Photo Notes

March 22, 2021

Photography Through The Microscope!

Beginning with this post I am going to make prints of some of the images on my blog available. More information is posted at the end of this blog. Thanks for your support

Watch face DSC-2184

In the book Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance the author (Robert M. Pirsig) quotes an instruction booklet, that said “assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind.” Macro and micro photography require that your peace of mind increase in direct proportion to the reduction in the size of the object you are photographing. It gets more difficult, and it requires more patience, as you get closer.

butterfly wing DSC-2184

Most people approach macro photography by purchasing some sort of macro lens which enables them to reproduce picture of an object at perhaps one quarter the size of the object in real life on the sensor of their camera, maybe even bigger.  So, one quarter reproduction means that if you had a 25 cent piece, a quarter in US language, you could take a picture four of them and stacked across the short distance of a full frame sensor sensor. And they would fit. The quarter is an inch wide and a full frame sensor is an inch wide (and an inch and a half long). If the quarter filled a full frame sensor it would be a 1:1 capture, or life size.

watch part  DSC2146

Macro photography is occasionally discussed in terms of where it begins and where it’s simply a close-up. I’m not sure that that’s terribly useful, but, when you are less than three feet from your subject with a more or less normal lens, you’re pretty close and it isn’t necessarily difficult to make that picture, depending upon the equipment you’re using. As you get within less than an inch of your subject it gets to be extremely difficult to shoot, and when you are within one or two millimeters of your subject, it becomes almost impossibly difficult to photograph. What I’m going to explain here is photography with the microscope, which is generally photography within less than an inch of the subject.

hair gel  _DSC2073

I will discuss other ways of doing close-up work in other postings. This posting is concerned with very, very close microscope work. This is not the usual way I approach this subject: in the past I’ve discussed macro photography and built up to micro and microscopic photography. That might make more sense. However, I’ve recently posted a lot of photographs made with the microscope, and so I hope that many people might be interested if I start there.

Leitz Microscope

The first thing about the microscope is to understand that the actual equipment that you need to do this kind of photography is easier to get, and less expensive, than you might think it would be. That’s important because one of the things I would hope that this discussion does is to encourage you to try this kind of micro photography or microscopy if you want to be more formal.

Leitz Microscope set-up

Before I write about the individual components of the camera/microscope combination, I’d like to give an overview of the set-up, from top to bottom. At the top is a digital SLR, the currently available cameras would be good for this. Next is a T-mount (more below) which connects the camera lens mount to a microscope adapter. This adapter is basically a hollow tube that fits between the camera and the eyepiece tube. The eyepiece is in the eyepiece tube, and it’s the first part for the optical system. The eyepiece tube is connected to the microscope head, where the lens or lenses are mounted. That lens is called the objective lens and it is the second part of the optical system. Below the objective lens is the stage, which is where you’ll place your subject. Under the stage there will often be an iris/condenser device, which can be used to change the quality of the light coming through the subject. Probably most scopes have a mirror below the condenser, but a few will have a light source. I think a mirror is more useful. At the bottom is the base, which is usually heavy to keep the whole thing stable.C14 The condenser, it helps to focus the light onto the subject

The large wheel is course focus and the small one is fine focus. They are often set up this way on modern scopes

The condenser, it helps to focus the light onto the subject.

A decent student grade microscope can be had for around a hundred and fifty dollars. This will do the job. Of course, you can spend much more on a microscope, but since you are not trying to accurately reproduce pictures of cell division or tiny crystalline structures (at least I’m hoping you’re not) a student grade microscope is a good choice. A student grade scope has course focusing and fine focusing, two separate knobs. It takes standard interchangeable eyepieces and interchangeable objective lenses with a standard thread. I’ll put a link to a student scope, and the rest of the stuff, at the end of the post.

Objective lenses on Lens turret


In order to understand the reproduction ratio of a microscope for viewing it’s pretty simple. The eyepiece and the objective lens have numbers for their power, say 10x or 4x. Multiply the two numbers and you have the power of the system. So, if you have a 4X objective and 10X eyepiece, you would be viewing at 40 times life size, which is a nice range to work in. I’m not actually sure that this is exactly the power on your camera sensor, but whatever it is you’re damn close. When you make a print of the capture or reproduce it on your computer screen it gets larger still. So, you are frequently looking at things that may be a hundred, two hundred maybe even three hundred times life size on your computer screen, which is pretty impressive.

Microscope Adapter and T-mount

The adapters that you need to do this, in addition to the scope, are first a microscope adapter. This fits around the eyepiece tube on a standard microscope. Is available for less than $40. Surplus shed would be a good place to start looking for them. In addition, you will need a T-mount adapter. T-mount was an early interchangeable lens mount that is still used today. A T-mount lens could fit onto cameras with several different lens mounts, if you used the right adapter. And it remained unchanged and in use pretty much to this day. There are mounts for most current cameras, even mirrorless. T-mount is also used for telescopes and some other optical systems. You can also get old mirror lenses that use t-mount adapters. They can be a lot of fun. T-mounts are available from Surplus Shed and B&H Photo and any of a variety of suppliers.

The camera on top of the scope

Microscope and T-mount attached. They are screwed together

The microscope adapter is two pieces. It’s easier to mount the small piece on the scope and mount the larger piece onto the camera and then put them together on top of the scope.

You should start with the microscope arranged vertically. Most of the student grade microscopes, in fact, I think all of them, will tilt backwards to make it easier to sit and view your subject. Unfortunately, if you mount your camera on the microscope in this way, it will probably fall off the microscope and that would be a bad thing. So, you’ll set up the microscope vertically. Important safety tip. It is also very important to set the camera to use the self-timer. If you trigger the camera directly with the shutter release you will shake the camera and get fuzzy pictures. You could also use a remote release, but the self-timer works very well for microscope work.

Microscope lenses- Shown are a 4X Plan, a 25mm Zeiss Luminar and a Spencer 10X. This is the group I’ll usually put onto the scope.

I would always start with a 4X objective lens. I say this because one of the problems that you’ll get into, as I mentioned earlier, is the closer you get to your subject the more difficult it is to manage taking a picture of the subject. With a 4X objective lens, the lens will end up being between a quarter and three-quarters of an inch from your subject. That gives you just enough room to light the subject from above. It also gives you room to put a filter on the lens; it gives you room to do a whole lot of things. A 10X lens will be less than 3 millimeters from your subject, which makes it impossible, or close to impossible, to light your subject from above. You’ll only be able to work with transparent subjects with the 10X or more powerful lens. It’s more difficult to manage the focusing or positioning with the 10X lens. When a professional microscopist uses a 100X lens she/he will usually add oil to the top of the subject and then put the lens into the oil. There’s less reflectivity if you do this. You would only be able to photograph transparent subjects with light transmitted from below the stage. I have not tried to do this, and, unless I find some transparent subject that seems absolutely compelling to me, I am unlikely to try it in the future.

Eyepieces, Shown are a Leitz 6x and 10X and a Wollensak 15X and 20X

One of the things that may not come with a student-grade microscope is multiple eyepieces. And this is one of the things that you might very much want for photo microscopy such as I do. Since it’s so difficult to use more powerful objective lenses, you may find yourself wanting to change the eyepiece to change the power of the scope. Eye pieces come in a variety of strengths. I own a 4X eyepiece, a 10x eyepiece, a 15x eyepiece and a 20x eyepiece, which gives me some variety of reproduction powers. Surplus shed carries a number of different eyepieces and they would be a good place to start looking for eyepieces. A student grade microscope usually comes with a 10X eyepiece and that is a good place to start. Neither standard eyepieces or objective lenses are terribly expensive, compared to camera lenses. There are some special purpose objective lenses if you’d like an upgrade. If you find a PLAN objective lens it will be sharper than the lenses that come with most scopes. The biggest difference might be that an inexpensive objective lens will be more likely to be fuzzy at the sides of your image.

Geared stage

Most student microscopes have clips which will hold down a regular microscope slide. Then you position the slide, or other subject by moving it with your fingers under the scope. This is the biggest problem with inexpensive microscopes. Better scopes have a geared stage to move the subject around under the scope. If you really enjoy photo microscopy you might want to get a scope which has gears to control the position of the subject.

Lowell Pro light with Barn Doors

Lowel Pro light

The next thing you will need is a light source. Most student-grade microscopes and in fact most fancy microscopes only have a mirror below the lens. Most scopes also have a condenser between the mirror and the stage which changes the spread of the light that you’re using. I find that the condenser is not terribly useful to the way I approach microscopy, but you may find it helpful. Some student grade microscopes will not have a condenser. The actual light source that you use can be something as simple as a desk lamp or even the room light. And that will work very acceptably for an awful lot of work that you might do with the microscope. Look for a lamp that has a continuous spectrum or perhaps an LED light source. Stay away from fluorescent light sources because the spectrum can make it very difficult to get a true color reproduction or can change the color reproductions in unexpected ways. I find that I rarely look for accurate color in micro photography, especially because the images aren’t things we can usually see with the unaided eye. Often, I will use the 3200º Kelvin quartz light and either not compensate for the warm color shift of compensate in Adobe RAW when I open the image. A small light source gives you more control than a broad light source. At this point I am using a Lowel PRO quartz light, which provides much more light than any desk lamp. I like this a lot, but it’s not available new, there are generally several of them on eBay pretty inexpensively. Lowel still makes several more powerful quartz lights, like the Lowel Omni or Tota quartz light but these might be too hot for microscope work (they do get extremely hot).  A bright light source is especially important when I start to filter or modify the light because I will still have enough light to actually see the subject. Even without a filter it’s dark through a microscope; more so when the light has to go through the camera and into the viewfinder, after it leaves the microscope eyepiece. The next problem is to position the light source. The Lowel PRO quartz light can be attached to a regular light stand mount or it can be attached to a tripod mount. This enables you to use a ball head or another tripod head to position your lamp in relationship to your subject. This light also has barn doors which give you more control over the light. You can also move the microscope mirror which will help position the light; that is if you are lighting your subject from bellow. If you’re using a 4x objective lens you can also light a subject from above, which makes positioning the Lowel PRO light with a tripod head even more helpful. You can also use a strobe to light, even a dedicated camera flash. This can increase sharpness, because camera shake can be a problem, BUT, it’s very difficult to be sure what your subject will look like when you take the picture. Also, you’ll still need a bright light to focus.

The 4X lens focused on a feather. You have a good amount of room between the lens and the subject.

If you are using the 4X objective lens you will find that most of the focusing can be achieved with the course focus wheel on your scope. The fine focus wheel is useful when you try to use that 10X lens. You will also find that the objective lens will stay at about the same distance from you subjects, so if you get a sense of that distance you can set the scope at about the right distance before you look through the camera. Your actual focus is achieved by looking through the camera viewfinder. Since your microscope is set up vertically, it may help to place the scope on a low table or get something to help you stand above the scope. As you might imagine depth of field, holding things at different distances form the lens in acceptable focus, doesn’t really exist with microscopes. With few exceptions, notably Zeiss Luminar lenses, microscope lenses do not have diaphragms, so there is no way to adjust depth of field, that is if you had any… What you can do is use Photoshop to do focus stacking. In order to do this, you need to take a several pictures at different focus points. Photoshop will enable you to combine these images into a single image with better focus. This can be a very helpful technique. While it is outside the scope of this particular post you will find that there are plenty of tutorials on line. Or, you could wait for me to do a post about modifying micro images in Photoshop. If you do take images for photo stacking, you’ll want to take them at the same exposure.

Image without focus stacking

Image with focus stacking DSC2130

When I first worked with high magnification optical systems exposure was very difficult to calculate. I had to compensate for long bellows extension on the view camera as well as reciprocity failure form the long exposure times. It is still astonishing to me how much easier it is to get a great exposure with a digital camera. If you set your camera on aperture preferred, you’ll get a good exposure. You may want to add exposure compensation correction, if you want a darker or lighter exposure. You might want to see what an image looks like at different settings, just to get a better feel for how you can interpret your subject. Of course, you can also do a lot of interpretation after you capture the image in photoshop. These changes in exposure calculation are perhaps the biggest improvement in micro photography that I’ve seen in 40 years. The massive improvement in the amount of information that a sensor records, compared to 35mm film, is also very significant. I used to do micro photography with large format cameras and transparency film, which was really quite difficult.

Sodium Thiosulfate

As you look at the pictures of the set-up and the various tools I use, you might want to begin thinking about subjects. I’ve recently done some nice work with old watches and some shiny goo meant for hair. Jerome Russel used to be a client and they made some very shiny hair care products with glitter and other reflective materials. I’ve included shots of both here.

Watch Parts

Old Watch Parts DSC2210

Old Watch Parts DSC2207

Jerome Russel Hair stuff:

Hair goo-focus stacking DSC2069

Hair goo-focus stacking DSC2061

Hair goo-file heavily modified in Photoshop DSC2058

Of course, a lot of things have interesting colors. Below are a couple of shots of dried Selenium toner, which is used in the wet darkroom to add color to B&W prints.

Selenium Toner DSC1999

Selenium Toner-file heavily modified in Photoshop DSC2000

Let’s not forget living things. These are a couple of pictures of butterfly wings. Bet you didn’t visualize them looking like this.

Butterfly wing DSC2050

Butterfly wing DSC2046

I mentioned filters above. There’s a lot of science behind this trick, but I’m going to cut direct to the chase. Put certain transparent materials, things like plastics and sodium thiosulfate (B&W fixer from the wet darkroom) between two polarizing filters. As you rotate one of the filters colors will start to appear. FUN! But, as I mentioned above, you need a lot of light. These shots are of a plastic prop ice cube. You can get interesting results, but you’ll need to experiment. Frankly all of photo microscopy requires an experimental attitude.

Plastic Prop Ice Cube-Dual Polarization

Sodium thiosulfate, fixer in the B&W darkroom-Dual Polarization DSC2025

As I mentioned at the top of this post, I am now offering prints of many of these images. If the caption has an index code like DSC1234 you can buy a print! Right now, all prints are set to fit on an 11×14 inch piece of paper. If the image is too thin it will have white paper on the sides. I am printing with an archival ink/paper combination. Prints are shipped by USPS priority mail to anywhere in the US that’s covered by Priority Mail service. The price is $75 for the first print and $60 for each additional print ordered at the same time. Please e-mail me at and include index code and your address. I will send you a PayPal request to arrange payment. I will be adding old and new images to this service. If you see an image on my site you would like to purchase please tell me where you found it and I’ll try to make it available to you. Thanks for your support!

A few links to the items mentioned in the post:

Student scope:

Microscope adapter:

Sony T-mount:

Nikon T-mount:

Canon T-mount

And my books!
Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting: A Guide for Digital Photographers

Photographing Architecture: Lighting, Composition, Postproduction and Marketing Techniques

July 16, 2018

Large Format Photography Class

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

Here is the link to the first podcast:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The standard shutter speeds are

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

Each change lets in less light

The standard apertures are

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

Each change lets in less light

The standard ISO numbers are

100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200

Each change INCREASES sensitivity

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

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


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

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

Hand Assembling Lenses for the View Camera


Camera Building

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

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

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

October 20, 2017

Thoughts About A Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Siskin

April 4, 2016

Rock House #1

Rock House #1

Rock House #1

I’ve recently posted a couple of shots of a waterfall in Box Canyon (Box Canyon #1 and Box Canyon #2). Literally on the other side of the left had rock is this house, or what remains of this house. I know depressingly little about it, other than it’s called the Rock House. Sort of the obvious name. At some time there was fire and the place wasn’t rebuilt. You can still see the blacked surfaces on some of the timbers. The place is built out of rough hewn timber and actual logs. Much of the cabin is the native rock, and, perhaps some of the rocks mortared into the walls are local. The place is absolutely fascinating.

I came upon the place hiking down the canyon. I had no idea it was there, and there is much less than a quarter mile from where I lived.

I have no idea who owned the land. I have no idea when the fire happened. I don’t know when the place was built. In some of the shots you can see flexible conduit for electricity, but I don’t know if the electricity was put in later. I also saw a water heater, but that isn’t in any of my shots. Anyway I leave for you the mystery of the rock house.

Shot with my Speed Graphic of course. There are shoots made with my 8X10 camera, as well as the 4X5, I might add those later. Regardless I’ll add more shots from the Rock House soon.

As you know I’m adding these images to my blog as part of my re-do of my fine art portfolio pages. I’m also doing it to make these images available. If you’d like an archival print of this shot, please order with the PayPal link. The image will be about 11X14 inches and mounted on 16X20 cotton rag board. I’ll even throw in shipping, if you are in the U.S.

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:

January 14, 2016

Beyond 1 to 1 – Going Into Uncharted Territory

Filed under: Micro Photography,Uncategorized,Workshops — John Siskin @ 9:21 am

New date coming soon


This workshop will give you the ability to photograph things smaller than a human hair. You’ll be able to photograph the scales on a butterfly’s wing or the tip of a pen.


The workshop will explain how to use simple tools to shoot amazing pictures. And you’ll have a list of the tools to take you back into the very small whenever you want. The tools are much more inexpensive than you might think: a reverse adapter, which will make a 50mm lens into a powerful micro lens, is only $12! You can get a microscope that will enable you to make an image that is 40 times life size on your sensor (that would translate into an 8X10 print that’s 320 times life size) for just over $100. It’s amazing how a few pieces of inexpensive equipment will unlock an unseen world.


This workshop is a guided tour into this world, but unlike a safari to Africa or voyage to Alaska, you can return to this world whenever you want. You’ll get a chance to experiment with tools you can throw into your camera bag and the tools you’d use at home. This isn’t the kind of gear that you need a lab to use, you can explore at a kitchen table! We’ll work with bellows and extension tubes. You’ll see how to shoot through microscope lenses and enlarging lenses, in fact you can make fabulous micro image with a simple 50mm lens. You’ll also get to shoot with the microscope, and learn how to shoot with your own scope!


The workshop is limited to just 6 people. Each person will be able to use the equipment and make shots during the workshop. If you bring a flash card you’ll be able to keep your shots! You’ll also get an extensive list of tools you might want to get, including a list of gear you can get used. The idea is to unlock the door-to give you a ticket into the unseen worlds!


Please visit my site to see my other workshops and to check out the Free On Line Classes!
You can buy one of my books by clicking on the titles below:

January 12, 2016

Micro Photography Workshop

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Siskin @ 5:40 pm
Ablative Absolute, yes that's the title

Ablative Absolute,
yes that’s the title

I do a lot of microphotography, images of things less than a quarter inch in size, some times small than a human hair. Much of the time I’m exploring the relationships between color and texture and line. I’m trying to explore the unseen, looking for the unexpected. That’s certainly the case in this shot. However one of the first things I get asked when someone sees these images is “What is it?” The idea is of course that a photograph must be a picture of something. I guess I could say that it’s a picture of light, but that usually doesn’t satisfy. So this is a picture of a plastic ice cube. I used to say a fake plastic ice cube, but of course it’s a perfectly real plastic ice cube, intended to be used as a prop. I’ve often made images of plastic ice cubes because, under the right circumstances, they’ll refract light in very interesting ways.

You can get a print of this image by using this PayPal link. Like all of the images I’ve been adding for the fine art pages it’s going to be $125 for a print that’s about 12 inches wide, mounted and matted onto 16X20 board. That includes shipping inside the U.S. I hope you’ll consider purchasing this shot.



I think that very small subjects give photographers a unique place to look for images. Often people want to travel to take pictures, as if they can’t find anything interesting unless they go to Africa or Alaska. I’ll admit that travel can open your eyes, give you new ways of seeing, but when you come back everything looks mundane. I want to find inspiration in the everyday, even in a piece of plastic. I want to want to make new images everyday. I can take a voyage to the land of the tiny any time.

Many photographers think of macro lenses when they think of shooting small things. While macro lenses are good tools, they really don’t go small enough. You’re still just looking at a flower or a butterfly with a macro lens. You can go much closer and find that a butterfly’s wings are coated with ribbon like scales, or that a small piece of broken glass could be so interesting.



It costs a lot of money to go on safari. It’s inexpensive to travel into the small worlds. It’s less expensive than buying a new macro lens or a dedicated flash. It can provide endless opportunities for a photographer. Of course it’s good to have a guide, so I’m offering a new Micro Photography Workshop:

Beyond 1 to 1
Going Into Uncharted Territory

This workshop will give you the ability to photograph things smaller than a human hair. You’ll be able to photograph the scales on a butterfly’s wing or the tip of a pen.

The workshop will explain how to use simple tools to shoot amazing pictures. And you’ll have a list of the tools to take you back into the very small whenever you want. The tools are much more inexpensive than you might think: a reverse adapter, which will make a 50mm lens into a powerful micro lens, is only $12! You can get a microscope that will enable you to make an image that is 40 times life size on your sensor (that would translate into an 8X10 print that’s 320 times life size) for just over $100. It’s amazing how a few pieces of inexpensive equipment will unlock an unseen world.

This workshop is a guided tour into this world, but unlike a safari to Africa or voyage to Alaska, you can return to this world whenever you want. You’ll get a chance to experiment with tools you can throw into your camera bag and the tools you’d use at home. This isn’t the kind of gear that you need a lab to use, you can explore at a kitchen table! We’ll work with bellows and extension tubes. You’ll see how to shoot through microscope lenses and enlarging lenses, in fact you can make fabulous micro image with a simple 50mm lens. You’ll also get to shoot with the microscope, and learn how to shoot with your own scope!


The workshop is limited to just 6 people. Each person will be able to use the equipment and make shots during the workshop. If you bring a flash card you’ll be able to keep your shots! You’ll also get an extensive list of tools you might want to get, including a list of gear you can get used. The idea is to unlock the door-to give you a ticket into the unseen worlds!

The workshop will happen on February 28. It’s a one day workshop and the cost is only $175, but if you sign up in January the cost will be just $135! You can use the PayPal link below to sign up for the Workshop!

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

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

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.


July 6, 2014

Changing Your Way of Seeing

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 . I’ve listed my BetterPhoto classes at the end of this post. Thanks so much for your attention.

Frame 16

I see as a photographer, constantly breaking the world into still images. I think that most people who spend a big chunk of life doing photography see a little differently from people who aren’t involved in static art forms. I’ll look at something and think: “I’d shoot that, maybe a little warmer and with more contrast” or maybe: “That was a really great instant” and: “Look at that design.” I think this is part of being a good photographer. I once heard a guy say that he always adjusted a TV to look like Kodachrome, since that was the way he saw the world. Of course this illustrates one of the problems with this way of seeing: you start to see everything the same way. I’ve been known to walk by an interesting subject while thinking that’s not the kind of shot I do. I often make my shots warmer, even my black and white shots, but I can’t remember the last time I made a shot cooler.

Frame 22

So I’m always looking for ways to break out of my way of seeing. I know that many people want to have a style, but not me. I’m a photographer, not a painter, so I can be prolific and do work that’s new. I want to push myself to see in different ways. One of the ways I do this is to work with different tools: cameras, lenses and software. I just got a Horizon Perfekt, which is really helping me to see differently. This camera shoots a 120º image, horizontally anyway. It’s really different from other wide-angle images because the lens actually moves during the shot.Frame 12


I shot with a Koni-Omega camera last week. It’s a medium format film camera. This is a manual camera with range finder. Shooting it reminded me of the acronym FAST: Focus, Aperture, Shutter and Think. I think that my digital camera has allowed me to get a little sloppy with technique. Of course shooting with a new camera is not the only way to open yourself to new ways of seeing, but it can be fun as well as enlightening.

Frame 15

I got an 11X14 camera recently, but I haven’t shot with it yet. I still have to build a lens board and order some film, but it should be a quite an experience. Whenever you work with a very large camera the difficulties increase and so does the expense. But if 11X14 is anything like 8X10 getting a good result will be really fun. Sometimes just getting a good exposure can make you feel great. There’s another practice tool I want to work with. I have an old Spiratone 400 mm f6.3 lens. I’ve really only used it a couple of times because I’m more interested in wide-angle lenses. But in an effort to expand my vision I’m going to put in on the digital camera and start shooting. Who knows how that will affect my seeing? By the way I’ve included a couple of panoramas from the Horizon camera and one more from the Koni-Omega. Also I recently updated my website so you can get an idea of how I’m seeing now. Please check it out at

Of course there are other ways of expanding your seeing, like taking a BetterPhoto course. Here are the three I teach, perhaps you’d like to take another one or share them with a friend.
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography
One other note about BetterPhoto: I’ve been in the habit of sending out a private note to all my former students at BetterPhoto (Almost a thousand people!) each month. There’s some sort of hang up in the e-mail system for thst so, for a while anyway, I won’t be sending that note. I hope no one is too disappointed.
Thanks,  John


September 3, 2013

The Studio is Open!

I’m going to keep thins simple in this entry: just a bunch of pictures of the new studio. It’s possible to shoot here, but not everything is put in the right place yet. The shooting space is about 42X24 feet, pretty damn large. The background holders are up. I’m going to put some more holders on the sides so that I can pull down white or black to add or subtract bounce fill. I need a little help to finish, some things are to big to lift. If you’re local maybe you could help me out, or help with a shoot. I’m trying to set up a shot of a Mini-Cooper, maybe for this weekend. You can also arrange to drop by and have a look. Thanks for your attention! I’ll just remind you about the BetterPhoto classes: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio and Getting Started in Commercial Photography and the books:


The shooting wall. You can see the background holders above the wall.

Another view of the shooting wall.

The back of the studio. You can see the cargo door.

This is the outside. It's a separate building. There is parking, particularly on evenings and weekends.

My office. I'm very happy about the way it turned out.

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