real sense of movement, and the horse almost looks alive! Of course it means more to me because of the experience of making the image. I’ve often talked to people about how making an image affects my perception of the image. So in order to make this image I had to make a unique camera.

Super Wide Camera

Super Wide Camera

This camera started as a tool to shoot Polaroid materials with 35mm lenses. Before digital the only way to preview your lighting and exposure was to shoot Polaroid instant shots before you committed the image to film. This was pretty easy with a large format camera because you could exchange the film back for a Polaroid back, but it was a real problem for 35mm cameras. It was possible to get a Polaroid back that was built to fit on a 35mm camera, but since you couldn’t exchange the back in the middle of a roll of film you needed an extra camera body. A dedicated camera with the custom Polaroid back was a pretty big expense. I designed this camera to use a Polaroid back built for my large format camera and to shoot Nikon lenses. That the thing worked at all was pretty amazing, but it turned out to be pretty useful. As you can probably tell I’m not the world’s best craftsman.

When I finished the camera I realized I could attach a film back as well as the Polaroid back. With most lenses the really wouldn’t mean much, but Nikon builds a few lenses that provide a unique point of view with this camera. These lenses capture a much larger angle of view than a 35mm camera can shoot. They are designed this way so that they can be used to shoot architecture and maintain perspective. This camera is able to capture more of the image from these lenses, which gives you a well corrected extreme wide-angle view. With this camera the lens has about a 110º angle of view, similar to a 17mm lens on a full frame digital camera.

The shutter on the camera is a pneumatic Packard shutter, activated by a bulb you hold in your hand. The shutter speed is about 1/30 of a second, really pretty slow. So in order for the horse to stay sharp I had to move the camera with the horse as I activated the shutter. This is actually a pretty neat trick; it’s called panning. Panning works pretty well with a 35mm camera, but frankly I didn’t expect it to work here because the camera is so awkward. I was amazed and pleased that the pan worked.

Scan of the negative

Scan of the negative

One or two of the earlier posts was about editing, which is so important to any photographer. I’m including an un-retouched scan of the negative (does un-retouched mean touched, probably not). I’ve used a lot of the image in the final presentation. I hope you’ll like it and want to buy a print. The link below will let you order a print of Carousel #1 mounted and matted. The image will be about 13 inches wide, and about the same height. I hope you’ll consider ordering one, the price is just $125, which includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like me to send a print somewhere else let me know at, I’m sure we can work something out.

I should also mention my book again B-Four. I put this book together with many of my favorite images. I’ve added links to the book from other images that are included. You can see all the images if you go to the link.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:

December 21, 2015

El Matador State Beach #2

Filed under: Do It Yourself,Film Technique,Fine Art,Landscape Photography — John Siskin @ 5:45 pm
El Matador State Beach, California #2

El Matador State Beach, California #2

I like the texture and presence of the rocks in this shot as well as the action of the water. The shutter speed, about 1/30th of a second showed the water coming over the rock in an interesting way. The rest of the water shows a feeling of movement, which is good for surf. The camera is positioned quite close the rocks in the foreground which gives the image a more exaggerated point of view. I can do this because of the very wide coverage of this lens. I’m still playing with ways of presenting this image on line since horizontal panoramic formats seem to suffer on this blog format. I really liked shooting at El Matador State Beach because of the rocks and caves. I’ve added another image from El Matador here.

Part of being a creative professional is staying creative. I suppose that’s obvious when you say it, but it’s a challenge to do. I see through the eyes I’ve always used, and I need to continue to see fresh and new. Of course craft will make a beautiful image, and craft is essential for my professional work, but there is more to being creative than achieving great craft. One way I change my seeing is to change my tools. If I choose to shoot with my usual kit I go down roads I’ve seen before, but new tools create new paths. Often this is because of what a tool CAN’T do. So if I have a huge camera I’m forced to look for static subjects. You can’t shoot children playing with an 8X10 camera. Over the years I’ve built cameras that allow me to walk down different paths. I’ve been especially interested in shooting extreme wide angle views. Of course I could always do this with 35mm film cameras, but the combination of wide angle vies with the lower resolution of 35mm film was not satisfying. I’ve found that using extreme wide angle lenses with my digital camera is much better. I’ve also used other tools to achieve this point of view; one of the most successful is my super wide camera. This camera uses a special Nikon lens, with very wide coverage, and medium format film (6cm wide). I’ve written about this camera before: I’ve included a picture of the camera below.

Superwide Camera

Superwide Camera

As I’ve mentioned this blog is part of a series of entries about my fine art images. I’m doing this series as part of an update for the fine art pages on my website. I hope this series will make my images more accessible, both on line and as prints. If you’d like to buy a digital print of this image, mounted and matted on archival cotton rag board, please use the PayPal link below. The image will be about 16 inches wide mounted on 16X20 board. The price includes shipping in the United States, for other countries please ask first.

This image, and many others, is also available in my book B-Four. You can look at the book at this link, and order it as well. I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

You can buy one of my other books by clicking on the titles below:


July 23, 2015

Finally the Darkroom!

I’ll start with a mention that you can find some of my courses from BetterPhoto on the workshop page of my website: You can also arrange a One on One Workshop or sign up for the Portfolio Workshop. Check out the whole site:! You can get my books by clicking on the pictures below, and why not do that now?

Sometimes a circumstance or a thing sets off an idea in my brain. I see something that I like and I need to make a photograph, or I get to work with someone and that brings up new ideas, or a desire to work on an old idea. For instance I just did some testing with an Indianapolis model, Khristian Hildrith, and it was a great chance to work with my Norman Tri-Lite. I’m adding one of these shots here, and I’ll probably add more later.

Khristian with the Norman Tri-Lite

Khristian with the Norman Tri-Lite

The thing about being a professional creative, and I suppose this applies to all visual artists, writers and other creatives, is that there is a responsibility to work even when you’re not inspired. Not only do you need to work, but also you need to do good work. Sometimes this means doing the craft more than working with inspiration. For instance, a client may come to me to do a product shot that doesn’t require a new vision, just a good solid interpretation of a three-dimensional object into two-dimensions. Sometimes doing the craft of photography will lead me to new ideas. Often, when I haven’t done any real shooting for a while I’ll get out the microscope equipment and search for new worlds in a plastic ice cube. Creativity is something I need to exercise.

Plastic Ice Cube

Plastic Ice Cube

There are always stumbling blocks and obstacles to creative work. The desire to make an image doesn’t always begin with a road map to the image, or even with a visual inspiration. I’ve written about my delight with big film cameras and large format lenses in the past. Just using these things makes me feel better about photography and my way of working. A view camera slows me down; it makes me more deliberate about everything that goes on into the frame. My problem has been that, if I want to make an image with a large camera, I also need to be able to process and print it. When I did commercial or personal work ten years ago I could send the film to the lab, but now I need to do the lab work. I am so pleased to announce that I now have a darkroom!



This is a black and white darkroom; frankly I just can’t find any reason to do color work in a wet darkroom. For color work, digital is not only easier; it just seems better. You can see a couple of images here, but I want to tell you a little about the tool kit in the darkroom. It starts with the sink, in a chemical darkroom the sink is where stuff happens. This sink will hold three 20X24 inch trays, so I can make very large prints. It’s a wooden sink, and it’s coated with marine grade varnish. It’s a real sink, with hot and cold running water, not just a catch basin. My Jobo processor fits easily into the sink, which means I can process most any kind of black and white film or paper.

The large sink, with the Jobo Processor

The large sink, with the Jobo Processor

I guess that when most people think about film photography they’re remembering 35mm cameras, so they think the enlarger might be the main tool in the darkroom. While my goal is to work with larger negatives than 35mm, I still want an enlarger. Mine is an old Omega D-2 that will handle film up to 4X5 inches. The strange thing about this D-2 is the head (light source). Many years ago I converted an omega color head, and this head was old even then, to work with filters for printing black and white paper. This head used to be referred to as the Mickey Mouse head, maybe because of the shape: a black sphere with cylinders on the side, or maybe it’s just the technology. Regardless it gives even light and control over contrast. I’ve also got an ultraviolet light source for contact printing large negatives and alternative processes. The UV light source means that I can do Cyanotype and Vandyke prints maybe even platinum prints someday.

Omega D-2 Enlarger

Omega D-2 Enlarger

The dry table is a little smaller than I might like, but it’s big enough to load large film holders. Of course, with all the black plastic, the darkroom has the ambiance of a homeless encampment, but it’s going to be a good place to work. The important thing is I was able to build a workspace that will enable me to unlock all of my large format photography tool kit, even the 11X14 camera!

Dry Table

Dry Table

I hope you have inspiration and the tools you want. Thanks for your attention!

February 10, 2015

Working With A Cucoloris

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Do It Yourself,Lighting Technique — John Siskin @ 4:18 pm

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post. Thanks so much for your attention.

Matthews Cucoloris

Matthews Cucoloris

I just bought a used Matthews Cucoloris. Now this is certainly a piece of equipment you could build, but I didn’t. Basically it’s a piece of plywood, about 18X24 inches, with a bunch of irregularly shaped holes in it. It fits on a C-stand or even a standard light stand with a grip head. The idea is to use the cucoloris to make shadows. You can put it in front of a light with a bowl reflector or perhaps a snoot. By moving the cucoloris around you can change the position and shape of the shadows. You can also change the size and edge sharpness of the shadows by moving the cucoloris closer or further from the light source. On the whole a really useful tool as you can use it on a subject or on the background. I’ve attached some examples.


With CTO filter

With CTO filter

There’s a kind of a calculation in deciding whether to buy or build a piece of equipment. Money is a part of it: if I only wanted one light panel I might buy it; but I’ve got five light panels, so I saved a few hundred dollars by making my panels. There are things like a chain-pod or my fish-eye camera  that aren’t available commercially. I’ve also built things, like my mono-pod, when I didn’t know if I would really like working with them. One problem, when you build your own gear, is that it doesn’t always perform well. Of course building gear is also time consuming, for instance I still haven’t completed my darkroom.

Bastard Amber Filter

Bastard Amber Filter


Pale Lavender Filter

Pale Lavender Filter









If you’re going to save time by buying gear instead of building it you should use some of that time practicing with your new gear. I’m sure I’ve written before that photographers don’t practice enough. Most good musicians practice everyday and many photographers don’t practice at all. We may learn about techniques or tools but most of the time we don’t do the kind of repetitive practice that a musician does when playing scales. So as soon as I got the cucoloris I grabbed a strobe and the wig head and started to experiment.


Background with even light

Background with even light

I have a mottled gray muslin background on each side of my studio. Neither of them is particularly lovely, but they get better if you light them creatively. So I used the cucoloris and various Rosco gels to see how I could change the background. I am very pleased with the results. I usually work with CTO filters when I want to warm up the light, but this time I also tried bastard amber, which was quite nice. I also tried a pale lavender, which looked more neutral than I expected. I was really pleased with how easy it is to make changes in the appearance of the background, both color and pattern, with the cucoloris. I’m sure I’ll be using the cucoloris to create better backgrounds in the future.


Of course you can also use the cucoloris on a subject rather than the background. In order to practice I brought out a wig head as a test subject. If you’ve looked at my Intro to Lighting class you’ll know that I think the wig head is a great test subject. By keeping the strobe close to the cucoloris I was able to create some interesting shadows on the subject. I’m sure that there will be opportunities to use this.


When I look at any test I learn how the image actually looks, rather than how I think it will look. I also get ideas for more testing. In this case I want to see how the cucoloris will perform if I put a snoot on the strobe. Also I have diffusion domes that fit over my strobes. These are designed to make the light from modeling light look more like the light from the strobe tube. I want to try working with the dome because the visual presentation with the modeling light didn’t really look like the image the camera captured with the strobe light. This isn’t surprising because the difference in the shape of the tube and the modeling light can be important when the strobe is used close to the cucoloris.


December 7, 2014

Do It Yourself!

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Do It Yourself,Uncategorized — John Siskin @ 4:07 pm

My books and my classes give me a reason to keep doing this blog. If you’re in Indiana I hope you’ll consider taking my Portfolio Workshop. You can see a little more information about this workshop if you check out this blog post. Thanks so much for your attention.

As the faithful readers of this blog will know I updated my website a while back. I wanted the site to appeal to commercial photography buyers. So, for instance the site is designed to work on a desktop computer rather than a phone. It’s been working out for me, perhaps because of the changes, or maybe because I’m using Adwords from Google. Regardless I’ve been getting a few jobs from new clients, which is great. I’ve added a couple of recent pics to this blog entry.


One of the things I didn’t put back on the website is the Do It Yourself page. Frankly I really don’t want to encourage my clients to do it themselves. So I thought I would put links to some of the stuff that was on the page here. Don’t hurt your hands clapping. These aren’t all my designs, but they are things I use. My favorite project is the Chain-Pod. It’s easy to build and really useful. It helps to steady your camera when you don’t have a tripod or a monopod. And it fits in a pocket. Check it out!

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You don’t have to actually build anything to use the Booty Light. It’s just a cover for your flash, but it really works!


If you came to my studio you’d see a lot of Light Panels. I use them a lot in the studio, more than softboxes. They are really great tools for modifying light. You can change the size and character of a light much more than you can with a softbox or an umbrella. There are a lot of plans for light panels. I like this plan because they have feet.


Here’s a plan for a Monopod. It’s probably not as good as one you can buy, but I think it cost less than $5, so it’s not a big investment.


I like using this Computer Table on location. It’s simple to build and it’s very helpful if you’re tethering your camera to a computer.

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I like this Modified Umbrella for quickly lighting a room. It’s designed after a table lamp and it works very well.


There are a few other projects at this link, including several cameras I’ve built. I’m not sure these really come under the heading of Do It yourself, as you might not even need these cameras, but I really like them. This article has a lot of information about the cameras & lenses I’ve built.

I’ve been mentioning my classes at BetterPhoto since I began doing this blog. I’m sorry to say that BetterPhoto has discontinued their interactive classes. I’ve really enjoyed working with BetterPhoto, so I’m sorry to see this happen. I may have a version of my classes at my website soon. Please look for it.


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