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.

February 7, 2017

Wide-Angle Lenses for Large Format Cameras

Filed under: Film Technique,Large Format Photography,Photographic Equipment — John Siskin @ 6:03 pm

So this is a couple of things about wide-angle lenses for large format lenses.

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

Union Station, Los Angeles #1 This shot was made with a 65mm f8 lens. Focus is tricky with this lens

Section 1

I love lenses. I think it is just amazing that a small piece of glass can actually bend light and form an image. My favorite lenses are wide-angle lenses. I’ve got a 14mm that fits my digital camera. It will produce a 115º angle of view on the full frame camera. It’s well corrected especially with the plug in available in Photoshop.

If I were a simple person this would be enough for me. Ah, that that was the case. You see I also love big cameras. No I mean BIG cameras. Once upon a time photographers used big cameras: 8X10 film and larger. Back in those days there was a lens that had a wider angle of view than my 14mm, possible wider than anything made since. The Goerz Hypergon had a 130º angle of view, and there are reports that it could resolve even a larger angle. In addition the lens had no rectilinear distortion, which means that a straight line on the edge of the frame stayed straight. Unless I use the plug-in with my 14mm lens edge lines don’t stay straight. This link goes to a picture of a Hypergon (

Not that the Hypergon doesn’t have problems; it has lots of problems. Most Hypergons only had two aperture settings, often f22 and f32, but sometimes 48 and 96. The thing is those last two numbers really meant about the same thing as f22 and f32, they were a special Goerz numbering system. This is just one of the things that makes these lenses so difficult to work with. Consider trying to focus with a lens that is f22, and keep in mind you’re focusing on a ground glass under a black clot. Oh, and don’t forget the image will be upside down and backwards. Anything for a weird life.

My 14mm lens has 14 glass elements. The Hypergon has 2. The glass in the lens is about the size of a marble. Now you may be saying, at least if the lens is that simple it must be cheap. NO. The average Hypergon costs about $3000. Yes, that is three thousand United States Dollars, and a really nice one may go for double that. I think there are a couple of reasons for the high prices. First, I don’t think they made all that many of them. They were made between about 1900 and 1920, so not that many still exist or are for sale. No one, ever, made any lens that did what a Hypergon does: cover a large piece of film with a huge angle of view.

I would guess that the reason that no one else ever made a lens like the Hypergon was that they are an incredible pain to use. First, as mentioned, they can’t be easy to focus. Second there is the problem with the evenness of exposure. The exposure in the center of the frame is at least four times more than the exposure on the edges. The problem is that the distance from the center of the lens to the film, which is the actual focal length, is much shorter than the distance from the center of the lens to the corner of the film. This is called Cosine failure, just to make things more difficult by adding trigonometry to it. You can work out a rough approximation by comparing the distance from the middle of the lens to the center or to the corner and working the problem like a bellows extension correction. The effect is that the center of the image is MUCH brighter than the edges.

Goerz understood this issue, and designed a really weird solution for the problem. The built a sort of fan that moved in front of the lens. At least I think it moved; the various descriptions differ. Then you removed the fan entirely for part of the exposure. There was a squeeze bulb to manipulate the fan. This must have been an unbelievable pain in the ass. I’ll probably write more about modern wide angle lenses for large format later, but for now it’s enough to know that other companies solved the problem by using a variable density filter: darker in the center than on the sides.


center filter

This filter compensates for the fact that the edges are darker on the sides of a wide angle shot. It does this by removing light from the center of the shot. this one also controls contrast on black and white film, which is why it’s yellow

Another problem is that the lens is so wide that the parts of many cameras would show up in the shot when you used this lens. So, for instance when I use a 121mm Schneider Super Angulon lens with my 8X10 Toyo field camera the bed of the camera shows up in the shot. Very often photographers used a dedicated camera for theses lenses. This is a little easier than it sounds, since you wouldn’t need to focus the camera, and you might not be able to. The idea would be to build a camera that is set to the hyper focal distance of the lens. The hyper focal distance is the point where the depth of field, from front to back, is maximized with a lens. This actually gives you a better image than if you focus at infinity and stop down, particularly with a wide-angle lens. It’s just one more issue with this lens.

Post Office-Indianapois

You can see the bed of my Toyo 8X10 camera in this shot.

One more annoyance: there is no shutter in the lens. Large format lenses usually have internal shutters, but there isn’t any way to build one into a Hypergon, or at least there wasn’t when the lenses were build I’ve never heard of anybody installing a shutter into a Hypergon. However, since you’re generally using the lens indoors at f22 of f32, your exposure is, likely to be very long anyway. So I guess you can use a lens cap. They made versions of the Hypergons without the fans. These lenses are reported to only cover 110º. Supposedly they have even coverage without needing the fan. I’m not at all sure that I believe this.

The basic design of the lens is called a globe lens, because of the marble like shape of the lens. There were people who built them before the Hypergon, for instance I have a Zentmayer lens that is a two-element globe lens, but it’s not designed to be an extreme wide-angle lens. It seems other early lens manufacturers adopted a four-element design, like the Zeiss f18 Protar or the six-element design of the Schneider f6.8 Angulons. Of course the later designs were generally 6 or 8 element lenses like the Schneider Super Angulons and the Zeiss Biogons. These lenses were faster. These lenses were better corrected for chromatic aberration, but they didn’t cover as much. The Schneider Angulon only covered 84º. A much later Schneider Super Angulon generally covers only 100º. What this means is that you could use a 90mm Hypergon with an 8X10 camera, but a 90mm Super Angulon would only cover the 5X7 format.

Zentmayer Lens

This is an early glob lens by Zentmayer

Now to the good part: my dog got me up at four in the morning the other day. Since I couldn’t get back to sleep I was trolling eBay. I found a Goerz Hypergon for just $200, buy it now! That’s two hundred United States Dollars. And there was much rejoicing! Of course I kept the noise down so as not to wake the wife. I am waiting to receive the lens as I write this. From the pictures I know that this lens is weird even for a Hypergon. The lens does not have the usual inverted cone shape mount. The focal length, 127mm is not mentioned on early Goerz literature. It has only a single diaphragm opening. I’ve been able to find very few references to this particular Hypergon on line. It might have been used for map copying. I did see an auction record of the same lens selling for 1800€ (is that the right sign for Euros?) so I still feel good about buying it.

If it is a usable lens for large format work then the lens should cover 11X14 inch film and maybe 16X20 inch film. That is one whole hell of a lot of film. Now, as you may know, I have an 11X14 inch camera. The thing is that there is no way I could get the standards close enough together to shoot with this lens. I could make a box that would fit the back from the 11X14 inch camera, so that is probably the best way forward. It’s good that I have a couple of 11X14 inch film holders, because the damn holders usually cot a couple of hundred bucks. If I mount the lens on a Speed Graphic lens board then I can at least start testing the lens with the 8X10 camera. It’s probably going to take a bout a year to start getting good images with this lens. More if I lose my mind and start trying to work out a way to shoot 16X20.

Section 2

I just received the Hypergon. This lens is extremely strange, even for a Hypergon. First Hypergons were built by Goerz Berlin in the very early part of the twentieth century, say between 1900 and 1920. The serial number on this lens matches lens made American Goerz after 1950. Hypergons weren’t coated. This lens seems to be coated. Apparently these were made for a map-making function, but it’s hard to tell. Very few Hypergons like this are shown on the web. So this lens is a very rare rarity. I don’t know how big an area the lens will cover, but by eye it does seem to have a LOT of coverage. So the next step is to mount the lens, but that’s not going to be easy. As you might be able to tell from the picture the lens has no mounting threads. I’ll probably need to work with a machinist to put the lens onto a Speed Graphic board. I have a special board to mount Speed Graphic boards on my Toyo cameras and onto my 11X14 camera. I’ll probably mount the lens off center so I can create some rise movement if I build a dedicated 11X14 camera for the lens.

127mm Hypergon

My new Hypergon! It’s less than an inch across.

There is going to be a learning curve with this lens. I can’t be sure about the coverage until I can mount it on a camera. Then I’ll need to figure out how to manage the cosine failure. The more coverage the lens has, the bigger this problem will be. As I mentioned above most Hypergons were built with a fan. This lens didn’t have a fan. I don’t think that I can reverse engineer a fan for the lens. I could do something with a center filter. Maybe I could even build a mount for a center filter. Surplus Shed has center filters for Metrogon lenses for just $4, cheap. There is a picture of the Metrogon filter above. Center sharp filters for Schneider Super Angulons generally cost a couple of hundred dollars used, which makes the Metrogon filters look cheap. One detail about the Metrogon filters is that they are also yellow filters, but yellow filters are very useful with black and white film.

There’s another way to manage the cosine failure. I could just dodge the exposure in front of the camera, the way I would dodge a print in the darkroom. I’ll bet the learning curve on that sill will be pretty steep.

If the lens does cover 11X14 film I still can’t use it with my 11X14 camera. There is no way to get the lens anywhere close to five inches form the film on the camera. Also the camera isn’t really good for location work. So IF it covers I’ll need to build a camera, well really just a box. See the focus will need to be set at the hyper focal distance for the lens. Since the lens has a small stop and will be very difficult to view the plan is to build a camera with fixed focus. At 11X14 the lens probably won’t have any extra coverage, so I won’t need movements. If there is coverage, and that would be nice, I can build in a way to shift the lens board.

When I get everything built I’ll probably keep using Ilford Multigrade Paper instead of film. I’ve been using this so far with the 11X14 in the studio, and it’s worked quite well. I’ve done some blog posts about working with the current 11X14 cameras that discuss using the paper. The ISO is about 100. Of course the processing is fast and easy. I’ve got a large scanner so I can take the negatives into digital after they’re processed.

Frankly I won’t be surprised if it takes the better part of a year to make good images with my new lens.

Section 3

I thought I should add details about the evolution of wide angle lenses, just to give some context.

Pretty much all wide-angle lenses for full frame digital cameras are retro focus designs. This design allows the lens to be placed further from the film. This is essential for a SLR design camera because the camera requires space for the mirror. There were older designs for range finder cameras, but I don’t think they were better than current designs. For what it’s worth most, but not all, wide-angle lenses for medium format cameras were also retro focus designs. A notable exception would be the 38mm Zeiss Biogon that was permanently mounted to the Hasselblad SWC camera. Of course this camera didn’t have a mirror.

Zeiss made a wide-angle Protar for large format cameras, probably about the same time that Goerz was amking the Hypergon. These didn’t have as much coverage as the Hypergon, but they were a little faster. It takes a Hypergon to make f18 look fast. There are other Protars from Zeiss; the f18 ones were the only really wide angle versions. The Protars were four element lenses

165mm Angulon

This is my 165mm Angulon. It wasn’t originally coated, but i got coating put on. It’s pretty good!

Schneider introduced the Angulon lenses around 1930. These were six element lenses, and quite well corrected. The aperture on these lenses is f6.8, which is so much faster than a Protar of a Hypergon! You can actually frame and focus an Angulon on the ground glass, hard to do with the other lenses. I have a 165 Angulon. The overall sharpness is adequate. It will just cover 8X10, in fact you have to be careful or you’ll lose the corners. As with most of the early Angulon lenses mine wasn’t coated or mounted in a shutter. I had the lens coated, which improved it’s performance. Mine is mounted in front of a Packard shutter. Frankly it isn’t pretty, but it does work pretty well.

Schneider went on to develop the Super Angulon lenses, which were the standard wide-angle when I stated doing large format work. Frankly they are fabulous. Even my older f8 Super Angulon lenses are quite great. They generally came in an f8 version, which was a 6-element design and an f5.6 version, which was an 8-element design. I own several of the f8 lenses and I think they are great. Predictably, since I told you I really like wide angle lenses, my favorite is the 65mm for 4X5 and the 121 for the 8X10 format. If you shoot 8X10 you should really take a look at the 121mm or the later 120mm Super Angulon. Strangely enough they are very reasonably priced, often about 20% of what a 165mm Super Angulon costs. Of course you need to be careful with a lens that wide. If I shoot a vertical with my 8X10 Toyo field camera the baseboard shows up in the picture! You can see that earlier in this post.

65mm f8 Super Angulon for the 4X5

65mm f8 Super Angulon for the 4X5

90mm f8 Super Angulon

90mm f8 Super Angulon. I use this on a 4X5 but it will cover 5X7

121mm f8 Super Angulon

My 121mm f8 Super Angulon. This just barely covers 8X10!

Section 4

I’ve mentioned the hyper focal distance on a lens above. This is extremely important when working with large format wide-angle lenses. Here’s the thing, if you focus a wide lens, say a 65mm f8 Super Angulon, at infinity and then stop the lens down, you’ll get a lousy image. Since we often shoot large cameras at small stops this can be quite a problem. While this happens with a lot of large format lenses the problem is particularly bad with wide-angle lenses. In the old days photographers used to do a trick called back focus. They would set up the shot, focus the lens and then focus the lens back a couple of millimeters. Other photographers would check the focus after stopping down the lens, which is tricky, but it does work. If you focus on the Hyper Focal point for the lens, which is the point where you have maximum depth of field for the aperture and lens you’re using that will also work very well. For instance, if you’re shooting a 65mm lens on a 4X5 camera at f22 the Hyper Focal distance is just 4 feet! At that distance you’re in focus from 2 feet to infinity. If you focus at this distance and stop down a shot at infinity will be sharp. If you focus at infinity and stop down the shot won’t be sharp. It took me a while, and quite a few bad negatives, to figure this out. I thought the lens was defective, but it was the photographer that was defective. The Kodak Professional Photoguide gives calculator wheels that will enable you to find out the hyper focal length for your lenses. This is really important.
One more thing I wanted to mention: I offer several workshops at my studio in Indianapolis. I hope you’ll check out the workshops at

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

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:, and

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:

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:

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!!

December 29, 2015

Pacific Center #1, Los Angeles

Pacific Center #1, Los Angeles

Pacific Center #1, Los Angeles

Often the approach to an architectural image is to maintain a neutral perspective. So when you shoot the front of a building you try to keep the parallel lines in the subject parallel. When the lines come together, as they do in this shot, the effect is called key stoning. The thing is that often buildings are designed to impress, even intimidate, people. The neutral perspective tends to weaken or remove that effect. In this case I used my 65mm f8 Super Angulon, so that I could shoot close to the building. I did this for a couple of reasons, first I wanted to capture the imposing design of the entrance, and second I didn’t want to stand in the middle of the street. I used my Speed Graphic as the camera. Many people don’t know that the Speed will accommodate extreme wide angle lenses.

I’m not sure exactly when I shot this, but at least 20 years ago. Time flies when you’re making pictures. It’s always been a favorite of mine, in fact there’s a big print hanging in my office. One of the reasons I like this image so much is that I learned a lot printing it.

Photographers often talk about the zone system. This is a way of discussing the relationship between exposure, negative processing and final negative density. The system was first described by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer. One of the most important aspects of the system, and one that is often forgotten, is the way processing affects the contrast of the negative, and thus the final print. I mention this because one of the things I learned from this image is that even if you have a good negative, one that accurately reflects the tonal values of the subject, you may not be able to make a good print with normal printing processes. Black and white photographic paper comes in various contrast levels, from soft paper that has low contrast to hard paper that is very contrasty. The idea is that if you make a good negative you’ll be able to print it on a middle contrast paper. I learned that this isn’t always true when I tried to print this negative. While a print on middle grade paper showed all the tones of the negative, it was flat and not really effective. When I printed the image on a higher contrast paper the middle tones of the print looked much better, but much of the shadows and highlights were to far gone to see. In order to make a good print I needed to use high contrast paper and do considerable dodging and burning to maintain the highlights and shadows. Even when photographers shot film there was a lot of work done after you tripped the shutter.

Many of my images were first scanned quite a few years ago, so when I wanted to add this image to the fine art section of my site and blog, I went back to the original negative. Once again I had to do a lot of work to get the original scan to agree with the way I wanted to see the final print. I used several layers to change the contrast and exposure values in different areas of the image. I’ve learned a lot about working with an image in Photoshop over the years. For this image I choose a different color pallet from the one I normally use for black and white images. I usually add a little red to the shadows and some yellow to the mid tones. This creates a similar effect to the warm tone photo papers I used to use. In this case I added some red to the shadows, but I added a very small amount of blue top the mid tones. This creates an effect like a cold toned paper toned with selenium, which was the way I handled the original printed version of this image.

If you’d like to get a fine art print of this image you can click on the PayPal link below. As I’ve mentioned I hope to add alternative presentations of my images as I continue to review my fine art images. The current prints are almost 13 inches wide. They’ll be mounted and matted to 16X20 inches. The price, just $125, includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like to have me ship somewhere else, or order another size please contact me at

You can buy one of my books at these links

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:


December 11, 2015

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

Filed under: Basic Photo Technique,Film Technique,Large Format Photography — John Siskin @ 1:00 pm

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

El Matador is my favorite beach. Many of the beaches around Los Angeles are large stretches of sand, good for surfing, or just lying in the sand, but not so interesting to photograph. El Matador has wonderful rocks and even caves. Of course I’m not the only one who likes El Matador: there are always photographers at El Matador. As you may guess from the title I’ve made several more images at El Matador: I’ll be posting them soon.

This photograph has been in several exhibits, and it was on display at the Huntington Library for years.

I wrote about the 65mm Super Angulon in my last post ( and this is another shot I made with that lens. The lens is an extreme wide angle, equivalent to about an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. So the way the lens sees is very different from our normal perception. Since the lens is so close to the subject, in this case the camera is just above the water and inches away from the rocks in the image, the depth and shape of the subject is exaggerated. Wide-angle lenses show exaggerated perspective because of the position they are used in rather than because the lens actually distorts the subject. While this effect can be disconcerting in some architectural subjects it works very well here.

The lens is focused close to the camera, which is important with extreme wide-angle lenses in large format work. The aperture is at f22 to maintain focus through out the image. Since the cave is dark, and the aperture is set to such a small stop the exposure is long, several seconds. This evens out the movement of the water, which creates both transparent and fog effects with the moving water. Because of the lens and the long exposure it’s impossible to actually see the image as you take it. I have to internally visualize the image I want to make and use the camera to create that visualized image. It’s important to use pre-visualization even with a digital camera, otherwise you’re just recording the scene; pre-visualization enables you to interpret the image. This skill enables photographers to make images rather than just take pictures.

I really love working with wide-angle lenses. I use them a lot. Any extreme wide-angle lens creates challenges and opportunities for the photographer. This lens has a maximum aperture (wide open) of f8, so it’s quite dark. In addition it requires the lens to be very close to the film, which can make it difficult to manipulate the camera. It’s even important to arrange the camera so that the front of the camera isn’t in the picture. So the whole process of positioning the camera and visualizing the image was a challenge here, not to mention the fact that the cave is actually quite small. As with so many film shots, it was really exciting to see a good negative!

As with the last image I posted Union Station, Los Angeles #1, I’m offering this image at a special price until the end of the year, just $95. This price is for an archival digital print, mounted and matted on 16X20 cotton rag board. The image area is 11X14 inches. Shipping in the U.S. is included, if you’d like me to ship somewhere else please contact me at

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:

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: Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

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: Of course I hope you’ll also want to buy some prints. I’ll be offering more types of prints in the future.

October 10, 2015

Tool Kit

Of course I’m thinking about the workshop next weekend. There are only two spaces left, so you should SIGN UP NOW!

Samantha will be one of the models for Sunday October 18th.

Samantha will be one of the models for Sunday October 18th.

One of the things I want to examine at the workshop is the lighting tool kit for a photographer. The equipment manufacturers want us to buy everything; they’re not exactly on our side. Many of the available tools are of little use, or totally redundant. So I hope that this workshop will actually help you to save money by experimenting with the tools. I’ve seen a lot of people who work with hammers: carpenters, roofers and neurologists. The all use different kinds of hammers; purpose built for their applications. When we choose our tools we need to exercise the same care a carpenter does when he buys a hammer.


The main tools we use as photographers are designed to work for a large variety of applications. So my Nikon D800 is a terrific camera to fit onto a microscope or use for architectural photography or even an auto race. While the camera will work well in all those applications, I’ll need to use different lenses for each situation. This is one of the great strengths of camera design: a good camera can be adapted to different situations. Can you imagine buying a whole new camera everything you needed a lens or even a filter? Strobe lights are the same way: a basic strobe can be used for a lot of applications, if you have the light modifiers for the job. This is one of the good aspects of strobe lights over movie lights, which are purpose built. Over the years I’ve worked with many light modifiers for strobes, everything from large soft boxes to fiber optics. These modifiers are designed to make the lights useful in all kinds of applications. Some of modifiers have been good, some bad; some work in a lot of situations and some are only good for one kind of job. I hope one of the things you’ll receive from the workshop is a better way to choose your tools.

The first step in adding a tool to your kit is identifying the reason you need or want that tool. So I may choose a new light because I didn’t have the lights I felt I could use at my last job, but I may also choose a tool because it inspires me. I think this second reason is really important. I often get tools because they make me want to work, or because they open up new ideas for shots. I also get tools because they replace or upgrade or back up the tools that I have. Of course one problem is that I now have too many tools to take on location.

When i shoot a motorcycle i need to use large light modifiers to build good light.

When I shoot a motorcycle I need to use large light modifiers to build good light.

I’ve got a large studio so I have some tools that are only useful in a full time studio. One of the best is my Broncolor Hazylight. I picked up the frame in a studio sale, and adapted a Norman head to fit the frame. Then I put the whole thing on a camera stand, so it’s easy to position in my studio. Most photographers don’t have a space for a light modifier this big. If you’re going to use a smaller studio you might want to use light panels. The panels are cheap to make and incredibly adaptable.

Here's a shot that mixes hard light, soft light and continuous light effectively.

Here’s a shot that mixes hard light, soft light and continuous light effectively. Effective catch lights as well.

One of the important aspects of a portrait is the catch light in the eyes. The catch light, which is really just a small reflection of you’re the light, can change the whole quality of a portrait. If you don’t see a catch light, or if you see an umbrella, or just a tiny pin prick of light, it can damage an image. There are all kinds of light sources for portraits shooting that address this problem. I’ve used quite a few: portrait dish, soft box, octabox, umbrella and so on. One of the things that makes better catch lights is a large circular light source, which will make a round catch light in the subject’s eyes. For this reason I’ve got a cover with a circular cut out for my Hazylight. I would build a similar cover for a soft box, if I were using one. I also use a light panel and a snoot to make a circular light source. I can use the snoot to put a circle of light onto the panel. I can use these tools to make other shapes and control the direction of the light. This gives me a round catch light, or I can change the angle of the snoot and get many different shapes on the light panel. So both the snoot and the light panels are at the top of my list for light modifiers. I also use the snoot as a hard light source in my shots. I’ve found that the snoot is an incredibly fun tool to have in my lighting kit.

Just a guy using thee right tool for the job!

Just a guy using thee right tool for the job!

I also like using a set of barn doors with my light for illuminating the light panels. The barn doors can even crate a strip with the light panel. I also like the barn doors for shooting architecture. I can control a bounce off a ceiling or other surface, to keep the light out of my image. Of course the barn doors can help to place a highlight in a subject, say a hair light or a rim light. Both the snoot and the barn doors are small light sources, so the position of the light is important, but if you use the snoot or the barn doors with a modifier like the light panel you can make a large light source.

It really doesn’t matter whether you make light with a mono-light or a dedicated strobe. What matters is controlling just a few things: the color of the light, the power of the light, the size and shape of the light source and the position of the light. The color and power of the light really only matter relative to other light sources in your shot. So if you were using just one light you could change the ISO or the aperture to control the amount of light, but if you have two lights they have to be balanced. Not necessarily the same power, but a balance that suits your vision for the shot. Similarly you might want all the lights in a shot to have the same color balance, but you might also want one light to be warmer. A warmer light might give the effect of sunlight coming into your shot. You can control the color of one light in your camera, but the camera won’t make one light warm and another cool. Controlling power and color are tools that you use to build your shot. The size of the light source, relative to your subject, affects the quality of the light: hard or soft. The larger your light source is the less that the position of the light matters; consider how the light comes from the whole sky on an overcast day, no shadows and no direction.


The image should start in your mind. If you have an idea of how to position a model, or how to light a face, or a room, or a product, then you can start to build that shot. If you start with the same light each time, or only use existing light, then you have much less control over your shot. So it’s important to understand how each tool works, how you can use the tools together, to build the images you want to make. One of my heroes is Felix the Cat, because whenever he gets in a fix, he reaches into his bag of tricks. As photographers we need a big bag of tricks. Here are a couple of things I have in my bag of tricks whenever I go on location: umbrellas (white, silver, gold all with black covers) gaffers tape, magic arm and super clamp, small tripod, large tripod, lighting filters (Rosco gels) light stands, maybe even a reflector or two. Of course I’ve also got some interesting strobes on location, mine work with both ac and dc power. The heads are small enough to fit almost anywhere. I’ve been doing this for more than forty years, which means a couple of things: I’ve got multiple kits for different location work. I can grab just one box if I’m shooting an executive portrait, but I’ll add a couple of boxes to this, if I’m making room shots. The time I’ve spent shooting also means that the way I use the tools, and the tricks I use, have evolved over the years. Part of being a creative photographer is learning to see what could be, not just what is. I want to help you to build the images that could be.

This is shot made with just a snoot.

This is shot made with just a snoot.

Of course I want to see you at the lighting workshop on October 17 & 18. You can sign up here. You can also see another post about the workshop here. There are only two spaces left for the shoot on Sunday. You can also sign up for just Saturday, which will be demonstrations and explanations. Of course if you just can’t make it to the workshop, you can still get my books.

September 10, 2015

Shooting the 11X14 inch Camera!!

Just a couple of details to mention, before we get to the good stuff. I’ve taken down my site at BetterPhoto: I think BetterPhoto and Jim Miotke are absolutely wonderful, but since I’m not teaching for them anymore I wanted to have the fine art part of my site hosted along with the rest of the site. It’s going to take a few days to complete the new pages I hope you’ll be patient. I hope you’ll check out the books, click on the cover pictures below, and don’t forget my workshop page ( I’m going to offer a lighting workshop in OCTOBER. More information soon.

I wrote about my 11X14 film camera some time ago, and included a couple of pics of the camera. You can see that earlier post here. There is something quite magical for me about working with a very large camera. I suppose it’s not that different from people who want longer lenses to shoot surfing or birds. I should say that an image made with a large camera is different from an enlargement. In an enlargement there is another optical system, that changes the information in the image in some way and there is less information in the image. If you do an enlargement that is just eight time the size of the negative you’ll usually see grain: the shadows of the silver crystals that record the image. A print that’s made by putting the image right on the printing paper has a sense of infinite detail. I hope you’ll find a way to see an original contact print of a big negative, preferably made by a great photographer.

The big camera in the studio. It took 2 people to put it on the tripod.

The big camera in the studio. It took 2 people to put it on the tripod.

I can do contact prints from my 8X10 camera, and it’s quite satisfying. Now that I have a darkroom I can process and print from this camera again. I can even take the camera out to shoot on locations. However, the 11X14 is a beast; and it creates challenges that are different from 8X10. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve worked out ways to work with the camera. I’m going to detail some of the things I’m doing, some of the compromises I’ve made to get successful tests.

11X14 test image

Successful test image of Wiggy, made with 11X14 camera.

The biggest problem with the 11X14 camera is film. There are still quite a few sources for 8X10 film: a search at Freestyle Photo reveals fifteen separate results for actual camera film. You can get a sheet of film for less than $3. If you’ve been shooting digital the cost of shooting large film will come as a shock. If you search for 11X14 film you find one result: Ilford HP-5. This is a good film, but at about $9 for a single sheet, and that’s one picture, it’s expensive. One of the ways photographers afford to work with large cameras is to work with films that aren’t designed for cameras. One of the most popular is litho film. This is a graphic arts film. The good news is that it’s inexpensive. There is a lot of bad news: first it’s designed to make black and white images: no gray tones at all! I did some tests with litho films and I was unhappy with the results. You can process the film to get some gray tones, but it’s a real challenge to get a complete gray scale. The second problem is that the film is quite slow, insensitive to light, the ISO speed is about 3. I swear my skin sunburns with less light than it take to expose this film. An additional problem is that the film is designed to work under darkroom safelights, so it doesn’t respond to all colors of light. This is a good news bad news sort of problem: you can process the film by safelight so you adjust the development by inspection, but many colors of light just don’t show up on the film. I used a Macbeth color checker in my test shot and there were a lot of color patches with no density. Another inexpensive film choice is x-ray film. I haven’t tested this yet, but I’ve read about the challenges it presents.

This is an image made with litho film. I used my 4X5 camera to test. Not really successful.

This is an image made with litho film. I used my 4X5 camera to test. Not really successful.

At some point in this process it occurred to me that I own a flat bed scanner that will scan 12X17 inch images, much large than most scanners. I also realized that I had a great deal of 11X14 Ilford Multigrade glossy resin coated paper. I decided to try loading this paper into the film holder and shooting it in camera. In the beginning of photography Fox Talbot used paper negatives, so this was not a unique inspiration. The thing was that I realized that I could use the scanner to turn the images I made in the camera, which would be negatives, into positive images. The big advantage here is that I have all the tools of digital photography to interpret my images, but I’m not going to be making contact prints. Right now this seems a good trade. If I want to I can make a digital negative with my printer and make a sort of a contact print, and I can use a digital negative to make cyanotype or Vandyke prints. Of course I can also output a digital print, so I have a lot of printing options. I suppose some would say that I might just as well capture the image with my Nikon D800, but that would take away the pleasures and challenges of the big camera.

Negative image made on Ilford Multigrade paper

Negative image made on Ilford Multigrade paper

My tests revealed that the Multigrade had an ISO of about 100, which is so much nicer to work with than 3. In addition my tests revealed that Multigrade reacts to a much wider range of color than the litho film I tried. While the paper isn’t panchromatic it does react to most colors other than red. I think that’s because it’s a variable contrast paper. Of course the paper is designed to give a complete gray scale with normal processing. The Ilford paper can be processed under regular darkroom safelights, for instance the Kodak OC filters. I am lucky to have a Thomas sodium vapor safelight, which is a very bright safelight. I set it up in my studio, and it provided a good working environment for loading and processing the paper, even posing the subject. I should also mention that it is MUCH easier and quicker to process and dry this resin coated paper than to work with any film.

The image with the hat was made with Ilford Multigrade paper and the hatless image was made with my digital camera and converted to black and white. Note that most of the color samples show in the Multigrade image.

The image with the hat was made with Ilford Multigrade paper and the hatless image was made with my digital camera and converted to black and white. Note that most of the color samples show in the Multigrade image.

The paper is designed to change its contrast range depending on the color of light you use with your enlarger. There are filters for this purpose. Right now I’m working without a filter. This seems to provide a long contrast range. One advantage of scanning the negatives (ok, I know that these things are not transparent film negatives, but still they reverse black for white) is that I can control contrast in the computer. I can also flip the images left for right because, like any film image, the picture on the emulsion side of the base is reversed left for right.

Studio set-up

The set up in the studio, for the shot of Wiggy and myself. I used 4 power packs to make over 5500 watt-seconds of light.

My scanner (actually it’s a very large all-in-one) is a Brother MFC-J6910DW. I did my first tests with the software that come with the scanner. This provides little control over the scan. I also have VueScan for my film scanner and, happily enough, this will also control the Brother scanner. I can scan at 2400 dpi, which would enable me to make a print that is 110 inches on the long side at 300 dpi. The resin coated paper lays flat and the glossy surface scans very well, no surface detail.

Wigg & Me, selfie

The negative of Wiggy & me. Actually it’s quite amazing to be able to make a portrait with a camera this big and strobes.

There are other details. One of my favorite areas to explore is the lenses for this large camera. The camera is too heavy and unwieldy to take out of the studio and this affects the choice of lens. The normal lens for this camera would be about 16 inches (400mm) long. It’s unlikely that I would use a wide-angle lens for a distance shot in the studio, but I would use a wide angle to shoot closer to a subject. My tests were done with a 24 inch (600mm) f11 Artar that I got for the camera. This lens is rather long for the studio. Because the distance between this lens and the back of the camera is quite long it’s a little difficult to control the camera. Since I did the tests I’ve mounted my 270mm (10 inch) G-Claron W.A. f6.3 on a lens board for the camera. I think this will be a useful lens for the camera, especially for small subjects. I’ve also ordered a board for my 14 inch Dagor. I have very high hopes for this lens. I’ll also set up my 48cm (480 mm, 19 inch) f5.5 Dogmar for this camera. I should note that I love Goerz lens design, but because the lenses were made at different times and places they are sometimes described in inches and sometimes in centimeters or millimeters, which is why I’ve used different both English and metric measures. The only one of these lenses that has a shutter is the Dagor, but that’s not a big deal. Since you can keep the safelight on in the studio you don’t have to fumble in the dark.

Right now I only have one holder and this holder only works on one side. Since I can shoot load and process immediately, under safelight, this isn’t as big a problem as it might be out of the studio. Additional 11X14 holders are amazingly expensive: used ones are usually more than $200 each! I am working on a design using framing parts to build a holder for the studio. This design wouldn’t have a dark slide, so it would only be practical in the studio. Updates on this as they become available.

As you can see I’ve done tests with Wiggy and a color checker. Wiggy’s wearing a serape in the 11X14 tests. The serape is mostly green. I also did a selfie with me and wiggy. An 11X14 selfie is a heck of a thing. If I used a selfie stick it would have to be a telephone pole. As it is, my Majestic tripod is a little overloaded by this camera.

Positive of Wiggy & me

The last test with Wiggy and me. Would you like to come in for some shots?

Now that I’ve done the tests it’s time to shoot some actual pictures. I’m going to do still life shots of course, but I’d also like to do some work with people. Since the paper has an ISO of 100 I can actually shoot portraits and figure studies. Any volunteers?

Thanks, John

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