Photo Notes

March 23, 2017

New Work With The 11X14 Camera!

Bree 12a v-8 The numbers are only a working title.

Bree 12a v-8
The numbers are only a working title.

I think this is the sixth time I’ve taken the 11X14 camera out for a spin. I’m extremely gratified with the results of this shoot. I worked with a model named Bree Widener and a make up artist Julie Powers; both are excellent. Of course I also worked with my current assistant David Kidwell. Really I don’t think I could manage the camera without his help. As you may imagine the camera is a beast. I’ve written before about the process. You can review the early blog posts if you’d like, at these links: blog-3207 and blog-2871

Bree 7 v-2 There is less process manipulation in this image.

Bree 7 v-2
There is less process manipulation in this image.

I think the business of coming to grips with the ultra large format camera and working out an accessible process is quite interesting. A lot of skull sweat has gone into figuring out this method of shooting the big camera. I’m using 11X14 Ilford Multigrade RC paper in the camera. This gives me an 11X14 negative, but it’s on paper rather than film. This works out well because I have an oversized scanner that enables me to scan the paper negatives. This means that the basic process is analog-digital rather than the strictly analog process you would get with a film negative and direct printing to silver gelatin printing.

Bree 9 v-5 The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

Bree 9 v-5
The color is added in post processing. The analog/digital process allows for considerable creative input.

The process allows me to introduce chaos into the images in ways that I can only do with a wet darkroom process. In fact this method is probably better for creating these chaotic images than working with film or any other method. There are of course many ways of working, both with digital capture and with film, where the goal is to gain control over image making. I would be shocked and dismayed if an architectural or product image I made suddenly displayed totally random results, but that doesn’t mean that I don‘t want chaotic results in some circumstances. Many people are shooting film just to court random results, and they sometimes achieve results so random that it’s hard to see any original intent in the final image. I just can’t go that far, though some of my results have been totally out of control. The primary way that I crate chaos in these images is to re-expose the paper to light as I process it and to process the paper in unusual ways.

Bree 1 v-2 The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Bree 1 v-2
The first test image of the day! Off to a good start.

Part of what makes this whole process exciting is that I develop and solarize, the negative while the shoot goes on. The whole studio is lit by a sodium vapor safelight, so we can load, handle and develop the paper while the shoot continues. The people involved in the shoot, make up, talent and assistants are always amazed to see the image develop right in front of them. Often I can finish scanning the first good negative from the shoot and make a print before the shooting day is finished. Of course it takes a while to dry and scan each image, so finishing the post processing may take weeks after the shoot ends.

Bree 5 v-2 This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Bree 5 v-2
This image shows the brush work that is done during processing.

Since this is an analog digital process all the control and interpretation that Photoshop offers is available after the scans are made. I do a lot with layers and curves to manage the contrast. In addition there are usually defects, dust and other problems, that have to be fixed. Unless you’ve done print spotting, you have no idea how much easier it is to spot an image in Photoshop than it is on a print. I usually add a slight warm tint to my images, just as I would have done by printing on a warm paper, like Agfa Portriga Rapid, in a darkroom. I may also add false color to the image, if the spirit moves me.

Bree 4 v-2

Bree 4 v-2

I tested another piece of the process with these images. I made a new negative on a transparent film with my digital printer. I had always hoped to be able to take these images back into a wet darkroom and make various kinds of prints: silver gelatin and alternative process. I was able to make a couple of Cyanotypes from the new digital negatives. They really look great! My test prints are 8X10 but of course I could make a really enormous negative make enormous prints with it.

Bree 12a-cyanotype Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn't like seeing the original.

Bree 12a-cyanotype
Of course the scan of the Cyanotype isn’t like seeing the original.

Since the original negatives are 11×14 inches and the scans are 1200dpi the final files are just huge. I could make a print that is about 5 feet tall at 300 dpi without any problems. Psd files are about 600mgs. which can make them a little difficult to deal with in Photoshop.

Bree 5-cyanotype

Bree 5-cyanotype

I’m not offering prints of these images at this time. If you’ve been watching this blog you know that prints of a lot of my images are available through the blog. I really hope you’ll buy some. These images will be available, but I hope to create a show with them first. I will do a few more people shoots before I start working on that. I’m looking for models, of course for figure studies, but I’d also like to work with people with facial tattoos and who knows what else?

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

One more thing, there are now almost 6000 people registered on this blog. Wow! Thanks everyone.

June 8, 2016

Roberts Park Church #6

Roberts Park Church #6

Roberts Park Church #6

Another stair case form Roberts Park Church. I already mentioned that I like pictures of staircases. I did a shoot a Roberts Park Church a few weeks ago. I was there with the 8X10 camera. Used Ilford HP-5 in case anybody is checking. This was the last shot of the day. I know it was taken with the 8.25 inch Gold Barrel Dagor, you can see the lens. Sweet lens. Shot between f32 and f45. There is an inherent composition in a staircase. A good one combines form, function and a sense of time.

set-up #6

I actually remembered to shoot a set-up shot with the phone. I should do this more often. You can see that the shift is used, pretty much all the shift on the camera. Of course this is because I’m only shooting one side of the holder. You can’t really see that the lens is tilted down, which allows the depth of field to follow the bannister. You can see the top of the Ries Tripod, great tripod. My Leica bag with all the accessories, and thither holders is in the background. Oh, the camera is the Toyo 810M. I think I got the camera back in about 1985? Lot of great stories with that camera and these accessories.

I’ve shot a lot of staircases on commercial jobs. I even did work for a client in Los Angeles that specialized in making custom staircases. You can check out a few of the shots: http://www.siskinphoto.com/architecture1q.php, http://www.siskinphoto.com/architecture1s.php and http://www.siskinphoto.com/architecture1u.php.

If you’d like print of this image, I’d like to send you one. The image will be about 14 inches tall and mounted on cotton rag board (the good stuff). If you use the PayPal link below I’ll even include shipping in the U.S. I appreciate your support.


Also don’t forget my workshops: http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

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


Now over 5000 registered users at this blog!!

May 27, 2016

Shooting the 11X14 Camera Again!

This is another blog entry that will be part of my Fine Art pages, whenever they get finished. However I’m also going to add information about my evolving work with the 11X14 camera, which I hope will also interest you. I wrote about my first tests with the camera before: check out this entry: http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2871.

The camera shoots an image area of 11X14 inches! Think about that as about 100 times more sensor area than my full frame Nikon D800. One of my goals for this camera is just working with an ultra large format camera. If you’ve never worked with a big film camera you probably won’t understand just how satisfying it is to successfully create with a camera like this. There is a joy that comes from making a photograph with this craft that I don’t get from just pressing a button. I’ve spent a large part of my life perfecting this work, and I just don’t want to stop.

Of course there is more than just being some sort of curmudgeon. There are a few things that you can’t do with a small digital camera. A lot of these involve inviting chaos into your images. I suppose this is why some people have returned to film photography, they don’t want instantaneous images so much as discovered images. My goal for this camera is to mix a high degree of craft and image quality with a process that allows chaotic intervention. So far I’ve been pleased with the results.

In this image you can see that the flowers are surrounded by a glow. This glow doesn’t continue around the shells and leaves the background largely black.

Shells #C v-1

Shells #C v-1


In this alternative version there is only a single flower and the glow is mostly confined to the background.

Shells #H v-1

Shells #H v-1


As I mentioned in the earlier blog, I am shooting Ilford Multigrade paper. I am processing the paper in the studio as I shoot. The exciting part, for me anyway, is that I am re-exposing the paper to light during processing. This process is usually caller solarization (sometimes the Sabatier effect). Usually it’s done on the print, which makes the light areas of the print dark or black creating an overall dark image. The original mid tones of the image preserve some or all of their tone, creating an image that is partially reversed. The image below is a traditional solarization.

Bonnie-Hand Solarization

Bonnie-Hand Solarization. This is a print solarization

By solarizing the negative I’m able to add light rather than black. Because I’m working on such a large negative I’m able to control where I put the additional light. Since I’m processing as I shoot make the negatives I’m able to see how the re-exposure and my image interact.

At this point I’m only offering 11X14 digital prints. The prints are mounted and matted, and the price includes shipping in the United States. Please support the work by purchasing a print! I am experimenting with creating transparent negatives that will enable me to create various kinds of prints in the wet darkroom. I hope to make some of these analog prints available soon.

One more thing I wanted to mention: I’m offering individual workshops at my studio in Indianapolis. I’m calling these One on One Workshops. You can choose the subject and the time. I’m hope you’ll sign up soon. How about a day spent working on lighting, or even large format photograph? I hope you’ll check out the workshop at http://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2818. You can see other upcoming workshops on my site: http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php.

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


Now over 5000 registered users at this blog!!

December 6, 2015

Indiana World War Memorial & Museum-Stairs, 2015

Filed under: Film Technique,Looking at Photographs,New Photographs — John Siskin @ 3:31 pm

Indiana World War Memorial & Museum-stairs, 2015

Except for dance and the human voice, art requires people to use tools. Of course tool use is so basic to human beings that we often differentiate ourselves from other animals because we use tools. I think that tools are important to artists, and I know that they’re important to me. Some cameras inspire me to take pictures: some lenses seem to bring images to life. I recently got a Graflex XL, and I’ve carried it with me ever since. The camera is nice, but the real star is the lens: a Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8. This lens is also on the classic Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras.

I like the way that stone and concrete look in black and white images. The stone has a real presence in this image probably because of the way the lens capture texture. The precision of the stonework is evident in this shot. Indianapolis has some really amazing stonework throughout the city. I’ve made some fine images of buildings here, and I continue to work with these subjects. Indiana has been a source of limestone for many buildings in the U.S. and the stuff has a great monumental feel. I really like the brighter highlights on the columns in the middle of the image.

I’m still committed to film for many of my fine art images. One reason is a second moment of discovery: when you shoot in digital you see a picture immediately, with film you don’t see an image until the film is developed and printed. The separation between shoot and image gives me a chance to imagine how I will work with the image. The sense of seeing a good negative is very rewarding. Of course it is also rewarding to work with a craft I’ve been practicing for decades.

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 14 inches long mounted on 16X20 board. The price includes shipping in the United States, for other countries please ask first.


You can buy one of my books at these links:

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images to the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: john@siskinphoto.com. Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

December 4, 2015

Train Trestles, Indianapolis 2015

Filed under: Large Format Photography,New Photographs — John Siskin @ 4:37 pm

I’m starting something different with this blog with this post. I’m going to post an image and talk about that image in the blog. There are a couple of reasons for this, and I’ll be discussing them at the end of this post.

Train Trestles, Indianapolis 2015

I made this shot with my Toyo 810M and a Dagor 14 inch Lens. The lens is one of the last Dagors, made by Schneider Corporation. Actually the lens is made by Kern in Switzerland. This is the only large format lens I’ve ever seen from Kern; mostly they made movie camera lenses. Dagor lenses were first made by Goerz in the early part of the twentieth century. They are legendary large format lenses because of the way they handle sharpness, model subjects and for the bokeh. Although bokeh is often used now to refer to a lens that throws the background out of focus it used to refer to a lens that retained detail in the background and created a good sense of depth and shape. The print shows the quality of the lens in a way this digital reproduction can’t. The camera is a metal field camera that shoots 8X10 film.

The position of the camera, and the photographer was precarious, clinging to the side of a hill. I use Ries tripods for location work with my large format cameras. This shot is a good example of what a Ries can do. I’ve attached a phone shot here of my position.

Setting up the camera and tripod

Setting up the camera and tripod

The image was composed as a panorama, rather than being cropped after it was shot. I often make two negatives, roughly 4X10 inches each, on one sheet of 8X10 film. I use have a dark slide to keep one side of the film from being exposed. This system works surprisingly well. The film is HP-5+, developed in ID-11 for recommended time plus 50%. I think of this as my normal development because I like a denser negative and because I like to see full development in the shadows.

The word trestle reminds me of San Onofre where I went surfing as a kid. The family went to that beach about every other week all summer. Trestles is the name of one of the breaks at San Onofre.

If you’d like to buy a digital print of this image, mounted and mated on archival cotton rag board, please use the PayPal link below. The image will be 14 inches long mounted on 16X20 board. Price include shipping in the United States, for other countries please ask first.


You can buy one of my books at these links:

I’m going to be using my blog to add information about images on the fine art pages of my site. This part of the site isn’t functioning yet, but it will be. These posts will enable me to put up information about the shot and to add details about buying prints. I think it’s very useful to talk about the details of creating specific images. I hope to hear from you about this-use my e-mail to let me know: john@siskinphoto.com. Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

Powered by WordPress