Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

August 17, 2023

Shooting a Bausch & Lomb Petzval Lens

I’m going to try to explain a project that I’m trying to work on. Unfortunately, for explanation, it’s a complex explanation with many threads; the good news, for me anyway, is that the complexity makes the project more interesting. You see one of my problems, as an image maker, is that I get bored with the simple things. Anyway, I’ve often heard that writing should begin at the beginning.

I

Photography was introduced in 1839. There were two competing methods of capturing an image with a chemical process. One was a direct positive image process called Daguerreotype, this is one of the threads which I hope to come back to. The more interesting process, to me anyway, was introduced by William Henry Fox Talbot. This process called photogenic drawing, involved making a negative, usually with a camera. The negative was dark where the original scene was bright and light where the scene was dark, a reversal of the original tones. Then the negative is put in contact with a second piece of sensitized paper and exposing this second piece of paper through the original paper negative. This produced a positive image, and you could make multiple positive prints. In terms of my project, it’s important to point out that he was using paper to make his negatives. There was no flexible film, which was invented by George Eastman. It would be quite a while before anyone found a process of making a photographically sensitive material that would stick to glass. Fox Talbot did the first book which explained how to do photography and was illustrated with actual photographs. You can see a good reproduction of the book Pencil Of Nature at this link: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/33447

Very early in the practice of making photographs the martial used to make the negative, exposed in the camera, diverged from the materials used to make prints intended for display. The negative needed to be as light sensitive as possible, it needed to be on a translucent or, preferably, transparent material. The actual look of the negative was less important than the way it recorded information, since no one was really intending to look at negatives. In addition to being as sensitive to light as possible, it was a continuing challenge to make negatives that recorded color in ways that seemed intuitively right. For instance, the sensitive material, usually called emulsion, was unable to record red properly until the early years of the 20th century. Before that red, say red lips, were reproduced as black on prints. This panchromatic film and plate material was important to making negatives, but it made no difference for making prints. In fact, using an emulsion which was only sensitive to blue light made darkroom work much easier since you could work under red or amber light, called safelight. Many different ways of making photographic prints were introduced from the beginning of photography. Early methods included cyanotypes, platinotypes and kallitypes. By the middle of the 20th century the standard print was called a silver gelatin print. I’ll mention little more about working with direct positive materials at the end of this essay. I’ll want to mention are the introduction of color film, particularly Kodachrome, which was a direct positive material.

The positive black and white silver gelatin print was how most people experienced actual photographs for a long time. Of course, people experienced more images that were reproduced in ink, as newspapers, books and so on, but this essay is following photographic print making, rather than photomechanical printing. At the same time this was the dominant mode there were many creative photographers making images in unusual ways. For a long time, people continued to use film that wasn’t red sensitive, called orthochromatic film. In fact, Ilford still produces this sort of film. This made it possible to develop film by inspecting it during processing, rather developing film in total darkness which is necessary with panchromatic film. Kodak used to suggest using orthochromatic film for making portraits of European skin tones that had a reddish “ruddy” hue. I have no first-hand information about this technique. I am not sure when people started using silver gelatin paper in cameras instead of film. It was very popular with pin hole cameras because paper is cheaper than film and much easier to process. Kodak used to make a very thin paper, Ad Type, which was considered to be particularly good for making paper negatives, since it was more transparent that usual paper.

If you are currently making, or interested in making, paper negatives the situation is quite good. In the 1970s photo paper on a vinyl base, rather than paper, was introduced. This stuff is easy and quick to process. It dries flat. It scans very well. It is much cheaper than large film; 25 sheets of 8×10 Ilford HP-5 is over $200 and Ilford Multigrade paper is about $130 for 100 sheets ($8 per exposure vs. $1.30). The paper is sensitive to colors excepting amber and red, more than the original papers were. In addition, current photo paper, such as Ilford Multigrade RC is hugely more sensitive to light than 19th century materials. My tests tell me that the Ilford paper is something like 64 times more sensitive than tintype (an early and popular direct print) material was. Translated into modern film speeds I find that Ilford Multigrade RC can be exposed at ISO 64 with strobe (electronic flash) illumination. With daylight the ISO might be as low as 25.

 

II

Cassie #14 from Courting Chaos

I am writing this as I begin a second project with paper negatives. The first project, Courting Chaos, began with an 11×14 camera and a desire to experiment with solarizing negative. Much of the inspiration came from Man Ray. You can see a lot of this project by starting with this link: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=4397 (some of this project is not “work safe”). Whatever I’m doing now began when a friend sent me a Bausch & Lomb Rapid Portrait lens a couple of months ago. I am very fortunate. The lens is a Petzval design and built in the 1890s, about 135 years ago. For a long time, these sorts of lenses were the big deal portrait lenses. They are incredibly sharp in the center, almost three dimensional. Sharpness degrades quickly at you move out from the center. In addition, they were very fast lenses, especially for large format cameras, so they had almost no depth of field. They create a very compelling portrait. Often people don’t consider that the lens can do a lot more than just a neutral rendition of the subject.

The Bausch & Lomb Rapid Portrait Lens

The Petzval was designed in 1840, just after Daguerre and Fox Talbot introduced methods of making photographs. Cameras existed before photographic materials. They were used as drawing aids. Of course, they had lenses, but, since an image for drawing could be re-focused and shifted, the lenses for these cameras weren’t suitable for making photographs where good focus had to cover most of the photographic plate. The Petzval was the first lens designed by mathematical computation rather than experience and experiment. Joseph Petzval was loaned several mathematicians by Archduke Louis of Austria, commander of artillery. The artillery was one of the few places where there were any people who could do the trigonometric calculations necessary for lens design. In addition to being incredibly sharp in the center of the image, theses lenses also had extremely high light transmission; they were “fast.” Even today this is one of the fastest lenses, for large format cameras, I have ever owned. I have owned a whole lot of lenses.

I should point out that there are some modern lenses, primarily from a company called Lomography, which are inspired by Petzval’s design. Of course, Petzval never made lenses designed to cover the small formats of today’s digital cameras; all of the original lenses were designed for cameras which shot plates that were quite large: a whole plate was 6.5×8.5 inches. Thus, these modern lenses are more inspired by than copies. Petzval lenses were not made for cameras much after 1900, but they were used for projecting images: movies and slides. Because they are fast lenses, and projection lenses are longer than shooting lenses this old formula worked well for this application.

These old lenses are quite prized by modern photographers making portraits with large format cameras. Also, modern photographers who make tintype and other wet plate images, the techniques used between the 1850s and the 1880s, are always looking for Petzval lenses. I am very fortunate to have been given this lens.

 

III

In order for any camera, modern digital or old large format, it needs to accomplish several things. It must focus light, which can be achieved with something as simple as a pinhole or with a complex modern zoom lens. While a pinhole doesn’t have to be in a particular position to achieve good focus, more complex lenses must be positioned quite precisely. A camera must hold the sensitive material in a the right position as well, or the focus will be degraded. A camera must control the amount of light which hits the sensitive material. This is achieved by controlling how much light comes through the lens and by how long the lens is open. The amount of light coming through the lens is controlled by a diaphragm in the middle of the lens. This control is usually measured in “f-stops.” These numbers are often confusing to new photographers. The amount of time the film or sensor is exposed to light is usually controlled by the aptly named “shutter.” When photography was beginning, since the sensitive materials were not very sensitive a lens cap could easily manage the exposure time. Modern cameras will generally have shutter speeds between several seconds and something as short as 1/4000th of a second. A camera must also block any stray light, light which doesn’t come through the lens, from exposing the film.

The Petzval mounted on my 8×10 Toyo. This is a camera from the 1980s

A camera from the 19th century generally had a ground glass back to focus the lens. The plate was in a holder which went the ground glass had been. The camera often had bellows between the film holding section, back standard, and the front standard, where the lens was mounted. Either the front or back, or both, could be moved to achieve correct focus. The diaphragm was most often in the middle of the lens, as a part of the lens. Sometimes a flat brass plate with a hole was used instead of a variable diaphragm. And the photographer might use his or her hat as a shutter. By the end of the 20th century all lenses designed for shooting had, in addition to a diaphragm, a leaf shutter. This shutter usually had speeds from 1 second to about 1/500th of a second. Photographers needed these shutters because, as mentioned, film is at least 50 times more light sensitive than the wet plate materials photographers were using when my Petzval was made. While I might make a 1 hour exposure, it was unusual to make an exposure longer than ¼ of a second.

IV

Perhaps all writing of done so far will make the problem clear to some readers. Certainly a few readers simply haven’t made it this far. The problem is how to actually make a picture with the Bausch Rapid Portrait lens. Often, I’ll read someone’s explanation of how to do a thing and it sounds as though they new exactly how to do a thing before even trying. I wish it was like that for me. First, I have to understand the problem then I begin to work through solutions.

A first test shooting the Petzval. Note that this is the negative

Problem #1
Getting the lens onto a camera. I actually have considerable experience with this one. I use Toyo 6.25×6.25-inch lens boards for large lenses. I’ve done a blog post which describes one way of cutting a large hole for a large lens: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3662. There are other ways to cut lens boards, but this is about the only way I can cut very large holes, such as I need for the Bausch & Lomb lens. This lens did not come with a retaining ring, which is a threaded piece which holds the lens onto the board. When you don’t have the retaining ring, you can find a really good machinist to cut you one. Expensive. An alternative is the hose clamp method I’ve used here. It’s not elegant, but it does work. In addition to the clamp, I used some rubber as a sleeve which makes the lens more secure. I also used Permatex 82180 Ultra Black Maximum Oil Resistance RTV Silicone Gasket Maker. I’ve used this with a number of camera hacks, it’s really good stuff. Keep in mind you really, really don’t want the lens to fall off, really.

The lens held to the board with a hose clamp

Close up of the hose clamp mount

Problem #2
Controlling the exposure time. Since the lens is very fast, about f4 and I’m using modern material this is a heck of a problem. If I was going
to shoot this lens outdoors in full daylight, I’d need a shutter speed of about 1/1000th of a second. I could shut the diaphragm down block most of the light, but this would remove the Petzval effect: extremely sharp center and diffused sides of the frame. I could use a very dark neutral density filter, but this adds another step between focusing and shooting. If your subject moves you picture could be ruined. Still if I could find an 8 stop neutral density filter that was about 5 inches across it might work.

I have not solved the shutter problem. If you are interested in shutter hack, please check out this link: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3695. Unfortunately, I don’t currently have any shutter large enough for this lens. I have found a work around.

Studio set up for testing. Note the ground glass back on the camera

This is the method I’ve used to shoot with this lens without a shutter. I’ve blocked out all the windows in my shooting area. I know that many people prefer what is called a daylight studio, but since I’ve written a couple of books about shooting with strobes (available at Amazon). I have a sodium vapor safelight set up in the studio. This is a relatively bright light that won’t expose modern photo papers, such as Ilford Multigrade. You could use other safelights, but it’s very helpful to have a bright safelight. You will be evaluating the moment to make your picture under just the safelight illumination.
I usually begin a portrait session with 3 lights set up. While I might use more gear as a session goes on, I find if I have a bunch of extra lights out the subject will often want me to explain why I’m not using them. For anyone whose know me for a long time, yes, I am still using Norman LH2000 lights and power packs. These days I’ll have one light with a 5-inch reflector and barn doors, a second with a stove pipe snoot and the third will start as bare bulb. The bare bulb light will be behind the subject to light the background and to give edge light to the subject. In addition, I’ll have a light panel with a silver reflector and a second panel with rip stop nylon. All the lights are strobes, once the modeling lights are turned off, they make no light until triggered. Then they make A LOT of light for about 1/1000th of a second. While I could imagine trying to do this with continuous lights, on some sort of short timer, I think it would be very difficult. Particularly since you can set the amount of light an individual strobe will put out, which would be more difficult with continuous lights. I’ve done several magazine articles about portrait photography which might be helpful. You can see them at this link https://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php which includes most of my magazine work. I’ll start with 5 film holders. Each holder has two sides, so I’ll have 10 pieces of Ilford Multigrade or other photo paper loaded. Just like I start with a limited number of lights out, I start with a limited number of exposures. When I had an assistant, I would start with more film loaded.

I do have one continuous white light set up on a foot switch I use this to help focus, frame and direct the shot.

Once I have the shot arranged, I’ll turn off the white light. I have to get the subject to stay still. This is ALWAYS a problem with large format portraiture. People have the expectation that I can somehow correct the exposure even after the film holder is in the back of the camera. It’s not more difficult with this set up, except you have even less depth of field than you might have in a normal large format portrait session.


The greatest advantage of this method of working is that you can develop the images as you go. The first reason you’ll want to do this is that it makes it much easier to evaluate exposure and lighting. Since the processing time on modern paper is about 60 seconds this is almost as fast as Polaroid used to be in my 4×5 camera. Also, this tends to really impress the subject, who has likely never seen a print develop in a tray. The process helps to keep the subject engaged and motivated.

Thread 1

Direct positive photography was a very important part of commercial photography. Both of the early color photographic processes, Lumierre Autochrome and Kodak Kodachrome, were direct positive processes. The film you shot in the camera was put through several chemical baths and the product was positive color transparency or slide. This was particularly important for commercial color work because transparencies were easier to make color separations from for ink printing. Of course, Polaroid was a direct positive process as well and so were all those Super-8 movies. It was possible to use direct positive color paper, which was used for making color prints from transparencies and slides in the camera. Basically, the process was as described above but there was no safelight. So, in the moment you were making the shot, you were in the dark. This was interesting. Processing color paper is somewhat more difficult than processing black and white paper, but it wasn’t beyond what an amateur could do. Unfortunately, I can’t find anyone supplying direct positive color paper anymore. So it goes.

This shot was made by shooting Cibachrome print material in the camera. I did this shot more than 30 years ago. The print still looks fresh

A few links: Siskinphoto.Home

Introduction Page

Monument Valley

Taos Pueblo

Night Sky

Flowers

Monastery Road

Petroglyphs

Rock

Ice and Snow

Tsankawi

I did a large show when I was still in Indianapolis called Courting Chaos. The link will take you to the pages which describe the work and its evolution. These images are, well, chaotic and many of them are nudes. I hope you’ll find it interesting.

Links to my books, still available at Amazon!

December 3, 2020

Courting Chaos

Curt #5
Published in Black and White Magazine

This post is about my Courting Chaos images, a group of images I made over more than two years, while I was working and teaching in Indianapolis. Black & White Magazine is going to publish one of these images in a few weeks! The work evolved over more than a dozen shoots with an 11×14 camera. The first show of this work was on November 2nd 2018 at Indiana Landmarks (1201 Central Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202). Before I get any further, I should thank David Kidwell for assisting all through this project and Julie Powers for make-up and models. This work wouldn’t have happened without them.

Andrea #5

These images are figure studies handled with a very unusual and chaotic photographic process described below. Many of them are nudes and several of them are disturbing. I’m writing about the process in this post and also some thoughts about the results. I’ve enjoyed the entire project as a voyage of constant discovery. I really had no idea how the project would evolve when it began. My response to the images continues to change. I hope the images invite the viewer to create a narrative from them. My narrative involves ideas about escape. I hope you’ll find them interesting. My perception of the project continues to evolve.

Cassie #14

There are a lot of places I could begin to explain this work, because this project integrates traditional photographic techniques that I learned in high school with digital image manipulation techniques I’ve learned as recently as a few months ago. The project integrates inspiration from my first trip to Europe in 1971 and my visual inspiration continues to evolve to today. The greatest challenge, for me, is coming to accept chaos to be a co-creator in my photography. As a commercial photographer, for more than four decades, I’ve been fighting chaos. A commercial photographer generally wants to control and direct images to produce effective visual communication. In this project I’ve used special processes to push the images into shapes I couldn’t predict or control. The results have been the most surprising images of my career.

Gordon #1

I saw a series of sculptures by Michelangelo called the Prisoners when I was in Europe in 1971. I was about fifteen at the time. At first these images appear unfinished, especially in comparison with the David sculpture which was in the same museum. When I continued to stare at the pieces they seemed to be struggling to escape from the marble. The effect was quite surprising to me at the time: the seemingly unfinished sculpture conveyed movement while David sculpture remained a single moment of time. It’s now almost fifty years later and I still remember the effect and the details of these sculptures.

Bree #11

I remember seeing an Edward Weston photograph of a pepper just a few years after I saw the Prisoners. This image also had a lasting effect on my development as a visual artist. The design of the image was beautiful, but the medium: a silver gelatin photograph was also gorgeous. Of course, I had seen photographs before, but this was a contact print from a large format negative. Weston’s excellent craft created particularly beautiful prints. Over the years, in my classes and in working with photography, I’ve often met people that assume photographs are somehow independent of the medium in which they’re presented. For example, a person might think that they’ve seen “Moonrise Over Hernandez” by Ansel Adams because they’ve seen it on-line or in a magazine or a book, but a fine photographic print, made by Ansel himself, has a different effect than an image from an offset press or a computer display. In order to appreciate any creative work, it helps to see the work as the artist intended. Of course, there are many posters of paintings by Van Gogh or Monet and so many others, but is seeing these posters equivalent to seeing the original painting? It was the effect of the actual Weston print that allowed me to see beauty of the medium. I hope to share the actual prints of Courting Chaos again soon.

Wayne #2
Framed silver gelatin print for the show

Of course, there are so many images that affected my way of seeing, and these images in particular, but the work of Man Ray is most important for this project. Man Ray worked in a variety of media: doing sculpture, painting and photography. My perception of his work changed when I saw original pieces at the Getty in Los Angeles. One aspect of his images was important to this project: he was solarizing his negatives in a way I had never seen before. The way that Man Ray integrated innovative technique with creative images is spell binding.

Pernicamera

On another level this project began when I purchased an 11X14 inch camera. While it’s not necessarily difficult to think about scaling up a camera “it’s just the same thing only bigger” the reality is pretty impressive. A full frame dSLR uses a sensor that is 1X1.5 inches, regardless of how high the sensor resolution; it’s a small area. The camera for this project has a capture area of 11X14 inches. In addition, while the sensor may have high resolution, film resolution is on the molecular level. The total amount of information you can capture is mind blowing. The costs of the thing are pretty impressive as well; a single sheet of 11X14 inch film costs eight dollars. Adams used 4X5 inch camera much of the time; Edward Weston used an 8X10; Brett Weston did use an 11X14 camera occasionally. The problems of using a camera this size are not just expense and weight, it also needs a lot of light. So, when I got the camera, I wasn’t sure that I would use it much, maybe just a couple of times to prove I could master the thing. Then, after a lot of thinking, I came up with a way of using the camera to make images that I couldn’t create with any other camera. I decided to explore solarizing (re-exposing) the negatives.

Bonnie Hunt, Hand
Print Solarization

This is similar to what Man Ray did, during the processing of his film he re-exposed the negative to light. This creates a reversal effect. This was a pretty common process when I was in high school, but we solarized prints rather than negatives. When you solarize a print the white area of the print black or gray, which can look pretty compelling. It’s impossible to entirely predict what will happen, and even if you do the same thing twice, the results will be different. The thing about Man Ray’s solarization process is that he turned the black areas of the image white AND he could make multiple prints that were the same. This was because he solarized the negative rather than the print. This creates another big problem: you have to process modern film in total darkness (yes, even black and white film) so you can’t see what you’re doing. When Man Ray did this people used orthochromatic films; films that couldn’t record red light, so he could see what he was doing. I realized that I could shoot 11×14 photographic paper, which can be used under safelight. Since I have an 11×14-inch scanner I could take these negatives, which were on paper, and scan them. This enables me to interpret the images in Adobe Photoshop. The large area of the negative is an advantage with this process because you can choose to re-expose and re-develop specific parts of the image. As I mentioned, what actually happens to the image when you re-expose and re-develop is chaotic, almost totally unpredictable. Thus, I am courting chaos in making these images.

Mindy K #7
Original Negative Scan

A great advantage of shooting the photographic paper, rather than film, is that the processing is quick and easy. You can develop the RC paper in about a minute. Even with re-exposure it was only about 5 minutes from exposing with the camera to seeing the negative in white light. Almost as quick as Polaroid! In addition, since the large scanner was in the studio I could scan and reverse the images in short order, so the subject was able to leave with digital prints! This project benefited immensely from the immediacy of this medium. For many of the models, this was their first experience in seeing photos develop.

Cassie #1

This project is also the result of the work of David Kidwell, assistant extraordinaire, and Julie Powers, makeup artist for angels and devils. Julie did a couple of really remarkable things for this project: first she designed the make-up for all the models. This is tougher than it might appear because the Multigrade paper doesn’t react to color in an even way: reds and yellows are very dark while blues are brighter that you would suppose. Julie also arranged for all the models, THANKS! David managed set up and kept me on my feet all through the shoots. Now that I’m in my sixties I couldn’t have done it without him! Each of the models was special. It can be difficult to come to terms with normal pictures of yourself, it’s more of a challenge when you’re teaming up when chaos. You know that all of the images will present you in unpredictable ways. My thanks and gratitude to all!

Rachel #10

In another way this project began at University High School in Los Angeles, specifically in bungalow L79. At sort of the end of the campus was the photography classroom. I first learned about photography in that classroom. The instructor was Arnold Rubinoff. Arnold was teaching things that really weren’t common in high school photography, back then. I remember learning to make color prints from him. One of the things we learned was how to do solarization. He also introduced us to Cyanotype prints. Half of the show was printed as cyanotype images. You can see those prints at this link: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3630.

Cassie 1 #5
Framed cyanotype print for the show

There are a number of important technical insights that led to this project. One of the first problems that had to be solved was the cost of film; if film is too expensive it keeps the photographer from taking risks. One other advantage of the paper is that it has good light sensitivity: Ilford Multigrade is about ISO 100. Another important moment was when I realized that I had an oversized scanner. My original thought was to remove the emulsion from the paper and put it onto a clear base, which would have been very difficult. Scanning the images was easy and quick. I was then able to make new negatives on clear film using a digital printer. These prints, both silver and cyanotype, are much more beautiful than the digital prints. For this show I used multiple coats of cyanotype chemistry on blotter paper. The images have a very dark maximum tone as a result. Because the prints are hand coated each cyanotype print is different, even if made form the same negative. Cyanotype prints do change over time, which is part of the charm. For the silver gelatin prints (check here to see: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3571) I used Ilford Multigrade Warm Tone Fiber base paper. Fiber base papers use a barium clay coating called baryta that produces the white tones. In addition, when you air dry a glossy fiber-based paper the surface looks fabulous. I also toned all the silver gelatin prints with selenium, which makes a more agreeable print color as well as adding to the stability of the final print.

Tyler #12
Framed silver gelatin print for the show

Actually shooting with the camera is pretty tricky. Some things are like working with any large format camera, for instance the image is upside down and backwards on the ground glass. Over the years I’ve become used to that. One problem that particularly affects the 11X14 is bellows extension. The closer your lens is to the subject the further it is from the film. I know this seems exactly backwards, but trust me it’s the way it works. What might not be obvious is that as the lens gets further from the film, there is less light on the film. If you are shooting a head and shoulders portrait with a 35mm camera you don’t have any bellows extension; if you’re shooting with 4X5 film you might lose half stop to bellows extension; with the 11X14 camera you’ve lost about 2 stops of light to bellows extension. This means it’s dark on the ground glass when you’re focusing and composing AND you need a lot of light to make the exposure. Most of the time I was using between 5000 and 7000 watt-seconds of strobe power to make the exposure. My lens was generally set between f11 and f16. While this seems like it would give you plenty of depth of field on a digital camera, on the 11X14 it gives you only a matter of millimeters of focus depth. So, focus is critical, which makes it very important for the model to stay in place! Another aspect of bellows extension is the way it affects your lens choice. The normal lens, if there is one, for an 11X14 camera is about 450mm, or 18 inches. If you were shooting like you do with a full frame digital camera, you’d need about 1000mm (39 inches) of bellows to bring the lens into focus. That makes the camera really difficult to keep stable and to adjust. The answer is to shoot with shorter lenses, which bring the camera closer to the subject. My favorite lenses for this project were a 12 inch red dot Artar from Goerz (f9) and a 14 inch gold dot Dagor (f8) made by Kern for Schneider. I use the 12 inch Artar for head and shoulders and the 14 inch Dagor for full body shots. I used a few other lenses on occasion including a 48cm Goerz Dogmar (f5.5) and a 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron from Schneider (f6.3), but they just didn’t keep the subject/camera distance in a good range.

Mindy #7
The negative for this image is above

The camera itself has some basic challenges. The fact that it’s a working 11X14 camera must be in its favor but it’s built out of parts from other cameras. It’s built on top of a drawer, like something out of a card catalog. This allows it considerable expansion, but it also means the camera isn’t portable. It weighs a lot, so the tripod needs to be a beast. The focus skips out of alignment, which is annoying. The bellows sag. There is a plaque on the camera proclaiming it as the Pernicamera Model Number 0001, built in 1995 to 1997. I’d like to meet the person who built it. I don’t use a shutter with the camera at all. I keep the lens open, but all the illumination, once the paper is loaded, is from safelights. I trigger the strobes with a radio slave to make the exposure. This makes it easier to do multiple exposures and to move the subject between the exposures.

Leslie #6

I hope you’ll enjoy looking at more of the images from the first show.

Part 1, Silver Gelatin Show Prints:

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 1-Silver Gelatin Prints

Part 2, Cyanotype Show Prints:

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 2-Cyanotype Prints

Part 3, Color Glossy Show Prints:

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 3-Kodak Color Glossy prints

If you examine more of this blog you’ll see information about many other aspects of photography. If you’d like to look at some of my articles about photography, from View Camera, Photo Techniques and shutterbug, please look at this link: http://www.siskinphoto.com/magazinearticles.php

You can see my main site at: http://www.siskinphoto.com/

If you have any questions regarding these images or my photography please contact me at john@siskinphoto.com.

I generally post current work on Facebook. Perhaps you’d like to look me up there at https://www.facebook.com/john.siskin

I’ve written a couple of books. They’re available at Amazon. Here’s my author page there: https://www.amazon.com/John-Siskin/e/B004N73O36/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

Wayne #13

Wayne #13

November 15, 2018

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 3-Kodak Color Glossy prints

This post includes the two Kodak color glossy prints from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The color begins in the original process, but it is modified and enhanced in these images. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of an image adds a sameness to all images. On your phone or monitor images always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. These two images are BIG, 30 inches wide and about 40 inches tall. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the silver gelatin and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. The Silver Gelatin prints are at: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3571. The cyanotype images are at: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3630


The show has 41 images up on the walls; these are the two Kodak Color Glossy images. These are machine made images. I could print a hundred of them, all exactly the same, by pushing a button. The images are for sale. The images are about 30×40 inches and mounted on Gator board. The price is $350. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Kodak Color Glossy Images

Curt #2

Leslie #6

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 2-Cyanotype Prints

This post includes all the cyanotype images from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of an image adds a sameness to all images. On your phone or monitor images always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the silver gelatin and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. Kodak Color Glossy images are at https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3633. The Silver Gelatin prints are at: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3571

The show has fourty-one images up on the walls, these are the twenty cyanotype images. Each time you make a cyanotype image it is different, even if made from the same negative. The images are for sale. The cyanotypes are matted to 16X20 inches and are priced at $500. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Cyanotype Images

Wayne #12

Wayne #2

Rubella #5

Rubella #1

Rachel #7

Mindy #7

Jennifer #5

Jennifer #4

Dana #11

Dana #5

Curt #11

Curt #5

Cassie 2 #2

Cassie 1 #5

Cassie 1 #3

Andrea #2

Andrea #1

Alex #5

Alex #1

Courting Chaos-The show, Part 1-Silver Gelatin Prints

This post includes all twenty silver gelatin images from my current show at Indiana Landmarks. The show is going to be on display until the end of November, so you still have a chance to see the real photographs. I say real photographs because looking at an online version of images adds a sameness to all images. On line images are always about the same size and the color is always affected by your monitor. If you care about photography its a really good idea to see actual photographs, not just digital versions. I used 3 types of prints in the show: silver gelatin prints, cyanotypes and a couple of Kodak color glossy prints. As I mentioned in the last post you can visit this previous post for more information about print types: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243. The other images, the cyanotypes and the color glossy images are posted as parts 2 and 3 of the show. The Cyanotypes are at: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3630 and the Kodak color glossy images are at: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3633

The show has 41 images up on the walls, these are the 20 traditional silver gelatin prints also called fiber base prints. The images are for sale. The silver gelatin prints, the first group below, are $550. They are matted to 20X24 inches. The price includes shipping in the U.S. For this and all the other images please contact me directly at john@siskinphoto.com to arrange the purchase. These are all hand made prints, done by me in my darkroom. Please contact me for more information about any of these images. These images are copyright by me and are NOT INTENDED to be shared. You are welcome to post the link to this blog, but do not re-post my images. Thanks for your respect.

Silver Gelatin Images

Bree #12

Cassie 2 #14

Leslie #14

Rachel #11

Andrea #5

Wayne #2 V3

Wayne #1

Tyler #12

Rubella #14

Rubella #4

Mindy #7

Wayne #13

Leslie #6

Jennifer #1

Shelby #2

Cassie 2 #7

Bunny #9

Rachel #10

Bree #4

Andrea #9

September 26, 2018

Courting Chaos

Curt #2

I’ve been working on a project involving my 11X14 camera for about two years now. I’ve done more than a dozen shoots with the camera. The first show of this work will take place on November 2nd at Indiana Landmarks (1201 Central Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202). Images will be available for sale at the show. I may make prints available on line as well. I’ve included small digital versions of the images with this blog. Theses versions of the images are only a shadow of the final prints, so please come to the show if you can.

Wayne #2

These images are figure studies handled with a very unusual and chaotic process described below. Many of them are nudes and several of them are disturbing. I’m writing a lot about the process in this post but I should also share some thoughts about the results. I’ve found the entire project to be a voyage of discovery. I really did not know how the project would evolve when it began. My response to the images continues to change as I prepare them for the show. I am very happy with the way the finished prints look. They have a strong impact. There are a lot of parts of the images, wings horns and make up designs that have symbolic impact. The images seem to invite the viewer to create a narrative from them. My narrative involves ideas about escape. I hope you’ll find them interesting. I’m sure the project will continue to evolve.

I’d like to share some thoughts about the inspiration, the process and the results in this blog. There are a lot of places I could begin this story because this project integrates photographic techniques I learned in high school with image manipulation techniques I’ve learned as recently as a few months ago. The project integrates inspiration from my first trip to Europe in 1971 and continues with images I saw this year. Finally this project requires me to come to terms with allowing chaos to be a co-creator in my photography; as a commercial photographer for more than four decades I’ve been fighting chaos. A commercial photographer wants to control and direct images to produce effective visual communication. In this project I’ve used special processes to push the images into shapes I couldn’t predict or control. The results have been the most surprising images of my career.

Mindy #14

I saw a series of sculptures by Michelangelo called the Prisoners when I was in Europe in 1971. I was about fifteen at the time. At first these images appear unfinished, especially in comparison with the David sculpture, but when I continued to stare at the pieces they seemed to be struggling to escape from the marble. The effect was quite surprising to me at the time: the seemingly unfinished sculpture conveyed movement while other sculpture remained static. It’s now almost fifty years later and I still remember the effect and the details of these sculptures.

I remember seeing an Edward Weston photograph of a pepper just a few years after I saw the Prisoners. This image also had a lasting effect on my development as a visual artist. The design of the image was beautiful, but the medium: a silver gelatin photograph was also gorgeous. Of course I had seen photographs before, but this was a contact print from a large format negative. Over the years, in my classes and in working with photography, I’ve often met people that think photographs are somehow independent of the medium in which they’re presented. So a person might think that they’ve seen “Moonrise Over Hernandez” by Ansel Adams because they’ve seen it on line or in a magazine or a book, but a fine photographic print by Ansel has a different effect than an image from an offset press or a computer display. In order to appreciate a creative work it helps to see the work as the artist intended. Of course there are many posters of paintings by Van Gogh or Monet and so many others, but is seeing theses posters equivalent to seeing the original painting? It was the effect of the actual Weston print that allowed me to see beauty of the medium.

Cassie2 #14

Of course there are so many images that affected my way of seeing, and these images, but the work of Man Ray is really part of this process. Man Ray worked in a variety of media: doing sculpture, painting and photography. My perception of his work changed when I saw original pieces at the Getty in Los Angeles. Many of the reproductions of his work are just poor quality, which affected my understanding of his art. When I saw original pieces I was able to understand the technical mastery inherent in the work. This was important to this project because I realized that he was solarizing his negatives in a way I had never seen before, more about this later. The way that Man Ray integrated creative and innovative technique with creative images is spell binding.

On another level this project began when I purchased an 11X14 inch camera. While it’s not necessarily difficult to think about scaling up a camera “it’s just the same thing only bigger” the reality is pretty impressive. A full frame dSLR uses a sensor that is 1X1.5 inches, regardless of how high the sensor resolution; it’s a small area. The camera for this project has a capture area of 11X14 inches. In addition, while the sensor may have high resolution, film resolution is on the molecular level. The total amount of information you can capture is mind blowing. The costs of the thing are pretty impressive as well; a single sheet of 11X14 inch film costs eight dollars. Adams used 4X5 inch camera much of the time; Edward Weston used an 8X10; Brett Weston did use an 11X14 camera occasionally. The problems of using a camera this size are not just expense and weight, it also needs a lot of light. So when I got the camera I wasn’t sure that I would use it much, maybe just a couple of times to prove I could master the thing. Then, after a lot of thinking, I came up with a way of using the camera to make images that I couldn’t create with any other camera. I decided to explore solarizing (re-exposing) the negatives. I am aware that some people refer to the solarization process as the Sabatier effect, but I prefer to use the term solarization.

Shelby #9

This is similar to what Man Ray did, during the processing of his film he re-exposed the negative to light. This creates a reversal effect. This was a pretty common process when I was in high school, but we solarized prints rather than negatives. When you solarize a print the white area of the print black or gray, which can look pretty compelling. It’s impossible to entirely predict what will happen, and even if you do the same thing twice, the results will be different. The thing about Man Ray’s solarization process is that he turned the black areas of the image white AND he could make multiple prints that were the same. This was because he solarized the negative rather than the print. This creates another big problem-you have to process modern film in total darkness (yes, even black and white film) so you can’t see what you’re doing. When Man Ray did this people used orthochromatic films; films that couldn’t see red light, so he could see what he was doing. I realized that I could shoot 11×14 photographic paper, which can be used under safelight. Since I have an 11×14 inch scanner I could take these negatives, which were on paper, and scan them. This enables me to interpret the images in Adobe Photoshop. The reason that the large area negative is an advantage with this process is that you can choose what part of the image you want to re-expose and you can also choose what part of the image to re-develop. Most of the time I used a Mini-Maglite to re-expose the negative and various paint brushes to re-develop. Of course what actually happens to the image when you re-expose and re-develop is chaotic, almost totally unpredictable. Thus I am courting chaos in making these images.

I did a couple of blog posts when I started this project: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3401 and https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3207 and https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2871 . These posts detail some of the development this process. One of the first things I discovered was that the material I was using to shoot, Ilford Multigrade RC Glossy, was much more light sensitive than I would have thought. It has an ISO of about 100 when used with strobes. I was able to set up a sodium vapor safelight, which made it possible to move around the studio quite easily when shooting. One of the greatest advantages of shooting the paper is that the processing is quick and easy. You can develop the RC paper in about a minute. Even with re-exposure it was only about 5 minutes from exposing with the camera to seeing the negative in white light. Almost as quick as Polaroid! In addition, since the large scanner was in the studio I could scan and reverse the images in short order, so the subject was able to leave with prints! The entire process was very fun and interactive.

Leslie #6

Part of that interactivity was the team that made these images. Of course that includes the models, but it also includes David Kidwell, assistant extraordinaire, and Julie Powers, makeup artist for angels and devils. Julie did a couple of really remarkable things for this project: first she designed the make-up for all the models. This is tougher than it might appear because the Multigrade paper doesn’t react to color in an even way: reds and yellows are very dark while blues are brighter that you would suppose. Julie also arranged for all the models, THANKS! David managed set up and kept me on my feet all through the shoots. Now that I’m in my sixties I couldn’t have done it without him! Each of the models was special. It can be difficult to come to terms with normal pictures of yourself, it’s more of a challenge when you’re teaming up when chaos. You know that all of the images will present you in unpredictable ways. My thanks and gratitude to all!

In another way this project began at University High School in Los Angeles, specifically in bungalow L79. At sort of the end of the campus was the photography classroom. I first learned about photography in that classroom. The instructor was Arnold Rubinoff. Arnold was teaching things that really weren’t common in high school photography. I remember learning to make color prints from him. One of the things we learned was how to do solarization. I remember that a couple of the students were particularly enthusiastic about the process. There is often a line that defines the transition from a normal tone to a solarized tone, referred to as a Mackie line, and these two students created an image that was nothing but a Mackie line. They used a process that involved a wash, squeegee and a controlled re-exposure under an enlarger, then putting the image back into the developer. I based my process on what I remembered from that time. I remove the print from the first developer after most or all image development has taken place. I rinse the image and squeegee the water off the print. Then I use a Mini-Maglite with a #5 Ilford Multigrade filter to re-exposure the print. I usually do this from a distance with my fingers occluding some of the light. This gives me more time and more control over the second exposure. The filter also changes the contrast of the second exposure. Then I use a variety of brushes to add developer. I usually use a more concentrated developer with the brushes.

Andrea #5

There are a number of important insights that led to this process. Of course one of the first problems that had to be solved was the cost of film. Other people have reached this point and turned to litho film. This is a graphic arts film that is designed to hold only black and white tones, no gray tones at all! It can be processed to hold grays, but there are issues. Particularly the stuff is really insensitive to light. The ISO is around 4. As I mentioned above the Ilford Multigrade is about ISO 100, which is almost 5 stops more sensitive to light. This is the difference between shooting at f11 and f2. Since most lenses that cover 11X14 are f8 or slower you can imagine that the speed of the material is critical. Another important moment was when I realized that I had an oversized scanner. My original thought was to remove the emulsion from the paper and put it onto a clear base, which would have been very difficult. Scanning the images was easy and quick.

One of the ideas I had after I got my first large digital printer was that I could make negatives on tracing paper and make traditional darkroom prints. I did make this work, but didn’t follow it up. The images were fuzzy flat and hard to print. I returned to the idea for this project. While I was exploring the negatives, digital prints from my Canon printer were great, but they don’t have the same impact as a handmade print. I used the printer to make negatives on a clear film from Fixxons. I was then able to use these negatives to make cyanotype prints and silver gelatin prints. I mentioned cyanotypes in the blog post I referred to earlier and in this blog post: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2243, which is from my last show. This post also describes silver gelatin prints. For this show I used multiple coats of cyanotype chemistry on blotter paper. The images have a very dark maximum tone as a result. Because the prints are hand coated each cyanotype print is different, even if made form the same negative. Cyanotype prints do change over time, which is part of the charm. For the silver gelatin prints I used Ilford Multigrade Warm Tone Fiber base paper. Fiber base papers use a barium clay coating called baryta that produces the white tones. I like this much better than resin-coated papers (RC) that use a titanium dioxide to make the whites. In addition when you air dry a glossy fiber based paper the surface looks fabulous. I also toned all the silver gelatin prints with selenium, which makes a more agreeable print color as well as adding to the stability of the final print. There will also be a couple of large color prints as well. While the actual process is done with black and white material, false color does come in during scanning. I’ve manipulated the images to enhance this effect. Since original negatives are so large the prints can be very large as well, which makes for a very powerful print. One more thing about prints, I believe that the price of a print should reflect, at least in part, the amount of actual hand work done by the artist rather than the size of the image.

Rubella #14

Actually shooting with the camera is pretty tricky. Some things are like working with any large format camera, for instance the image is upside down and backwards on the ground glass. Over the years I’ve become used to that. One problem that particularly affects the 11X14 is bellows extension. The closer your lens is to the subject the further it is from the film. I know this seems exactly backwards, but trust me it’s the way it works. What might not be obvious is that as the lens gets further from the film, there is less light on the film. If you are shooting a head and shoulders portrait with a 35mm camera you don’t have any bellows extension; if you’re shooting with 4X5 film you might have a half stop of bellow extension; with the 11X14 camera you’ve lost about 2 stops of light to bellows extension. This means it’s dark on the ground glass when you’re focusing and composing AND you need a lot of light to make the exposure. Most of the time I was using between 5000 and 7000 watt-seconds of strobe power to make the exposure. My lens was generally set between f11 and f16. While this seems like it would give you plenty of depth of field on a digital camera, on the 11X14 it gives you only a matter of millimeters of focus depth. So focus is critical, which makes it very important for the model to stay in place! Another aspect of bellows extension is the way it affects your lens choice. The normal lens, if there is one, for an 11X14 camera is about 450mm, or 18 inches. If you were shooting that same head and shoulders shot, which is close to life size on an 11X14 camera, you’d need about 1000mm (39 inches) of bellows to bring the lens into focus. That makes the camera really difficult to keep stable and to adjust. So you generally end up shooting with shorter lenses which wouldn’t cover the film at infinity, but they do just fine close to the subject. My favorite lenses for this project were a 12 inch red dot Artar from Goerz (f9) and a 14 inch gold dot Dagor (f8) made by Kern for Schneider. Both are classic formulas. The Dagor was originally introduced in the 1890s, and the Artar in the early years of the twentieth century. Both of these are later lenses that benefit from modern coatings. I use the 12 inch Artar for head and shoulders and the 14 inch Dagor for full body shots. I used a few other lenses on occasion including a 48cm Goerz Dogmar (f5.5) and a 270mm Wide Angle G-Claron from Schneider (f6.3), but they just didn’t keep the subject/camera distance in a good range. When I first got the camera I also got a 24 inch Gorez Artar (f11) but it required too much bellows to be useful in the studio.

The camera itself has some basic challenges. Of course the fact that it’s a working 11X14 camera must be in its favor but… It’s built out of parts from other cameras. It’s built on top of a drawer, like something out of a card catalog. This allows it considerable expansion, but it also means the camera can’t fold into any portable configuration. It weighs a lot, so the tripod needs to be a beast. I’ve used several tripods with it, and now I’m using an 8-foot camera stand. The focus skips out of alignment, which is annoying. The bellows sag. There is a plaque on the camera proclaiming it as the Pernicamera Model Number 0001, built in 1995 to 1997. I’d like to meet the person who built it. I don’t use a shutter with the camera at all. I keep the lens open, but all the illumination, once the paper is loaded, is from safelights. I trigger the strobes with a radio slave to make the exposure. This makes it easier to do multiple exposures and to move the subject between the exposures.

Dana #5

I hope to see you on November 2nd. If you’d like more information about a specific image please let me know.

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.

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.

January 19, 2016

Ghost Dog #1

Filed under: Animals,Fine Art,Fine Art Portfolio,Portraits — John Siskin @ 2:22 pm
Ghost Dog #1

Ghost Dog #1

This image is from a recent shoot, about a month ago. I like to revisit my images a few weeks after I shoot them, it improves the way I edit the images. I really like the images from this shoot. The dog is huge, and still growing. He has a sort of Mohawk hair cut which gives him a sort of goofy look. The way he’s leaning into the frame builds on this feeling. This is one of the few images I’ve used without cropping, surprisingly one of the others is a dog as well.  This dog is a cross between a poodle and a St. Bernard. I’m sure he’ll be interesting and a challenge!

My own dog, a simple chocolate lab, is still unsure of how to behave in front of the camera, but we’re working on it.

Coco & Her Favorite Toy!

Coco & Her Favorite Toy!

I used my Nikon D800 and a Tokina 28-70 f2.8 lens for Ghost Dog #1. I was in the studio with my Norman 900 series strobes. I used the big soft box, a converted Broncolor Hazy Light, and a light panel. It’s important to give enough light, and to have some direction in the lighting, or the dog will appear shapeless.

Anyway if you want a print of Ghost Dog #1, use the link below. I’ll send you a print mounted and matted to 16X20 inches. No additional charge for shipping in the U.S.


I’m going to give a Micro-Photography Workshop soon (https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=3105) and another Lighting Workshop, probably in March. Please check them out. You can find out more about my workshops, and access some FREE Classes at my website.

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

January 5, 2016

Dodie the Reader

Filed under: Animals,Basic Photo Technique,Portraits — John Siskin @ 2:55 pm
Dodie the Reader

Dodie the Reader

In my experience shooting animals is a lot like shooting children: you must be set up and ready because the subject won’t sit patiently while you get ready. With an adult or a non-living subject you can work for hours looking for the right combination, but not with a dog. I got less than a dozen shots before Dodie, that’s the dog by the way, wasn’t having anymore. Treats will only buy you just so much attention. I had the lights and the camera ready, the exposure dialed in as well, before I brought Dodie over to the table. I also had a pocket full of treats. I think I only got three shots with the glasses. I stood between the dog and the camera, trusting that everything was properly set. If I had moved behind the camera Dodie would have moved as well. The sitting was over in about 15 minutes.

I used a Calumet 750 travel light and a 60-inch umbrella here. The camera was a Kodak DCS Pro 14n. This was my main digital camera for quite a few years. One of only two full frame cameras when it was new, and the only one with a Nikon mount.

I got two shots I thought were special from this sitting. This second version, which I call Smart Dodie looks like she is giving a lecture. I’ll probably put up a separate purchase link for this shot soon, but for right now you can see a larger version by clicking on the image below.

Smart Dodie

Smart Dodie

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

The link below will let you order a print of Dodie the Reader mounted and matted. The image will be about 13 inches wide, and about the same height. I hope you’ll consider ordering one, the price is just $125, which includes shipping in the United States. If you’d like me to send a print somewhere else let me know at john@siskinphoto.com, I’m sure we can work something out.

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


December 7, 2015

What?

Filed under: Looking at Photographs,Photographic Education,Portraits — John Siskin @ 3:48 pm
What?

What?

This is the most successful image I’ve ever made. It’s been published several times, including in the New Yorker Magazine. I’ve sold more prints of this shot than any other. And I almost missed it. Of course we often miss shots because we recognize a moment too late, or because something goes wrong, but this shot had a different problem. I made this shot, and made a proof sheet, and put it in a file without noticing how effective this single frame was. I don’t know why I missed it, maybe I just didn’t have time to print, but it ended up in the files. Fortunately I like to go through the old files, because I sometimes find good things. Sometimes you just need fresh eyes to see how effective an image is. Anyway I did notice the image, and it’s been an important part of my portfolio ever since.

Photographing animals in the studio is similar to making studio photographs of children: you need to be ready before the subject steps onto the set. You’ll probably only get the right look one time, so you don’t want to waste that on a set-up shot. In this case the dog came into the shoot after I finished shooting his owner, so everything was ready. I shot the image on Kodak TMAX film with a Mamiya C-330. I used the 250mm lens for the shot. It’s just about the only time I ever used this lens. I liked the Mamiya C-330 cameras because I could afford to have just about everything in the system. I did a lot of good commercial and personal work with these cameras. I still have one C-330 body and the 180 Super lens, a great combination.

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 13 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:

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

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