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.

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:

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 You can see other upcoming workshops on my site:

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

Now over 5000 registered users at this blog!!

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:

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