Photo Notes A place to talk about making images.

December 29, 2015

Pacific Center #1, Los Angeles

Pacific Center #1, Los Angeles

Pacific Center #1, Los Angeles

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

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

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

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

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


You can buy one of my books at these links

December 28, 2015

Indianapolis Central Library #1

Indianapolis Central Library #1

Indianapolis Central Library #1

This shot was made at the Indianapolis Central Library. This was the second shoot I did at the library; the first shoot was for my book Photographing Architecture. The library has a classic look in front with a new glass and steel portion in the back, really an interesting location. I was attracted by the classic look of this shot, from the entrance to the reading room. It’s easy to see a shot like this, but it’s harder to capture the image. I did the shot with my Toyo 810M, which shoots 8X10 inch film. I did the shot in 2013, really quite recently. The image was part of a show I did at Indiana Landmarks called Buildings: Birth, Decay, Renewal. You can see some video from the show here. I thought this location was particularly suited to the title, because of the blend of new and old architectural styles. Since I did the shot on a half sheet of 8X10 film the image will print to a very large size. There is a print in my office that is 4 feet high.

According to my notes I made this shot with a 270mm f6.3 Schneider W.A. G-Claron. The exposure was at f32 for 8 seconds. I’m glad no one walked through the shot! This lens was originally on a stat camera. I’ve used it in various configuration, on my 4X5 camera, 8X10 and it’s currently mounted on a board for the 11X14 camera. One of the great things about large format photography is that a lens can be used in so many different ways. This is an extremely sharp and contrasty lens that has very wide coverage. I used my Reis tripod, a constant companion with the 8X10 camera, especially on location. The Reis is a wood tripod, or as I like to call it carbon fiber version 1.0.

I offered this shot in the show (mentioned that above) as a 4-foot print and as a VanDyke print. VanDyke prints are an old process that uses iron to achieve sensitivity, but the final image is actually silver. I’ll be adding more about the older processes as I begin to offer them through these posts and on my site. Currently you can get a fine digital print of this image for only $125. The image will be 14 inches tall and mounted and matted on 16X20 board. The price includes shipping in the United States. This is much less than any price I’ve had on this image in the past.


You can buy one of my books at these links

December 11, 2015

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

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

Sea Cave, El Matador State Beach, California #1

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

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

I wrote about the 65mm Super Angulon in my last post (https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=2958) and this is another shot I made with that lens. The lens is an extreme wide angle, equivalent to about an 18mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. So the way the lens sees is very different from our normal perception. Since the lens is so close to the subject, in this case the camera is just above the water and inches away from the rocks in the image, the depth and shape of the subject is exaggerated. Wide-angle lenses show exaggerated perspective because of the position they are used in rather than because the lens actually distorts the subject. While this effect can be disconcerting in some architectural subjects it works very well here.

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

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

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


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.

December 10, 2015

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

Union Station, Los Angeles #1

This is one of my favorite images. I love the look of the print. I have it above the desk in my office. Sometimes the experience of making an image is transformative: making this image changed the way I make pictures. I learned to take risks, even if the shot might not work. While this might seem natural with digital photography, it’s different with film. I shot this image on 4X5 film. Each sheet of film is individually loaded into a film holder. Five film holders, ten sheets of film, weighs more than a pound, and takes up a lot of room as well. Each exposure costs more than two dollars after processing. So on location each shot is precious. I made this shot with my speed graphic, which weighs almost seven pounds (I got out the scale to do this blog). This isn’t usually important, but Union Station, Los Angeles, won’t let anyone shoot with a tripod unless they have a permit. I made the shot with a Schneider 65mm f8 Super Angulon lens. I’d never made a really sharp image with this lens. So I hand held the camera at an exposure of 1/15 sec at almost f16. The light was beautiful, but I didn’t know if I could hold the camera still for the exposure.

There’s something that I didn’t know about using the Super Angulon lens, or any wide-angle lens on a large format camera. If you focus the camera on infinity and stop down the lens only the center of your shot will be sharp. In order to get a sharp image with this class of lenses you have to focus closer if you stop down the lens. So if you want to have the whole shot sharp, and you’re going to shoot at f16, you should focus at about eight feet from the camera. When I took this shot I was very careful, because I knew I needed to get as much depth of field as I could. So I focused closer, using the rule of thumb that depth of field extend a third in front of your focus point and two-thirds behind that point. To my surprise and delight the whole image is sharp edge to edge. I’ve posted a lot more about aperture and depth of field in these posts: https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=50, https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=56 and https://siskinphoto.com/blog/?p=68. Of course the fact that the image is sharp also means I held the camera steady at 1/15th of a second. Pretty good for a large format camera!

My Speed Graphic camera with the 135mm lens, not the 65mm Super Angulon.

My Speed Graphic camera with the 135mm lens, not the 65mm Super Angulon.

It’s always exciting to see your film images after processing, because, unlike digital, you don’t know you’ve got the shot until it’s processed. When I saw this negative, before I even made a print, I knew it was great. I still remember that moment. Regardless of how you make a photograph it’s exciting when you realize you’ve made something special. By the way, since this image is titled Union Station, Los Angeles #1, you can assume that there are more images of this fabulous site to come.

I hope that when I get the website updated I’ll be offering silver gelatin prints of this image in various sizes. Right now I’m offering archival digital prints of this image at a special price just $95, mounted and matted on cotton rag board, and shipped in the United States. The image will be about 11X13 inches and matted to 16X20.



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.

December 4, 2015

Train Trestles, Indianapolis 2015

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

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

Train Trestles, Indianapolis 2015

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

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

Setting up the camera and tripod

Setting up the camera and tripod

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

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

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


You can buy one of my books at these links:

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

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: www.john-siskin.com. 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 (www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php). 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

July 23, 2015

Finally the Darkroom!

I’ll start with a mention that you can find some of my courses from BetterPhoto on the workshop page of my website: www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php. You can also arrange a One on One Workshop or sign up for the Portfolio Workshop. Check out the whole site: www.siskinphoto.com! You can get my books by clicking on the pictures below, and why not do that now?

Sometimes a circumstance or a thing sets off an idea in my brain. I see something that I like and I need to make a photograph, or I get to work with someone and that brings up new ideas, or a desire to work on an old idea. For instance I just did some testing with an Indianapolis model, Khristian Hildrith, and it was a great chance to work with my Norman Tri-Lite. I’m adding one of these shots here, and I’ll probably add more later.

Khristian with the Norman Tri-Lite

Khristian with the Norman Tri-Lite

The thing about being a professional creative, and I suppose this applies to all visual artists, writers and other creatives, is that there is a responsibility to work even when you’re not inspired. Not only do you need to work, but also you need to do good work. Sometimes this means doing the craft more than working with inspiration. For instance, a client may come to me to do a product shot that doesn’t require a new vision, just a good solid interpretation of a three-dimensional object into two-dimensions. Sometimes doing the craft of photography will lead me to new ideas. Often, when I haven’t done any real shooting for a while I’ll get out the microscope equipment and search for new worlds in a plastic ice cube. Creativity is something I need to exercise.

Plastic Ice Cube

Plastic Ice Cube

There are always stumbling blocks and obstacles to creative work. The desire to make an image doesn’t always begin with a road map to the image, or even with a visual inspiration. I’ve written about my delight with big film cameras and large format lenses in the past. Just using these things makes me feel better about photography and my way of working. A view camera slows me down; it makes me more deliberate about everything that goes on into the frame. My problem has been that, if I want to make an image with a large camera, I also need to be able to process and print it. When I did commercial or personal work ten years ago I could send the film to the lab, but now I need to do the lab work. I am so pleased to announce that I now have a darkroom!

Darkroom

Darkroom

This is a black and white darkroom; frankly I just can’t find any reason to do color work in a wet darkroom. For color work, digital is not only easier; it just seems better. You can see a couple of images here, but I want to tell you a little about the tool kit in the darkroom. It starts with the sink, in a chemical darkroom the sink is where stuff happens. This sink will hold three 20X24 inch trays, so I can make very large prints. It’s a wooden sink, and it’s coated with marine grade varnish. It’s a real sink, with hot and cold running water, not just a catch basin. My Jobo processor fits easily into the sink, which means I can process most any kind of black and white film or paper.

The large sink, with the Jobo Processor

The large sink, with the Jobo Processor

I guess that when most people think about film photography they’re remembering 35mm cameras, so they think the enlarger might be the main tool in the darkroom. While my goal is to work with larger negatives than 35mm, I still want an enlarger. Mine is an old Omega D-2 that will handle film up to 4X5 inches. The strange thing about this D-2 is the head (light source). Many years ago I converted an omega color head, and this head was old even then, to work with filters for printing black and white paper. This head used to be referred to as the Mickey Mouse head, maybe because of the shape: a black sphere with cylinders on the side, or maybe it’s just the technology. Regardless it gives even light and control over contrast. I’ve also got an ultraviolet light source for contact printing large negatives and alternative processes. The UV light source means that I can do Cyanotype and Vandyke prints maybe even platinum prints someday.

Omega D-2 Enlarger

Omega D-2 Enlarger

The dry table is a little smaller than I might like, but it’s big enough to load large film holders. Of course, with all the black plastic, the darkroom has the ambiance of a homeless encampment, but it’s going to be a good place to work. The important thing is I was able to build a workspace that will enable me to unlock all of my large format photography tool kit, even the 11X14 camera!

Dry Table

Dry Table

I hope you have inspiration and the tools you want. Thanks for your attention!

May 28, 2014

I Updated www.siskinphoto.com!

Filed under: Large Format Photography,Marketing,Photography Communication — John Siskin @ 2:37 pm

I’ve often posted about the marketing I’m doing. I’ve just finished a complete makeover of my website, which is a very critical part of my marketing. If you didn’t just click over from www.siskinphoto.com I hope you’ll visit soon. I haven’t renewed the site in several years, so this update was overdue. I made a number of decisions about how my site should be seen and about who I want to attract to the site. While I know that many people are trying to create sites that are friendlier to phones and other devices, my site is specifically designed to be viewed from a desktop computer. That’s because I built the site for designers and commercial clients, and I expect they make decisions about photography while they’re at work. If I were looking for wedding, portrait or other retail clients I wouldn’t have made this decision. I think the biggest change is that the images on my site are larger, since I’m selling my services as a photographer I think that bigger images look better. I’ve left some text in the site to satisfy Google’s searching mechanism, but the site is really built to show images. I’ve included a couple of images that weren’t on the site before in this blog.

Disney work

It’s always interesting to review the images I’ve made. I find that I change my perception of an image as the experiences of making the image recede. Sometimes, if I had a good time on the shoot, my first impression is that the images are better than they might actually be, and the opposite is also true. Of course I also see how the business and techniques of photography have changed over the forty odd, some very odd, years I have been in the business of photography. While I know that many people think that digital photography is the most significant change, in my work I think the way that Photoshop allows you to manipulate images has had a greater effect. When I used to shoot transparency film for a client there was no way to change the image after the transparency film was shot in the camera, you really had to pay attention to what you did in camera. It’s easier now and you also have much more ability to create. I think the current toolkit available to photographers gives us great opportunities to make commercial and other sorts of photographs.

Horse 1

Of course I don’t always feel that digital imaging is the most personally satisfying way to make photographs, so I still do personal work with large format cameras. There are several posts in this blog about images I’ve made with my 8X10 Toyo camera. I can’t find a perfect explanation for what is so satisfying about making an image with a big camera, but I assure you that I find something special in working with a big camera. This is why I just bought an 11X14 camera. That’s right it shoot an 11X14 inch piece of film; each exposure is on about 154 square inches of film. Several people have already asked me if this is better than a digital image. Of course that depends on several factors. The 11X14 isn’t easier to use and in most situations it doesn’t make better pictures. However if you are making black and white images, whether on modern silver bromide papers or with hand coated alternative emulsions, it will make prints that are visibly different from anything you’ll get with an ink jet printer. There’s no way you can tell the difference by looking at a screen, you have to go look at original prints by people who used large cameras, say Edward Weston. There are many reasons: no enlarger, continuous tone, no grain and more, but trust me the effect can be quite compelling.

Perincamera #0001

The new 11X14 camera!

I’d like to tell you that I’ve already had good results with the camera, but there’s more needed than just the camera to make images. The fact is that I don’t have any film holders. 11X14 inch film holders are quite expensive, several hundred dollars apiece. So if you happen to know of an 11X14 holder that I can get for a reasonable price please let me know. The holder will be going to a good home. I think I have the other tools I need to make images: lenses, tripod and so on, but if you know of any tools for an ultra large format camera please let me know.

Deere

Recently a rather large number of people have registered at this blog, at least a couple of hundred folks. In fact I’m getting several new registrations each day. While I’m pleased and flattered that so many people have registered I’m wondering why? None of you have left any comments. Am I missing something? Well, regardless thank you!

Munchkin Inc.

In addition to supporting the blog by registering you can do more and increase your photographic knowledge! My books Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting
and Photographing Architecture are available at Amazon and other places. You can take a class with me at BetterPhoto.com no matter where you are. I’ve had students as far away as Bangladesh and as close by as Indianapolis. Please check out these fine classes:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio
Getting Started in Commercial Photography
Of course if you are in the Mid West you can come to my studio for a class. The next opportunity is the Portfolio Workshop on June 16 (http://www.siskinphoto.com/workshop.php). I’ve recently offered a Strobe Lighting Workshop and a Matting and Framing Workshop. I’ll offer these workshops and more soon. Please let me know if you have any ideas for more workshops. Also I’ll be giving a lecture/demonstration about photo microscopy at the Venture Photo Club here in Indianapolis on June 5. Please let me know if you’d like me to present at any photo club that’s local (that’s local to Indianapolis).

Thanks for your attention,
John
www.siskinphoto.com

May 6, 2013

Working in Black and White

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. Please get copies, if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is introduce the books and get you to consider one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography

The first portfolio class went really well. Please let me know if you want to be on the mailing list. Here’s some more information the next meeting is Tuesday May 21, 2013, 6:30 pm room 407 at the Indianapolis Central Library. This is a great opportunity to make a greater commitment to your work and learn more about how others see your work. Still only $20. I look forward to seeing you if you’re near Indianapolis.

I started out with a Kodak Retina and a roll of Plus-X. The first film developer I used was D-76 and I printed with Dektol. I guess you could say that I have my roots in black and white. If you’ve looked at my work you can see that I still see a lot of shots in black and white. I’ve mentioned, in these notes, that I’m doing some work with my 8X10 film camera. I wanted to talk about how I’m working with those images in digital. It doesn’t really matter whether you start with a digital image or a film image; these techniques make better final images. I start with a low contrast scan of my negative. If I were shooting film, for traditional silver gelatin printing, I would want a negative that I could interpret in the darkroom and that is a low contrast negative. Of course my new negatives aren’t really low contrast, because they need high density so I can print them using the Vandyke technique. Even though these techniques aren’t  really new I think it’s important to work with them from time to time.

If I’m starting with a color image, usually from my digital camera, I’ll look at the red, green and blue channels. The differences can be really huge. When I shoot with black and white film I use color filters to get the kind of control. The important thing to keep in mind is that you can make choices about what parts of the picture you want to make black & white. In addition to the red, green and blue channels you can mix the channels together.

I know there are a lot of programs for working with your images, but I use Photoshop for just about everything. It’s big, it’s complex and it offers wonderful control over your image. I mention this because I’m going to show the changes I make to an image in Photoshop.

Scans always have some dust and perhaps the negative has some defects, so I’ll fix those right away. I like to do this at the beginning because I’m working on a gray-scale image rather than a color image so the fixes are quicker, especially with a big file. In this case the file is over 100 megs, because the original negative is 4X10 inches. I want to get the biggest scan I can. Negatives are delicate so it’s best to make a digital copy as soon as possible. I make a flat, long scale, scan to capture as much information as possible. I shoot digital images in RAW for the same reason: to have a copy that can be interpreted as many ways as possible. I’ll save this image, so I can return to it.

I’ll create a new copy of the image, and the first thing I’ll do is open up Levels. I’ll position the sliders at the edges of the histogram. I may move the center slider to adjust the middle of the curve. This isn’t as controlled as using curves, but it makes the image look better quickly. Next I convert the file to RGB using mode. When I printed with an enlarger on silver gelatin black & white paper I used warm toned paper much of the time. Even when I used a neutral toned paper I usually developed in Selectol to warm the paper up a little. I can change the pallet, warmer, cooler or whatever once I have an RGB file. Now I open up curves. I like to depress the bottom left of the curve and raise up the upper right, usually I don’t make big changes here.  This makes the middle tones of the shot a little more contrasty and makes the highlight ands shadows look a little more like a silver gelatin print. Next I’ll add color, while still in curves, by choosing the red curve. For most images I’ll raise the bottom of the curve about 7 units. Then I’ll go to the blue curve and remove about 8 units from the middle of the curve. You can add as much color as you would like this way.

I wanted to lighten the boots, so I used the dodging tool. On the original I also did some sharpening, but that doesn’t really show up on this small file.

I wanted to discuss another thing I like to do in curves. If you take the bottom left of the curve up to the top of the graph you file will be all white. If you pull the center of the curve back down, usually around 1/4 from the bottom of the graph, interesting things will happen.  If you didn’t add any color to your shot it will look a little like a solarisation (also referred to as the Sabatier Effect) an old darkroom technique. However if you did the toning you’ll get a sort of dual tone solarisation, which is really fun. You can see how well it worked here. I usually refer to this as a u-shaped curve.


Please check out my classes at BetterPhoto.com:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting,
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio,

Getting Started in Commercial Photography
Thanks, John

 

April 28, 2013

New Images from Indianapolis Central Library

I hope you’ll check out my books: Photographing Architecture and Understanding and Controlling Strobe Lighting. I hope you’ll get copies, if you haven’t already. Of course you know that one reason for this blog is introduce the books and get you to consider one of my classes at BetterPhoto.com: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio, Getting Started in Commercial Photography

Pictures this week are from a shoot I did at the Indianapolis Central Library. The first portfolio class went really well. Please let me know if you want to be on the mailing list. Here’s some more information the next meeting is Tuesday May 21, 2013 at the Indianapolis Central Library. This is a great opportunity to make a greater commitment to your work and learn more about how others see your work. Still only $20. I look forward to seeing you if you’re near Indianapolis.

I’m still looking for a studio space here in Indianapolis. I’ve checked on a couple of spaces, but they have been too large, and therefore too expensive. I’d like to have the extra space and I could have a couple of offices for related businesses, but I don’t want to have to commit to a more expensive lease. I’m going to continue checking out spaces. My goals, right now, are to have about 1600 feet, with a large commercial or cargo door. The actual studio space must be at least 20X30 feet. I will need air conditioning and heat. You always here “location, location, location” applied to real estate. I think the key is to be sure you understand what you want in a location. I want to be in a good area of town, but I don’t need to be in a mall or on an expensive street. I can be a couple of blocks off the boulevard especially if the parking is good.


I’ve written about processing film and scanning it before, but as I did a lot of work with my 8X10 Toyo recently I thought I would discuss this again. I’ve made some changes in the way I’m processing film for printing Vandykes. I’ll be discussing how I’m scanning the film as well.


I started out working with a two-part developer based on Kodak D-23. The idea of a two-part developer: separating developer and activator, is that you can process almost any film at almost any temperature, which certainly makes things easier. The problem was that the Vandyke process, and most alternate printing processes, requires a very long density range with a very high maximum density. That is the film records the information in a way the makes the whites and blacks further apart, because the printing process tends to push the tones closer together. So I’ve switched to Ilford ID-11 developer. The biggest differences between the two developers is the addition of hydroquinone and the inclusion of the activator (borax) in the single solution developer. I’m using a dilute version of this developer with a very long development time because it makes a longer tonal range. Of course it’s kind of annoying that the processing time is now thirty minutes. If I were going to try and print these negatives on traditional silver gelatin photographic paper it would be difficult, and would require special paper or special handling.


One of the great advantages of scanning a negative is that you make a good scan of a negative that wouldn’t print well without special handling. I set the scan to keep the detail in the whites and black while maintaining a lot of detail and light in the mid-tones. My actual scan looks pretty flat. Of course the scan is in black and white, and I scan in 8-bit depth. I’m making very large scans: 3200 dpi. The first thing I do with these scans is basically spotting. I remove dust and so on. Since the scans are the first thing I do after processing there isn’t much of this. The next step is to make a copy of the scan and convert it to RGB. As many of you know I like a warm color palette. I use curves for this. I will raise the red curve about 7 units at the very bottom of the curve. Then I’ll move the center of the blue curve down into the yellow about 8 to 10 units. This makes my black and white image a slightly warm black and white image. Then I’ll adjust the whole curve, usually by deepening the shadows and lightening the highlights. This is how I make the final image less flat. Of course sometimes the curves will get rather complex. Then I’ll do a little sharpening, usually with smart sharpening in Photoshop.

I used my own shoes

 

There is one more thing I do with curves: you can see it in the shot below. This is a u shaped curve. I raise the bottom left of the curve to the top of the box and lower the center of the curve, usually to about the 1/4 line. If you do this without adding the red and yellow first you get an image that looks a little like a solarization that you might make in a darkroom. If you change the curve after you change the color you get the two-tone effect you can see in this image. I think this is a really interesting effect; of course it doesn’t work with most images.

This image was processed with a U shaped curve

Please check out my classes at BetterPhoto.com:
An Introduction to Photographic Lighting,
Portrait Lighting on Location and in the Studio,

Getting Started in Commercial Photography
Thanks, John

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